Time Can Be Money: A Case Study of Real Money Transactions in EVE Online [Updated]

coinsIn this new article series, The MMO Gamer in cooperation with Stratics takes you deep into the subject of real money trading, or RMT. Guest contributor Dan Rosenthal from Gameslaw.net and Stratics.com takes you on a case study of the RMT in EVE Online.

Most MMO gamers should be familiar with CCP’s space MMO, EVE Online. One of the more successful western-style MMO games, EVE is known for having a detailed market economy, with contracts, commodities trading, and player run corporations with ownership shares and IPOs. EVE is also relatively unique among western-style MMOs due to the level of acceptance the developers have for player-to-player RMT transactions.

While some games feature integrated market trading (perhaps with companies like Live Gamer, which The MMO Gamer recently featured), they typically don’t allow direct player-to-player transactions, preferring to use some sort of escrow service. Other games, especially with free-to-play business models prevalent in many eastern-style MMOs and becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., offer RMT transactions directly from the developer.

Typically these games will ban player-to-player transactions, which would detract from the developer’s bottom line (and in free2play games, their main source of income). EVE, however, is a little bit different.

EVE has a developer-sanctioned outlet for player-to-player transactions. Players can sell or auction characters to other players on the EVE forums to other players through a series of standard steps; all backed by the ability of the community managers to intervene in case one player attempts to screw over the other.

There’s a catch, though. Players need to make the purchase in ISK, the in-game currency.

CCP allows players to purchase 60-day time cards from their virtual store using real currency, and those cards can then be securely sold to other players for ISK. The only downside is no effective way to re-convert the ISK into dollars without utilizing a third-party. The result gives players a lot of flexibility in how they acquire in-game content.

Want to buy or sell an item in game for ISK? The in-game features take care of that already. Out of ISK but still want to buy or sell something? Pick up a time card sell it for a quick infusion of ISK. Got a character you no longer have time to play? Sell him off in exchange for potentially billions of ISK. The relatively tolerant atmosphere in regards to RMT results in fewer players having to resort to gold farmers, or complain of having accounts hacked or banned.

EVE’s system, while certainly more forgiving than most games, is not without flaws. For one, the time cards take time to be shipped from CCP to the player. The exchange rate isn’t great either — currently time cards sell for around 600 million ISK for 60 days, or around 17 million ISK per dollar.

ISK sellers, however, provide much better exchange rates: one site sells at 25 million ISK per dollar, or better in bulk. Why would players want to wait for their time cards to be shipped (not to mention the international service fees charged by the bank due to CCP being an Icelandic company), and then be hit with a sub-premium exchange rate. For 35 bucks I can get 600 million ISK with a time card, or for 27 bucks I can get 1 billion ISK from a reseller. Of course, there are some sanctioned time card sellers that cut out the shipping process for a faster deal, but that doesn’t mitigate the entire problem.

The other major problem is that there is no sanctioned way to convert the ISK back into real world dollars. EVE is known to have a high rate of burnout among its players, some of which may have amassed tens of billions of ISK. If the players choose to quit the game, they’ve now lost any real way of pulling the ISK back out of the game. There are some unofficial gold/ISK-sellers that also have a purchasing component, but like any business they offer absurdly low rates, not to mention that third-party ISK sellers and buyers violate the game’s EULA and can result in the player’s account being terminated.

To test out the RMT system, I spent the past month exploring various ways to spend my hard-earned money in EVE. First, I decided I wanted some cash. I went to the EVE Online store and picked up 5 game time cards — and promptly ran into my first snag. Game Time Cards may only be ordered in quantities of three or less, meaning I had to make two separate purchases.

The second snag came when I found out that each purchase triggered a $5 international service fee. Wachovia informed me that this is actually a Visa-wide fee, due to CCP’s registration as an Icelandic company (despite their having offices in the U.S.). My next problem came from trying to sell the GTCs through the “Time Code Bazaar” on the forums. While I quickly found buyers, none of them actually went through with the deal.

This is the inherent problem with developer sanctioned RMT. Unless true, unfettered, player-to-player transactions are allowed without developer “regulation”, the market will inevitably be operating inefficiently. Consider gold-farmers for a moment. Setting aside the moral or legal aspects of the trade, and considering from a purely economic standpoint, gold-farmers are the RMT equivalent of large corporations. They operate on the concept of “economies-of-scale”, which basically means that up to a certain point, the larger a company is, the cheaper they can produce that product.

