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Q&A: Gala-Net's Young Talks PlaySpan RMT Deal

MMO firm Gala-Net (Flyff, Upshift Strikeracer) has announced that the firm will provide RMT (real-money transactions) in its upcoming titles, thanks to a deal with PlaySpan - we sat down with Gala-Net VP John Young to discuss why current unlicensed
MMO firm Gala-Net (Flyff, Upshift Strikeracer) has announced that the company will provide in-game item exchange for upcoming titles through an agreement with PlaySpan, the recently launched "first publisher-sponsored in-game commerce network." According to an official statement from Gala-Net, which runs the GPotato.com online portal and was founded in August 2004 as a subsidiary of large Japanese online community firm Gala: "The PlaySpan partnership provides Gala-Net’s extensive community of gamers with a secure and interactive marketplace for buying and selling items. The partnership will cover multiple, yet to be announced titles, and will help greatly alleviate concerns about improper transactions and predatory traders." However, the concept of RMT (real-money transactions) within games has continued to be a controversial one, given that MMOs have historically discouraged the practice for gameplay-related reasons - and this solution effectively allows an open economy in games. Therefore, Gamasutra sat down with John Young, corporate vice president at Gala-Net, to discuss the new deal and why it makes sense for his company's games: Is this PlaySpan deal the only way you can buy and sell items in Gala-Net's products? Can you also buy in the interface of the game directly from Gala-Net? John Young: PlaySpan supplements what Gala-Net’s games already do, and expand the player offerings in exciting new directions. Imagine a country where one dictator owns all the factories and the central bank and can regulate every transaction in the economy. I’m the dictator now. No matter how enlightened I am, central planning just cannot foresee everything the players will want to do. I might price things incorrectly, for example, and never know. Like most publishers, we currently ban players that trade virtual assets outside of the defined ways we allow. However, by having an open economy, a tremendous amount of activity and creativity is generated. What we’re saying is that we want to be a dynamic trading nation like America or Singapore or Hong Kong. And we want to harness this info to make better games. Every Gala-Net game is different, but typically a player can buy items both in game or via the gpotato.com website, and can usually trade them to a willing buyer face-to-face in game. Our games are 100% microtransaction-based, meaning that we have an in-game currency and a cash currency, and each buys different things. Game design ensures that the Sword of Eternal Brilliance only drops off a boss dragon, while a wedding dress is a cash-shop only item, for example. What is new now is that players can trade via a rich range of auctions either in-game or via a web interface, and we are verifying the transactional integrity of it every step of the way, and actively encouraging players to trade their license to use virtual items. Will Gala-Net and PlaySpan have any measures in place to try to ensure that the products are not bought and sold separately from their own system? We have an anti-fraud team and Game Masters actively looking for players trading in unauthorized ways and warning or banning them as always. One of the biggest reasons we are offering this service is that we can finally ensure gamers that their transaction is real and they will get what they pay for. The reality of a lot of unlicensed trading today is that they end up like drug deals gone bad – players purchase one thing and then don’t get it, so they charge back, which hurts their credit rating. We want to give players a safe and secure way to do what we all know is economically popular. What is the big advantage to consumers of using this method to buy and sell items? Trading is fundamentally fun. We believe that a properly designed game that captures the thrill of the market will be a more fun game than one that ignores the desire to trade. Having said this, we have to approach the power of trade carefully. The real world is replete with examples of a botched transition to a market economy. Hyperinflation or burst asset bubbles are not fun, and game design has a critical role to ensure that all this trading serves the ultimate goal of a fun and engaging virtual world. But by actively taking a customer perspective on things, it’s clear that the future of games involves trading virtual items. The choice before developers and publishers today is whether to try to shove it under the carpet and pretend it’s not happening, or to harness the reason people want to trade and incorporate that into the fun. Why don't all games have systems like this set up? Are there any practical reasons for not doing it? It’s actually a lot trickier to execute than it looks. Gala-Net has a wealth of experience about integrating virtual items with real-world money, which is foreign stuff to many game publishers. The reliability in the tech has not been easily available until now. There are a lot of legal and accounting issues that are really not well defined. It takes a lot of effort to ensure that trading does not allow rich players unfair (that is, “un-fun”) advantages. And it’s scary when you are the dictator voluntarily giving some power to the people. But the advantages outweigh the risks. Are there any age limits or other restrictions with the system? We’ll be rolling out specific details of how this will all work, and which games we will be applying this to, in the coming months!

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