So in the recent F13 interview, I made the statement that “Mark Jacobs is on crack,” as regards his position towards microtransactions. Naturally, this was said with a laugh and all in good humor. Whether the transcription catches that is always up for grabs. I knew that quote would get picked up, though!
It got noticed over at the Warhammer forums, and now there’s a discussion not of the quote, but more specifically of the actual impact of microtransactions.
Raph Koster Speaks: “Mark Jacobs is on Crack” – Warhammer Forums
“It’s not like they are really impinging on you. It’s not like they are ruining your game; they are ruining your game in your head.”
That’s true. Until they see you in-game and one-shot your character.
So, my core point was that microtransactions as a billing model is a separate issue from what gets sold, which is a separate issue from what impact it has on gameplay, which is a separate issue from whether what one person buys impacts you as a player. Equating all of this is what really bugged me about Mark’s position on the panel. Microtransactions and RMT are not the same thing.
Now, in the case of head to head games — or in fact, forms of parallel competitive games — obviously, you want the playing field, the “challenges,” to be as similar as possible. This is why we decry doping, corked bats, etc.
On the other hand, lots of games do have scope for varying equipment. All the racquet-based sports, golf, and so on. And someone with more money can indeed buy nicer equipment. Heck, even swimming has run into this with the issue of how sleek a suit is allowed to be, whether you can have a full-body suit, all that.
Now, my comments were really made in the context of PvE, not PvP. And I continue to maintain that in 99% of PvE cases, whether the other guy got an epic mount has nothing to do with devaluing your achievement. And as I mentioned, we could easily start tracking stuff like how you got that epic mount (or whatever) and display it, so that people who bought their way up would show that way. If we got really clever we could have special sorts of PvP arenas for earned gear versus purchased gear, and all other sorts of cool variants.
The real issue with purchased gear enabling someone to one-shot you isn’t microtransactions, it’s the game rules that say that this separable item is more defining of your abilities than your real world skill is. It’s an intrinsic design problem with the game system that reveals that it is poorly suited in some ways to a head-to-head competitive game structure.
In the real world, a sucky tennis player does not defeat a good one just because of having a nice racquet. A sucky swimmer does not outpace a badass one because of a swimsuit. And an amazing golfer does not lose to a duffer just because the duffer has fancy golf balls.
Once upon a time, I proposed somewhere the thought experiment that PvP matchups should always switch to a percentage-based hit point scheme automatically and transparently. I’m sure there are tons of design issues to sort out, but in short, the system would look at the various abilities and gear (which are really just abilities too) held by the two players, and arrive a a determination of what sort of relative damage the different players ought to do — set them on somewhat equal footing, in other words.
Anyway, bottom line. RMT purchases of stuff that makes one player godlike in head-to-head competition is bad for a bad head-to-head-game. But it has little impact on a good head-to-head game.