Of course, companies that can produce a product more cheaply can undercut the competition while maintaining the same profit margin; meaning they’ll make more sales, giving them more overall profit, and supporting the corporate growth, which furthers the economy of scale. This is the market at its most pure. The sellers eventually hit a point where they cannot reduce their prices any further, and an equilibrium is reached (this is when prices for gold standardize). With most sellers offering the same prices, customers can then choose for themselves to not buy from unethical or disreputable sellers, or those that exploit their workers.

We all know that this doesn’t happen in the real world–the companies that exploit their workers gain a competitive edge, and can continue to undercut the competition. Think sweatshops and child labor. The solution, however, is not to ban industry. We don’t ban shoe sales because Nike used a few sweatshops. We don’t even do more than slap Nike on the wrist.

Games are the same way. We should be doing what we currently do with child labor laws: we outlaw the unfair business practice. Obviously this isn’t something that we can fix in a day, and extensive study and cooperation between RMT experts, game publishers, and government will be necessary. But the time for an international standardization of RMT is drawing near, and the first step in that standardization is making sure that the practice is in compliance with global ethical standards.

Update: Clarification: There has been some confusion on this article, so I hope to clarify it a bit. This article is a case study – it is a summary of one particular experience I had, and not intended as an end-all discussion on RMT in EVE. For instance, the article does not discuss PLEXs, an alternative form of RMT. This is intentional; for a pure newbie to EVE looking to get into RMT, they are more likely to find time codes before they find out PLEXs. Finally, I’m aware of third party time code sellers that cut out the shipping delay; the article explicitly mentions them, albeit briefly.

Comments

  1. #mmo Time Can Be Money: A Case Study of Real Money Transactions in EVE Online http://bit.ly/YypPv

  2. A company like Shattered Crystal will sell more than 3 at a time, and will also not generate an international fee through Visa – you can even pay through Paypal.

    Additionally, delivery time (after the first) is usually minutes. The first is an exception, due to a human validation, at least when I did it.

  3. Vendolis says:

    What was left out in this article was the possibility to buy PLEX (Pilot License Extension) over the CCP website. they exist as an in-game item and can be traded. They arrive within an hour and have no shipping cost.
    They are, how ever, more expansive than the , still illegal, RMT companies offering ISK, but they are a sanctioned way to do it.

    • But RMT has not been established as being legal or illegal, at least not in the US. Yes, it is against the EULA, but this prohibition in the EULA may not be enforceable. Until one of the MMO publishers prosecutes a gold seller or buyer, or until laws are passed in regards to RMT and virtual property, we will not know if it is illegal. Also do not forget that if RMT is legal, that means that assets you posses in game become real assets and, therefore, taxable wealth.

      • Skeptikal says:

        RMT is not, in of itself, illegal. The only law or court ruling I am aware of that says otherwise is that whole Lori Drew my-space/tube/book/face (whatever) internet suicide trial, where some idiot judge ruled that a TOS violation can be prosecuted under anti-hacking laws.
        .
        Yes you technically have to report money made on RMT to the IRS, just like you are required to report any other money you make. You will not have to report virtual assets unless the IRS declares those items to be taxable, which hasn't happened, so they have a real-world value of zero, regardless of what people may actually pay for them.
        .
        As for the EULA itself being enforceable, the EULA cannot require or prevent any activity outside of the game itself. So for example, if I sell people a service where I offer to guide them around the game for real money, that's not necessarily anything that the game maker can do anything about, and they probably can't sue me either. But they DO have the right to do what they want in the game itself, so if they don't like me running a guide service they could simply shut down my game account. This would leave me in the situation where I legally owe you something because we had a real-world deal, but unable to fulfill it, which means I could get sued for contract breech.

  4. EVE Player says:

    Selling GTCs has never been a problem for me, you have to keep in mind that the potential buyers have many offers to peruse and so they won’t wait for hours, after a few minutes’ delay, they will just contact the next seller, so you have to be fast.

    As for the unsanctioned ISK sellers – be aware that CCP will not only ban the buyer, but sometimes also all his other accounts and possibly people who have traded with him in a suspicious way. It’s really not worth it and CCP is fighting it rather effectively. But there are still loopholes in the game that are difficult to close, for example some people might hire an ISK farmer corporation or single players with out-of-game funds and tax them ingame as corp/alliance members. Several large Alliances probably do this.

