In-game Currency for Cash Anyone?
By Vincent Haoson, OnRPG Journalist
Trading in-game items and currency for cash is a story we MMO gamers are all too familiar with. It may be through legal means (buying premium items from the game publishers) or the alternative, (buying items from third-party groups or players) trading cyber items for cold hard cash is already part of an MMO’s daily routine. The only way for game publishers to protect themselves from players taking the alternate route, and getting their characters rich through third parties, is the game’s End-User License Agreement (EULA) where it explicitly says that players who have been caught doing Real Money Transactions (RMTs) will have their accounts permanently banned.
The EULA gives publishers complete control over a subscriber’s account once they find any “suspicious” activity being done by a player. The prohibition doesn’t stop players from doing RMTs even with the risks of being caught. Through cunning means players have gone under the radar of game publishers and have profited from such transactions, however with the EULA in effect, these so-called transactions are still considered “illegal”. However with one ruling, it seems things may start to change, especially for players of MMORPGs hailing from South Korea.
The First Salvo
In an unprecedented decision, a South Korean court has acquitted two Korean players for buying Lineage currency, Aden, for a lower market value and reselling at a higher price. The court stated that getting in-game currency is done through skill rather than luck; hence the fine imposed on the two Koreans in an earlier ruling was revoked.
This court ruling is a big step in terms of RMTs because it indirectly shows that subscribers may have a fighting chance in the courts in terms of publishers going after them. Though this may seem limited to South Korea only, the court ruling may in fact spur players from other countries to go for legal action when publishers bear down on them.
It is highly impossible to determine right now how other countries courts will in this situation, each country has its own autonomous rule of law. The effect of this ruling is that it undeniably tips the scales in favor of the players. Unless the court concerned considers in-game currency different from how the South Korean courts classified it.
The effects of this ruling will not be felt immediately due to the variety of countries having their fare share of MMOs and also a variety of courts and laws. There’s a possibility that the South Korean court’s perspective of in-game items may not be the same as those of other courts. However the possible ramifications of this ruling should not be ignored, especially since a lot of online games out in the market right now come from South Korea.
This move serves as a possible green light for players to do more RMTs. The first obvious effect is that publishers would then be forced to change their game’s EULA and rethink a new business model that puts them on a competitive level with the current market. This is going to be a tough pill to swallow for publishers because unlike players who have only time as capital, publishers have to juggle the cost of operations against a very competitive player market, where publishers may face severe losses due to players preferring to go for the cheaper merchants.
The possible resulting freedom of such transactions also means that there is a fiercer market and an authentic “player controlled” game economy. This means that in-game prices will be more aggressive and competitive because game publishers won’t have complete control over the real price of in-game items. The removal of total control of the prices from the publisher’s hands may lead to player abuse especially in game economies that are too free, making players and publishers succumb to the fluctuating prices that are sure to occur.
The free market economy in MMORPGs will have to change if RMTs are now considered legal as it will be an appealing market for players to venture out more in the RMT trade. Even with the risk of fraudulent trade still a considerable threat for such ventures, the change in the publisher’s point of view will mean that a big thorn has been removed for traders. This makes transactions like this more appealing which will lead to a considerable increase of traders that you will have to sift through. If you think that WoW trade channels filled with “BUY GOLD FROM US” advertisements are already irritating, just imagine how it will be if more people will ask you to buy from them.
It must be noted that these possible effects are just hypothetical and the things that I listed are mere speculation of what may occur if RMTs are considered legal. There is a chance that this situation may only be a localized event and that other countries’ MMOs will not experience the same legal situation. Other countries may in turn do something else, much like China did.
In China’s case, they have imposed a 20% income tax upon income earned from doing RMTs. This serves as a way to stem such transactions and hereby enforce publisher’s interest. The problem in China’s case is that it’s the player’s responsibility to present the income from RMTs hereby giving players a big loophole to escape through. However the government’s chosen decision may mean either that they are that confident in their way of tracking it or that they are appealing and trusting on the honest nature of its players.
What Lies in the Future
Regardless of whatever views or steps governments may take in the matter of RMTs, these actions only mean that governments are finally realizing the possibility of in-game economies taking part in real world economics. Our main concern is not for those kinds of things but rather on how this change will affect our gaming lives.
I’m considering these two events as pebbles of change that may finally cause a huge wave in the MMO industry. How big the wave is, we currently cannot measure, however, the truth of the matter is that change will come. The question is, are we prepared for what may happen?