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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Station Exchange: A Year End Look

Yeah, I know, I've ranted about the Station Exchange a lot this year. I felt it was hypocritical for SOE to go on about how bad the secondary market was for the game until the money was headed into their pocket. I felt it was a blow to the already wounded image of the SOE brand amongst gamers. I felt that it weakened the legal standing of all MMO companies to fight secondary market sales in the future. I felt it raised tax issues. And, of course, I am against real money transfer in general for many other reasons, whether it is SOE or a third party facilitating the transfer.

But frankly, I don't want to be the person who is always going on about the Exchange. You can kind of forget it is even there.

But, since more mainstream sites seem to think the Station Exchange is such a smashing success, I feel like I have to be the one to speak up, since no one else is.

Okay, so I was rolling up an alt the other day, just to see how a mez class plays. When I got to the list of available servers, what was at the top?

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Yep, both Exchange servers. Two points to make here:

1. The Station Exchange servers should never, ever be the default server choice for new players. You can't expect some new player who just picked up the game on a whim to even know what the letters EXC next to the server name signify. They are going to roll on that server because it is first on the list and end up on a real money transfer server without ever wanting to be on one. I clicked next and did not receive any kind of additional warning.

I am not saying SOE is intentionally doing this. The server list puts the least populated servers on top. But they still can't let this practice continue without a clearer warning about what type of servers these are. I am willing to dismiss it as negligence but other less generous people might say it is a way to push new players onto SE servers. I don't believe that but it still has to stop.

2. Why are those names at the top of the list? Because they are the least populated servers in the game.

Why does this matter? Shouldn't I be happy? Well, I am. But it goes against what other places have been saying about the success of the concept.


Joystiq and Joystiq again



"Sony scores"; "proven a success"? Give me a break. Is that responsible journalism based on numbers for the first 30 days of operation?

Everyone is proclaiming this thing a success based on some early data and the gaming community has pretty much accepted that success as a fact. I am dubious.

My guess, and I stress this is only a guess, is this: Most of the players that transferred to SE servers did so in the hopes of making money, even if it was just enough to cover subscription fees. In the beginning, there were quite a few transactions because "you have to spend money to make money." In other words, those players wanted great gear or tradeskill supplies so they could rise through the ranks and farm the top mobs or tradeskill as efficiently as possible. People bought tons of boxes to hold their loot. So of course the first month or so featured a hopping economy.

But what happens over time? The population becomes top heavy as everyone reaches the top levels. Also, while these players are farming and tradeskilling great items, there is no one left to sell them to. And competition becomes fierce. Supply does not equal demand.

Now some might say, what about the players who simply want to play normally and just transferred to SE servers so that they could buy the occasional mount or fabled item? Well, I'm thinking those players are a minority. And even if they are not, they will reach high levels themselves soon enough if they haven't already and have all the gear they want. With the changes in itemization, you don't really need to buy much gear through the Exchange, even if you are a casual player.

Important Note: The fact that SOE has pumped up things like the items available in mid-level dungeons means they are not making decisions based on the SE server. If players can get great items through normal play, they do not have to buy them. Also, the reduction in prices for mounts and the increase in movement speed overall means that mounts are less of a gold sink. Thus, my negatives from other posts about the game being made easier work as a positive here in showing the ethics of the SOE dev team. It
clearly demonstrates that they are making their gameplay tweaks without regard for SE. If you read my old posts, you will see I never doubted this, but I am still glad to see it.

In short, the only way the demand side of the servers will grow is with new players. And while some say all will be fixed as soon as the non-US players are allowed onto the SE servers, this is a temporary solution to a lasting problem. It is my opinion that the influx of new players will not be enough in the long run to combat the top-heavy supply side of the pyramid.

And certainly, adding a PvP Exchange server does not seem like a good move. It will detract from the already hurting populations of the regular Exchange servers. Of course, the concept of paying for advantages is to me even more despicable on a directly competitive server. I would say adding a PvP Exchange server is just unnecessary and will not be popular.

As I said, I could be totally wrong. There is a lot of complaining on the SE forum about the faltering economy and population but it wouldn't be fair for me to point to individual forum posts as proof of anything. You can poke around there yourself and see if things sound like a grand success. To me, they don't.

But the fact that these servers are the lowest population servers in the game is just that, a fact. So I don't see how the SE servers can be proclaimed a smashing success based on early numbers. To shut me up, let SOE release new numbers on the Exchange for this month or next month. But don't do it immediately after you open the servers to non-US players because that wouldn't be a fair sample. And remember that not every dime SOE makes on Exchange servers are pure profit. There are additional costs involved.

