"Well, well, well...", as Sora Naegino would say...
Although Davy Jones pointed it out to me in comments on my blog, I had seen it on BluGartr yesterday -- though assisting my roommate (the surgery required is now on Thursday, and I can only hope she will have enough functional use of the right hand to type with and use a mouse when everything wears off for the six weeks her tendon will need to heal...) has come first, and cut down on my Net and in-game time greatly.
What I saw was this: China has now, as a matter of law, finally banned Real Money Trading (RMT) formally. The practice is believed to be 80-90% contained within Chinese perpetrators, so one has to wonder if this would finally end all the different spam tells we've been getting for the last six months or so.
(It might also explain that the price of such matters has now fallen to one-third of previous levels, but we'll see on that one.)
I have two things to say on that:
1) I will believe the ban is actually doing something when I see the ban is actually doing something.
The necessity of a direct move on the part of the Chinese government to ban RMT appears to state openly that the Chinese believe that the companies which own the proprietary virtual property involved (Square-Enix in the case of FFXI, etc.) had no legal recourse of their own, under Chinese law or the home law of the company involved, to end this bullshit.
Again, since this involves the seizure of control of virtual proprietary property of the relevant companies, this is theft, and should already be actionable under both local law and Chinese law.
On top of this, you have the possibility that the Chinese will just take their RMT situations completely on to the black market, and that nothing will change, per se. What this now gives, however, is that the STF with FFXI/FFXIV will now have the opportunity to take their concerns and their records and findings to the Chinese police directly for action under this law.
What will happen from there is another question...
and now, my second point, which should predictably raise some eyebrows:
2) In my opinion, and taking solely the players engaged in RMT and RMT farming into account: If this law actually ends up enforced and even eliminates a substantial portion of RMT, the number of characters in FFXI will HALVE.
It is my opinion that at least half of the characters who are involved in FFXI are RMT.
Evidence, you say: Let's look at three very important things in the Vana'diel Census:
(The first two are on page 1 of the Census report: http://www.playonline.com/ff11us/guide/development/census/09/index.html)
a) The distribution of logins. There appear to be a significant number of characters in the game ("simultaneous logins") going all the way from Japanese prime time well past midnight JP time.
It does not appear that the number of logins goes down to peak-US levels until about 2-3 AM JP time (which would be when Chinese prime time is ending).
b) The information given on the amount of time which is spent, on average, each day with the characters.
One thing which came out to me immediately is that the average time on for each character, year-over-year, fell 45 minutes on a daily average (or about 27%).
That is a tremendous fall, and would appear to indicate that either people are stopping play of FFXI entirely in massive numbers, or that the people who are playing FFXI no longer intend to actually have their characters logged in for that long.
Add to the fact that there is the (false) belief that the game is growing (based on the number of characters within FFXI), and something is definitely rotten in Rotterdam.
c) (And this one is from the second page on job levels: http://www.playonline.com/ff11us/guide/development/census/09/2.html)
Even with incentives for players to actually make it to level 5, at the least (Mog Bonanza 2008 being one of them), about 62.5% of the characters in the game are level 1.
Most people with mules have at least levelled them to some meaningful capacity (with stuff like MB 2008 mandating it), and it would only take a very minimal amount of time to do so.
That said, with a claimed 2,350,000 characters (http://www.playonline.com/ff11us/guide/development/census/09/11.html), this would indicate that approximately 1,470,000 characters have never been levelled past level 1.
Now, not every level 1 is RMT, but, when you consider that Square-Enix (and Allakazham) had just announced that FFXI had gone over the 2 million character mark on just April 22 of this year (http://www.playonline.com/pcd/topics/ff11us/0904/topics_all.html, scroll about a third of the way down), it would indicate that the number of characters in the game is experiencing explosive growth even though the game has lost a significant amount of income April-December 2008 over 2007 (http://www.jpbutton.com/?p=2122).
In this article, by whatever "units" they are using on the bar graph, the FFXI income fell from 91 to 69. These are not numbers I made up -- these are numbers Square-Enix provided in their own financial findings. (See the JP Button article referenced above.)
When you put all of these facts together, there can only come one conclusion: A MASSIVE number of the characters on the game right now are RMT, and any effort to really cut RMT out will force the bubble of the number of characters in the game to deflate like a popped balloon.
(One can also make a case that a certain number of players reliant on RMT to attain their remaining goals in the game (Mythics, Relics, what have you) might also leave. This is one reason I cannot rule out the very occasional 100-Byne or Jadeshell or Montiont in the Union System coming up in the late-July update.)
I am hopeful RMT can be smashed. But, with how organized they appear to be and how much they are willing to flaunt the law to begin with (on both sides of the pond), one has to wonder how many "teeth" this Chinese announcement will really have.