  5. No offense, but this "case study" is largely incomplete without even a single mention (except in the comments…) of the relatively new PLEXs

  6. Flayer says:

    Jim! Saw you on Slashdot, just saying hi. How's this thing working out for you? Hardy harr harr.

  7. Arjan Drieman says:

    Why would CCP ever facilitate your rmt wet dream?

    Why would the EVE developers want you to be able get real dollars for your ISK?

    They’re not running a business to make *you* money. They rather have the real dollars going into their own pockets selling GTCs, and happily let the abandoned accounts with billions of ISK rot away in the bit bucket.

    DUH!

  8. Illectroculus says:

    Yes this article is about a year out of date, converting cash to ISK in EVE involves buying the time-code or card and then converting that into an in game item called a 'Pilots License Extension' or PLEX. Then you can use the extensive in game market and trading tools to sell the item for in game cash. The buyer can either convert it into game time or they can relist it on the market if they think they can make a profit.

  9. Koemghen says:

    Beside the practical means and fee cut off of PLEX, the way CCP acts with RMT is probably the best.
    It permits you to play "free" within months without breaking any rules of the EULA. That is some kind of reverse RMT as you're then buying "real cash" good (game time) with the game's currency.

    The article's subject is good but maybe EVE is not an adequate case of study because the whole economical system in this game is player based. Without dev control, isk farmers would create sort of a hole in this nice mesh that is unique in MMOs (in addition to the fact that you don't mess with Hellmar's Isk).

    >>"To test out the RMT system, I spent the past month exploring various ways to spend my hard-earned money in EVE. First, I decided I wanted some cash."<<

    There's no "second" and why the hell would you want to do that? There's a lot of much more lucrative activities to spend some time at…
    Play it for fun, it's done after.

    K.

  10. Have you read: "Time Can Be Money: A Case Study of Real Money Transactions in EVE Online" http://is.gd/UGGp @eveonline #rmt via @TheMMOGamer

  11. Phenom says:

    This is really a very very poorly researched article, or at least a year out of date.

  12. You spent a month “exploring various ways” to spend your money, and you didn’t notice the existence of PLEX’s?

    Learn to research. What a failure.

  13. Hi, I'm the writer of this article.

    First, it's not a year out of date. These transactions took place in the past month. Second, it's a case study. It's not meant to be a statement on the state of RMT in EVE; it's an example of a single particular transaction from the perspective of a person unfamiliar with RMT in EVE. Are PLEX's another option? Sure — if you know about them. But many players conducting RMT are complete newbies to a game, especially in a game like EVE that has such a long "catch-up" time for new players. They can't necessarily be expected to understand about PLEXs. Finally, I'd like to point out that the inspiration for this case study came out of a discussion at GDC with Eyjo Gudmundsson, EVE's economist, about the future of regulation into the RMT marketplace. So keep in mind that the topics mentioned there are on the minds of the people determining the future of RMT.

    In response to Arjan's comment – Because everyone else does. Look around you – Second Life, Entropia, and just about every K-MMORPG in existence allow players to make a sanctioned income in RMT; and those games typically have ten to twenty times the amount of concurrent players and subscriber base that EVE does.

    In response to EVE player's comment: I'm pretty sure that's what happened; I took about 18 hours before sending the codes (because, real life, right?) and apparently the attention spans of the buyers were abysmally short.

    In response to Vendolis: You identify the point precisely. No matter what options EVE offers (PLEX, GTC, whatever) due to the laws of economics it will never be cheaper than buying from a third party vendor. Thus, as long as publishers refuse to integrate with an open market RMT system, they will always be indirectly supporting an unsanctioned, illicit RMT market in which players are liable to be screwed over. The point is that publishers, by not embracing RMT, are literally causing the negative aspects of RMT to continue. As soon as western publishers start embracing RMT, the negative externalities can be limited.

    Finally, in response to Ono – you're indirectly identifying the trust issue that I mention. Many people are perfectly fine with spending money at Shattered Crystal. But what prevents the owner from suddenly deciding to screw you over, take your cash and give you expired codes? The EULA won't protect you. You're trusting a person based on their market reputation. If RMT is ever to succeed, we need forms of regulation against unscrupulous sellers, so that buyers can buy with trust, because as we can see with the U.S. economic market, no market can survive without trust.

