EVE Online clothing causes microtransaction debate

The spaceship MMO's long-overdue "walking in stations" update Incarna finally launched last week, but it's sparked the Internet's latest round of microtransactio outrage, fanned by leaked internal documents.

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The first part of EVE Online's long-awaited "walking in stations" update, Incarna, finally launched last week. However, it's been greeted by a lot more teeth-gnashing than developer CCP had anticipated. The microtransactions for Incarna's paid cosmetic "vanity" items proved to be not quite so micro, putting into question CCP's approach to paid content in the space MMO. A pair of digital boots might cost only $5, according EVE News 24's conversions from virtual currency to real-world money. But a shirt can go for $17, and a virtual monocle is a staggering $61. While players can, of course, choose not to buy these cosmetic lovelies, a leaked CCP newsletter indicated that expensive clothing was only the beginning. The May 2011 issue of CCP's internal newsletter Fearless (available from EVE News 24) posed the question "Greed Is Good?" In the issue, employees made a number of cases for and against microtransactions in EVE, console FPS tie-in Dust 514, and CCP's mysterious World of Darkness MMO--but mostly for. The Fearless issue spoke of selling new items, ammunition, ships, and faction standing with through EVE's new microtransaction currency. It also proposed that Dust 514 "will operate under a virtual good sales model," as it won't charge a subscription fee like its PC elder sibling. As well as cosmetic options, it mentioned the controversial idea of selling better weapons in Dust. Cosmetic options, practical items, and bonuses were all mentioned for World of Darkness. It's worth bearing in mind that the ideas mentioned for EVE, Dust 514, and World of Darkness would also let players buy these items with virtual currency earned in-game, but Incarna's natty threads have hardly been cheap so far--and that's only for purely cosmetic items. Since the leak, EVE senior producer Arnar 'CCP Zulu' Gylfason has denied that the article outlined concrete plans. "The opinions and views expressed in Fearless are just that; opinions and views," he wrote in a blog post on Friday. "They are not CCP policy nor are they a reliable source of CCP views as a company. The employees who submitted articles to that newsletter did exactly what they were asked to do, write about theories and opinions from an exaggerated stand." Gylfason attempted to address complaints about price, with an analogy likening virtual clothing to real world-jeans:
Look at the clothes you are currently wearing in real life. Do you have any specific brands? Did you choose it because it was better quality than a no-name brand? Assume for a short while that you are wearing a pair of $1,000 jeans from some exclusive Japanese boutique shop. Why would you want to wear a pair of $1,000 jeans when you can get perfectly similar jeans for under $50? What do other people think about you when they see you wearing them? For some you will look like the sad culmination of vainness while others will admire you and think you are the coolest thing since sliced bread. Whichever it is, it is clear that by wearing clothes you are expressing yourself and that the price is one of the many dimensions that clothes possess to do that in addition to style and fit.
While one can see the logic, the analogy was perhaps not the best response to an already-irritated community. Virtual worlds have, by and large, been vaguely utopian places, with everyone able to get everything--if they have enough free time. While those pressed for time and money to spare might welcome an outlet for real-world capitalism, it's not necessarily the norm, and evidenced by the community's reaction, remains a controversial issue. Gylfason apologized for the post over the weekend. "I let my frustration take charge of me, fueled by emotions that had built up due to a breach of trust we at CCP have been experiencing over the past few days," he said. "I know that sounds ironic considering those are the exact same feelings you have been having towards CCP." He denied that premium ammo would be sold in EVE, reiterating, "In Fearless, people are arguing a point, which doesn't even have to be their view, they are debating an issue. This is another example of how information out of context is no information at all." "I see it's clear we need to strengthen the deep mutual trust and respect that's been so unique and descriptive of our relationship," Gylfason wrote. He revealed that EVE's Council of Stellar Management, a body of elected players, is now being summoned to Iceland for an "extraordinary" meeting at the end of June to discuss and address the past week's update, and to "assist us in defining and iterating on our virtual goods strategy." Council chair 'The Mittani' has already expressed his opinion in his latest Sins of a Solar Spymaster column, pointing the finger at short-sighted and blunt communication from CCP. (On a tangent, Fearless confirms that World of Darkness is still in pre-production and its gameplay not yet finalized. Bad news for those looking forward to the MMO.)

