Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Prime Directive

Every geek or nerd on the planet understands what the term "The Prime Directive" means, but for those just learning the true zen of geek-dom, here are a few quotes from Wikipedia...

In the fictional universe of Star Trek, the Prime Directive, Starfeet's General Order #1, is the most prominent guiding principle of the United Federation of Planets. The Prime Directive dictates that there can be no interference with the internal affairs of other civilizations, consistent with the historical real world concept of Westphalian Sovereignty.

it had been indicated to include purposeful efforts to improve or change in any way the natural course of such a society, even if that change is well-intentioned and kept completely secret.
Granted, if your a honest to goodness, no holds bar geek or nerd, you understand exactly that this means not to interfere with the normal progression of a society. Societies that are slow to develop, should be able to grow, advance and prosper in their own natural manner without interference from technological advanced societies. Even if, the lesser society, already has figured out what the advanced society has to offer in the form of superior technology and proposes an exchange of goods and/or services for such items, the Prime Directive is very clear, "NO!, means, NO! and your not getting your grubby hands on our cool, awesome crap no matter how many dilithium crystals, fruit baskets or virgins you promise us. We don't want another "Return of the Archons" or another society full of Nazis on our hands, do we?"

Enter the age of RMT (real Money Transaction) also referred to at times as Micro Transactions. (You honestly didn't know where I was going with this did you? lol)

Basically, you exchange real moolah , greenbacks, dead presidents, legal tender or cold hard cash for virtual items inside your favorite MMORPG. Previously, this action had been discourage by game companies and players a like. A basic example of RMT is Gold farming. Farmers give the player an in-game virtual item such as gold, and in exchange the player gives the farmer $20.00 of their hard earned dinero, which was earned outside the game. Players have railed against this particular action for years. Why? Because as stated above, it does interference with the internal affairs of a virtual world. It purposefully causes improvements or changes things in a way that alters the natural course the game society.

Bob, the night elf rogue, who spent months gathering up items and materials to be sold at the local virtual auction house, who worked hard to make the 5,000 gold necessary to purchase the ever exclusive elite riding skil inorder to progress forward on his quest to getting an awesome dragon mount, is going to be pissed when he discovers that some bored rich kid decided to purchase the gold in 5 minutes for a few hundred dollars. I mean, maybe Bob the night elf rogue won't be pissed, but Oakstout the prot warrior will be.

Here is the real, deal rub, game companies already understand how RMT or in this specific case, gold farming, causes a sever imbalance in the game as a whole. How do they know this? Because they spend real money to craft software and services to help stop gold farming and ban people who do it for life. They do this because they don't like gold farming, ergo, they don't like RMT. Now I am generalizing, but still, to op out of one aspect of RMT and yet approve another is not right.

All MMO's have a End-User License Agreement or EULA expressly stating what all players or End users are and are not allowed to do inside the game's virtual world. Breaking a EULA in most all circumstances will get you banned from every playing the game. Here is a section of the World of Warcraft EULA...
exploit the Game or any of its parts, including without limitation the Game Client, for any commercial purpose, including without limitation (a) use at a cyber cafe, computer gaming center or any other location-based site without the express written consent of Blizzard; (b) for gathering in-game currency, items or resources for sale outside the Game; or (c) performing in-game services in exchange for payment outside the Game, e.g., power-leveling;
Clearly, Blizzard does not approve of RMT or the exchange of in-game items for sale outside the game. Who knows how long this will last, but for now, Blizzard is not planning on breaking "The Prime Directive" at least in my eyes.

So, my question is how can a company like SoE, who does their part to ban gold farmers, can do a 180 and decide to integrate RMT into EQ2? Granted they are only offering potions to increase XP, some house items. and few cosmetic only armor. True they aren't letting you buy phasers, photon torpedos or tricorders, but how does letting someone purchase the ability to double their XP fair to people who don't have oodles of disposable cash? If the argument is, that people who have cash, but don't have the time to level up a character normally, then, why not just let them buy a level 80 character? Why go through the hassle to earn things naturally as you play the game? Why not just whipping out a credit card? If you can't put in the necessary time to reap the rewards in an MMO fairly, like everyone else, then you should be playing solitaire or mine sweeper instead and stop causing game lag by logging in.

SoE went so far as to specifically alter their EULA, when they added the Station Cash and purchases, to reflect an entirely new policy. Previously, SoE had a a EULA, similar to the one posted above, that restricted players from actually OWNING anything inside their virtual world. Seems a lot like SoE took a page from Kirk's Kobiashi Maru manual.

