On October 9, Gala-Net announced a partnership with PlaySpan to bring peer-to-peer item trading into their games. The deal marks a first step toward the institutionalization of virtual item for real-world currency trades in their games. According to Gala-Net Vice President John Young, his company is just on the forefront of a new trend in the North American MMOG market.
"We've been looking at this space really since I joined Gala-net," Young said. His company handles the North American online distribution of a host of foreign games, including Corum Online, UpShift StrikeRacer, Rappelz, Flyff and Shot Online.
PlaySpan describes themselves as the "game industry's first publisher-sponsored in-game commerce network," which is to say, they work directly with MMOG publishers to create marketplaces similar to SOE's Sony Exchange for their games.
Their solution allows companies to have full control over what their game allows. For example, with this deal, one Gala-Net game could simply use PlaySpan to facilitate item for item trades, while another one could allow full item for cash transfer.
For Young, the decision to work with PlaySpan was dictated primarily by game design. Although he was unable to share details of which games would have PlaySpan's system plugged in, he did note that at least for the initial implementation, they will not enable cash trades. Instead, the marketplace provides their users with a simple feature most games have - essentially a consignment and auction system.
"We'll be rolling this out in a measured way to ensure that fun is preserved," he said. "They will not be able to take real world currency and buy things on day one."
Young did not hide the fact they would eventually reach that point, although he made it clear they would only enable a real-world cash marketplace in games where it made sense.
"[A real-world cash marketplace] encourages economic activity if players know they can cash out," he said.
Aside from the player benefit, Young believes it also helps Gala-Net better tune and balance their games. He readily admits that in any MMOG, the players know more about a game than the developers, despite their best metrics. With this system, if they see a specific item has become absurdly expensive on the marketplace, it helps them figure out why and address the balance issues such a situation might indicate. In some respects, it's the difference between communism and capitalism. Most MMOGs have to resort to top-down price-fixing to make their economies function, but Young believes that the PlaySpan system will help them create a more accurate and fair economic reality in all their titles.
Beyond balance, they also cite customer service concerns as a good reason to institutionalize these kinds of transfers, which happen whether or not their EULA allows it.
"We want to bring that all into the light," Young added. "By bringing it all inside and not letting shady people into the equation, we bring a lot of quality to our players."
That means the devs will receive many less customer service calls from people who purchased an item through a third party and didn't receive it. It's an impossible situation for game developers as they have no idea whether the person was actually ripped off or made it all up. However, while this is a good thing for Young, he emphasized that the CS benefit is nothing but a happy side-effect.
"It's a design decision, it's not something you do only for CS or because players want it and therefore we give it to them," he said. "We really do believe at the core that trading is fun."