The notorious issue of Fearless

Whether Fearless represents CCP's future plans or not, it does offer some valuable perspectives on the spread of microtransactions and paid content in online gaming. "We have strong evidence that selling performance enhancers, in moderation, works," wrote CCP's resident economist Eino Joas. "Korean developers have capitalized on performance-enhancing items for a long time but it took a leap of faith from the people developing Battlefield: Heroes to show that the same principles that work in Korea apply for the western market as well. While there was loud outrage when the free-to-play Battlefield: Heroes made certain weapons far more difficult for non-paying players to get, EA has since said that it had very little impact on the number of players and increased profitability. Kjartan Emilsson made the argument that those with real-world hobbies often choose to spend large sums of money on their pursuits, increasing their engagement with it and even defining their identity. This, he said, can increase player engagement--if one is careful.
A balanced approach should acknowledge consumerism as a powerful game design tool (amongst others) that we need to get familiar with and that should be used carefully and with respect it create more enjoyable experiences and stronger identities for our players. If successful, this will result in their increased emotional attachment to our product and services for the benefit of all. If not, we run the risk of sucking our customers dry and leaving their shriveled corpses by the side of the road to the benefit of none.
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From The Chatty
  • reply
    June 27, 2011 1:45 PM

    Alice O'Connor posted a new article, EVE Online clothing causes microtransaction debate.

    The spaceship MMO's long-overdue "walking in stations" update Incarna finally launched last week, but it's sparked the Internet's latest round of microtransactio outrage, fanned by leaked internal documents.

    • reply
      June 27, 2011 1:47 PM

      First World Problems.

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        June 27, 2011 2:10 PM

        This meme/phrase needs to die a terrible death.

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          June 27, 2011 2:17 PM

          Given that this is a video game site, it does seem rather ridiculous. Yes, there are obviously more "meaningful" problems in the world, but I'm sure those can be discussed elsewhere.

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          June 27, 2011 2:58 PM

          they all do

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          June 28, 2011 1:16 AM

          Yes it does at this point i'd be cool with it getting nuked on sight.

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        June 27, 2011 2:22 PM

        More like offworld problems.

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        June 27, 2011 2:40 PM

        lol no kidding

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        June 27, 2011 8:07 PM

        Is that meme an MTW thing?

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        June 27, 2011 9:45 PM

        First World Problems

        The meme we use when we pretend to give a shit about Africa!

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      June 27, 2011 1:51 PM

      It's very easy. If nobody buys it it will eventually go free or be given as rewards for achievements. If you don't like something (or in the case the way something is done), don't buy it.

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      June 27, 2011 2:07 PM

      I think the issue everyone has is that CCP is not denying the fact they they will implement pay2win down the road. They've been silent for days now, and to be fair, it's probably because their forums have been overrun by mobs of children throwing embarrassing fits, and what do we do with children that throw tantrums?

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        June 27, 2011 2:48 PM

        EVE has always been pay2win, the players just won't admit it.

        If you don't pay your sub, your character doesn't improve and you have no way to increase the rate your character improves by any ingame action.

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          June 27, 2011 2:58 PM

          I understand that and the mentality of buying PLEX to convert to ISK to buy bigger and better stuff buuuuuut they are saying if they buy aurum with cash those items and gear pop out of thin air. No one has farmed the minerals or made the ships or tech, just poof! new item injected into the game.

          My thing is, even if they did go Pay2win and you could buy insane faction gear out of nowhere, COME ON, it's going to be so outrageous that no one except a very small percentage of the playerbase would want to spend that kind of money. I mean, a monocle costs $60 USD, imagine how much a ship would cost! O_O

          I probably wouldn't unsub if this happened, but if the pricing dropped to where most folks could purchase better gear and immediately have an edge just to line CCP's pockets, then I might either stay completely away from PvP or just unsub.

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            June 27, 2011 4:30 PM

            Yeah, seriously, not many people are willing to go PvP in faction or deadspace gear as it is. If anyone has the balls to do so with a ship they paid over $100 of cold, hard cash for, be my guest!

            But like you said, if they DID drop the prices to something that resembles "micro" transactions, that would indeed be very good reason to leave. Immediately.

