I’ve worked on a number of MMO designs of one type or another over the years, (especially in the 90s), and one thing became very clear, it’s always useful to borrow ideas from casino gambling and add it into the mix. It’s an addictive spice.

And all the MMOs have some of that delicious flavor in them. There are number of reasons for that. One, because human behavior is fairly consistent, especially when it comes to repetitious addictive behavior.  Two, Casino’s have been studying how to make this stuff work better for years and years. They’ve put tons of money and decades of time into research and development. You’d be a fool not to pay attention to what they’ve done. Three, since you’re not gambling with real money the laws are much less strict.  You can break out tools that would be totally illegal if cash was involved.

There’s also a strong moral limiter on this behavior. Americans have strict ideas about “fairness”, and the idea that you can buy your way to victory destroys the egalitarian dream that comes with these fantasy worlds. If people think it’s about who can spend the most they’ll leave.

But what if there’s another world where MMOs are equally popular, but the idea of real money equating to virtual power wasn’t quite so abhorrent?

This article documents, in amazing detail, the journey of one woman who became a leader in a highly popular virtual world where real world money fueled her monarchy.

An online game manager recalled that he once received at the company a gamer who had money but no patience. This gamer came with an inquiry: could he simply pay to purchase high-level equipment? Everyone at the company had a good chuckle at that. Now, the manager sighs regretfully: they did not realize that the gamer represented an immense business opportunity. ZT Online, on the other hand, saw it and achieved success.

It’s an amazing fantasy story, one that has one foot in the real and virtual worlds.  But one shocking realization is that a world where greed is king has already fallen to the Dark Lords:

imageThe incident started with a new rule announced by the system: binding. According to this rule, the equipment and “silver” obtained from the system by the gamers was “bound”; that is, it was for personal use only and could not be sold, traded, melted down, or even discarded!

In the game, every character class required corresponding equipment; every type of equipment was crafted using a corresponding resource type. Opening treasure chests had long since become the main method for gamers to obtain equipment and materials. When you spent one RMB in the hopes of gaining ebony but ultimately came up with a hunk of crystal, one common solution would be for gamers to trade for what they each needed or exchange it for silver at a shop. ZT Online’s explanation for this rule was that they had discovered professional gamers turning a profit by selling in-game items offline; “binding” was a strike at that practice.*

The gamers eventually discovered that in this world, the free market was banned to a certain extent. Legal private property was permitted to be held but not traded. Only one giant seller was permitted to exist: the system itself.

The whole article is well worth reading, and what starts out as an interesting news piece ends as a compelling dark fantasy drama.


Found via Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

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