Turbine executive producer Jeffrey Steefel believes MMO business models will change in the next five years to accommodate using real-life money to buy in-game currency and items.
Steefel was talking to Eurogamer in an exclusive interview, and while Lord of The Rings Online doesn't tolerate the "secondary market" just yet, he said his team would pay attention to developments in that area.
"The 'secondary market' is a huge topic of conversation across the industry, and we're watching it really closely," Steefel told Eurogamer. "Our position is pretty straightforward right now. Our responsibility is to the subscribers of the game, to deliver to them the experience they expect. So we certainly do not support people farming or taking advantage of the system in that way. It's against our Terms of Service and we do try and enforce that."
"But, we all know that something will happen in the next two to five years to business models in general, so we're paying attention to what's going on; watching what's going on with Sony Station whose servers support and manage this."
Traditionally the "secondary market" works by players of an MMORPG going to a website like IGE.com, finding the game and server they play on, checking the availability of currency or items, then buying them using real-life cash. They'll then have the money or bits and pieces delivered to them in-game by an anonymous source.
A no-tolerance policy to "gold farming" is fairly common, and account suspensions or bans are well-documented in both Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft. But Sony Online Entertainment is treading new ground with its first-party auction house called the Station Exchange, which gives EverQuest II players the option to "legally" purchase in-game assets. It gives SOE the opportunity to manage and moderate what goes on, as well as provide a secure and trustworthy service.
It begs the age old question of shouldn't some people be allowed to buy in-game clobber if they simply don't have as much time to pour into it as others? What about freedom of choice, etc?
"That's the endless philosophical discussion," Steefel continues. "If I can find a way for every type of person in my game to play the way they want to without adversely affecting anyone else, then that's win, win, win. And that's what we'll try to figure out."
Look out for our full interview with Jeffrey Steefel on Eurogamer later this week.