Posted by: mrrx | February 21, 2007

Station Exchange = Legal Drugs (?)

I’ve drawn the parallel before, between the War on Drugs and the Station Exchange.      No subject gets more moral indignation (other than beating up on Sony) and self-righteous anger than Real Money Transfer (RMT), aka selling in-game gold for US dollars.      This moral indignation suggests the situations are similar.   Now, it’s been a full year.    Might examing this service offer some insight into the drug issue ?     Or even help define what’s going on with RMT in a different fashion ?

Station Exchange opened in February 2006 to a huge moral outcry.     Loud voices proclaimed doom and gloom and the end of the world.      Some gave up on the game and quit playing over a simple principled stand on RMT.      And the service, apparently envisioned as something to be used on all servers, instead found itself relegated to a mere two servers.      It makes me think about what would happen if two states in America both legalized drug use while the other 48 were unchanged.

In general, after the doom and gloom predictions, the world yawned.     Things went on more or less normally on all servers, including the station exchange servers.     But a funny thing happened along the way.      I noticed a large portion of the player population looking down on those playing on exchange servers.     Those players (of which I was one) were considered anything from beneath contempt, to stupid, to just sub-par for the simple fact of living their gaming lives on an RMT-enabled server.      This is pretty much what I might expect for those who moved to a fictional drug-enabled state of the union.     “Everybody from STATE_NAME is a dope-head”.

There was also one twist with RMT I didn’t anticipate.     Generally, the black market was able to supply items to Everquest 2 for lower prices than was seen on the Exchange.      This was pretty consistent across its first year of operation.      To the players, it was as if there was no real difference between Exchange and Non.     All servers saw the negative consequences of black-market activity, unsolicited mail and communications and farming, with prices tending to be the same regardless of server type.

There’s a school of thought that black market activity would nearly dry up or disappear under a drug-legalized situation.     Costs of being underground would tend to push the criminal elements out out of the drug trade, in favor of the legal solution.    The two-state comparison, however, suggests the status quo for drug pushers & users.    So much for getting rid of the black market.    There’s also the unusual twist of permitting users to pay higher prices for drugs if they elect to “go legal”.     

And many Exchange users that I’ve talked with over the last year expressed that exact reasoning.   Why take a chance on being banned, by buying cheaper black-market goods, when instead you can pay a little more and remove the risk ?      It also begs the question of which situation is causing what – are the black market goods cheaper, or did the Exchange push black market prices down ?      Imagine an America with cheaper black-market drugs across the board, versus one in which prices rise in two states as the “cost” of being legit.

Far from getting rid of the black market, legalization might simply introduce the “legit tax” on those who desire to use drugs while avoiding trouble with the law.     

One year later, RMT is still a hot topic with plenty of creative and smart people trying to figure out how to keep it under control.     One thing that hasn’t happened is a reversal on the Exchange; namely, Sony deciding they made an error and shutting down the service.    Pretty much they seem to have gotten what they wanted out of it – some small profit, proof of the worth of the concept, reduction in customer service issues.      Nobody is really advocating shutting the service down; neither is anyone suggesting expanding it.

Vanguard.      Might Station Exchange be in its future ?     What’s filtered down to me is a strong no; Sigil wants to continue the hard-line stance against RMT.      Not that it’s working too well, according the black market.    Sony’s next game  game on the horizon being Gods & Heroes, and I have no idea how Station Exchange might play into that game.      All this suggests that the idea of the Exchange isn’t expanding out, as if it were a successful experiment that should be fully implemented.

I’ll leave the last parallel here for you all to ruminate on.      This limited example suggests that a 2-state drug legalization experiment would be difficult to stop or reverse, or that it wouldn’t even be attempted if it was tried; and neither would you expect a 50-state sweep after the two-state tryout phase.    But the differences here with the real world loom very large, so it’s tough to take the last lesson too strongly.

But – might a one-state drug legalization test simply result in a national yawn ?      Pariahs in one state, with a paradoxical lowering of drug prices nationwide ?     Or a “legit tax” for cautious users ?

And might the RMT lesson be that you can’t hope to defeat the gold farmers, but that you could instead channel the activity in a particular direction ?     If Gold = Drugs, the whole thing might also be a war that neither side can hope to win.



  1. With the above screen shot happening pretty much every day (at least on the server I play on) I doubt very very much sigil is ever going to endorse gold selling on any level whatso ever. The players seem to be happy by their strong stance — does it change the fact that it happens and will continue to? Of course not. Supply and demand, especially on a game that’s so complex and requires lots of hours of play time, more of a reason to pay for what you want.

  2. Ohter day two players were banned at Florendyl by gold selling.

    Aparently Sigil not only ban the gold sellers but make no sigil about it (joke intended).

    Geregor Bedstone
    cleric 13 / armorsmith 21

  3. And here I was expecting someone would argue with me about the analogy. Oh well.

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