    • Sure the EULA won't protect me, but the existing business relationship between CCP and Shattered Crystal will. They're one of almost 20 officially sanctioned ETC retailers, all of which are actively listed on the EVE-Online web site: https://secure.eve-online.com/etc.aspx

      • I think that's overly optimistic. The end result of that might be that CCP drops them as a sanctioned retailer; that still doesn't help the person who is out of their money.

        • I see that you've updated paragraph 9 with a reference to the sanctioned retailers. This is also applicable to paragraphs 6, 11, and 12, mitigating:

          Shipping time.
          International charges.
          Limit of 3.

          Also, your first reply to me says "no market can survive without trust". My reply aimed to show that there is trust transference from CCP to their sanctioned ETC retailers. If you want to be truly pessimistic, there's always the chance that CCP will go away – and that's absolutely permitted by their EULA.

          • Actually, that was in the original. The update is the separate clarification at the bottom. Trust transference extends from CCP to their retailers; it does not follow that the transfer continues with privity between the retailers and their consumers.

  14. Carai says:

    As an EVE player currently and avid MMORPG player in general, I had a few problems with this article… two of which I'd like to mention.

    1) You make the assumption that pulling isk out of game and back to RL money is desired.
    2) You make the assumption that seeking alternative RMT sources is available without consequence (in the subject of your case study).

    In response to (1), I'd say that the majority of your playerbase in EVE Online would leave the game if they offer a service similar to Linden Dollars or whatever other RMT game you may be thinking of. RMT was a big issue in EVE when multiple of the higher end alliances were selling tons of isk and often times screwing over those who tried to buy it through scams. People were going to spend money and CCP provide a semi-secure and legit way that did not break the emersion of the game. The latter is by far the most important in my opinion, something I didn't see in your article. To my knowledge, it is the only game to achieve that goal, and the only game I've heard of to even try.

    With regards to (2), the thing that was not mentioned in this article is that an EVE characters progression is time based, so the banning or loss of a character is the loss of all the real life time from creation to banning. Trading RMT in unofficial means is a bannable offense. If an individual is caught purchasing or selling isk, they are banned. See some very notable examples (such as the removal of a Titan and the banning of a well-known fleet commander from a prominent alliance).

    While I applaud your goal of doing a case study on RMT and especially for using EVE Online as an example, I think a few fundamental definitions need to be established when presented, including a) what does RMT cover (varies in scope between games), b) what actions of RMT are appropriate in an MMO, and c) how are these actions implemented for better or worse as examined through a case study. Not knowing your assumptions, I fear I cannot agree with your conclusions.

  15. EVE_Veteran says:

    Good article.

    MMOs that allow and facilitate RMT are the future of online gaming, and CCP will have to adopt and embrace that business model eventually.

    Before CCP could become a real force in an RMT MMO industry, they'd first need to clean-house substantially and become a less corrupt and more professional company overall.

  16. I find that choosing Eve as an example for an RMT discussion may have been doing yourself a disservice. Eve is fairly unique in many ways, and how the economy, RMT, character development, and game play work are a context that needs clarification in order to then posit anything about the broader topics you've discussed.

    To start with, the use of the GTC (effectively game play time) as a real currency equivalent is a unique choice that benefits CCP and the players. CCP is able to lock dollars and euros into subscription time, and players are able to handle a fairly tangible asset as a result. With the removal of off subscription skill training, game play time is essential for on going offline training of skills as well as logged in play time. So it's an important context differentiator that makes GTCs work well as that equivalent.

    To cite two examples, I've been able to negotiate ISK prices on in game items knowing the other person was liquidating a multi billion ISK item to purchase GTCs with ISK rather than real money. I also have sold a good number of GTCs via the forums and Eve's secure trading site to secure billions of ISK in capital to fund large in game operations.

    You're discussion of trading GTCs, having lots of non-payers, and statement that CCP doesn't go far enough with RMT trading between players suggests you may not have gotten a good grasp on how the trading forums, Eve trading screen, and in game tools fit together. I can certainly say I experienced as much if not more frustration trying to trade items in DDO – at least with Eve so long as I use the secure trading facility and sanctioned GTC sellers (I prefer Battle Clinic), I can always use the in game tools to open a channel with a player or know if a player is online before trying to close a trade. The tools provided by CCP are quite robust once you have a feel for how to employ them together – and there are forum discussion threads that do get into trading details as well as experienced players in game whom you can ask questions of.

