Julian Dibbell (juliandibbell) Sun 1 Oct 06 05:01
> To put it simply, your buying goods and money via RMT in World of Warcraft (and similar virtual worlds) puts you at an objective advantage over me, not because of luck or the randomness of the world itself, but because you took an outside-the-world step to improve your inside-the-world competitive capabilities. < OK, so this is a nice, succinct articulation of the standard objection to RMT. To which the standard response is: Yes, but your sitting at your keyboard 80 hours a week while I attend to the requirements of my job, family, and hygiene puts *you* at an objective advantage over *me,* also having nothing to do with the contingencies of the virtual world we share. This fact suggests a road range of outside-the-world steps I could take to improve my inside-the-world competitiveness (quit my job, stop changing the cat litter, ignore my spouse's pleas to for God's sake come to bed), and yet, disturbingly enough, it's only the comparatively sane option of RMT that you want to call cheating. There are standard counterresponses to the standard response, of course. But the whole conversation really just winnows toward a single question: What kind of game are we playing here? What does it value? What does it reward? And this is where Jennifer's point about perceptions comes into play. Make RMT a part of the ground rules, and I don't think it will be any more controversial than the obscene -- but "fair" -- time requirements of most MMOs already are. Indeed, there already are a number of competitive games that incorporate RMT uncontroversially. As I've mentioned, EverQuest 2 now has a few servers set aside where RMT is both permitted and facilitated. The boutique MMOs produced by Iron Realms Entertainment have had RMT built into the rules for years. And then there's the strange and somewhat suspect Entropia Universe, an RMT paradise, controversial for lots of reasons but not the ones we're talking about here. In short, you're right, Jamais, the structure of the world does matter when you're thinking about the fairness of RMT, but not as much, I think, as the rules of the game.
Julian Dibbell (juliandibbell) Sun 1 Oct 06 05:01
Julian Dibbell (juliandibbell) Sun 1 Oct 06 05:17
> The larger and more difficult questions of bot-farming and gold-farming are harder to address.... The issues mirror some of the problems with large corporations in this world. When a business entity works solely to increase profit, and is large enough to rock the economy, it can cause a lot of pain in other ways, or create outcomes that actually harm society. In the case of games, the "pain" is that farming can suck out the fun in many ways.... < See, now this, to me, is the more sophisticated objection to RMT. And though I'm not sure how much I agree with this one either, I think it's unfortunate that the argument tends to remain stuck at the more elementary level of individual cheating versus fair play. In a lot of ways virtual economies are great teaching objects, with the potential to get average citizens thinking a lot more actively about how economies affect them generally. If people could see the problems of RMT more systemically, as you do here, Jennifer, they might be more inclined to relate them to larger systemic economic problems. In any case, they'd likely be more inclined to see RMT in terms of game design as much as play ethics, which might incline game companies toward more design-oriented solutions -- rather than the largely ineffective theater of prohibition and bannings that predominates today.
Jazzy (jazzy) Sun 1 Oct 06 09:35
I find it quite interesting that EQ2 now has pro-RMT servers with SOE facilitating the transactions. Any idea if SOE is getting a cut of these transactions or are if they are the actual item/gold sellers? Any idea how the economies look on those servers?
Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Sun 1 Oct 06 11:59
Thinking about this question, especially in light of Julian's response, it occurs to me that an interesting approach would be to look at responses to RMT in light of the concept of MMOG as "occupation" (not in the sense of profession, but in the broader sense used in occupational theory, activities which demand focused attention) versus the concept of MMOG as "space" (in the sense of a virtual world, or "metaverse" in current jargon). That is to say, how does seeing yourself as "living in" a MMOG versus "doing" a MMOG change your response to RMT? One of the particular interesting parts of this question, at least for me, is how the increasing overlap between the real world and the metaverse changes the nature of these transactions. Right now, you can spend real money for virtual goods (gold, swords, Spinning Mace of Mixing); you can, at least in very limited ways, also spend virtual money on real goods (Linden Lab now sells some graphics cards for computers for in-game currency) -- something that makes Julian's question about the taxability of virtual goods & money more pertinent. But with the advent of cheap fabrication technologies (3D printers and such), we're already seeing people create and iterate product designs in virtual worlds for printing to the real world -- and folks like designer Sven Johnson have noted that the easy integration of cheap network electronics in the printed product would allow use of the real version to affect the virtual version in return. It all gets very confusing. The big question is, then, how far will this go? What happens next?