            From the look of things, however, you can probably expect the cheapest exclusive "MT" non-vanity items to cost at least $50...

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      June 27, 2011 2:15 PM

      wow. good link to the mittani's comments. this sure is crazy sauce.

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        June 27, 2011 2:18 PM

        also, world of tanks seems to have a delicate balance so far with real money entering the game.

        no one is rioting or trying to crash the game.

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          June 27, 2011 3:07 PM

          well to be fair, they didn't have a bunch of grumpy entitled vets camping gates since 2003 either. But yeah, I agree with you, if done correctly it may not kill the game...then again there is SWG....

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      June 27, 2011 2:35 PM

      To add some perspective: half of Eve is the player-driven economy, ranging from mining raw minerals to building star destroyers and moon bases. If any external source of resources is added, it unravels a complex set of supply chains. Unlike other MMO's, "the game" for much of the playerbase is the economy itself.

      Instead of paying for a better weapon in a FPS mmo, it is more akin to directly paying for kills. Its not just an advantage for the wealthy, but it circumvents the underlying game.

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        June 27, 2011 8:29 PM

        ^^ this right here has been my worry. When this all exploded, I had already canceled my accounts for financial reasons, so I'm watching with amusement at the rage. With that said though, I completely understand the issue considering the player economy is a large part of the game.

        For those that take anything said and smile and wonder why us vets get bent, CCP has a known habit of promising a 20" apple pie and delivering a 1/8th slice of blueberry pie instead. Look at some of the stuff in dire need of focus. Dominion and planetary interaction expansions were designed completely as the gateway for dust514. Planetary interaction has had one iteration, and then dropped. Dominion hasn't seen anything since launch. We have a sov system that is more convoluted than the old "whoever owns the most towers in a system wins." Planetary interaction needs atleast one more giant overhaul to account for the sector system for dust514 for map generation. Dominion needs some more love to help flesh out how dust marines will be part of helping 0.0 entities gain sov in a system. Dust is expected to be released next year and there isn't a peep from CCP on how the interaction is going to work other than a lot of "huur durr, we can't say yet."

        There is no focus or goal for eve at this point. Think about the future of eve. What did we see? A guy telling some marines to do whatever, blah blah. There was nothing eve about it. The future of eve is apparently dust 514 with us staring at our avatar's tight ass doing nothing. That moros won't be shooting the ground. That was cleared up in the tournament. Besides, a Moros has a hard enough time ranging spaceships in the sub 100 meter range let alone a planet 300+k meters away. There was no mention on what the eve player was gaining in this fight other than to shoot some console players that probably won't happen. So what exactly are eve players getting out of this dust 514 link. Nothing at all has been said.

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        June 27, 2011 10:29 PM

        I couldn't have said it any better.

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      June 27, 2011 3:36 PM

      I know this news has people who are looking forward to CCP's upcoming Vampire MMO a bit worried. I mean, ultimately what one's EVE avatar looks like isn't a particularly huge deal. However, the White Wolf Vampire setting is a lot more fashion conscious. People are concerned about having to pay through the nose if they want their character to look the way they desire. Its quite the turn off.

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      June 27, 2011 6:51 PM

      "pay to win" is nothing i would support... if ships end up in the buyable with money list... (that are not in game available through a blueprint) i would close both accounts ASAP...

      i'm all for microtransactions for items that are not directly related to balancing...

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      June 27, 2011 9:22 PM

      This sounds crazy except it's EVE.

      It's supposed to have haves and have-nots.

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      June 28, 2011 1:41 AM

      Lately I've been thinking about resubbing to Eve (once again), but I'm going to hold off until I see some clear answers to this. I absolutely despise "pay2win" games. World of tanks was fun and I would have gladly paid a monthly fee for a level playing field, but it was not an option, and soon enough I got frustrated by having to hold myself from blowing purely stupid amounts of money into virtual tank parts, and I quit. On the other hand, I'm perfectly fine with paid vanity items. But the moment a player can buy something that effects their performance in the game world, it's a huge turn off. I don't want to have to think about spending real money when I play, or take guesses whether or not I was just beaten because the other guy spent a larger amount of money on the game than I did. It's not about the money spent, it's the way it's spent, and for me the concept of buying performance enhancements with real money will never ever be a functional one.