    What I'm curious about though is what benefit you feel is gained by RMT between players for in game items and what benefit there is to being able to convert in game items and currency back into real money.

    In your "case study" you seem to suggest that RMT is a reality in many MMORPGs so it should be in all. Is that true? There are orcs in a lot of MMORPGs too – so should every MMORPG all have orcs? I think that each MMORPG must find its appropriate funding mechanism (micropayment, subscription, purchase of new releases, etc) and RMT only applies to a small slice of those.

    In your "case study" you also seem to suggest that RMT vs EULA violation cash transactions tip to benefit those who would violate the EULA in terms of game currency per dollar. Is this really the full analysis? People willing to hack, cheat, or otherwise break the terms for the EULA accept a high risk (and possible extremely high penalty) to go with their discounted ISK and in game items. When you put a cost on that risk – permanent ban and/or removal of a 2 year character is probably worth $300 in character subscription alone – then the ISK sellers don't seem to have such a good price after all. When enforcing EULA violations, CCP has made it pretty clear and obvious that you will lose a lot more than you paid in cash. And in some cases the ISK sellers have taken the euros and run – thousands of euros in one famous incident – so sticking with the sanctioned GTC trading, using the secure trading option that verifies codes and transactions, and using sanctioned online vendors for digital GTCs seems to work pretty darn cheaply.

    • This is the first in a series of articles. This particular one focused on EVE, but future ones will focus on other MMOs, including RMT-centric ones.

      I want to touch on something in your comment. You mention that people willing to break the terms of a EULA accept a high risk. That's absolutely correct; and the question remains (far more research needs to be done to answer it) whether those people are even aware of the risks. It's been well documented that EULAs, like any other large contract, are generally glossed over by most people. Even EVEs, which I've studied extensively and I believe is one of the easier EULAs to understand, can be confusing to people. Aside from being a journalist, I'm a legal analyst by trade — should these EULAs be written for people like me, or for the target audience of the game? That's one aspect. Another aspect is, how do you put a value in the cost/benefit analysis of a RMT transaction to a player? For some people, getting that ISK in order to buy a 2 year character is perfectly worth the risk of losing an account.

  17. Now one point you do make is that no matter how good you may be at navigating Battle Clinic to buy GTCs, finding buyers in the forums to sell them to, posting the trade on the Eve secure trading page, and collecting your ISK for your cash bought GTC… the market has inefficiencies. In some cases a lot of inefficiencies. I would suggest you consider modern banks and securities as a model for understanding those inefficiencies. The more regulation that is applied to make sure it is a safe trading environment and all parties have minimal risk of loss, then the more inefficient the process can be. CCP has done a lot of work in the last few years making things simpler, safer, and more direct. But there are still opportunities to improve the efficiency.

    Would making player to player cash transactions available boost the efficiency? I don't really believe so. By requiring all players, no matter where they are in the world and what cash currency they use, to convert real money into game time as the first step, CCP succeeds in defining a common global currency for trades. To price oil in the dollar we had to win World War II – and I don't think CCP is counting on an equivalent event to price all MMORPG game time in Euros. Once you have a common global currency in Eve for trading – GTCs and their equivalent – the trading environment is very robust, player to player, and has the checks and balances in place to support enforcing the shared rules for everyone (i.e. the EULA). Converting to in game RMT doesn't seem to add much at all when you look across the system as defined. Most of the deficiencies are actually in having to scan a forum for interested buyers instead of just marketing GTCs in game – hence the addition of PLEX which you chose not to cover in your "case study."

    All told I'm not sure how you leap forward to addressing child labor by standardizing RMT in MMORPGs. I also want to suggest that there are many elements in play when it comes to how markets operate above and beyond simply leveraging lower cost workers to undercut competitors. Eve's markets provide some of the purest PvP in any game I've ever played – and that's a good part of why they are there in the game and metagame. When dealing with supplier trust issues, the naive assumption that common regulation results in honesty seems to ignore every toxic child's toy China has shipped to the west for the past decade. And finally laws around RMT seem largely unnecessary unless we are going to drive MMORPG operators to apply for their banking and market licenses, as well as classify every MMORPG player as an employee or independent contractor registered in the game market. The tax implications of that would be staggering, but as Second Life seems to want to pave that road we only can wish them the best of luck as every nation in world lines up on their door asking to have full access to the entire Second Life user base to find revenue and taxation opportunities.

