Games and Politics

So a couple of not necessarily LOTRO related news items that I thought I’d pass on and talk about and they both got me thinking.

The first comes from a couple of places, the podcast Buzz out Loud over on CNet (episode 1148) talking about the South Korean courts legalizing the sale of in-games items for real world currency.  Two articles were linked in the show notes talks more about making online currency equal to real-world currency, while the article on talks more about the selling of items.  The folks over at LOTRO Reporter also brought this up last week as well and were pretty opposed to the concept.  One of their points was that folks using macros/bots would be banned from this service – which would be very hard to police and require a huge investment from the game companies.  I realize that the Korean market is quite different from the US markets, but this does raise some interesting points.  One of the biggest issues hitting most games is the illegal selling of gold, which fosters account hacking to obtain more gold to sell.  With selling of in-game currency  being legal, will that limit the amount of the illegal activities and make our accounts safer?  And since the currency is the same, in-game account theft would be a criminal offense and punished the same way – which would give the game companies more options to combat this problem.  Would game companies expand on their virtual stores and allow out-right buying/selling of in-game gold, thus providing another revenue stream?  Would this foster not only an in-game economy but almost a stock market for the real-world?  With this concept in place, you really could make a living playing games – which while initially I think would be cool, it would most certainly take the fun out of it.  The other point the buzz-crew brings up is that if in-game items hold value – that’s essentially income, or worth that you have and as such should you be taxed on that value?  Certainly selling the items would be subject to income tax, but even earned items could be seen in a similar fashion as your house and subject to a property tax.  That would be a bit harsh, but it would be interesting walking into a bank and saying “no, I don’t have any collateral but I have a level 65 Warden with full raid gear” and qualifying for a loan 😉

Now I highly doubt these ideas will make their way to western MMOs considering most MMO companies state numerous times that everything pertaining to your account is their property and you’re just allowed to enjoy them.  You don’t own your characters, their items, their accomplishments, all of that is property of Turbine, Blizzard, EA, etc.  With that mentality, really the only option they allow for using real-world money in game is for cosmetic items – which is where I think is the only acceptable use.  I know Sony has tried some of these ideas before on some of their servers, but I don’t think they went over all that well 🙂  I will be curious to see how this plays out as this argument seems somewhat analogous to the legalizing drugs argument here in the US.  I’m just happy it is happening somewhere else such that I can watch without being affected 🙂

The other interesting topic I came across was how net neutrality could affect gamers. Net neutrality is a huge hot topic these days for all the ISPs, search engines, phone companies, or pretty much everyone with a foot in the internet.  The idea behind it is folks are trying to argue that access and visibility on the internet needs to be equal for everyone no matter how or through what service they access it.  On one side of this argument, having a level playing field on the net is a good thing and would make sure we all get similar service.  It would guarantee that one ISP couldn’t block video games just because they want to or because it felt the traffic impinged on other users.  However, the flip side is that games really don’t take up that much bandwidth compared to streaming video and the likelihood that games would be targeted is incredibly slim.  And with that knowledge, do we really want the government stepping in to run all these services?  I mean if ISP X decided that they’d block all video games, most people have a choice of providers and they could switch to ISP Y.  In our (I’m talking US here) capitalistic environment, ISPs should be striving to provide the best service in hopes of not only staying in business but expanding to make more money.  They should want to be able to provide features and services that make them stand out, not restrict access such that they can make more money.  However, sadly it does appear that more and more companies are looking to nickel and dime us and few large companies are going out of their way to service their customers.

I’d much rather prefer they spend the time and energy on getting higher speeds and more access to high-speed such that we here in the US could be more on par with other countries throughout the world.  The fact that many countries have average speeds 5-6 times higher than the US is a little sad 🙂  This enhancement would also bring new players to the market and allow for more competition, which is always a good thing.

More LOTRO focused stuff coming up later today, but this week may be a bit slow for me as work promises to be a tad crazy.


4 responses to “Games and Politics

  1. They need to keep real money OUT of the games as much as possible. Buy the game pay the subsciption and that should be it. Once games start making it possible to buy the 1st age item, or even just buying in game gold, it will RUIN the game economy, enable those with more RL cash to have better gear and in general I think it decreases the enjoyment of earning it the hard way in game.

    The first MMO that I played was Dragonball, and it had a different business model. The game was free, but to get gear that was any good you had to purchase online ‘dragonballs” which could be exchanged in game for any number of items (even XP). It started out fun, but soon the cost to get the good gear started to get out of hand. The in game economy also suffered and even mid level items were priced such that you could never come close to buying them if you tried to farm your gold. The one thing it did was make an intersting market bartering dymanic, where if you were patient could make some extra money just buying and selling like stocks. But I did not start playing games for economic challenges. I prefer the ingame challenges of leveling and completing quests, not the challenge of how much in game gold I could aquire.

    I like how LOTRO even prevents gold selling from having too much influence by not letting the top gear be sold, it is all BOA, so there is no motivation to buy gold so you can get the Moria 20 rad helmet. You have to earn it in game. IMHO that is how it should be and I hope they keep it that way.

    I would be interested in hearing other folks thoughts on the influence of real money on MMORPGs. In my experience it is not a good influence.

    • I agree with you, I’m not in support of it and I do like how LOTRO has things set up to counter this particular problem. I brought it up as it did get me thinking and I was curious how it might work out. The DDO model doesn’t seem terrible either in that you can play for free but other perks are what they charge you for (I could be wrong here, this is my recollection of it) and I’d be fine with that. I’d love to be able to pay real money to buy up other houses in my neighborhood :), additional char slots, etc.

  2. games take very little bandwidth to run, but they’re heavily dependent on ping times, and ISPs that engage in traffic shaping always target time-sensitive data (ie gaming and VoIP) first, as that is the most expensive and least cost-effective traffic – expensive, because it *has* to be delivered quickly, even tho there isn’t much of it; and least cost-effective, because it can’t be cached/pre-loaded/ stored on internal CDNs.

    I had a guy in my LOTRO raiding group – one of our two minis >< – who was on a UK ISP notorious for it's traffic shaping. and every night at 6pm precisely, his bandwidth would crash and his ping go out to 150ms (ie, unplayably long). we wiped many Watcher runs cos he just couldn't get out of the way of the Watcher's screams before we had to ask him not to raid with us. he was in this position a: because he didnt buy his ISP (his parents did); b: his ISP was a low-cost provider who save money by ruthless traffic shaping; and c: there is no proviso for net or traffic neutrality in the UK (or indeed, in the US).

    *without* net/ traffic neutrality, all online gamers are hostages to the business model of their ISP: our ability to play depends on the goodwill of our providers to keep providing data that, put simply, they dont want to carry. sure, they talk about file-sharing and torrenting when talking about the need to shape traffic, but they're really targetting gaming, VoIP and other time-sensitive traffic.

    ComCast, Tuner and TimeWarner all engage in shaping, so it's not like even NA/US gamers have much choice should their ISPs decide to start shaping their traffic; and as the endless stories of gamers trying to locate the source of their lag, and finding out, eventually, that it's their ISP (including the guy in my raiding group) indicate, ISPs simply *cannot* be trusted to not shape gaming traffic *unless* there's a strong legal requirement for them to do so.

    • I didn’t think about the effect on ping rates – that’s a good point.

      I’m currently on AT&T and haven’t noticed much along those lines but then again I do pay for a higher bandwidth so it just may not be as obvious.

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