Ludo, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Sun 1 Oct 06 13:47
FYI, "The Sportive Origins of the State" is in "Toward a Philosophy of History," by Jose Ortega y Gasset N.Y. 1941
Julian Dibbell (juliandibbell) Wed 4 Oct 06 06:09
Jazzy: My understanding of the RMT servers in EQ2 is that Sony is acting only as an eBay-type mediator in the transactions (and yes, taking a small cut of each). I suspect the culture of EQ2 and other games like it is too wary of RMT in general to permit the game developer itself to profit from production of virtual items. But again, other game companies get away with it scot-free: See the Iron Reams games, e.g., as well as a whole bunch of Asian games, which increasingly are abandoning the subscription model for a scheme that lets you play for free but requires item purchases for any meaningful advancement. A related example is Korea's Cyworld -- not a game exactly so much as a more playful version of MySpace. The bulk of their revenue is from sales of the Cyworld currency (dotori, or acorns), which users spend on clothes and furnishings for their home-page avatars. Apparently the penetration of Cyworld in Korea is such that having an avatar there has become a social and professional obligation. I heard an anecdote recently about a Korean telecoms executive who got an email from her brother complaining about the tatty shape her Cyworld avatar was in, and though she finds the whole thing tedious she felt obliged to go spend some acorns on making her avatar's appearance a better reflection of her real-life social standing.
Julian Dibbell (juliandibbell) Wed 4 Oct 06 06:15
> That is to say, how does seeing yourself as "living in" a MMOG > versus "doing" a MMOG change your response to RMT? A great question, Jamais. I'm not sure what the precise answer is, but in general I'm always on the lookout for metaphors of online interaction that escape the easy, obvious, and limiting imaginary of the spatial -- and I think your notion of MMOs as "occupation" rather than "space" looks like a fruitful one.
Julian Dibbell (juliandibbell) Wed 4 Oct 06 06:16
Thanks for the cite, robertflink. For those of us with downscale libraries, any chance you could flesh out Ortega y Gasset's argument for us a little?
Ludo, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Wed 4 Oct 06 20:07
I'll have to dig a bit. My copy is gone but I think one of my coffee friends may be a source. As I recall, the idea was that rambunctious youth in the days of old were causing so much trouble that the village elders got together and concocted some sports competitions, dances and parades and such to channel the energies into less harmful directions. As we all know, organizing such events is a challenge what with publicity, construction, logistics, crowd handling, officiating and other tasks. In the process the village discovered that other village chores and the quality of life could actually be enhanced through organized government. I also recall his citing a number of references in literary works of old. I'll provide more when I have the book in hand. BTW, Bengtsen suggests in "The Long Ships" that the village elders in Scandinavia effectively solved the same rambunctious youth problem by telling the young men of the plunder available elsewhere and showing them how to build ships. I like exploration of the ludic aspects of humankind. Such a relief from the academic, the political and the religious!!!
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 5 Oct 06 07:40
Y'know, two weeks can just fly by when you're online! Thanks, Julian and Jamais, as well as all the rest of you who have contributed to this conversation while it was "featured." We've moved the big light to another discussion, but this one remains open as long as any of us wich to carry on. (I, for one, hope it can continue awhile.)
Jim Thomas (jthomas) Sat 21 Oct 06 15:07
God, like Bruce said, time flies - I didn't realize that it's been three weeks since I was over here. StL/Detroit in the playoffs have that effect!! Julian, that's an interesting response to Weber, and it makes sense in context. Weber is likely a bit off-topic for the central thrust of your project, but I'll try to follow up on your comments in mid-week. I'm in the middle of a paper on the history of Auburn (discipline, worth ethic) and Weber has become a part of it, so I'm still muddling through some of this. Your comments are useful for suggesting some ideas related to the transition of labor as "religious" and the more worldly "labor as profit." I'm plowing back through "The Sociology of Religion" now in light of your book and my paper, with the deadline looming.
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