Op Ed: Will Monetizing Everything Leave Room for an In-Game Economy for EQNL?

Written by Feldon on . Posted in Alpha and Beta Testing, Commentary, Player Studio

In just a few weeks, EverQuest Next Landmark will begin allowing mid- and top-tier Founder’s Pack purchasers into its extra-early Alpha test. While a shroud of secrecy remains, we’ve confirmed that Landmark will launch with a single player race — Human — a single class — Adventurer — and in lieu of any combat or quests, just one all-consuming task: World Building.

According to PC Gamer’s splashy 18-page interview with Dave Georgeson about Landmark (and its fully realised MMO cousin EQNext expected in 2015), SOE will be looking to recoup its staggering development investment in EQNext post-haste. Zjeven, freelancing for EQNWire, takes a closer look at where (if anywhere) the line will be drawn on the ever-present Marketplace cash shop in these upcoming games, and ponders whether an in-game economy will have any chance to flourish.

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by Zjeven

EverQuest Next Landmark has been getting quite a bit of attention in the press lately, and who could really blame both players and the media for being excited about the game?  After SOE came out swinging from its convention back in August, the hype train following its big next gen title(s) has been massive to say the very least: garnering several awards, including “Most Anticipated” and “Studio of the Year” from a plethora of different news outlets.  I found myself animated much the same; while I’m not exactly one for games like that, I can understand the immense appeal to a creative game like Landmark, as it gives people more power in their building and expression than games like Minecraft have ever managed.

This excitement has netted SOE an excess of interviews in which its creative leads espouse their massive enthusiasm for the upcoming release.  One such recent interview was done with PC Gamer, a magazine that put Firiona Vie smack dab on the cover and touted the coming revolutionary “Double Feature.”  While the article written by PC Gamer was full of great ideas, one paragraph in particular stood out from the rest, where they summarized their discussion with Dave Georgeson about Player Studio and how it would interact with the game.

“Just about everything in Landmark can be sold for cash,” The article stated, paraphrasing information that it had garnered through its interview with Georgeson, “Got in early with the Founder’s Pack and claimed some super desirable real-estate?  Sell your plot.  Dug out a giant cache of diamonds?  Sell that, too.”

continues after the jump…

Let that notion settle in your brain for a moment: Effectively, near everything in EverQuest Next Landmark, or every valuable resource that could possibly be sold in the in-game economy, be it the materials that you build with or the land that you build on, can be bought and sold with real life cash.  The entire game’s economy can and will be able to be sold for dollars over bronze, silver, gold, and platinum.

In essence, I can understand why the decision was made to do this. It effectively allows everyone to participate in Player Studio. The ramifications of this on the game as a whole, though, have the potential to be radical and disastrous.

bazaar-turkey

Put aside the notion that you, as a player, will likely be able to make money off of this.  Then, think about this from a game design and upkeep perspective, specifically when it comes to the economy of EverQuest Next Landmark.  By giving players the option of doing so, you create two very distinct player economies within the game. If I were to hypothesize correctly, one of those economies will do much, much better than the other.  The real life cash economy has that draw to players of allowing them to make money from simply playing the game, and thus, most players will likely want to participate in that.  By most players participating in that economy instead of the in-game virtual coin economy, more goods end up for sale for real life cash instead of virtual currency.  When more goods end up for sale for real life cash instead of virtual currency, you effectively create a virtual economy that then operates entirely off of real life cash.

In essence: if you want something, you have to whip out your wallet for it.  Not your character’s wallet, your wallet.

SOE Is banking on this, I’m sure.  They want players to put their money on the table, because at the end of the day, they benefit.  Every time you sell something, they get a cut.  Every time you buy something, they get a cut.  By making Player Studio the “go to” economy, they make a lot of money.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, though.

worldmaphands

Player Studio, as an entity, is only accessible by SOE’s American audience.  Unless something changes, customers in Europe or Canada, Australia, Asia, Africa — wherever in the world they happen to be —  won’t be able to sell anything in the Real Money economy. We’ve already discussed the likelihood of Player Studio shadowing the in-game economy due to the lure of making cash, but international customers will only be able to participate in a piece of that equation. Basically, if you’re a European player, not only will you likely be expected to participate in this cash-run economy to be able to purchase materials or land that you want or need, you will not be able to in turn sell anything back into it to make back the cash you spend.

Put this all together and you have a recipe for something extremely dangerous. You risk creating an economy where everything in the game takes on a real cash value, and everyone is thus expected to participate in that real cash market in order to break away from isolation as a player. It’s a reckless marketing move, one that risks shutting out its international customers, creating an economy that is dominated by real world money.

