I’m not really surprised that WoW has dipped its toe into RMTs (predicted it on SUWT show 50). This is clearly the trend with MMOs right now, although it’s been slow and cautious. Rightfully so, since these games have been built upon certain established cultural rules and taboos regarding the intrusion of money (and anything real life, for that matter) into virtual worlds. We often fail to acknowledge it, but I think most MMO developers feel the same way as their playerbase: the game experience has always come before the fast buck.
Above: The 2005 WoW parody Pandaren Express, which joked that you can order chinese food in game and have it delivered to your door. Spending real money in game for a service? How silly!
Compare that with what’s going on over in Facebook land, where blogging crusader Michael Arrington ripped the bandaid off of the seedy side of RMTs. Facebook games like Farmville are built around a different philosophy: hook the player in, and squeeze them for every cent you can, any way you can. What Arrington exposed is how companies entice players into signing up for deceptively worded offers to receive virtual currency for their game. He pointed out that companies who did not resort to scams were falling further and further behind, and he raised the question of whether Facebook might be profiting from this as well, since there was a stunning lack of action to enforce anti-scam rules and protect users.
He brought this issue up about a week ago, at the Virtual Good Summit. Anu Shukla, founder and CEO (at the time) of one of the biggest offenders, Offerpal, replied with, “That’s shit, double shit, and bullshit.” Poor choice of words for sure (I would have recommended “Let them eat cake.”)
In the week that’s followed, Anu Shukla has been replaced by a new CEO, who immediately apologized for the deceptive offers and promised to clean things up. Myspace and Facebook both have announced tighter enforcement of rules against scams. Zynga, which makes such popular games as Farmville, Mafia Wars, and Cafe World, also stepped foward to admit there’s a problem, and has already taken steps to remove scam offers from their games.
Above: Pandaren Express panda pet, circa 2005. Coincidence? I think not!
The moral of the story is, watch your shit. In the long run, these companies will still rake in tons of money, since they’re tapped into a network which accounts for 25% of all page hits. But there is a line when it comes to profits and ethics, and many Facebook games crossed over it and then some. I think that line is much more delicate with MMOs, but I think so far, the introduction of RMTs has been done carefully and responsibly.