Sony Sticks To Its Old Ways, Keeps Tight Grip Over Its Products

from the been-down-this-road-before dept

One of the notable aspects about the boom in virtual worlds is the bustling trade in virtual goods that occurs outside of the game. For example, there’s the sweatshops that farm items like gold and sell it to users often over sites like eBay. But considering how big that market might become (ne analyst thinks non-subscription revenue could hit $5 billion by 2011), some companies are getting antsy about losing their grip on in-game wares. Sony has been trying to prevent sites like eBay from housing auctions on items from its popular Everquest game. This comes after the company imposed restrictions on the trade of characters. In both cases, the company wants users to exchange items over its in-house exchange. This is really a long running gag with Sony as it has repeatedly hurt itself by being too closed. While we’ve said in the past that “Sony finally gets…”, it’s clear that the company still gets very little. The idea of a regulated, transparent and centralized exchange isn’t a bad idea as it could reduce fraud and make transactions easier. But Sony’s hopes of capturing a slice of this market will be futile if it thinks the right approach is to insulate itself from competitive pressures. Instead of wasting money by sending out cease & desists and hunting down rogue users, the company should make the case that its exchange is the best place to do in-game business.

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Comments on “Sony Sticks To Its Old Ways, Keeps Tight Grip Over Its Products”

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dennis parrott (user link) says:

management in general is the problem...

it isn’t just that Sony doesn’t get it. management structures in general don’t understand that _they are not IN CONTROL_. they merely delude themselves into thinking they are in control.

when i step back from this situation and look at out-of-game trade of in-game items, my brain says:

1. everybody is *paying* me to play; item farmers have accounts, players have accounts. i’m getting paid.

2. if people are buying stuff from one another, there must be some folks who desperately wanna play this game. (so the fans are RABID! great, come play and i get paid)

now where Sony and the other clo(w)nes get delusional is in thinking that THEY CAN CONTROL EVERYTHING. what they don’t get is that the gamers don’t like that — those folks wanna trade items and auction items and so on. they WANT to spend real money for fake items to play their silly game! Sony is whining that they are not getting a cut! how greedy, sad and short-sighted.

look if I was Sony, I would spin off a skunkworks to mint those items and sell them on eBay or any other place where that trade occurs and get my slice of that pie. your skunkworks could manipulate the market keeping prices “realistic” by simply adding items to the flow of trade. +90 swords are too expensive and users aren’t happy? make a few and offer them for sale; if the item isn’t as rare, it won’t be expensive and Sony also gets their cut of the action.

Egat says:

Developer Run Game Economy

The problem with a Sony run system to trade game items for real money is that it will completely alienate a large portion of their users.

Many of the users who play these games are younger people who can’t reasonably afford to put much more than the monthly fee towards the game. There is a lot of resentment involved if you just put in 48 hours of play time to get your +10 sword of killing stuff and some guy with too much money just plunks $200 bucks down on the counter to get one. It’s even worse if that transaction is sanctioned by the company running the game.

I’ll grant you that the game economies are not currently set up to enable those exchanges, and perhaps they could be tweaked to allow it without too much game imbalance. However, there is a lot of customer resentment towards players who purchase their characters and equipment in the games currently. Many would quit if a real money->game item system was implemented, or would choose not to play the game if it was a design decision from the outset.

Is it better to get a few people making moderate lump sum payments along with paying their monthly fee? Or is it better to have all people who quit over the developers allowing real money exchange in a game to continue to pay their monthly fees for a couple years?

Tipa (user link) says:

It's about level playing field

Sony wants to keep control because they are concerned that people with money will make things impossible for the casual player. If someone buys, say, 10,000 gold on WoW, they will be able to pay more for things, driving the price for everyone else up. Those who can’t spend that much can’t buy these items.

In EQ2 terms, you find low level “master” spells being sold for almost 100 gold. Nobody who doesn’t buy gold or have a higher level character with a lot of money can buy that spell – and if you want to solo and play casually, master spells and legendary gear is almost required.

I, for one says:

Not sure I get it

The interface of a microcosm to a macrocosm is sociologically fascinating. This trading of virtual game resources for real world money leaves me feeling old, like I just don’t get it.

On the other hand maybe I “get it” on a whole different level .

It’s a rare context. It happened in history when we all thought the world was flat and potentially infinite. It will happen again in the far future when we colonise space with light speed spaceships. But right now this represents a unique insight into how the finite and infinite interact.

Specifically, to answer the question “What happens when a system built on contrived scarcity is faced with infinite resources?” Does the value of everything diminish to nothing?

It is only by bounding the world, controlling it and all its resources that Sony or the overlords of any other “virtual world” can manufacture status, kudos, value in anything. Remove scarcity and trade barriers and you remove the very raison d’etre. You kill the purpose of playing.

Remember, there are no theoretical limits to production of in-game resources from outside the game. Yes I’m talking about hacking it. I could write scripts, crawlers, object factories or whatever to flood any internal market with infinite “labor” or “resources”. Not that I can be bothered, but somebody will be, eventually.

