EVE, ISK, and RMT

If you read much of the gaming press, blogshpere, and official gaming company news, you would certainly come away with the impression that most of the gaming community is opposed to selling in-game currency for cash. 

It is cheating.  It wrecks the in-game economy.  It is a violation of the rules.

The fly in the ointment is all of those sites dedicated to selling in-game currency.  All of those gold ads.  That seems to argue that some significant percentage of the player population disagrees.

But make no mistake, the gaming companies are against it.  The end user license agreements for MMOs almost universally, specifically, forbid it.

Blizzard regularly announces how many accounts they have banned for being involved with real money transactions for in-game currency.

Try listing some in-game currency for a Sony Online Entertainment game on eBay and see how long your auction stays up.

CCP has come out strongly in the past against the evils of selling their in-game currency, the ISK, for real world money.  In the EVE Online End User License Agreement, under Section 7 (Conduct) you will find paragraph B that specifically forbids the sale of any in-game items, currency included.

Except, of course, if you buy it from them.

To be fair, CCP isn’t actually selling ISK directly.  You cannot go to their site and order up 100 million ISK any time you please.

They will, however, direct you to somebody who will sell you a Game Time Code, or GTC. (Also referred to as an EVE Time Card or ETC.) Or they will sell you one directly if you want. 

A GTC is basically a time card like those offered by other online game companies that, when entered into your account, allows you to play for a given amount of time, usually 30, 50, 90, or 100 days depending on the source of the card.

And once you have purchased your GTC, CCP provides a forum and a secure method for selling your GTC to other players for the in game currency.

There is then a company sponsored and supported process which at one end you put in real world money and at the other end you receive ISK.

So CCP is selling ISK.

Yes, it isn’t that black and white.  You have to find a buyer, negotiate a price, and so on.  And CCP should certainly take umbrage at any suggestion that they are doing this to legitimize the sale of ISK.  I am sure that is not the case at all.

But it certainly does open the door.  There is a legitimate way to turn real world money into ISK, and I would be surprised if some ISK farming company out hasn’t tried selling GTCs at a mildly inflated price with the guarantee that you can turn around and sell it for an over market price, in ISK, to one of their mule accounts.  They keep the account going, make their money, and nobody can say they did not follow the rules.  At least one seller on the offical CCP list has a history in gold selling and RMT.

Of course, this leads to the big question, the universal question, which is, “So what?”

In the case of EVE Online, the question is quite legitimate.  EVE is the wild wild west of MMOs, where the list of things you cannot do is relatively short.  Those is search of “user created content” need only look at the maps of 0.0 space in EVE Online to find an example. (You can see such a map at EVE Tribune.)  There is a huge, ongoing saga out there, not one bit of which is scripted or driven by anything requiring you to, say, “Kill Ten Rats.”

In this environment, the idea that there ought to be free reign to turn your ISK into game time seems pretty natural.  It fits.  It rewards success in  a way that feeds the game.

In the case of the MMO gaming industry in general though, it may have implications.

It has often been said that the gaming companies could put the gold sellers out of business by just selling the currency themselves.  Keep the current pressure on the gold sellers at one end, while at the other end offer a legitimate way to buy the in-game currency, and gold sellers would wither.  They wouldn’t cease to exist, but a lot of them would get out of the business.

The game companies would, of course, like to be collecting that money themselves.  There are two things that stand between the gaming companies and the pile of cash represented by this.

The first is the whole “cheating” or “buying your way to success” stigma.  There are a few game companies for which this is a roadblock.  Probably not many as you would think.  Certainly none of the companies owned by large media conglomerates would be phased by this.

The second is the IRS.  Or Inland Revenue.  Or whatever the taxing branch of your national government is called.  Once a gaming company assigns a value, an exchange rate if you will, for the in-game currency, the tax implications begin to crop up.  Does that mean that the currency has real value?  Does that mean I owe the government a cut whenever I turn in a quest?

SOE got around that with their Station Exchange server by letting the players buy and sell and just taking a cut, ala eBay.  Currency can be bought and sold, but there is no official valuation.

CCP gets around the tax issue by taking another virtual currency (GTCs) that is tightly controlled, and making that the unit of exchange for the in-game currency.  CCP just sells GTCs and does not take any cut of any further transaction.  The end user then trades one for the other without any further real money being exchanged.

So is CCP on to something with this?  Is this crossing the “gold selling” line?  Does any other game allow something similar?

I find this more interesting than alarming myself.

12 thoughts on “EVE, ISK, and RMT

  1. trigger64

    CCP announced via a devblog a while back that publicly available GTC’s would cease to exist soon™ and would only be available via the EVE-O account page.

    It would [attempt to] stop the exchange of $->ISK and in the same manner it would become an isk “sink” much like insurance and skillbooks.

    I assume it would work something like,

    1.) Log into eve-o char management page
    2.) Select 30d/60d/90d time code.
    3.) ???????
    4.) Profit!

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  2. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    I did not see that devblog (obviously), but I saw evidence to back it up. I had a difficult time finding that page that linked third party vendors, plus I notice that the time codes changed durations, going from increments of 30 to 50. Add on the whole name ETC->GTC name shift and you could smell change in the air.

