Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sensible people struck down by RMT allergy

There are many bloggers in the MMO blogosphere, many of which I respect very much. But something is very wrong if in a current blogosphere debate the only reasonable comment is written by John Smedley, president of SOE. The issue is that SOE hired a new guy named Dave Christensen. And the guy worked for IGE in the past, which is the worlds biggest gold-selling company. So now Scott Jennings, Heartless, and Michael Zenke, among others, are all proclaiming that this is the end of the world. No, the new guy isn't supposed to introduce gold selling into all of SOE's games (they already have that in EQ2), he'll just try to sell SOE games in Asia. His only "crime" is to have worked for a gold-selling company before. In the opinion of my peers that apparently totally disqualifies him from ever being hired by any game company. And SOE is supposedly causing the end of civilization by hiring such a pariah. What a hogwash! Apparently these otherwise sensible blogger are so overcome by their RMT allergy that their brains switched off.

Michael Zenke at least posted a clarification, with excerpts from a letter from John Smedley, stating some very reasonable things: 1) He left IGE. Isn’t that a good thing? 2) We put it in the press release precisely to avoid anyone else thinking we’re trying to hide a part of his background. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to think we put that in there as an advertisement for why we hired him. Believe me IGE has image issues worldwide, not just in the US.

Real-money trade (RMT), the selling of virtual currency for real dollars, is a highly complex problem, which has been around for many years. And one reason why we aren't any closer to a solution is that everybody insists that the problem is *caused* by gold-sellers. Everybody pretends that we have a system of perfect game designers and perfect players, into which the evil gold-selling criminals invade to destroy the lives of the innocent. The truth couldn't be further away from that. Game developers design bad game systems, where advancement doesn't depend on your skills, but on the time you spend in the game. And where advancement and time can be tranferred to a certain extent from one player to another via gold. And we have not-so-innocent players who decide to cheat by buying this advancement. The gold-sellers just exploit the existing weaknesses of the game systems, and of the players. Painting gold-sellers as the only evil guys in this story is simplistic and not helpful at all.

IGE is not a criminal organization. The exact legal status of RMT is unresolved, because game companies don't feel confident enough in their legal position to actually take IGE to court. And the worst you can accuse them of is breaking the contract represented by the terms of service and end-user license agreement. If you ever let your little brother or girlfriend play on your account, you committed exactly the same crime. It is understandable that game companies don't like it, but it's hardly the crime of the century. Somebody who worked for IGE doesn't deserve to become a pariah because of that. Game companies opposed to RMT might even *want* to hire people from IGE, to gain better insight in how RMT works, and how the game company could change their games to prevent it.

What do you think made the CEO of IGE more happy: SOE mentioning IGE in a press release, or Blizzard introducing epic flying mounts costing over 5,000 gold pieces? For once SOE isn't the evil company in this story.

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