The Soapbox: Tokens suck!

Justin Olivetti
J. Olivetti|06.25.13

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The Soapbox: Tokens suck!
The Soapbox Tokens suck
A few weeks ago we reported on a somewhat silly article in which the author advocated that studios could and should charge players real money transaction fees to trade items. I didn't see a lot of people in favor of this idea, but I definitely agreed with one thing that he pointed out: MMOs have become increasingly anti-trade in practice.

It's not something that I've thought a lot about recently, but once this article triggered some introspection, I realized that the issue of trade (particularly relating to restrictions) has become a growing frustration of mine. My veteran characters in several MMOs are absolutely loaded -- with basic currency, that is (usually gold). And yet I am sitting on this Scrooge McDuck pile of wealth with no useful things to buy because (a) everything seems to take tokens these days and (b) so much of the good stuff in games is bind-to-character (or bind-to-account).

I started feeling fidgety and then I let out a grunt of frustration. Tokens, in a word, suck.

The Soapbox Tokens suck 25
In which I whine

Let me give you three quick examples from my experience so that you understand where my frustration is coming from. In Lord of the Rings Online, my main MMO, I am absolutely rolling in gold. I rarely have less than 100 gold at any given time, and that number keeps going up and up because outside of paltry armor repair fees and the occasional house maintenance payment, there isn't anything I can buy with it. The auction house only very rarely has any sort of upgrades for my gear, and most of the interesting acquisitions in the game world require some combination of reputation and tokens to purchase.

In The Secret World, my endgame character has Pax numbering in the multi-millions. Now that I've bought my run speed increases and all of the costumes, there's nothing that interests me from vendors. The auction house is equally non-helpful, since the best gear requires tough dungeon runs or PvP.

Back when I was playing World of Warcraft, I used to feel as if my gold could buy me the world, save the occasional crafted doohickey that I could use only if I made it myself. As time went by, the devs kept throwing in new waves of alternate currency that was required for the stuff everyone wanted. Gold, on the other hand, started being edged out.

In all of these cases, the basic currency of the game became increasingly worthless over time thanks to tokens.

In which I try to see it from the studio's perspective

Now, I'm not an economist, and I have only sympathy for whoever is hired to design and manage an MMO economy. It's got to be a massive headache with potential for disaster around every corner. Tokens can be used to do a lot of good, including fighting the nightmare of gold farmers and sellers. They're also a nice consolation prize for dungeon runners, who at least walk away with something that can be used to buy the gear they want. I can see why devs leaped to using -- and then over-using -- tokens as a salvation from some of the trickier aspects of the economy.

My beef with the current state of affairs is that too many of the best items in MMOs can be purchased only with tokens, thereby making the economy a two-person affair: the player and the studio. It's as if the government of a country became the only entity to sell many of the goods that people wanted, so if you wanted to buy laundry detergent, food, or games, you could only go to GovMart and not to any business or independent retailer. That's not a healthy economy; that's a restrictive monopoly.

Yes, tokens and bind-to-character items make MMOs more manageable for studios, but they also are strangling healthy MMO economies. They're keeping players from buying what they want with the currency they've accumulated, and they're keeping players from selling what they find, farm, or earn from their adventures.

The Soapbox Tokens suck 25
In which I show how naive I am

So here's where I'm going to open myself up to all manner of flaming and "oh Justin, you say the most ridiculous things," but here goes: I would rather play in a game that would let a raider loot a piece of epic gear and then be able to sell it on the general market than play in a game that restricts that gear to those who've run the instances and only to them. But I didn't earn that gear, you might say. If I'm paying for it with the gold I've saved up over months, haven't I, though? Where is it written that all of the best gear has to be locked to a character?

Or, as a commenter so wittily put it, "There's no bind-on-equip in real life. Well, maybe your toothbrush."

I mean, from what I understand, this is how economies work. Real ones, I mean. Just because I don't farm doesn't mean I can't eat corn that someone else grows. Just because I don't know how to make a table doesn't mean that I can't buy one at a garage sale. I didn't put in the work to earn it first-hand, but I did put in the work on something else to earn the money to give in exchange. So yeah, I would love to bypass the tokens, bypass the bind-on-anything, and just buy that tier-50 purple set with my hard-earned gold.

Sure, it'll make it harder for the devs to balance the game and manage the economy and deal with gold- and item-farmers, but at least it would be an actual economy and not a shadow of one. Maybe we're putting far too much emphasis on raiding as a source for the best gear, but that's a totally different soapbox. I don't care if it's harder for studios; I care if it's better for players. I think it would be, even if it would allow for more twinking (so what?) and a loss of epeen for raiders who equate their gear with status symbols.

And if I didn't have to track a hundred different token types, that'd just be the cherry on the cake.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews and not necessarily shared by Massively as a whole. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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