Dave Georgeson calls it a “sub-market” or “sub-culture”, but considering there are very real examples where things like this have been attempted (Project Entropia comes to mind), and there are very real consequences for implementing systems to this extent , I don’t think “sub-market” would be the right word to use. Considering its likely prevalence in the game itself, it might very well shadow the virtual market that it exists beside.

This isn’t to mean that Player Studio as an idea is bad. Its implementation in the EverQuest Franchise and Planetside 2 is a testament to how successful a program like that can be. It rewards players for expressing their creativity, allows them to see that creativity put into a game as an art asset, pays them for that effort, and then relieves some of the burden on SOE to keep the Marketplace stocked with new goods. Everyone wins with that. When its implementation into Landmark was announced, the understanding was that it would work the same way; creative expression is a part of the game, therefore, your creativity could be sold for cash just like it would in EverQuest and EverQuest II. The spirit of the program should remain the same. Creativity should be rewarded. Yet Player Studio should not transition itself into a full RMT auction house. To me, that is taking it a step too far. 

But that’s the direction that EverQuest Next Landmark seems to be going.  It takes a concept born in imagination, and turns it into full-scale Real Money bazaar.  I understand that a game company needs to make money, but it shouldn’t do so by sacrificing the integrity of a popular program.  Landmark is a game that was perfect for the idea of Player Studio, and the game has the opportunity to very easily balance the contributions of players and the swiping of the credit card.  It simply seems a shame that the decision was made to instead take it down this road.

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Comments (25)

  • Chiteira

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    Now this is the sort of thing that should have been disclosed BEFORE the beta packs went on sale. Seriously SOE – BAD BAD BAD BAD!!!!

    This is what is known as a breach of trust.

    Reply

    • Ix

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      It was.

      Reply

  • MIragian

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    Unfortunately, it also opens the door for money laundering and credit card thieft issues as I believe Blizzard has problems with Diablo 3 to the point they disbanded the marketplace.

    This will either work great or be a huge mess and hurt Sony immensely I suppose we’ll see how it turns out.

    Reply

    • Quabi

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      My thought is that this sounds an awful lot like Diablo 3′s marketplace, which, as you said, was discontinued because it ruined the game :shock:

      Reply

      • Murfalad

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        I have a suspicion that they’ll find out that RMT added to a game once people already have invested some time is more successful than RMT added to a brand new game.

        Personally there are quite a few things I do not like the look of apart from the money aspect of this game putting me off (the graphics are a real problem). It is feeling also more and more like SOE have invested too much in their new titles while leaving their older ones on life support (I keep hearing these make or break comments now), the last few games have not been large successes yet have been paid for from the revenues of their older games.

        It would be a refreshing change to see the next round of development build on the games that they have, rather then produce another alternative.

        Reply

  • Mermut

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    I really, really hope this is smoke without a fire. But it’s a hope, not a belief. On the other hand, if Landmark (and Next) DO end up operating that way, it will mean I won’t have to worry about splitting my time between them and EQ2.

    Reply

  • Victa

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    OK Im going to get slammed for this but playing Devil’s advocate here… I think this may be OK. First, I DO NOT want this in EQN game itself… just Landmark. Which, while they may claim it be a game, seems to be more a virtual ala Second life? There is no way to “buy your way to the top of the parse” cuz, there wont be a parse. The only end game is to build stuff that may end up in EQN. I always felt SOE was outsourcing content craetion and I dnt mind them using real world economics to do so. Frankly Im happy to do so. If it blleds into the game ….grrrrr. Just 2 cents feel free to slam me

    Reply

  • Todd

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    Ok…gonna get political….here goes *begins to strap on mythril armor suite*, as I know I’ll receive some flaq…but all I ask is if you disagree, please argue my logic and don’t attack me personally.

    It’s obvious the bias the author of the article has AGAINST the way that the developers are setting up the economy in Landmark with statements like these:

    Put this all together and you have a recipe for something extremely dangerous. You risk creating an economy where everything in the game takes on a real cash value, and everyone is thus expected to participate in that real cash market in order to break away from isolation as a player. It’s a reckless marketing move, one that risks shutting out its international customers, creating an economy that is dominated by real world money.

