Love it or hate it, it has arrived in the World of Warcraft, amidst shouts of horror, disgust, and joy.
What it means for you as a player (AKA a customer), is that you can purchase game-based amenities with real world dollars. Traditionally you purchased things in-game with in-game currency. If you wanted to trade some of your cold hard real world cash for in-game fun (aside from purchasing the game and paying a subscription), you would have to go do some shady business with a mysteriously falling-from-the-sky-dead-spelling-out-a-URL gold seller.
There are plenty of games out on the market that are technically F2P - meaning free to play. No cost for the game, no subscription fee. However, the game is massively improved upon by purchasing additions with real world money (think Evony... or don't. It makes me cringe - which is why I won't even link to it).
Where do you draw the line? When is a little RMT... too much RMT?
Everyone's talking about it... but I haven't. In fact, I've kept my mouth completely shut about it, because sometimes I'm simply not sure how I feel about it - other times I feel very strongly, but don't feel like getting flamed.
This is mainly due to the fact that I have a very solid rule about games and money. I pay for the game itself, and will not pay for anything else. I had to bend this rule for WoW, which is one of the main reasons I waited for years before I started playing it - that's how seriously I take my rule. I finally broke down and paid for the actual WoW game AND the subscription, and I figure that's enough. I draw the line at purchasing anything else, which is why I have never, and most likely will never, change servers. The only other exception I made to this rule was when I purchased a Lil' KT for my fiance for Christmas... and I debated over doing that for weeks. I decided that since I wanted to buy him something anyway, I would make the exception - the money was going to be spent regardless.
When it comes to F2P games, I absolutely do not purchase any extra amenities... it's against my rule. I am not, however, opposed to these F2P games charging for the real meat of the game. They put in the effort and time and money investing in their product, and therefore it makes sense they they find a source of compensation for that. I am, at heart, a capitalist. I take issue with Evony for other reasons I won't go into here, but I think most F2P games are great in principle, and have nothing against them.
So then, let's bring this back to WoW. There have always been ways to pay for in-game services, but they weren't necessarily sponsored or legal in Blizzard ToS terms. I know several people who sold characters via ebay, and the gold-sellers need no explanation. The only semi-sponsored in-game items you could "purchase" with real world money up until the pets were available via the Trading Card Game. It wasn't easy to get a mount TCG card though... and if you wanted one, you more than likely how to shell out quite a bit of money on ebay to buy one.
For as long as I can remember, you were permitted to change your character to another server, provided you pay a fee.
Later, a new service was added where you could change the name of you character, as well as the sex (for a fee).
Then you could change your faction(for a fee).
And then the whole world exploded, because Blizzard started selling very nice in game pets for 10 dollars each. To soften this blow, until the end of this past December, half of the money you paid for your Pandaren Monk pet would be donated to a worthy charity. Call me a cynic, but what a great PR move. I said screw that and donated 20 dollars directly to a charity myself. That having been said, my only real beef with this item was that it counted towards your plenty of pets achievement.
And now for the next tier... Bornakk has announced that Blizzard will hopefully soon be offering a new "premium-based service" that will allow people to access the Auction House via their mobile device... for a fee.
To be honest, I don't really know how I feel about this yet. I don't know what all Auction House abilities players will have via mobile device. I don't know yet what they will do to prevent scams and gold farmers from making great use of this. And I love my iPhone, and I don't know how much the app will cost. I also don't know what will be available for free (hurrah!!) and what will be "premium based" (boo) but if I had to hazard a guess, I would agree with Matticus' theories. So, will it be a one time charge? An additional cost to your subscription? Does it even matter?
I do know that Blizz has stated in the past that while they are breaching the realm of RMT, they have limitations - they want to implement RMT "in a way that won't disrupt the gameplay experience". They do not want a player who pays more money to gain advantage over one who pays the basic game+subsciption fee.
I've already stated that I'm a capitalist. I believe that RMT is hitting the gaming world by storm, and Blizzard wants to stay competitive by branching out into different money making approaches. I'm not necessarily opposed to this addition.
But I do have a question: Who decides what is the marker of the "gameplay experience"?
Is gameplay only competitive raiding? Is gameplay all about making gold? Is gameplay the pursuit of more achievements? Is gameplay the pwning of opposite factions in PvP? Is gameplay all about having your ideal RP toon?
Because paying to purchase pets affects achievements. Paying to switch servers affects competitive raiding. Paying to change name and sex affects RP. And paying for premium out of game AH service affects gold most of all, but every other facet of the game indirectly.
Blizzard built a rich alternate universe in which there is some aspect of the game that could entertain most everyone. I hate PvP, but I have nothing against those that enjoy it. I don't RP, but I don't make fun of those who choose to do so. Gevlon is the king of gold-making, and it is obviously something in which he finds pleasure and entertainment. It's not my thing, but it's also not my 15 bucks a month - if someone wants to sit around all day and take screenshots of me dancing naked with Power Infusion, who am I to tell them that it's dumb? It's not my money, it's theirs, and as long as it does not negatively affect the aspects of the game that I enjoy, I really don't care.
Therefore, when you say that on principle you want to implement paid services "in a way that won't disrupt the gameplay experience", then you are asking for trouble. Don't kid yourself. It all affects gameplay. When you suggest that it doesn't, it is an insult to the people who enjoy one aspect of gameplay over another.
But I have a bit more faith in Blizzard. I also know enough about their forum announcements to recognize how they usually prefer to tell us about something when it is already implemented - not long before hand. When they announce something like this, I interpret it as their desire to receive feedback on it before implementation. Like it or not, folks, AH access outside of the game is coming. The details, however... the nitty gritty... perhaps that is not completely determined yet. Perhaps they have yet to decide for sure what will be free, and what will be a "premium-based service".
I'm going to take the Coco-line here and say this much: Don't become a cynic. Whether or not forum trolls want to recognize it, Blizzard does listen to their customers. They do not always directly respond to each individual, but they are reading what the masses say. The proof lies in my Blizzard IP-traced hits from my post about why Oculus is a failure. They are listening, my friends. Business is business, but it is in the best interest of their product and their bottom line to listen to the players and find the optimal way to make money (i.e. retaining customers) which also requires a reasonable attempt to keep their players happy. It doesn't mean you're gonna get a pony - but it does mean that they want your feedback. The trick is to provide it in a constructive way.
Despite my reservations and my personal rules, I'm not sure how I feel about the RMT trend in WoW. I do want to hear your thoughts.
But I think Blizzard wants to hear them even more. Onward to ye forums! This doesn't mean I encourage you to go out and get nasty and banned from the forums - but tell Blizz what you think. Are you as excited as Matticus about this? Are you on the fence like me? Are you completely against it like many others most assuredly will be? Do you think it represents a slightly frightening trend? Tell Blizz, but do it in a constructive way - and then link your forum post in the comments!
ETA: The Green Armadillo has posted a very interesting... uhm... post... about the AH services on the horizon. I invite you all to go read it! He touches on many of the same things about which I've wondered here. Except, you know, less TLDRish.