Although the news of SOE’s decision to facilitate the sale and exchange of items, money and characters is a few weeks old, I and others who comment on the MMORPG industry are still troubled by the direction the online gaming industry is heading. Thankfully we are not alone in our concern as online gaming honchos like Sigil’s Brad McQuaid and Mythic’s Mark Jacobs are similarly in shock. Instead of opposing shady operations like IGE and Yantis, SOE has chosen to join them in an effort to get a piece of the lucrative action.
There are other gaming/entertainment organizations like professional sports that also have companies that make millions of dollars from the existence of their product but receive no compensation: it’s called sports betting and gambling. The NFL and Major League Baseball know that they can never get a cut of those millions because to do so would ultimately taint the integrity of the game. Take away the “game” element from professional sports and you end up with the phony sports fiction of the World Wrestling Federation. So why does SOE feel compelled to corrupt the “game” in EverQuest by capitulating to the baser instincts of those that would buy and sell our online worlds for real-life money?
In America where most of these online games are conceived, created and maintained the worship of profit is pervasive. This attitude that if it makes money then it’s ok has now infiltrated the psyche of the online gaming world in a big way. Many in the industry and in the MMORPG blogging world feel that in a Gordon Gecko way that “greed is good” and that this is a coming of age for the video game business. There’s a feeling that real life cash for in-game items is inevitable and we may as well just get used to it. Therefore it comes as no surprise that SOE’s CEO John Smedley would be introducing this scheme to EverQuest. Mr. Smedley speaks with the aura of an accountant unlike his ex-associate Brad McQuaid who appears to be someone who is genuinely passionate about creating online worlds.
As far as my position on RMT (real money transactions) within online worlds, I would like to leave you with a few quotes I made on the subject. The first from a comment I made on a Grimwell Online article entitled $49.99 For The Box of Empty Promises :
One of the basic premises of an online world is that all players start out equal: penniliess, powerless with rusty sword in hand. I believe this equality is part of the attraction of online words. It gives those of us the chance to escape the drudgery of real life and start anew — free of the shackles of education level, societal status and income. Gaming companies should be duty bound to provide and maintain a level playing field for all players to ensure the integrity of the virtual world they are hosting.
Yet there is a silver lining in all of this. Sigil now can point to itself as being a shining example of a company that makes games based on integrity. Vanguard will be able to differentiate itself from the competition that seems to have sold out to convenience-driven dumbed-down gameplay and the unethical practice of selling ingame items for real world cash. I really hope Sigil and their partner Microsoft stay the course and stay true to the values of creating a online game of integrity.
In so many parallel ways we are at a crossroads in the development of MMORPGs. The lines of gaming and entertainment seem to be blurring into one huge bottom-line. Gaming companies have many choices to make that will determine the future of this relatively new genre. Some are choosing the path of least resistance while others are choosing a more ardous route. Those of us that feel strongly about our opposition to real money transactions need to stand firm. We need fight fire with fire and vote with our dollars. We need to support online worlds that don’t sell-out their principles. Each of us in our own small way can help chase the money changers out from the temple of online gaming.