Friday, June 24, 2011

Finally, on Monocles

I really wasn't so certain whether I should make a post about this one. But here it is anyway.

I don't like micro-transactions (MT) and I don't like real-money-trading (RMT). I wrote about f2p games a lot last month. The fact that Eve Online has always had RMT (Plex), has always annoyed me. An economics simulation, like Eve, shouldn't allow me to effectively trade € for in-game currency.

However, the way CCP had integrated the PLEX system into Eve was brilliant. If I ever was forced to introduce some kind of RMT/MT into a game, I'd do it this way. It protects the simulation as much as possible and has several really good characteristics from a business point of view. Still, I wished Eve had just a subscription.

Now CCP introduces vanity items. On the one hand, I don't think that vanity items are somehow less valuable than other items in games. The 'it's just vanity' doesn't really work for me. On the other hand, the PLEX system guarantees that you can buy all this stuff without ever paying a dime. Eve Online very effectively hides the outside-world influence of PLEXes from you.

But let's face the truth: You could always buy yourself to victory in Eve. It didn't work with 100€ a month, but invest 1000€ a month and it works perfectly. You ask who does this? That's because you are naive. For some reason most people believe that most people have about as much money as they do. Surprise: Most have much, much less and some have so much more that you apparently don't understand what it is like.

If you have 50 mio € on your bank account and a 1% annual interest rate, you get 41.667 € a month. Yes, a month, not a year. And that is a 1% annual interest rate. My bank pays 1.65% the year right now; and that's the convenient and perfectly safe rate. Subtract some taxes if you want. Point is that, unless you're crazy, it's impossible to spend that amount of money. Just one guy having so much money can finance a hundred normal players easily. Real-world wealth is exponentially distributed; a lot of people laugh at 50 mio. They wouldn't even consider you 'rich'.

Before you continue, read this article in The Atlantic:
For four years, the Gates Foundation has supported an effort by the center to determine exactly how the American wealthy think and live—and in particular how, when, and to what degree they make the shift from accumulating fortunes to giving them away philanthropically. [..]
Most of the survey’s respondents are wealthy enough to ensure that in any catastrophe short of Armageddon, they will still be dining on Chateaubriand while the rest of us are spit-roasting rats over trash-can fires.

Are virtual monocles at $60 expensive? Excuse me? Some people could use that as toilette paper without ever actually missing it. That's not demagoguery. I'm not telling you that this is wrong or anything. The moral debate is not for this blog. Fact is that many people couldn't care less whether that thing costs $60 or $400.

.. Unless there were a lot of people who considered $60 expensive. You see, the real value of a virtual monocle is not that it looks cool. The real value is that it is expensive. It is a veblen good. People buy it not although, but because it is expensive. Oh - and in Eve Online they will all say that they bought it with in-game earned currency, of course.

But it is too expensive for you, you say? Well, that may be so. But here's there thing: If you think that MT/RMT is bad for games I unconditionally agree. If, however, you want real-world money to change your playing experience, then you better accept real-world prices, ok?

Gucci is not too expensive. You are just not rich enough, that's all. Or maybe you think that nobody needs a Gucci Blouson for $445.50? I agree; nor does anybody need a $60 virtual monocle.

CCP didn't select this price by accident. They know who the players are that pay for Eve. It's not you. It's not 95% of the players. It is the top 5%.
Almost none of them would ever openly admit to buying PLEX, of course. The last thing rich people want is that non-rich people find out. And they feel it is a bit immoral to win games by spending resources from outside the gaming world. But Eve allows you to hide that you do. And that's no mistake, either.

On a side note: If World of Darkness turns out to be f2p and finances itself with virtual trench coats, I'm out. Sorry CCP, I really like that you advance the genre and don't spend all your money to satisfy shareholders. But aggressive MT/RMT is somewhere I won't go.


  1. "The last thing rich people want is that non-rich people find out."

    Buying overpriced monocles & sparkly ponies would appear to be an odd way of hiding one's riches. Just goes to show that you don't need brains to get rich?

  2. Sparkle ponies weren't for rich. The price was $25 and half of that charity. That was for everybody.

    In Eve you can perfectly hide your real life wealth. Ask any Eve player: Apparently 99.9% buy stuff with in-game earned PLEXes.

  3. I think that this whole F2P thing is new and so companies are just testing what works better and how far they can push it.

    Also, lowering the price after setting it too high is easier done than raising it after setting it too low....

  4. Not only are you right in general but in Eve I think you are especially accurate. There's the well known Russian aluminum billionaire who kickstarted the Russian dominance of nullsec 5 years ago.

    From looking at the way the market behaves it seems very clear that there is considerable plex selling happening. It's fairly easy to play for free (I was doing it within about 3 months) but despite many players playing for free, often with multiple alts the plex price is relatively low. It's a see saw and we know a lot of people are sitting on one end of the seesaw therefore there must also be a lot on the other end.

    It becomes even more plausible if we consider the player demographic. Eve players tend to be older, have a high proportion of IT or military professionals, are more male and are more single than most other MMO populations. All of those things could potentially mean a lot of players with money to burn.

    However just because we have spare money doesn't mean we want to be screwed out of it. $68 for a monocle is taking the piss. I don't mind because I see it as an opportunity for profiteering and besides I'm not remotely e-vain. I'd play as pacman if it had better stats.

  5. The classic EVE Online example was the player who spent $100,000 on helping his alliance.

    While nothing is perfect, I do think EVE is the best solution I have heard about.

    CCP has already announced that their second game, DUST 514, was going to be f2p. They may wait and see how that does before making the WoD decision. It seems like f2p is working well for gaming companies atm - or at least that it is fashionable -so that would be my guess.

  6. I would be really, really curious to know the total wealth currently in EVE (ie., total ISK circulation, total value of assets, etc.) and the total value of PLEX purchases over a given period.

    If you had those two figures, you could easily determine the actual impact of PLEX in affecting EVE's economy.

    While I love EVE, I could never dig into the economic report they put out periodically. Anyone know if that's in there?

  7. If the only reason you don't play a game is that they sell cosmetic items, then you are doing it wrong. If you have fun playing and can afford to play, then who cares if they sell items in a cash shop. Especially if those items are cosmetic and can be obtained via in-game assets. In the interest of disclosure I have used RMT in Eve, STO, and a few other games as well. I never bought a sparkle pony because I thought they were a bit overpriced, especially with the limited selection available(only one design and color choice).