GDC 09: Applied RMT Design

In this Worlds in Motion 2009 session, Erik Bethke of GoPets fame and Andrew Schneider of Live Gamer - a company that provides a Real Money Trading platform to MMOs - walked us through sound Real Money Trading design for online games.

This session was given by Andrew Schneider of Live Gamer (a company that provides a Real Money Trading platform to MMOs) and  Erik Bethke of GoPets fame.

- Why do players engage in Real Money Trading (RMT)

People ask if it’s fair? Does it break gameplay?
Erik: If you have an item based game, people will engage in trading whether in game or out of game so it’s simply robust design to include it in the gameplay.

Some of the motivations behind RMT: it enhance status, it provides in-game advantage, it gives deeper controls, it’s social, to complete collections, to obtain in-games resources & money.

- Why add RMT?

- Safer transactions (which translates to happier players and cheaper support because then you don’t have to support the cost of players complaining about being screwed)
- Motivates the player base by validating their gameplay
- 10 to 20 percent incremental ARPU to active user base
- It makes it possible to monetize the time-rich (non-paying) users

But you need to do it right and make your players aware of it.

When they first introduce in-game trading through Live Gamer integrated in GoPets, players kept on trading on the grey market (Ebay, etc…) until the “Peppermint Fortune Cookie” quest that tied the gameplay to the trading platform and taught the players how to use the interface.

Erik: “It turns out marketing is important and I’ve been really slow to believe it.”

Erik: “If you think you’re doing a subscription game I would argue with you for a while because if you look at WOW it’s game mechanics is actually completely item based”.

- Item Design options

- Status / Appearance (doesn’t sell as well as it used to. People expect it as default.)
- Gameplay advantage (very sensitive ex: switching from main power to secondary power is one penny in Kart Rider)
- Rarity (Make limited edition items)
- Duration (consumable, charges, 1 Day, 7 days, 1 month, permanent, etc…)
- UI (you could have custom UIs)

- Balancing

Impossible not to make mistakes but there are some techniques to minimize screw ups:

- On gameplay items you can charge for Defense (more armor) but Offense will piss players off (need to stay free).
- Rental of items allows graceful re-balance
- Limited Edition (by definition is a Limited problem.)
- Buyback programs for collection (you could buy back the problematic items)
- Nerfing which is the worst solution.

- Multiple Currencies

Erik: “I Like to have at least 2. a time currency (time rich) and a money currency”
Also possible: a creative currency for the idea rich and ad-hoc currencies for specific purposes.

- Minimum level
Quests: “Do this thing you’ll get this stuff” must be really clear in UI

- Goal Interface vs User Interface
Goals must be measurable, comparable, accessible, meaningful, Scale in challenge as user progress
User Interface should exist to support Goal Interface!

Why Transactions

A Transaction is a twiddle in the DB
- Pick up an item / coin
- Drop an item / coin
- Create an item
- Buy / Sell / Trade

Concrete, measurable (metrics) player activity. If it can’t be measured, it’s noise.

- Thesis

“Good online games are engaging pastimes. Great online games have robust market economies with people spending a significant amount of time, capital, and intellectual creative inside thes spaces living lives. If they are not trading, it means they are not engaged enough.”

- High Revenues  / Low Costs

- Go Online, Skip retail, skip COGs & Intermediaries
- Yes Casual, Yes Hardcore
- Create addictive, immediate goal structures to get people on a rail of hard fun
- Create an inherent incentive in the game for users to recruit other users (eg guilds raiding PVP) in other words use personal gain to create viral growth.

Making a “hole in the ground” where players can just throw money in will help dealing with inflation. Other mechanisms include auctions, exchange or eventually, devaluation.

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