Vanity Fair

CCP Zulu has published his latest dev blog on the controversial topic of micro-transactions within EVE online.  Of course MTs (micro-transactions) are nothing new and are fast becoming the finance model of choice across not just the MMO industry but gaming as a whole.

Even in the physical world games such as CCGs (Magic the Gathering) have proven that players are prepared to splash out cash in small increments in pursuit of what they want so it should come as little surprise that MTs are a sirens song to game developers.  EVE Online’s player base however is generally considered to be slightly older and (if we honest with ourselves) slightly more ‘elitist’ in its outlook meaning that the rising bile and fury amongst the community at the suggestion  of MTs in EVE was fully predictable.

Judging from the latest Dev Blog CCP appear to have stepped back from the brink and acquiesced to CSM demands that the MT contagion be, if not stopped, at least restricted.  CCP Zulupark comments that;

“Virtual goods sales in EVE Online will evolve through sales of vanity items, first in Incarna but later in-space features. The scope will be (and there‘s no design be done around this, we‘re just talking strategy now) that anything that doesn‘t affect gameplay directly can be, potentially, sold for PLEX or other means. Ideas that have come up include Incarna clothing and furniture, logos on spaceships and swapping out portraits. This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor is it a commitment that said items will be available for sale, I mention these as an example for what type of items we‘re thinking about”.

Of course as many of you will rightly note PLEX are already a form of defacto MTs in that you can exchange them for ISK and subsequently purchase what ever your heart desires and your wallet allows.  So is there any real reason to object to MTs?

Overall I would say no, but then it very much depends upon the nature of the ‘e-items’ you could buy themselves.  First off can these ‘e-items be only brought by a RL £/$ exchange? .  Secondly can these ‘e-items’ be openly traded with other players for ISK?

For example, let us assume that a Corp Logo emblazoned on your ship cost £/$ and cannot be traded or purchased using ISK in any way.  Clearly this is a “vanity item” available only to those who are ‘real world wealthy’ (or at least are prepared to spend their real world wealth in this way). This would create a division amongst the community into ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ because at no point could any claim they ‘grinded for this isk’ to buy their ‘e-item’: and I think that CCP are unlikely to follow this path.  Much better to maintain the illusion of equality of opportunity.

CCP’s argument is that ‘vanity items’ will offer no ‘in game advantage’ and here in lies the real core of the issue; allow me to explain a little of my thinking here –

Why do we play MMOs? Well partly it is to acquire ‘things’ in the game world and then show them off.  It’s a visible mark of our ‘success’ in the game, and a demonstration that we are ‘winning EVE’.  Even when we purchase ships for pvp in order to defeat our adversaries we strive for some sort of recognition be that KB stats or a little coloured dot on the universe map to say we ‘own’ system XYZ.

My question is this – aren’t these things themselves ‘vanity items’? Indeed aren’t all MMOs just essentially exercises in vanity at some level or other?

I think we can only come to that conclusion in the end, although of course we shouldn’t discount the fun and enjoyment we get by playing the game in order to achieve that end.  In fact many players will deliberately avoid looking the unpalatable truth in the eye – we buy a bigger better ship in order to get the next bigger and better ship in order to defeat our opponents and… off about it.

Vanity. –noun

excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities,achievements, etc.
So when CCP say will restrict MT to ‘vanity items’ they aren’t really giving really very much ground at all – at least with respect to the end state of protracted game play. You may have to had fought for that high end moon, in order to finance buying that shineh waist coat for your Incarna Avatar – but now if you’re RL rich you can just jump ahead and buy it.
Of course none of this actually makes any real difference because of the existence of the PLEX itself.  The small victory won by the CSM in preventing PLEX remaps is equally negated by the ability to simply buy a new character off the character bazaar with real world money.
Which, in conclusion, leads us to a final inescapable fact about the whole drama.  With the continued ability for a player to ‘leap frog’ the grind of others buy using RL £/$ to purchase a PLEX the whole argument is mute and the mutual back slapping by the CSM and CCP for averting disaster nothing other than
Vanity. – noun
lack of real value; hollowness; worthlessness

4 Responses to “Vanity Fair”

  1. Rasheem Bix Says:

    You have some valid points, but to me it sounds like you’re just looking at the bigger picture in a somewhat philosophical point of view.

    As a gameplay aspect I see vanity items as items that alter the appearance and only the appearance of our character or ship. I think CCP sees it this way too.

    Personally I see nothing wrong with PLEX for remaps since PLEX are for sale to all players for isk. But I would rather have it so that real money doesn’t affect the speed at which skills train, even though PLEX can be traded for isk which can then be used to buy implants and and Learning skillbooks. Keep in mind Cybernetics and Learning skills require training time, so I don’t see this as too great of an advantage.

    As I’m thinking about this more, I’ve come to the realization that buying PLEX with cash is really just buying time. After all time is isk.

    My whole point is that micro-transactions should be used for vanity or cosmetic items, or items that can also be bought for isk and these items don’t offer decreased skill training time than the current game mechanics do. It all has to be balanced to not give too much of an advantage to those who buy PLEX or it will completely change the game.

    • Both PLEX and potentially MTs are using RL £ to buy time – accelerating how quickly you can acquire any given ‘in game’ object. Its worth noting that might include influence and power (e.g use PLEX sales to hire mercs to destroy and alliance etc etc). The only area currently off limits is skill training which enables you to do certain actions in game. Its worth noting that currently Incarna hasnt mentioned skills as part of its game play so – theoretically at least – those with money to burn will be able to accelerate through this content faster than those without. This, at least in my view, could create a two stream culture of the haves, and have nots. This will be more readily apparent in Incarna where by and large everything is a ‘visual’ effect.

      This might not have many impacts in a sharded world – but EVE isnt sharded and therefore it does concern me. Will we see players vote for CSM members because their avatars have the shiniest threads??


  2. […] buying in-game items for real cash goes, the genie is out of the bottle already. As Cailais over at The Hydrostatic Capsule points out. We’ve been able to buy a GTC and convert it to PLEX to be sold for in game […]

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