Real-Money Trades: turning gold-farming into a game company profit-center

Here's a fascinating interview with Andy Schneider, co-founder of Live Gamer, a firm that provides marketplaces for online game companies so that their players can engage in "real-money trades" -- sales of virtual items that are acquired through playing the game. This is presented as an alternative to "gold-farming," in which people in the developing world earn their living by amassing in-game wealth which is then sold on to impatient rich-world players who don't want to put in the hours necessary to gaining the wealth through their own play. The argument goes like this: legitimate marketplaces for "real" player-to-player exchanges will put "fake" players like gold farmers out of business. I'm skeptical: for one thing, the distinction between "real" players and "fake" players seems pretty arbitrary.
...[W]e spent a lot of time trying to understand the motivation of game players. Why do they engage in RMT? What are the hot-button issues? Does it break the fourth wall or the magic circle? Does it create an unfair advantage for players who are buying items that are giving them a performance advantage?

We looked at what these motivations are, and certainly there are players who want to get a performance advantage. But, there are also overwhelmingly more players who play MMOs and engage in RMT for social reasons.

The social reasons might be one of they want to play with friends who are leveling up faster than they are and they want to keep up, they want to play the game again from a different character class or race perspective, or they want to customize their experience - so they want to go ahead and buy the items that make them feel better about their character.

There's also the players who want to explore everything the game developer or designer has created, and they can't possibly do it because they don't have enough time.

In the end, all of these people engage in RMT because they don't have enough time, but they might have more disposable income. And that's the predominant reason why people that we see are engaging in RMT, and we certainly see all the arguments against RMT.

Real Money, Fake Property: Live Gamer's Andy Schneider on Bringing Item Sales in from the Cold (via /.)