  18. Time Can Be Money: A Case Study of Real Money Transactions in EVE …: In this new article series, The MMO Gamer.. http://tinyurl.com/nrxwa6

  19. Time Can Be Money: A Case Study of Real Money Transactions in EVE …: There are some unofficial gold/ISK-seller.. http://bit.ly/HiBun

  20. Skeptikal says:

    Dan said "The point is that publishers, by not embracing RMT, are literally causing the negative aspects of RMT to continue. "
    .
    I hear people say this all the time, yet few, if any, are able to give me a solid list of what the exact "negatives" are, and why they are "negatives".

    1. RMT does not, in of itself, cause in-game inflation. In-game inflation is caused by the way the games generate money & items from nothing. For example, the NPC you sell your junk loot to never runs out of money to buy more loot… which leads to inflation. RMT can indeed make inflation affect the game much more severely than it normally would- this is not because it's being traded for real world money but because the people who do RMT gather huge amounts of cash but rarely, if ever, remove it from the game through money-sinks. During normal play, if the Devs don't find enough ways to force you to sink your money/items back into the void then you'll get inflation anyhow.

    2. The other major drawback to RMT is getting burned, ripped off, etc. In my opinion, this is simply a standard buyer-beware problem, and can be avoided by simply not engaging in RMT.

    3. The final drawback ties in with number 1. RMT tends to attract people who run a lot of drones to farm the resources. These drones usually do not contribute anything to the game community- they don't participate with others or share anything, and tend to tie up the best farming spots. This is again an issue with how the games are designed, and not something that is unique to RMT. You will see this same effect when a server is overpopulated or when the Devs have not provided a large enough map, or enough quests, raids, hunting spots, etc for the quantity of players who are attempting to use them.

  21. Time Can Be Money: A Case Study of Real Money Transactions in EVE … http://bit.ly/2F5HRP

  22. Time Can Be Money: A Case Study of Real Money Transactions in EVE … http://bit.ly/94nai

  23. Time Can Be Money: A Case Study of Real Money Transactions in EVE … http://bit.ly/bHNYk

  24. ManicDee says:

    You claim that your article is meant as a case study of how a neophyte might approach the problem, then you identify problems with the mechanism, and then you fail to describe the alternatives.

    If a neophyte found this article, you would not have helped them in any way, would you? Please update the article, doing a case study on purchasing GTC from eg: Shattered Crystal, converting GTC to 2 x PLEX in-game items, and then selling those items on the in-game market. At the same time you might also want to explore the idea that scamming is a regular feature of all player to player interaction in this game, and fake buyers posting in response to your GTC for sale threads is a way of manipulating the market.

    You also fail to indicate why it would be desirable to have ISK-to-Dollars conversion. The meatspace issues this would raise are incredible, and would burden the players of the game in every country with having to claim their in-game assets on their meatspace tax returns (or Business Activity Statements, if they are a company). Perhaps you could compare it to the second hand book trade, at which point we'd really be asking CCP for permission to trade accounts in "the real world" for real money.

    There is much more to the issue than you have chosen to cover, please follow up so you don't end up misleading new players into thinking that the GTC-for-ISK trade is broken. Highlight the fact that scamming and market manipulation is the natural order of things in EVE Online.

    As AURA used to say, "welcome to the world of piracy and capitalism!"

    • The article series is not about EVE, it is about RMT. Things such as in-game ISK scamming, and market manipulation in game in EVE are not significantly relevant to RMT.

      • Some goon says:

        Scamming is always relevant in eve. In the good old days, there was no ingame mechanism to insure the safe exchange of timecodes for isk. If you wanted to sell a time code, you'd find someone who wanted to buy, type out the code to them in an ingame convo, and hope that they sent you your money. If they paid upfront, the seller could just give them a random string of numbers and leg it. Scamming timecodes was a banable offense, but it required a GM to dig through server logs, track down the money, check the time codes, and decide who got banned. By the time a GM answered your petition, the stolen code or isk could have been filtered through a dozen trial accounts, and been impossible to recover. One simple method was to buy a timecode from someone, quickly use it on another account, attempt to use it on the account that just purchased it ingame, and claim that the other person sold you an expired code. All of this created a great deal of headaches and lead to the rise of the Time Cartels.

