They kick off with a slate of MMO and virtual world operators including Funcom GMBH, Sony Online Entertainment, 10Tacle Studios, Acclaim, GoPets and Ping0 Interactive, all of whom will work with Live Gamer to provide the transaction platform to their users.
My thoughts? There’s a large and thriving ancillary services market that has sprung up around MMO publishers and developers — and some percentage of the users’ dollars have shifted from going to publishers to going to these service providers. Over time we have seen services aimed directly at users for the following:
- Strategy guides
- Powerlevelling services
- social networking
- “User” content creation houses like Electric Sheep
- mementos, machinima, chat…
And of course, RMT.
The point isn’t whether any of this is healthy for the game or not; the point is that there’s a consumer market. All of these services have always existed, the question was who was operating them, whether they were run as real businesses, and how much revenue people derived from them. In some cases, we have seen vertical integration happen, where MMO publishers started offering these services directly. In others, it has been seen as a stronger and better business ecology if the services are run by third parties.
It is unsurprising, given the amount of financial incentive that flows through the RMT market, that there would be companies who take advantage of it. It is also unsurprising that publishers would choose to get on board to some degree. Uncontrolled RMT is
- worth billions to someone else
- damaging to the games
- impossible to eradicate
Controlled RMT is
- worth millions
- controllable and therefore potentially less damaging
Seems like a no-brainer from that angle. Presuming, of course, that you agree that it is impossible to eradicate.
My bottom-line: expect more ancillary services to come over time, and they are going to be for, well, whatever. Everything. Expect there to be services to allow you to maintain a presence without actually playing. Mercenaries for hire for raids. House decorators. Whatever. And these services will likely be in aggregate a greater revenue source than the actual world operation is.
Will the gamers like this? Flatly, no. At least not publicly.
But a heck of a lot of them will pay up quietly.