MMO's by nature are time consuming. You don't jump in for 5 minutes and level up to 30. You have to spend the necessary time playing the game inorder to learn your character properly. It's true, that MMO companies don't want players floundering in the lower levels, especially when all the older players have moved on to end game.

So, to remedy this dilemma, some well established MMO's, specifically WoW and EQ2, have altered the way XP in certain areas is handled, by doubling the amount of XP for completed quests and monster kills, so you don't have to spend as much time down below, especially when another expansion is being released.

However, this adjustment benefits all players, not just those with disposable income. The concept of SoE being able to offer XP bonus potions for cash is just pure greed and since it changes the natural course of a player's leveling, it violates the Prime Directive, plain and simple. Even if they don't offer skill enhanced weapons, armor, trinkets or communicators, well not yet anyway, this little ripple in the fabric of game play will most certainly cause an inbalance to the natural play of others, who can't afford to purchase such items.

I enjoy playing MMORPG's. They are challenging and fun, but all that would change if RMT got added to the game I was playing, especially after I had spent many months working my character to the pinnacle of his or her potential only to lose out on great gear because my credit card was over the limit.

Live long and Prosper, unless it ends up costing you cash.

Editors note: I have added and changed a few things, therefore this is officially my second draft. Sorry to all!


  1. In EQ2's case, since they're not selling "gear" but only "fluff" items and XP potions how could that *possibly* affect anyone else's game?

    The exception might be if you have a static leveling group and one of you bought XP potions and out-leveled the others. Or alternatively, everyone else in the group except you bought the XP potions, leaving you behind. On the flip side, EQ2 has Mentoring so we're right back to "it doesn't matter."

    So many Western players get so uptight about RMT and micro-transactions and much of it seems to be based on ill-conceived illusions. It took me quite awhile to find any Asian F2P games that actually sold gear. Most don't. They sell fluff, XP potions and HP potions. Now admittedly, those HP potions can be, and are, balance-tipping but *only* in PvP.

    There's *no competition* in PvE.

    So, let's get back to blowin' the shit outta zombies!!!

  2. The one thing I left out of the post was the fact that I don't have any problem with F2P games that charge for game enhancing items, like +2000 vorpal swords for 50.00 etc.


    Because when you sign up to play those types of games the RMT is built into the business model, so you already know what your getting into as far as game altering options.

    But, when I sign up for a game that doesn't include RMT or specifically denounces it in their EULA but then later decides that they aren't making cash hand over fist like they think they should, so they alter, or Kobiashi Maru the Eula so they can add purchasable items that may or may not be game altering, its just wrong.

    How is paying for a power leveling service that much different than purchasing an XP potion? Both allow someone to level faster than others, and if we are to believe what the MMO industry leaders tell us about End game being the big goal for players, then that alters the game to give others an advantage. True it might be a .0009 percent advantage, granted, but once you step over that line, you can't step back.

  3. Yeah I get the whole "angry at Smed for saying there would *never* be RMT in EQ2 and now it's there" angle. I'm inclined to say "big whoop" but that's because I can't friggin' stand EQ2 so I couldn't care less, haha!

    How is paying for a power leveling service that much different than purchasing an XP potion?

    Power-leveling service: Paying a third party to have their people speed-level my character to maximum level and with whatever gear I specify and hopefully not indulge in credit card fraud and identity theft.

    XP Potions are just Rest XP in a bottle. Smed could easily say "hey, we're going to sell XP Potions and to make them more attractive to RMT consumers we're going to remove normal Rest XP from EQ2." Sure, Rest XP is nice, but it's mostly a fluff feature *most* important to the hardcore power-levelers (ie. doing it themselves not using the illegal companies) or leveling your alts faster through content you've already done to get them where you want them.

  4. *CoughReferAFriendCough*


    Where was I? Oh, right. RMT shoehorned into a previously hostile environment. Aye, it can be a problem. Perhaps the better choice is to design a new game from the ground up. Except that takes time and expense.

    If the RMT switch torques off the hardcore, but gets the company more money and a bigger userbase, is that a fair trade?

  5. If it torques off the player base and causes revenues to dip even further, then it's not a fair trade.

    My suggestion is, if it's not built into the game from the ground up but is added later because the sub base is down and people might get laid off, then discuss it with your players. What is the harm in that?