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  3. CrazyKinux

    I can’t understand why CCP would leave a loophole open for so long. This whole RMT is a tumor that needs to be killed and removed. I spoke my mind way back in 2005 and a year later as to how I felt about Real-Money-Trade. I still stand by that position and am glad they’re shutting this loophole down.

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  4. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    Hope you got a good view of the eclipse! Thanks for spending the last full measure of battery life putting up that link.

    It did stir up a few more questions than it answered. It always seems a bit odd for CCP to take the “cheating” stance on RMT, with EVE being such a wide open game. The incident with the blue print hoarding corp bothers me a bit. Would CCP have stepped in to fix the situation if they had just been trying to maximize their own ISK? If so, how can they allow anything else that mildly discomforts other players? If not, then why use an example where, if you remove the “and then they sold the ISK,” seems like a legitimate strategy within the game? It seems to me that “Evil conglomerates are formed and prices go up!” is within the bounds of a game that allows, say… piracy!

    As for killing off RMT, fighting it like we have fought the war on drugs will end up with the same results. Better to legalize some small aspect that you can tax and control to draw off the basically honest people. This is sort of what CCP seems to be doing with the GTC->ISK plan they currently condone and support.

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  5. mrwuss

    GTCs that come from CCP are 50 and 100.

    Outside vendors can purchase (in mass) 30s and 90s.

    The Dev blog only HINTED towards CCP pulling the isk for GTC exchange. They did not outright state the intent or means of getting there. Assumptions have lead people to come up with insane ideas.

    How would CCP make money if they traded time for isk directly to end users?

    Answer that and you will solve the problem.

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  6. Trigger64

    “How would CCP make money if they traded time for isk directly to end users?”

    They wouldn’t but it would be a HUGE HUGE step in combating isk inflation. Trillions of ISK is traded EVERY DAY for time cards, and with that money coming OUT of the economy makes the game much better for all of us.

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  7. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    That one cuts both ways. If you could pay your monthly fee out of ISK, and no money ever had to go to CCP, then it would likely foster a bigger explosion in things like macro miners and any other questionable or illegal ISK grubbing activity you can imagine.

    Meanwhile, CCPs revenues would dip, at least a little. Accounts being extended without cash coming in hits the health of the company. CCP won’t go there.

    The whole cash->GTC->ISK route is a compromise, but an interesting one. I wonder if it has hurt ISK sellers at all, or if the barter/negotiation method required to partake in it is too big of a barrier to entry.

    So I think Mr. Wuss is right. You have to have money going to CCP for EVE subscriptions for any scheme to be viable.

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  9. Busy Gamer

    I honestly wish CCP could just flat out sell ISK for cash and cut out the whole middle man approach.

    For all the people who say that buying ISK is wrong or unfair I need only say that virtual life is like real life, It is not fair. the only evidence I need to support that claim is Paris Hilton … if Real Life was an MMO she would be a dev hack.

    Granted Virtual life is far less corrupt but you can have a GM do things that actually ruin game play like podding players or fix broken elements of the game. A type of Divine intervention where if someone has been wrongs you can simply create a new item … ah to not be limited by the economic rule of scarcity …. one can dream!

    I don’t have time to spend a day(s) mining, I have a life and real world commitments that mean that sitting in front of virtual rocks to “play the game the right way”. So If I can spend some of my hard earned cash, aka epic-noob grinding … or working a real job in non-gamer speak, I should be allowed. If you won the lotto, an artificial injection of income that would (almost) violate the laws of statistics, would you be force to continue working simply because “that is the right thing to do”? No, of course not, you would be having fun playing eve on a brand new system with not a care in the world.

    But for those who will eventually gripe and cry foul I offer you a compromise that will assuage you fears. Link isk sales not to separate free standing transactions like the isk sellers but instead offer various tiers of subscription with varying “salaries” paid monthy to a character you choose. This way the cash evaluations are not strictly based on money and then you limit isk sellers to a spot market economy at best which would drive up their prices because they would only be good for emergency outlays of ISK and it would eliminate many of their repeat buyers. Then everyone can be if not happy than begrudgingly resigned to the fact that it is as good as it is going to be.

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  10. icecubes

    Sorry for the necro-post, but the “I have a life [and not enough free time to] play the game the right way” was too moronic to ignore. How does one play a sandbox game “the right way”?

    Whining about economic in-game problems is also lulzworthy. Especially since none of us fully understand the in-game economy, nor are we able to grasp the “general” way people play the game.

    Let’s just leave it at: Eve is a sandbox. Stuff happens, and CPP tries to guide it in a healthy direction. Or we could could act like complete idiots and write lengthy crap about our limited knowledge, dress it up in fancy words and logics, and act all smart because we get annoyed by one little sentence some random interweb guy wrote.

    Yes, the latter is more fun. :)

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  11. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    “I honestly wish CCP could just flat out sell ISK for cash and cut out the whole middle man approach.”

    Well, they’re about 95% of the way there with PLEX.

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