RMT and/or Cheating in MMORPG Games (Part 1)
Read on below for my original blog on this subject. I will follow it up soon with a new post that further explores the topic.Cheating: The Never Ending Debate (December 29, 2007)
Greetings all! I trust that the holidays have treated you all well. Sorry for my absence, but it was Christmas after all. As another four day weekend is upon us and I have no plans at all (yes, I am not a new years party goer) I have just settled in to catch up with the blogs I have missed over the past week or so.
One of the first that caught my attention was over at Darrens site, The Common Sense Gamer. His Simple things confuse us posting has inspired me to add my thoughts on the subject of cheating. Wanted or not, here they are.
Many, many, many and even more people will obviously have their own opinion/view on what cheating is or is not. I also obviously do as well or I would not be writing this. Anyhow, this all started as a RMT blog post that Raph put up a little while back. The question of, "is RMT cheating?" has spawned quite a few rounds of debate and has gone from just RMT on to things like Prima strategy guides, to game information websites like Allakhazam or Game Pressure.
The following are a few quotes that I like (or dislike depending on your perspective).DarrenL:
Cheating is the introduction of an artificial game mechanic, both internal and external, that gives one player an advantage over another player or over the game itself. Now, is cheating a matter of perspective? No, no it is not.DarrenL:
All I’m saying is that presenting the player with a strategy (..could be one of many…) to kill a boss does not kill the boss for themRaph:
No, it just does the hard part, which is figuring out HOW to kill the boss. The actual killing is the easy part. Seriously, think about what a raid is like if you come to it completely blind. THAT is what the game actually is (and it’s easily ten times harder, no?)I think Darren has a very good explanation of what cheating is in the first quote above. However, I will attempt to illustrate here how flawed it is at the same time. We first need to look at the two key words in his description. Those two words are artificial and advantage. According to http://wordnet.princeton.edu the following is an excerpt of their meanings.
Artificial: not arising from natural growth
Advantage: the quality of having a superior or more favorable position
Both are fairly standard definitions to each word I believe. So, where exactly is the issue and/or debate? Well, lets look at this with some real (game) world examples.
When Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord was released on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, the little manual that came with the game had an offer in it. This offer was for a "strategy" guide. This guide not only included extended game play information, some tips and tricks but also maps of each dungeon level. So, not only is the person who buys this, gaining some "inside information" but they are avoiding the huge time sink of mapping each dungeon out on a pad of graph paper one square at a time. They also gain the knowledge of hidden door and trap locations among other things. Does this not equate to having a superior or more favorable position not arising from natural growth? Sure it does. It is also a direct early representation of RMT. Paying real world money for something that the game world did not give you naturally.
OK, that is a single player game, granted. It does however help to start illustrating a point. That point is that we have been conditioned for a long time now to believe that seeking outside sources for game information is OK to do. With the above type of mail-in offer from the games publisher/developer themselves to the Official Prima guides that have also been around for ages we have always been offered extended game play information. It is nothing new to the industry nor is the RMT associated with it.
With at least two generations who have grown up with console and PC games now, it is no wonder that we are all accustomed to looking outside the game for an advantage in game.
Lets get back to MMORPG games though.
The other night I was playing EQ II and doing the Gnoll L&L quest. I already had some of the needed items in my inventory but not all. So, I set out and within my first two kills, I am down to only needing one more item to complete the quest. Two and a half to three hours and a few hundred kills later, I still did not have the item. Frustration set in and I headed to the broker to buy said item. Twenty-seven copper poorer and I am a happy and relived camper.
The question is, did I cheat? It is easy to say no, I did not. Lets however look at Darren's definition again. By using the broker I gained a superior or more favorable position not arising from natural growth over someone who stayed out in the field killing the Gnolls until that last item was acquired. Natural growth means just that, staying out and killing things until you fulfill your quota for said quest. I can hear many of you saying that a auction house/broker is not cheating as it is built into the game. However, the mechanics of the game indicate that I need to kill Gnolls in order to acquire the item. The quest in no way points me to the broker saying that I should buy the item. As such, I have sidestepped the mechanics/intentions and (in the true sense of the word) cheated.
Lets look at one other scenario. Two people start a game at the same time. Within one month Player 1 is level 40 and has 5 Plat in the bank. Player 2 is level 10 with 80 gold in the bank. Lets look at the reason for the advancement discrepancies between the two players.
Player 1: This player wanted to level up and advance as fast as they could. So, they kept finding quests and random mobs that were their level or a little above in order to maximize their XP and monetary gain.
Player 2: This player wanted to enjoy all the content that the game presented to them. This often resulted in them doing "grey quests" that gave little if any XP at all.
What is the issue here? It is just two different play styles right? Well yes, on the surface that would be the reason. It could however be argued (and effectively too) that Player 1 has skipped much of the games content in order to advance themselves. Is the definition of "skip" not "bypass"? Could one not make an argument that bypassing aspects of a game is cheating? Is that not the whole ugly debate behind RMT? Here we have the same thing without any money changing hands.
Darren also says in a reply to Raph...
IMHO, information is not a mechanic of gameplay, it’s supplementary to it….but I see where you’re coming from.
This is both correct and wrong. Correct in that information is truly supplementary. However, once that information is applied to your game play, it is now a mechanic. Lets go back to my Wizardry example. If I had bought that guide and only read it but still played the game in my own way, then what I had was supplementary information. However, if I sit down to play with that book open in front of me using the provided dungeon maps instead of making my own maps with a pencil and graph paper, it has most certainly now become a mechanic of my game play.
Which leads us into a discussion about sites like Allakhazam. There is a lot of information to be gained from these websites. I do not think anyone would argue that. Some sites offer quest walkthroughs, maps, loot information and other such information. Most of which is not made readily available in the game itself. At the start we need to remember one thing though. That is the MMO part of MMORPG. These games are built around community interaction and dependency (at least to some extent). Can they be played in complete solo mode (free of any outside help at all) like one would likely do in a single player RPG? Sure. However with the way the worlds are built and the expanse of many of them, it would be very hard to do.
These sites are just an extension of the games community and their help/interaction with each other. If you think about it, they are no different than someone in guild chat asking where Nektrops Castle is or someone in world chat asking for advice on killing Krayt Dragons. It is all gets you a superior or more favorable position not arising from natural growth. While this may not have been the original intention for MMORPG games, I personally think it is one of the reasons games are still being built in the same way. While originally, information may have been left out of quest dialog to encourage exploration and discovery, I think it is now left out not only for those reasons but also so that people can share their knowledge/experiences and help others. In other words, developers know that people like and appreciate the interaction/dependency that the greater games community provides to each other. They know full well that it cuts out some of the exploration and self discovery, but at the same time keeps people interested and playing as they can easily find the things that interest them. It is a win/win situation for all parties.
Therein lies the issue. While what a lot of what we do on a daily basis within an MMORPG world by literal definition can be classified as cheating (including the walkthrough sites and ingame chat), it is at the same time encouraged by the developer. Hence, the reason for this debate that will never end. As such, the only things that I can see as being labeled as cheats without any controversy to them are exploits that are identified and publicly labeled as an exploit by the developer as well as RMT that in no way benefits the developing/publishing company.
Anything less will be in the grey area and will cause this debate to continue on for years to come. Is there a solution? No. Nor do I think we need to look for one.