        The Cartels solved the trust issues with time codes in the years before CCP implemented a secure timecode sales process. Resellers would buy time codes in a timezone were the RL currency was strong and time codes were cheap, and sell them in timezones where weaker economies made time codes more valuable in terms of isk. Dealers would get their codes from corp and alliance members with good reputations, and then resell them, at a markup, to the public. The public would recognize resellers as trustworthy, accountable businessmen and buy their codes with confidence. Resellers took steps to insure that they didn't get screwed at either end of the transaction, they kept careful records of who provided which codes, and kept all communications ingame where GMs could easily follow the paper trail if something went wrong.

        In Goonswarm, we had a closed community with strict rules for admission and regulations to hold people accountable for scamming within the community. This environment allowed a few enterprising Goons to build thriving time code businesses. Outside of Goonswarm, there were a few other major resellers, but I am uncertain of how they sourced their codes and maintained quality. It didn't take long for all the resellers to get together and start fixing prices. For a while, timecodes were the most profitable business in eve, the resellers made tens of billions of isk for very little effort, all that was required for a transaction with a 30 million isk profit margin was a spreadsheet and a couple of quick convos.

        Then CCP introduced the new, secure timecode transfer system, and announced that it was now the only supported time code exchange method, please use the new system for all exchanges and stop flooding the petition queue with time code issues. Thank you, and goodbye. Won Ton, one of the major players in the time code business took a look at the new system and realized that it was the end of the Time Cartels, his business was built on trust, and the new system allowed anyone to buy or sell codes without fear of scams. Won Ton then took another look at the new, revised rules on time code scamming, and announced a going out of business sale.

        In the space a few hours, Won Ton scammed most of his regular customers out of tens of billions of isk, simply by asking for cash up front and then failing to deliver the promised codes. The forums exploded, petitions were filed, and Won Ton just pointed to the new, revised rules and laughed. His account was banned, but after a few days of polite debate and lively arguments with the GMs, they unbanned him. Since he had scammed his customers via the old, unsupported ( and unprohibited ) method of simply exchanging codes via ingame convo, instead of the new, supported, scamproof, foolproof, and confusingly unfamiliar system, it was perfectly legal. CCP quickly amended the rules to explicitly prohibit using any method other than the approved system to transfer time codes, and issued a blanket ban on any kind of time code scamming.

        Won Ton got to keep the isk.

  25. In regard to point 1, I agree, and this is not a negative externality I attribute to RMT. Point 2 is, and while you can argue that people should be aware, that does not change the fact that it does exist as a negative externality. Similar argument for point 3.

    What I was referring to with negative aspects of RMT are referring to sweatshops, slave labor, unscrupulous dealers scamming customers, and the lost tax income to national governments from the underground nature of the business. By embracing RMT in an open market, these things theoretically go away due to market forces (except the last one, which follows after the broad global market embraces it). But, this is all part of the broader discussion on RMT, which is the focus of the rest of this series of articles, so stay tuned.

  26. CheckNoBan says:

    "But the time for an international standardization of RMT is drawing near, and the first step in that standardization is making sure that the practice is in compliance with global ethical standards."

    This can be translated to "Screw you, you better go back to rice farming or prostitution (or whatever the previous step down in the wealth ladder the sweatshop workers did before) as long as I don't get to hear about it"

  27. Hold on a second… you claim that the negative aspects of RMT are:
    “sweatshops, slave labor, unscrupulous dealers scamming customers, and the lost tax income to national governments from the underground nature of the business”

    By limiting the ability of organized groups to extract realizable profit from RMT, while simultaneously opening illicit RMT to competition from normal players (through Secure GTC trades and PLEX) who are interested in gaining more time to play the game, CCP is actively discouraging all of the above, as well as the normally aberrant in-game behavior associated with gold farming.

    You’ve done nothing to justify the proposition that a completely open RMT market would really be more effective at this, but it’s certainly clear that these groups would have an easier time if their transactions were enabled by developer support for their business model.

  28. Malachi says:

    There's also the matter of burnout. EvE is – quite probably the MMO with the lowest burnout rating out there – its retention ratio is higher than most games out there, including wow. It does have poor *conversion* rate, but abandoning a game you've barely played can hardly be considered "burnout".

Trackbacks

  1. [...] See the original post: Time Can Be Money: A Case Study of Real Money Transactions in EVE … [...]

  2. [...] In collaboration with The MMO Gamer, I recently wrote a guest piece as a case study in RMT in EVE Online. Here’s a snippet.   [...]

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