Taking a step into the past say mid to late 90’s early 2000’s; if you were playing any of the major MMO’s available at that time, it was not at all uncommon to overhear conversations, if not finding yourself involved in them, regarding the purchase of currency or items using real-world cash. Most conversations of this nature were of the stance that had a player purchased currency or items using real-world cash, they were foolish since players were already paying subscriptions usually, and the greater shared stance was one of disgust regarding as much. Complaints of wrecking economies and creating unfair imbalances were rampant. Jumping forward to now, even if this opinion still resounds in any of these players, the developers have instead found a lifesaver for many of their games suffering decline.
While back in the late 90’s players were creating this measure of marketing within virtual worlds, today the industry has based many of the free-to-play models around the sale of items, abilities, and access to various pieces and places in their MMO for real cash as opposed to monthly subscription fees or in many cases even in conjunction with. Granted when players take up attempting to sell any of their virtual earnings or finds for the tender of real cash, they are risking being called out for violating those ‘terms of service’ (TOS) so many quickly ‘accept’ without taking any time to read, the reality is there is only really a marginal difference. So what really lifted the measure from its black-list and into the realm of ‘acceptable’ for the gamers of today, that yester-year were not only upset but often times to the point of illicit rage or behaviors?
As with most progressions of true difference, it was no overnight process. Countless MMO games and players of the past can bear witness to innumerable arguments taking place over players making purchases of virtual items & currencies; most times opposing such, but sometimes even arguing on behalf of the purchaser. Taking a moment to recollect on some of these major arguments the most outstanding rationale that purchasers back then shared was along the lines of time being equivalent to money, rather than spend the time for the items or currency, they chose instead to spend the money.
While some against such actions may have argued themselves blue in the face, raising the concerns over in-game economies or failure to truly have ‘earned’ the item possibly purchased, that one argument on the behalf of those buying as much resounds its truth not only in the virtual worlds but more importantly in the real world. A simple example would be shipping a package, if you want to use ground mail to ship your package it will achieve its destination in the standard shipping time period; if however you would like next day shipping this would cost you extra but your package would not suffer the longer wait. There is not a single successful businessman out there that will not agree that time is money; and while some of us may have neither at our disposal, those that do shouldn’t be restricted by those without (or at least not here in America).
Perhaps some of the developer’s heard this stance, and found themselves face to face with the money-market idea in its early stages. Others may simply have observed the success of MMO’s that have as much available for their players and began constructing their own version or matching those already out there. With steadily more MMO’s available for players to choose from, and it’s ever increasing player-base, it’s not really all that surprising to see MMO’s shifting from subscription based games to free-to-play with a real money-market for purchases.
Certainly the ‘free’ MMO has much more enticement for a new MMO gamer versus the risk of a purchase for something that sees a month or less of enjoyment. Let alone children with no source of income, and typically the largest target audience for video games, rarely have access to credit cards of their own, let alone the asking price for most video games. By making an MMO free-to-play not only is the target audience broadened successfully, but the advent for those new players to entice their friends to join them becomes that much simpler. Needless to say even if a player never makes a purchase from the real money-market from such MMO’s, the chance they will bring the game someone that will, is greatly increased when there is no purchase involved to get them there.
Looking back however one cannot help but wonder what happened to the rage such purchases encompassed; is this really gone from the MMO community or has this too evolved in ways? It seems that most of the items MMO’s will sell through their real money-markets are not items offered from general game-play within their virtual worlds. This definitely absolves any upset over truly ‘earning’ said items, but also can dissolve the argument of time being as related to the expense. Still some of these money-market purchases are capable of being sold within the game to other players once purchased, this in some ways may reinforce the time = money stance, but more importantly to the players it can also strengthen in-game economies. Just like in the real world, anything that strengthens the economy no matter how repulsive at times, can be much easier to overlook when reaping from the benefits offered.
Perhaps the strongest reasoning for the upset players shared against those that would make such purchases prior to the money-markets, would be violations of the ‘Terms of Service’ all players must agree to when signing up for any MMO. Although each may represent their stance on players selling items and currency within their game for real cash differently, there are very few out there that do not have stipulations against as much. Just like in the real world, few find pleasure in watching others get away with breaking the rules, especially when those rules and those provisioning them are respected by the disgruntled individual. While many may argue their stance for different reasons, the reality is when you violate the terms you have agreed upon, you are showing a disrespect of not only those rules but the virtual world that they apply to. Certainly there is a measure of ‘ignorance’ to the impact involved, but this does not absolve guilt, nor does it change the impact of any potential damages being caused. A simple example would be aerosol deodorants and their affect on the ozone. When it was made known to the public the damages these products had on our environment, many ceased using them that had been, but that did not undo the damage already present from the time they had. As Al Gore and other activists will readily point out, ignorance may create a measure of forgiving oneself but it will not help in keeping the icecaps frozen.
Now granted no individual player that has purchased an item or currency from another player in any MMO is likely to be causing a compounded failure of that MMO, if anything they are expressing an interest in the game even in their TOS violation. The truth of this issue however is that not only is there a greater chance the seller is not in the United States and thus you are weakening the local economy with such an expenditure, more importantly the providers of the game are receiving nothing from the purchase. Again on an individual scale the impact is minimal, but as more acceptance is felt throughout the MMO community over the value of their virtual currencies and items, the greater the chances that such expenditures could increase and ultimately have a combined negative impact. Again getting back to the aerosol deodorant mentioned previously; while the one person ceasing the use of their aerosol deodorizer may have minimal overall impact on the whole problem, it is a much more corrective measure than making no change at all.