Is it cheating if you spend real money to purchase virtual gear for computer games? Is cheating still cheating if it's part of the game?
If you don't play games, you may not understand those questions. In online games, especially massive multiplayer online games like the Fool favorite, Vivendi's
Because that's cheating? Unfortunately, there's often little honor among gamers, so cries of unfairness don't really address the problem. That's why this is actually a very tricky issue for game designers, especially when they're charging customers a monthly fee to keep the competitive ecosystem running smoothly and fairly. As we've seen, one attempt to control the imbalance issues is WoW's eBay of the elves.
Mr. Softy may be taking another tack. The next-generation Xbox may just sidestep the issue completely by creating the black market itself. Earlier this month, in a San Francisco Xbox preview, J. Allard, a Microsoft
From a gamers' standpoint, I find the concept troubling. Where's the challenge? Where's the in-game reward? Why should I shell out more money to get extra stuff? Why should some snotty rich kid with a big allowance score an advantage over the downtrodden bootblack who could barely scrape enough together for the console and cartridge?
From an investors' standpoint, I say "genius." After all, the black market itself is proof enough that gamers are more than happy to spend real money on virtual add-ons. Moreover, more and more gamers are 40-something adults with money to burn, not squeaky-voiced teens with their parents' charge cards. If Microsoft and its content partners such as Electronic Arts
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Seth Jayson finds computer games horribly addictive. At the time of publication, he had a level 50 Night Elf hunter, but no position in any firm mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.