The Tattered Notebook: Plat, loot, and the morality of cash

EQII gold
There's a dirty little secret going on in EverQuest II, and every now and then it bubbles up to the surface in forum complaints from players. With the arrival of Station Cash, the Marketplace, and Legends of Norrath cards, players have worked out a way to buy in-game coin with real money, without fear of getting banned. And with the transition to free-to-play, it seems like that practice has grown even more.

The problem is that there are several things that factor into the plat-for-cash scenario, so it's impossible to find a quick fix. Are we at a point that SOE should just put plat on the marketplace and be done with it? Let's look at a few reasons for and against it.

Why do people need plat?

We can't really tackle the issue without looking at some of the reasons there's a demand for plat in the first place. On one hand, you have new players who might want to purchase some plat to get off to a nice start. But the other reason, and the one that probably creates the most demand for plat, is the practice of selling loot rights. In short, loot can't be put up on the broker for sale, but since raiding guilds often have loot that can't be used by any of their members, they auction it off in open chat to the highest bidder and then invite that person into the raid to loot it.

I've looked at this topic in a previous column, and I don't see the practice going away any time soon, so there will always be a demand for plat, particularly from those who want raid gear and either don't raid or aren't in guilds that raid.

It's already happening, and it's not safe

There are many players who are opposed to the idea of putting plat on sale through the Marketplace, and understandably so. EverQuest II has its roots in a more old-school gamer mentality, so the notion of selling anything for real cash doesn't sit well, but coin is especially taboo. Heck, EQ fans grew up watching the constant war against plat sellers and were constantly on the lookout for low-level toons with curious names that might be potential brokers. We know the dangers of buying plat from third-party sites, and we know about the amount of account fraud that plagues this industry.

But the reality is that players are using the Marketplace, station cash cards, and LoN cards as a way to purchase plat without breaking the rules of the game, so we're beyond the question of whether or not it should happen. But even though it's allowed, it's still not safe, and players still run the risk of not getting their promised goods (perhaps even more so now, since anyone can make an account for free). Putting plat on the Marketplace offers a direct and safe path for those who want to buy plat.

EQII chest
It's legal already

While players still debate the morality of selling plat for cash, the question has already been answered a long time ago. Executive Dave "Smokejumper" Georgeson said the following:
"We really don't want to put a hard value on platinum to SC conversion rates, so we would probably only step in on this if we thought it was going to cause us legal headaches in the future. So... if kept on the low-down, it'll never cause problems. But if someone put up a website selling items officially with posted conversion rates, I have a feeling that legal might want to step in and stop it to avoid issues. Make sense? Keep it person-to-person and I don't think this will ever be an issue."
Mechanics like Marketplace gifting and Station Cash cards have really made it almost impossible to prevent the buying and selling of plat for cash. Sure, one player might want to gift a nice item to a friend or family member for sincere and honest reasons, but it's impossible to tell that from a player gifting an item to someone for plat. And it's equally impossible to stop the sale of Station Cash cards and Legends of Norrath cards.

Unfortunately, this practice upsets the balance when it comes to earning in game rewards. In theory, if someone earned his coin in game, either by crafting, brokering looted items, or hunting, he's putting in the effort that's arguably on par with the typical raider, so it's not unreasonable to allow him to buy raid loot. But someone who purchases coin with cash is shortcutting that process and basically jumping the line. That's the root of the problem, and that's the one area that has no easy solution.

Where to go from here

A while back, I suggested that SOE should add in a currency similar to EVE's PLEX, which would allow players to safely purchase coin and allow players with a lot of coin to buy game time. It still might be the best option, since it gives players a safe way to do what's going on already in game, and it gives longtime gamers a chance to use their plat surplus to earn some game time. But it still doesn't solve the issue of people using it to shortcut their way toward buying raid loot, and I think that's really what players have the most trouble with.

With EQII's move toward a marketplace and a free-to-play model, it's hard to keep cash out of the picture. When you visit the site, it's usually full of promotions for new items or Station Cash sales, so it's not a surprise that players are much more liberal with their in-game RMT auctions. Given the fact that it's here to stay, I think it's worth considering taking that next step and eliminating the middleman from the process.

From the snow-capped mountains of New Halas to the mysterious waters of the Vasty Deep, Karen Bryan explores the lands of Norrath to share her tales of adventure. Armed with just a scimitar, a quill, and a dented iron stein, she reports on all the latest news from EverQuest II in her weekly column, The Tattered Notebook. You can send feedback or elven spirits to karen@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.