The Agency - the spy-themed massively multiplayer action game being developed for PS3 and PC by Sony Online Entertainment - is to feature officially supported real money trading.
Real money trading is the use of real money to buy in-game assets - items, currency and services - in MMOs. It is a common feature of free-to-play MMOs such as MapleStory, but frowned upon in most subscription games.
The announcement comes as part of a deal between SOE and real money trading specialists Live Gamer. Unsurprisingly, SOE's forthcoming family-friendly, free-to-play MMO Free Realms is also covered by the deal.
SOE has already partnered with Live Gamer in the unusual step of offering a sanctioned real money trading platform for its subscription game, EverQuest II.
SOE has yet to reveal the business model for The Agency. Although EverQuest II proves that real money trading support does not necessarily mean a subscription-free game, the Live Gamer deal will certainly lead to speculation that the promising espionage MMO will go free-to-play.
SOE president John Smedley seemed to hint as much in his comment on the deal. "We are actively exploring free-to-play and other revenue models, and always looking for new ways to engage and entertain gamers," he said. "Live Gamer is a proven partner that protects and supports our gamers who participate in RMT [real money trading]. We trust them to handle this area of the business for us so that we can focus on creating and growing our games."
Live Gamer president Andrew Schneider added that The Agency and Free Realms were "titles for which the idea of RMT has been built in from the very early stages of design". The press release notes that The Agency will allow players to customise their characters through "attire, weaponry, gadgets, vehicles, gear and aliases that tailor their game play" - all of which could be sold.
We'll be interested to see how this pans out. Subscription games have yet to make much of an impact on consoles, but then again, console gamers' attitude to small-scale item sales is hostile, as proven by the recent furore over weapon sales in Battlefield: Bad Company.