Posted by: L1H | June 12, 2009

Every MMO is a Micro-Transaction Game

Turbine’s recent announcement about their title DDO adopting a “hybrid” micro-transaction model sparked some debate in the MMO blogo-sphere.

A point of view that I see often repeated is that time spent in-game should equate to some kind of progression.  Players that simply “throw real money” at a game in order to become more powerful, or to gain an advantage, cheapen the experience of actually “earning it” the “old fashioned way”.

I want to comment on this.

This entire debate is just based on false perceptions from both sides of the argument.

The average MMO subscription cost us .49 cents per day.  That’s right: we’re paying every day – we just don’t think about it.  The entire subscription model is a clever way to improve customer retention.  Payment each month is easy and automatic – marketing terms for “out of sight / out of mind”, no pain – their gain.

With subscription plans we spend money in small invisible increments every day: even if we don’t log in.

However, this exchange of money – this paltry .49 cents a day, pales in comparison to the real resource being traded – the most important micro-transaction of our lives:


Time can never be restored, socked away, or earned back.  Jack Aubrey always says, “There is not a moment to be wasted.”  He’s right: time is precious.  King and peasant are both slaves to the clock.  What’s worse: at any moment your “time” might run out.

Trading time in our MMO games for progression is an exchange, a micro-transaction of epic proportions.  Every hour we spend in our MMO of choice we’re cashing in our “Mortality points” for in-game items, features, and access to content.  These points are indeed more valuable than ISK, crowns, gold, Turbine points, or any other virtual resource.  F2P isn’t free at all.

I won’t even touch the “value” of different people’s time – okay maybe I will.

Lunch with Bill Gates is worth more than sharing a doughnut with a gas station manager.  Likewise, it would cost Bill Gates 18 million dollars to grind his Shaman for 1 hour (it’s business, it’s not supposed to make sense), so it would be a better use of his “time” to buy a few epic items from an in-game shop and play the content he wants then to “grind it out.”

The point is: no matter if you’re Bill Gates or not, time is a non-renewable resource for everyone and should be selfishly guarded.

For this reason I can understand why some players that have invested a lot of “time” in their MMO feel that other player’s shouldn’t be able to “buy progression” with a wad of cash and a click of a mouse.  I totally get why they would feel this would “cheapen” their investment.  

Another factor that not many people address is positioning.  In our MMO games we start off practically naked, poor, and level 1.  Any visible progress you make is judged from the same starting point.  Micro-transactions corrupt the otherwise “fair” footing of the server, allowing characters to be born into privilege – just like in real life.

While I don’t agree with many of these player’s concerns, I do understand where they’re coming from.  If anything our MMO games are evolving: the more diversity of business models available will afford opportunities for many different types of companies to develop more games.  Translation: players get more choices.

It’s true that our MMO games are starting to mirror RL – for better and for worse, and there is no “putting the genie back in the bottle”, that’s for sure.

Conclusion: MMO’s are still a great value for entertaining yourself until you die, but there is no such thing as a free(realms) lunch.

Have a great weekend.

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