Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Aside: Micro-transactions and NeX

First let me get something out of the way: from my point of view, the Noble Exchange is not a "micro transaction" store. If you are going to mention "micro transactions" in any argument about the NeX, you are not then allowed to complain about the extreme prices of NeX items. Second, I don't believe the NeX is implemented properly. Third, I believe that not only is there enough room for one NeX, there is room for many similar stores.

To me, the NeX represents a PLEX sink. I believe there is a way that CCP can have a PLEX sink, sell "power" items, and still keep the majority of the player base happy. How? Read on!
First, some random background information.

EVE Online is a subscription-based MMO with free expansions. It costs about $15/month to subscribe, which is similar to World of Warcraft at $15/month. In World of Warcraft you have to pay for expansions, otherwise you don't get access to new content. EVE's expansion content comes free to every subscriber. Even better for EVE players is the fact that you can extend your game time using someone else's money, by trading game time for ISK (because someone else is effectively trading real money for ISK that you've farmed for them).

Dust 514 is going to be a free-to-play, MT based game. It is going to be set in the same universe, with all EVE and Dust players being part of one unsharded virtual world. To me, this is pretty exciting both from gameplay and economics perspectives.

Lord of the Rings Online is a free-to-play, MT based game. In game you have a number of currencies, primarily "gold" (the equivalent of ISK) and "Turbine Points" (the EVE equivalent is Aurum, roughly speaking). There are many things you can buy using gold, and there are some things you can only buy using Turbine Points. Many items in LOTRO are bind-on-acquire, so they can't be traded, and the gold vs TP economies are effectively isolated from each other.

At some point in time, CCP decided to try experimenting with alternate revenue models (i.e.: find new ways to get players to hand over money). One obvious idea was to turn PLEX into a form of currency apart from being a game time token traded for ISK. Allowing PLEX to be destroyed (by being carried in a spaceship which is subsequently blown up) was one way of attempting to reduce their service liability, but requiring PLEX to be destroyed means they can provide in-game rewards to players while driving demand for PLEX and simultaneously reducing the service liability.

How The Noble Exchange Works

Typical virtual items stores work on the principle of micro-transactions: that is, purchases equivalent to a few cents or a couple of dollars. The usual way of working is that a player invests in a bunch of store credit (e.g.: iTunes store credit or Turbine Points), then the player buys items from the virtual items store using that credit. The aim is to generate income by providing things that many players will buy for the price they're being sold at: it's especially useful to sell consumables, since they will always be in demand.

CCP decided to do virtual items differently: rather than designing a swathe of options for people to investigate in the virtual items store, CCP went for a smaller number of higher priced, luxury goods. Experience from other sectors had indicated that lowering the value of goods in the store would increase sales, but make very little difference to revenue. The reverse also appears to be true, and this is the avenue that CCP is exploring. Why build ten things that sell for a dollar, when you can build one thing that sells for ten dollars?

Well, suffice it to say that this strategy bit CCP in the arse, mainly due to the misconception by players that the NeX was supposed to be equivalent to the Turbine Store: people looked at the prices of these items and — despite the publicity from CCP about their luxury virtual goods store — screamed blue murder about the prices of luxury goods being too high. I found this amusing, in the same way one might find it amusing to be admiring the beautiful accessories in a Gucci store when a wage slave walks in and starts complaining about the $4k price tag on the handbag. You don't belong here. You don't understand.

How the Noble Exchange Is Broken

I suspect that one of the contributing factors to this misunderstanding is that the Noble Exchange has outlets everywhere. Every single station has the Noble Exchange. Why would a luxury goods store have more outlets than Macdonalds? In this case, I am of the opinion that the Noble Exchange should be a very limited, exclusive store front. For example, have three or four Noble Exchange stations scattered around the universe. Nullsec would be a great place to hide them. Exclusivity, along with the ability for players to interdict the store to express their outrage (while simultaneously arranging for blues to access the store and trade PLEX for virtual goods to hisec ISK farmers), adding value to certain constellations of null sec, and giving players something to fight over.

In addition, I find it absurd that there is a special purchasing interface for the Noble Exchange. I would prefer to see the Noble Exchange working just like every LP store in the game: you head to the Noble Exchange station, you buy stuff from the LP store with ISK, tags, materials and Aurum. I would limit ship skins such as the Ishukone Watch Scorpion to certain LP stores: in our example, Ishukone Watch. Thus to get an IW scorpion, some player must surrender a Scorpion, a bunch of IW LP, a bunch of ISK, and some Aurum. If CCP ends up figuring out how to implement ship skins as a separate item to ships, the same would apply: turn up to and Ishukone Watch station, surrender some LP, ISK and Aurum for the ship skin. The Noble Exchange could exist as a separate NPC corp specialising in “flair” items (or “vanity” items, if you will). The Noble Exchange should also sell schematics to use in PI, rather than actual items. There should be no need for a separate Aurum store. The idea of an MT store that dumps the purchased goods in your inventory wherever you happen to be is anathema to EVE Online's basic economic model.

How DUST 514's MT Economy Meets EVE's Economy

Now remember that Dust 514 is supposed to be an MT based game. Remember too that EVE already has  MT in the form of PLEX-for-ISK. So how should MT be implemented in Dust 514? Quite simply, using the mechanism that already exists: Dust Bunnies can acquire more currency by selling PLEX. Exchange real money for in-game tokens, start spending those tokens. Other games such as LOTRO keep the in-game currency separate in order to prevent people freeloading from the MT store, but there are ways around that in EVE: that's what LP stores are for. LOTRO also has different sized bundles of Turbine Points (e.g.: 400TP for $6.50): in a similar vein CCP could sell different-sized bundles of Aurum than just a PLEX, e.g.: 1000 Aurum for $5. These bundles of Aurum could be sold on the market (e.g.: a 1000 Aurum token for around 100M ISK) or broken down and redeemed for actual Aurum in the wallet.

By supplying “vanity” item for space-farers and Dust-related “power” items as schematics through the LP store for Aurum, nothing that affects flying in space is bought through MT, CCP gains their PLEX sink, the EVE economy is strengthened through having more items to manufacture, PI becomes more interesting (again, more items to manufacture), and Dust Bunnies get their MT fix! Of course this won't be quite the same as MT from other games. Whether that adds "depth" to Dust 514 or becomes a stumbling block driving people away from the game is a question I can't answer.

I'm sure that all these ideas have appeared before on other blogs, but where?

And again I find myself wishing I was a fly on the wall at CCP.

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