With the introduction of the Eternal Bond ceremony earlier this week came the option to purchase upgraded ceremonies through the Mog Station. Each person involved is required to have one wristlet, which comes in at free, $10, or $20 depending on the level of ceremony wanted. Both people involved need to have the same tier wristlet, meaning a full ceremony can cost $20 or $40. The tying together actions taken on Mog Station and those in-game, however, requires some hoops to be jumped through. In this instance, Square Enix decided that choosing a ceremony (whether the free or upgraded variety) is accomplished by purchasing through Mog Station an in-game bracelet (a “promise wristlet”). Each player is required to purchase a wristlet, and when two players wish to Eternally Bond, they equip their respective wristlets and begin a quest. Makes sense in the abstract no?
The difficulty comes from Square Enix apparently deciding (for unknown reasons) that the wristlets should be tradable. There are two likely reasons for this. Perhaps it was because in many cultures one partner will ”propose” to another – and by allowing one player to purchase two wristlets and trade one to his/her beau, it allows for that culturally significant activity to occur. Or perhaps it was practical – one party to the ceremony may not have the financial resources to afford the additional $10.00 to $20.00, or perhaps even more simply, one party wants to pay for the whole thing. Perhaps it was a bit of both, but either way, Square Enix decided that the ability to trade the wristlets was desirable.
However, with that system in place, and what should surely come as no surprise to anyone experienced in the MMO community in general, people have decided to purchase the wristlets off Mog Station for $10.00 to $20.00, and resell them in-game for gil. Players were quick to jump into Eorzea earlier this week when patch 2.45 hit to fill up the Party Finder with advertisements as high as 55 million Gil for the wristlets. If left in place the market will stabilize – and not at 55 million. How much gil is $10 worth? Well, that depends on how easy it is to obtain gil. If I can make 1 million gil in 2 hours, and the market stabilizes at 1 million gil for the $10 wristlet, then the question becomes whether I would rather farm for two hours or spend $10. Pretty simple calculation.
Posting on the official forums today, Matt Hilton stated:
As you know, the promise wristlets were designed to be tradable so that one person would be able to purchase a pair of wristlets and gift one to their partner.
While the trading and selling of these items for gil is not against the terms of service, in the event this type of trend continues and topics continue to arise regarding whether or not this is considered real-money trading, we will have no choice but to change the design of this system. Therefore we would like players to stop selling and trading the bracelets for gil so that they can continue to be used for their intended purpose.
This is somewhat different than typical real-money trading (RMT) activities (which are against the terms of service) whereby a player purchases gil from a third party for cash. In that scenario the third party has, within the confines of the game, farmed gil to sell, and the buyer is purchasing an in-game item (gil) for real money. The third-party pockets the real money and the buyer pockets the gil. The net effect of this standard RMT activities, however, is hyper-inflation due to excessive farming, and the ability of players to “pay-to-win” by purchasing (with real money) sufficient gil to procure whatever is needed in-game to progress. The transaction is clearly against the ToS (cash for gil sold by third party).
Here, we have Square Enix making the real money (rather than a third-party). That is where the similarities appear to end however. Rather than the third-party RMT seller faming the extra gil, now it is the buyer of the wristlet. The buyer farms the extra 2 million gil that he would otherwise not have farmed and the player seller has an extra 2 million gil for use in his/her in game activities. The transaction in game was not against the ToS (gil for an in game item). And the transaction at the Mog Station was not against the ToS (cash to Square Enix for an in game item), but the effect is strikingly similar to the the illegal RMT transaction.
So what’s going on? Let’s speculate.
Possibility one: from the above quote we are perhaps led to believe that Square Enix didn’t foresee the community selling these wristlets. That’s possible, but probably unlikely. Square Enix has been at this MMO business for an awfully long time to not fully appreciate the risks in making any Mog Station item not untradable.
Possibility two: Square Enix is OK with the affects of RMT when they are the ones selling the gil and collecting the cash. This is distinctly possible. Inflation in an MMO is always present and always needs to be dealt with in some form or fashion. Gil appears out of nowhere from doing quests, killing monsters – pretty much any activity in game. The additional 2 million gil in the above scenario could have been generated by anyone at any time. If Square Enix is already dealing with inflation this won’t have a material impact and they might be OK with the inflation if they are the ones collecting the extra revenue. The cash shop as a whole is of course nothing more than an additional revenue stream – and in our hypothetical situation Square Enix is collecting the $10 or $20 per wristlet, no matter who is the initial purchaser. If this was the calculus, then why not just sell gil directly then and set the market? The Mog Station could sell 1 million gil for $10 and Square Enix could call it a day. This would seem to go against what Yoshida has said about avoiding pay-to-win transactions however.
Possibility three: Square Enix doesn’t believe there is a long-term market here. Consider this – each wristlet buyer is only a buyer because they want to use the wristlet – that is – get bonded to someone. There is no benefit to purchasing the wristlet for gil versus for cash other than saving cash. The buyer still ends up with a wristlet which has one, and only one, use. Moreover, the wristlet and accompanying ceremony is purely cosmetic, so there is no benefit from going through multiple bonding ceremonies. In fact, there is no benefit whatsoever since you will have already obtained whatever cosmetic benefits there were from the first ceremony (other than doing an upgraded ceremony… once). So while supply of the wristlets is unlimited via Mog Station, the demand is limited, and, in theory, shrinking. There will always be some demand, whether from new players or people deciding they would rather be bonded to someone younger, better looking, wealthier, etc., but it should be a relatively small market – eventually.
It is impossible to know what the thought process at Square Enix was on this one. Any solution depends on which of the above scenarios (or combination of them, or another altogether) was at play. The calls for this being a catastrophic game imbalancing system are probably more hyperbole than anything else. The system could lead to some inflation, but it seems unlikely to be anything too severe. Might this allow some early sellers to engage in “pay-to-win transactions”? Yep. And that is something worth taking very seriously – and I think what the quote above is cautious about. Perhaps the better question though is why is all this necessary? While the two reasons for making the wristlets tradable are worthwhile, was Square Enix not able to implement a system that both allows a specific item to be traded but also prevents (or at least severely diminishes the liklihood) of RMT-esq activities? What about having to specify the name of the “to be bonded” player within Mog Station at the time of purchase and then restricting the trade based on that? What about making it impossible to trade gil (or anything else) while trading a wristlet? Sure there might be workarounds to these added hoops, but they would put a severe kink in any attempt to sell the wristlet, as the seller would bear the full risk of losing actual real cash if the buyer (thereafter) failed to pay.
Based on the above, time will tell what, if anything, Square Enix decides to do with this system. Let’s hope that we get more clarity – whether from Square Enix directly or in the form of diminished sales – sooner rather than later.