I’ve seen it time and again with cheating in other games, once the incentive rises high enough there is inevitable corruption of the system and eventually everyone packs up and leaves for the next game.

And since there is no limit to the extent or the number of virtual worlds and resources possible where does the power lie? Surely 100% in the hands of the players. Why do they stay? What do they hope to achive that wouldn’t be better directing their energy at in the real world? Maybe I am truly too old to get this after all 🙁

JEN (profile) says:

Sony isn’t the only game company fighting this war. The article hits the nail on the head by suggesting that Sony, or any game company, could get most of the business by simply providing a better trading portal than eBay or other trading sites.

Game companies have several built-in advantages over third party sites. They can provide in game links to the portals. They also control accounts, and this gives them several tools for reducing fraud. By handling exhanges themselves they can make the exchanges much easier.

There are two problems with game company exchanges. The first problem is that the game companies like to pretend that outside exchanges and farmers don’t exist (the players are not the only ones in a fantacy land). The second problem is simple greed. The game companies will not want to handle the auctions at a price that is equal to or lower than eBay and other third party sites.

Ric says:

Economic Principals

The concept of infinite resources in an economic system should in theory reduce the value of everything in game to nothing. Yet it doesn’t.

I wonder what would happen if a developer introduced a realworld economic rule set. There is “X” gold in region A…period. a limited amount of wood, iron, wildlife (extinction of the “blue seal” for it’s pelt) etc. The developer could introduce new areas in the game with its share of resources, as it is needed. But how would the game world work if people had truely rare and unique things ( a cloak made of an animal hunted to extinction last fall) or one of the few swords to be made of a rare metal.

Q says:

Devils Advocate?

I think being able to sell items/gold/accounts through and in game system where the company takes a % of the profits is a bad idea. I play WoW (probably too much) but if Bliz offered farmers to sell gold or items for real money in game, it would ruin the entire game. I would stop playing, I don’t want to spend more money on top of the monthly fee just to stay on top with gear. I have a feeling a lot of people would quite cause it would just go back to who has the most money. So you can either make money by allowing people to sell these items and take a small % of the cut and possibly lose a lot of players who have spent a lot of time to get where they are only to have more people catch up just because they have extra money to spend. Or you can make it against the ToS and ban accounts/remove items that people bought to keep the playing field even.

shane says:

unrelated sony has a psp game system, handheld, that uses a format disk that no amature can write on.

on almost every forum for psp everybody wants a disk writer. they could make the disks (cheap) the writers (mostly cheap) and make second money off of their psp owners…. the disks are pretty good. hard to scratch bc they are encased except for small spots. i would buy a writer in a heartbeat if it came out for all sorts of purposes… but for now i’m stuck using memory sticks.

boywonder says:

Game economy

As in all economies, these virtual ones seem to evolve into an entity unto themselves.

When I started playing WoW, I found the auction house facinating in that poeple would try very hard to undercut the other guy. They would sell things for 100’s of gold less than the other +10000 sword on the block. I found this dumb since the first one was to be sold before the second lower priced item. It would stand to reason that if the first one sold for x amount then the dude behind him would certainly sell his for the same price.

Then I found the auction helper mod, which is not banned by Blizzard (yet). I was able to search all the auctions for items that were going for less than the mean price and buy them all up. I then could immediately sell the item for fair market value. Even though I was not gold farming per se I was able to make several thousand gold for doing a 20 min auction scan per day. It is the basest principle of stock trading….”Buy low; sell high!”. This action apparently was fine by Bliz. Gold famrers spammed me in-game everyday to buy their gold. There must be $$ in it because I am quite sure that them spamming the fact they were gold farming got that account banned.

At any rate I do not care as much that people have lots of gold for whatever reason as I do with Blizzard and Sony’s heavy handed measures to “stamp out” this grey market economy. Blizz has deactivated accounts for a guy that used a Logitech G15 keyboard to macro out some key sequences. he was training up his weapon skill (which involved killing a low lv healing mob with a crappy sword, axe whatever) while watching a movie. he just kept hitting 3 buttons over and over. They said he was botting and got baned with no apparent recourse. They take his money and treat him like a criminal in some dictatorship.

I don’t play WoW anymore (AutoAssault for me now) due to some of their heavy handedness. I don’t play Sony games ever since they tried accepted me into the beta for Star Wars galaxies and then had the NERVE to sell you the beta CD for $7 – TO TEST THEIR GAME! No downloads. My jaw hit the floor. I couldn’t believe that. I washed my hands of them. Lost a customer for life.

Tipa (user link) says:

Re: Paying for Betas

You seem distressed someone would ask to pay for a beta. Apple and Microsoft both did it all the time, back when I was a programmer. I think it may be pretty standard. Not sure what your objection is… most people try to get into a beta to get a jump on everyone else at release, or to see if it’s a game they like. Few actually plan on regression testing. Don’t have to beta it if they don’t want to pay the fee.

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