If you haven't heard yet, SOE will be opening something called Station Exchange. This will be an "ebay"-like auction facility that will allow the sale of in-game items for real world dollars. I was shocked to hear about this.
Here's some facts about the service.
Before we talk about my opinion on this, I'd like to think about why people might buy in-game items. I can see two distinct reasons, one competitive, one not. The competetive reason, so the argument goes, is that folks would buy rare gear as a bid for status among other players. To be the only kid on the block with all rare tier 5 armor. This probably happens some, and I would consider such an attitude immature. The argument is that plat-buyers of this stripe won't migrate to an Exchange-enabled server, because then they would lose their competetive advantage. I'm not sure I buy that, though.
The other reason is impatience. This made some sense in the EQ1 world, where, as the game matured, there wasn't much happening at the lower levels. EQ, in all incarnations, is a game centered around groups, and to get to where you could group with other players and be effective, buying a high-level character and gear could short-circuit months of work. I don't consider this immature at all, but it's more or less a reasonable solution to difficult situation. Presumably this sort of person would be happy to use an Exchange-enabled server. Unless they wanted to play with a friend who was not on such a server. Well, there's always mentoring...
Of course, an argument could be made that it was the unofficial plat-selling that made me unsuccessful in EQ1. I can't really say the reason, but it was clear to me that in order to have the gear I needed to be successful, I would have had to farm plat for months, or else buy some, because the in-game prices were so high.
The interesting thing is that when the bazaar was started, it created a great deal of liquidity in what had been an illiquid market, and the price of gear that used to be considered very good dropped like a stone. But when that gear became widely available, it was, in effect, too good. It made mobs too easy to kill, so they had to make better gear and tougher mobs to keep things interesting. So now you have an inflationary spiral/arms race, together with the massive 70-person raids to get equipment drops, just so you could be effective in game. I don't call that fun.
The postings on the discussion groups range in tone from "It's about time", to "I don't care, but what the heck" to "I quit". Which camp am I in?
I don't make threats to quit, I think it's childish. However, I am something of a purist. I play the game to play the game. To develop my skill as a player, to learn about the world, to build a cadre of good friends and guildies that can help me. I've never paid dollars for anything but the game itself. But, before I take the high moral ground, I'll point out that I do swap stuff between my toons, much like I'd swap stuff around with friends, and with my RL family members. Which brings real world considerations into the game only environment.
Of course, my fear of Station Exchange is colored by my EQ1 experience. On an Exchange-enabled server, in-game prices will not be rational from the game-only perspective, which is what I play. Non-rare items may in fact be very cheap. But the fear is that it will be very difficult to play the game successfully on those servers without spending my real life money.
However, as long as my server is not converted, the existence of the Exchange may in fact help the server environment and market, by drawing off the attention of those who do want to participate. Again, it's hard to say what might happen to markets, though.
But the idea that allays my fears is this: I know that rares are not needed to be successful in the game. I feel that this is by design. All gear is capped as to the benefit that it can give you, low-levels can't use high-level gear, high levels are generally uninterested in low-level gear (Mentoring has created one hole in this, for low-tier Adept 3 spells). I've stated before that I think that one can play the game successfully without the use of any Adept 3. In short, they have made a game where the person sitting at the keyboard matters a lot more than the uberness of the toon.
The SOE team wants the game to survive long-term and I'm sure are fully aware of the dangers that in-game inflation pose. If prices for starting gear are too high, it discourages new players. So they are going to make sure that doesn't happen. In fact, the Exchange gives them a whole new path for people wanting to get in the game, which is good.
So, I'm willing to take a wait-and-see attitude.