I'm not a big expert on EVE, but I do follow several general MMO blogs which mention that game occasionally. So I was scrolling through my Google reader and in short succession stumbled upon two blog entries on EVE. In the first potshot proudly proclaims a new record for him in EVE, having reached 200 million ISK (EVE's currency). In the second Ancient Gaming Noob Wilhelm2451 reports on EVE's ingame game cards, called PLEX, which pay for a 30-day subscription and sell for 300 million ISK. CCP sells them for $34.95 for two. So in other words, if I started EVE now, I could buy two game cards for $35, use one for myself, sell the other on the ingame AH, and end up having more ingame currency than potshot after who knows how many hours of boring mining grind.
And unlike buying gold in WoW that would be completely legal. And unlike gold in WoW, you can buy pretty much everything with ISK, there are no bind-on-pickup epics or alternative currencies like emblems preventing gold buyers from reaching the best gear. And there aren't any xp and levels in EVE either, there are skills, that only real world time and ISK to train. Theoretically speaking, you could start EVE, fly to the next major space station, stay there forever, and still earn all the skills and gear the game has to offer. Without ever firing a single shot or mining a single asteroid. You don't even have to log on and play all that often. What is the point of EVE offline? And why does nobody seem to mind that RMT in EVE is legal?
I think the answer is that EVE simply isn't a game about achievements. In a game like WoW making your character more powerful or rich involves doing stuff. In EVE you can get more powerful by waiting (paying a subscription fee to CCP) and get rich by selling PLEXs (which you bought from CCP). That is obviously a good business model for CCP, but somehow unsatisfying for the achiever Bartle type player. Instead EVE seems to be very much about social interaction, politics, business deals, spanning from the honest to the downright scam. Which, like RMT, is legal in EVE. The advantage is that instead of the challenge being some raid boss, the strategy for which you can find all over the internet, including by video on YouTube, the challenge of EVE is in interpersonal relationships, which are by definition unpredictable. When you read about EVE, you rarely hear people talking about big fleet battles deciding a war; instead most stories deal with assassination, betrayal, scamming and treason. And the occasional multi-trillion ISK exploit.
And in a way, that is okay. It just means that EVE is a very different game than most other MMORPGs. There is no real competition between WoW and EVE, because those games would appeal to very different types of players. And it explains the different attitude toward RMT: Buying gold is equivalent to buying an achievement, which is a big deal in a game like WoW that is all about achievements. In EVE achievements are a side show, and if somebody decides to spend dollars on them, it isn't a big deal.