We recently wrote that developers were fighting a failing battle by trying to restrict secondary virtual goods markets through tools such as account banning and eliminating in-game trade.
Now an article published by the CIOL Network seems to agree: Fighting the market in in-game goods will not only ruin the experience for honest players, it won't work.
Pixels and Policy takes a look at what CIOL recommends, and whether or not their recommendation could soon come true.
Advocating a New Model for Virtual Goods Sales
The CIOL Network article makes a few interesting points. Among the best:
We believe we're at the tipping point of the
industry, which parallels the used game market in its infancy.
Unfortunately, publishers ignored the used game market potential and
GameStop created a billion dollar business from it.
No one doubts the potential market created by a flood of gamers chasing after scarce virtual goods. But it isn't necessary that the only dealers of these goods be third-party agencies that skirt legal gray areas and dance around potential account bans from game developers.
What CIOL argues is both commonsense and revolutionary – get developers into the business of selling their own items and currency, and suddenly the black market in gold and loot disappears. Consider it the virtual equivalent of drug legalization, fighting gold with gold.
The market in virtual currency and items is booming, as The Guardian reported on October 14th, but companies that ban trade in their game items are missing out on a shower of profitability.
Developers acknowledge they are unlikely to catch most instances of goods-buying, since the transactions appear only as trades within the game world.
As a reader noted yesterday, games like Runescape clamped down on in-world trade between avatars, but this merely drove away players and shifted the secondary market from items to entire characters, pre-leveled and pre-equipped with a selection of the best items. Can developers continue to fight this battle?
Developers operating their own "loot shops" would also crack down on fraud and game manipulation. Some of the tactics used by gold farms skirt the Terms of Service and EULA's of many games, and players are at risk of having their ill-gotten goods picked away by developers at a moment's notice.
Operating an official shop could run gold farms out of business, but there are serious risks. Since it takes no effort for developers to create gold (whereas it must first be earned by secondary sellers before it is sold), developers could set the real-world price of gold artificially low to force secondary markets into a losing position.
While allowing a centrally-set gold price would take care of secondary dealers, it would also flood the in-world economy with cheap gold.
This isn't fair to players who earn their gold, as these gamers find the value of their stockpiles drastically reduced by the influx of new gold and subsequently rising prices. This is why sharding is key to the success of developer-run loot stores. As we mentioned yesterday, some shards ought to be open to purchasing gold while others are not. This way every player knows what to expect.
As a plan it is still rudimentary, but these are steps in the right direction for developers and gamers alike. What do you think? Will developers like Blizzard eventually open sanctioned item stores? Will black markets in game loot remain an issue as open-economy worlds like Second Life proliferate?