    I’m just laughing to myself as I think everyone who reads this forum would agree that the U.S. has MANY faults…but one of them is NOT our economic system. I think that everyone agrees that the U.S. economic system if based on capitalism: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/capitalism

    According to the World Bank national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rankings: http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/GDP-ranking-table (download the excel sheet once you are there)

    The U.S. as of 2012 was ranked number one in the world at $16,244,600 million (so $16,244,600,000,000 dollars)

    And being that SOE is a FOR PROFIT company that operates in a capitalist country….

    Why the heck wouldn’t the firm want to create a game that is based on “creating an economy that is dominated by real world money” understanding that the firm is in business to make a profit?

    Perhaps the author of the article doesn’t understand that SOE is in business to make money?

    It appears to me that the authors are trying to argue against the true motivation of the game developers (to make profit) which is fine if they want to try to argue that…but they are going about it in completely the wrong way.

    OF COURSE SOE wants to create a product with an economy based on real world money……they are a company in business to make a profit for God’s sake! And the capitalist economic market model has proven (see world GDP rankings) that this model is the best at creating money.

    There’s my two cents worth
    Todd

    Reply

    • Feldon

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      If the optimal way to acquire everything in a game is by swiping your credit card, rather than PLAYING the game, then you have failed as a game developer.

      The market is littered with examples of games where the gameplay is just a vehicle to get you to spend cash. FarmVille. Candy Crush. Entropia. Diablo III’s marketplace. They all made lots of money at first, but now they are all crashing and burning. Zynga (maker of Farmville) is on the verge of bankruptcy. Diablo III’s marketplace got removed. Candy Crush is next on the deathwatch list.

      Woe to the developer who adds a Marketplace without realizing that you must exercise self-dicipline and extreme caution at “monetizing everything”. People should want to stick around and play your game because of the quality of the game, and then happily buy a few items because of their quality. THAT is capitalism.

      Reply

      • Sievert

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        Didn’t Smed just bash Zynga for this verry thing?

        Reply

      • Gourdon

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        Feldon,

        FarmVille and Candy Crush aren’t failures due to monetization. FarmVille failed because it required players to schedule real life around a game. Candy Crush will fail because it increasingly becomes a matter of luck to finish a level.

        I agree that SOE needs to be careful about Player Studio being perverted into the de-facto marketplace by $$ chasing players. In game resources changing hands for $$ that can be taken directly out of the game is a very bad idea. One can look no further than LiveGamer for the cautionary tale on that subject. The Bazaar’s economy was completely borked, though the inherent problems with an economy where most everything of significant value is no-trade exacerbated that problem.

        Once it becomes easy to place an item on Player Studio, the movement of $$ out of the game is impossible to stop. So long as plat can be exchanged for SC, the SC can be automatically turned into $$ by buying a shill item in Player Studio.

        This may seem like a grim economy. However, it is technically no different than the economy in any popular game. The important barrier that must be kept in place is that the in game currency must remain important to commerce. Otherwise everyone is getting $$ out from their Player Studio merchant and paying for SC to buy, an undesirable situation.

        The bottom line is that what is important is that in game currency be used for purchase and sale of in-game resources. So long as that is the case, SOE can do what they want under the covers with regard to plat $$.

        Reply

  • Jimbolini

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    Excellent article Feldon Zjeven!

    Discussion being had about this issue in the Landmark alpha forums, perhaps we will get a response from SOE there.

    Reply

    • Zjeven

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      Thank you! :)

      Sadly, I can’t see the Landmark Alpha forums, so i’m not sure how things are shaping up there. Probably under NDA.

      Reply

      • Feldon

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        Definitely under NDA. :)

        Reply

  • Loradio

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    Its ambitious to be sure. If they can control it via their own existing digital currency then it might not be soe bad, as long as there are clear ways to earn real money or station cash via the game.

    Reply

  • Bart

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    I think the whole “Landmark is Minecraft on steroids” bit is a little overblown at this stage of limited Landmark info. You may not have the freedom in Landmark as in Minecraft; maybe on your plot(s) you get/buy (as long as you dont offend anyone), but it remains to be seen how big those plots will be and how much they will cost if you need another.
    Woe to the Minecraft fan that needs to shell out loads of cash to bring their vision to life in Landmark.

    Reply

  • Thait

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    Well it is just the alpha right now, so there is plenty of time to change it if it does begin to show that it is a problem. I’ll wait to see how bad or good things are till the thing gets going and people comment on how it’s all working.

    Reply

  • Striinger

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    Maybe I missed it, but has there been talk about in game currency? I’ve heard that you can collect and create and sell and buy, but it all sounded like SC transactions to me. The only thing that leads me to believe there will be “plat” is the comment that EQNL will be a full featured player created MMO.
    Graphics and Minecraft aside, it sounds a lot like my early days of MUDDing as an arch, but without the coding.
    Also, read Sony latest strategy stuff and you’ll see that the console is to be at the heart of all of their entertainment; PSN only has RMT, doesn’t it?