Give me the numbers and prove me wrong.

While I will now shut up about the SE servers for a while, I will likely be posting some more general articles about real money transfer next year.


Blogger cyan said...

Let me say this:

The future of MMO's for North American companies is in an SE/micropayment biz model for any MMO of the future

In saying that, the numbers really don't matter, the players that choose this as "default" server, etc really doesn't matter. My opinion about it on the podcast really doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is:

The future of MMO's for North American companies is in an SE/micropayment biz model for any MMO of the future

I have gotten to the point where I believe this is the way the market is headed, even if we as players don't like it (yes some people do I know). It is inevitable.

study a lot of search engines also. There were tons of search engines that had great results, for a long time, but do you know why Google is king of the heap now? They had an interface that was clean and not ad/content filled. With their success that is slowly changing. They now have a personalized interface with gadgets and the like. They may not call it a portal, but that is exactly what it looks like to me. They are starting to look more and more like the Search Engines they beat out 4 or 5 years ago. It is the same way with MMOs, they are going to all move to a micropayment business model over the next 5 - 8 years, then one will come out which will use monthly subscription systems and it will do better than the others. It will do well because it is different than the rest of the micropayment landscape. Then the monthly subscription model will come back into play until some "new" idea like a micropayment systems creeps back in.

I honestly it is going to be cyclical for the next 20-30 years for MMOs (whatever that may be defined as in 20-30 years).

Just thoughts.

11:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aggro you should stop by the SE forums I poke my head in there from time to time. What I have seen is a community concern for a whacky economy. The value of the In Game Plat (IGP) is falling or at least was drastically.

7:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the real scoop, sloop.

The SE servers began with the opportunity to transfer characters WITH items. Do you have any idea what this did to the regular servers, the economy and the guilds?

Ok, I'll be honest and yeah, I'll name names, too.

Steamfont Server
Guild: Clan Lynx
Guild Leader: Gokkulynx
Requirements: 24/7 Raid Runs
Loot System: DKP subject to officer discretion with rares and unworn items going to the bank. Changed according to Gokku's profit margin.
Proceeds: 900K+ in plat, masters, items and rares.

This went on for a solid 8 months, buddy.

July, 2005 - SE Market transfers begin.

Entire guild bank is cleaned out. Horses and other high sellable items purchased with the plat. Any and all exploits they could think of, they used.

Character moves to SE begin without notice to the guild members.

Gokkulynx makes thousands in profit and continues to make his mark on the SE server guilds with abandon. Reports made to forum supervisors went ignored. Screenshots were included.

Result: Gokkulynx and friends all transfer their mains to SE. The remaining guild falls apart. Members quit the game out of disgust. The Steamfont server is all but deserted.

Rinse/repeat on every server out there the above scenario with shady assholes looking to rip off innocent people's play time to make real cash.

Result: You have no one playing this game and tons of servers lacking members because of this kind of crap that went on.

Point: You cannot solo this game to 60. It'll take you a solid year of everyday play-time to do it if you try and then some. You need people if you want the gear. There are NO people left because they know the score of what goes on now.

The duping bugs. The SE transfer exploits. It's all too easy, buddy.

But, SoE was told of who, what, when and where. I'm sure there's more. They did nothing.

Gokku, I hope your poundsign pounds you in the ass next round. You're name is gonna be mud if I see you're sorry ass in any other game. Best you change it, because I'll be gunning for your sorry ass.

It'd be one thing if you just stuck to the exploits. But you used the members and SoE's lame SE sucka money machine to steal your profits. Now you can deal with seeing your stupid ass Yu-Gi-Oh nick in lights.

Oh and the duped items scheme was done by creating server lags (figure it out) and the horse plat sell-back was a screw-up by SoE or maybe intentional, until everyone found out.

3:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah and did you notice that more of that old guild just went over there last week and claimed booku profits on the steamfont forum? You gotta wonder if anyone checks this stuff. All you have to do is look at how they're bragging how much money they're pulling in, right on sony's own boards, and you know it's corrupt. No one makes what they are bragging they do after having just moved there last week considering they moved with no-trade items and no money at all, or did they?

I have to laugh. They post it! It screams of "ban me" and nothing happens. Hilarious!

Account canceled. I won't help create an economy for resellers. Get a real job. Smacking orcs doesn't look l33t on the ol resume. losers

3:16 AM  
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