    Reply

    • Pipsissiwa

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      And from my memory, 99% of player ‘castles’ were dreadful with the odd gem or two… I remember the MUD i ran, an LPMud running at the University of Sussex – spent my whole time fixing everyone’s buggy code that trapped or killed players, or just bugged out weirdly. Hopefully that won’t be possible in EQN but I wonder how SOE will deal with quality control (I think too of player stuff in LBP, much brilliant, most dreadful). I was made wary when there was a huge mech in one of the videos…

      Reply

  • Pipsissiwa

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    As usual, I’ll speak from the point of view of the European (UK) player that I am.

    Unless they can sort of Player Studio for non-US territories this game will bomb outside of the US. High initial uptake, then there will be a flood of anger, frustration and disappointment.

    If a huge chunk of players from around the world can’t participate fully in the game because a key chunk of the game mechanism is unavailable, especially where real world money is involved, then they ain’t gonna stay. They may not even come in the first place, and EQN/Landmark effectively becomes a US player only enclave.

    Another reason to not bother with EQN/Landmark, as if there weren’t enough already for Euros (Assuming Smed isn’t about to announce that we can play EQ2 via SOE after all – fat chance – its more likely they are gonna try again to shove us all over to PSS1).

    Still, got an ESO beta key for this weekend :)

    Reply

  • Azari

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    You all have good points but I think you guys are missing a little point here. Today I was looking at the Founders packs again, when I clicked on an arrow down button. Here is what I found… US Dollars, Australian Dollars, Danish Krone, Euro, British Pound Sterling, Norwegian Krone, Swedish Krona, Swiss Franc, Japanese Yen, Brazilian Real. They have got their bases covered boys. I for one believe in what they are doing or I would not be a Trailblazer.

    Have you ever played the sandbox game Second Life? It is based on the Linden Dollars which can be exchanged for real world currency via your credit card account or Pay Pal. Linden Dollard (L$) and Sony’s Station Cash (SC) are basically the same thing. Second Life’s economy is strong one and has been for over 17 years. Players buy and sell in L$ and the Lindens who run the game get a cut of all the sales from the marketplace. Plus the players run the price of the L$ up and down just like the real world stock market. So you can play the Linden Stock Market as well. The Lindens don’t have to pay out any money or worry about the exchange rate the credit cards companies do that for them. Sony has one thing SL does not have Sony has other games. And this is a win, win deal for all of their games. (just my opinion)
    Azari

    Reply

    • Pipsissiwa

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      I can speak a bit for Second Life as hubby worked as a coder at Linden Lab for years. Second Life has a vast amount of free stuff made by players too, it is easy to set up a ‘shop’ where everything is free. It is easy to ‘play’ (i personally dispute it is much of a game but that’s just me) with access to pretty much everything and ignore the real world transactions completely. It will be interesting to see if you can ‘sell’ stuff for free in EQN beyond a direct player to player interaction. SOE may well force you to price stuff you make if you want to sell it to make sure they get a cut. We don’t know yet.

      Second Life is also full of griefers and immature idiots making obscene or stupid things. In a fantasy setting this could really ruin any immersion in the game. I point again to the incongruous Mech in one of the Landmark videos. Does this mean SOE are encouraging non-fantasy stuff in a fantasy setting? How and if SOE police this in EQ2 will be critical, too heavy handed causes resentment, too lax cheapens the game.

      Reply

  • Striinger

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    The closer eqnl gets the less excited I’m becoming. I think it’s the emergence of their schemes to encourage frequent play, monetization, and prevent exploits that’s toning it down.

    Plots that cost more the more you have, require upkeep and can’t touch a friends plot. I’d you don’t play often enough or go on vacation you could become plotless. Your design will be saved but if it’s terrain dependent you’re stuffed. This also goes against ideas like dense cities and sparse countryside. Plot count seems to be by continent. Maybe they can “zone” a city to have its own plot count and maybe even building code (materials used, style, permission of neighbors, etc.) Think of it like a covenant agreement.

    I played a game in the past with the same idea but a much less capable engine. It had the problem of vast stretches of nothing with player stiff dotted here and there. Think about boarding a train or plane without assigned seats. People always spread the full length on a window. I imagine eqnl “Window seats” will be mountain tops (highest first).

    Reply

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