What Item Trading and Crates Means for Rocket League
Stop me if you heard this one before:
A video game that is classified as an esport has a system where you can earn cosmetic pieces to your character via crates. These crates could be earned in-game at random, but are unlocked with a key purchased in a microtransaction. The items in these crates vary in rarity, and can be traded with other gamers.
Yes, this sounds like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, but history may repeat itself with Rocket League implementing these exact features.
Psyonix released Rocket League's version 1.22 patch on Thursday, which introduced crates and keys, as well as peer-to-peer trading, to its game yesterday.
Containing items that can vary from "rare" to "black market" in rarity, the crates can randomly appear as match rewards, however, it will require a key to unlock the crate. Keys will be sold for $1.49 or your regional equivalent, and can be bought in bundles of five, ten, or 20 at $1 a key.
In the official description of the concept, put under the "Rumble" feature announcement, crates and keys were Psyonix way of allowing additional funding for esport competitions. Specifically, Psyonix said, "as Rocket League’s competitive scene continues to grow, our support for its players need to grow with it."
Psyonix's claim is true; Rocket League's esport prize pool has been abysmal compared to other esports. From Aug. 8, 2015 to Aug. 7, 2016, all Rocket League competitions have given out under $100,000 in prize money, per esportsearnings.com, with almost half of that coming from the RLCS Season 1 championship. A lack of prize money means fewer teams and players, which is detrimental to the growth of this esport, especially as it is in its early stages.
The popular RC car soccer game already saw microtransactions before this point, as players could buy cosmetic changes to their vehicles in what are now called "premium" transactions. This put Rocket League in the same category as a game such as Overwatch; Rocket League allowed you to pimp your ride, but did not have an in-game barter economy.
That came until this week via patch version 1.22, when peer-to-peer item trading was put into the game.
While this is a fantastic way for the Rocket League community to interact with each other, item trading most often brings an unwanted level to a game: the internet economy. Specifically, cosmetics-for-currency exchange websites, and of course, the legal gray area of cosmetic betting websites.
The gaming community has seen the CS:GO skin market's bubble burst over this past year, mostly due to the mass closure of skin betting websites, such as CS:GO Lotto and Wild. These closures were mostly due to the increased awareness of the general public to shady business techniques. Specifically, owners, including popular YouTubers and even pro teams, were not disclosing their partial ownership in betting websites, and also had access to future results that, in some cases, were taken advantage of.
And before that, the iBuyPower match-fixing scandal did not help the cause of keeping these websites afloat.
With all those issues in mind, the legality of those websites has yet to be settled in court, and these websites were only virtually shut down by CS:GO's parent company Valve. This means that there is no legal precedent set that would stop this kind of business to emerge, except for a 2015 court case over Game of War. Even so, Game of War did not have the extra element of a real world currency exchange.
In theory, Psyonix could bring the revival of the cosmetic betting markets, which in turn can hang consumers out to dry through unfair and possibly illegal business practices.
So in other words, look out next year when your favorite YouTuber who bets on RocketLeagueLotto.com actually owns a stake in the website.
What does Psyonix need to do then in order to make sure their trade market does not become the next breeding ground for predatory practices?
While an opt-out system is a nice feature included in this patch, it is definitely not an answer to diverting an out-of-game economy. Sure, it is great to offer players the option to not receive the notifications of new crates, but that does not remove them entirely. In fact, the crates still sit there, and a player can still buy keys to participate in the economy.
Rather than an opt-out system, I can see three options for Psyonix: Thet can take a defensive approach, completely shut down any third-parties on day one, or encourage and regulate the out-of-game economy.
The defensive attitude comprises of monitoring trades, but only banning accounts rather than taking any legal action.
This practice is currently seen in Electronic Arts games, specifically in their Ultimate Team modes across their sports titles. After money-for-coins exchanges sprung up around the web, EA started moderating trades in games such as FIFA, and banned players who used these practices.
While great in theory, this would require a good amount of manpower or an extremely sophisticated machine, to filter trades. Psyonix's staff size is dwarfed by EA Sports, and machines can be prone to errors, such as lopsided trades being ignored or the wrong trades being flagged, so this may not be the most preferred option.
This brings us to the more severe option: Psyonix can put its foot down and stand against any transactions outside of in-game trading and key buying.
With the CS:GO betting scandal on the back burner of most gamers' minds, a statement against this kind of practice, along with swift legal action from any violators, can divert individuals from trying to establish CS:GO Lotto 2.0. It would also make Psyonix, who did not have much fame before Rocket League outside of contract work, even more of an innovator in the gaming industry, and garner the respect from consumers and media outlets.
However, by completely closing off the outside economy, this could start an underground economy, and operate like the black markets for drugs and other illegal items.
This brings me to put non-prescribed Adderall and Rocket League in the same sentence, for the sole purpose of confusing those who have skipped the majority of this article so far.
Not only could taking a strong stance breed illegal activity, but it could completely cause a devaluation, and disinterest, in crates and keys.
esportsbettingreport.com estimated that the CS:GO betting economy was projected to hit $7 billion in 2016 in skins betted alone. While there was a discrepancy in how much skins dropped in price after the mass shutdown of these betting websites, as reported on PC Gamer, it still caused some effect in the in-game economy.
It also may require the man or machine to moderate trades, which then requires even more money that has to be poured into consumer protection.
The third option is to allow an out-of-game economy, including betting websites, but establish and enforce rules to keep consumers safe.
Whereas Valve seemed to not take action against skin betting websites at first, Psyonix has a chance within days of announcing this feature to bring in their own regulations to this kind of economy. By establishing certain guidelines and ceasing operations of websites that practice cosmetic betting or buying illegally, Psyonix would harbor a safe and thriving economy while having more control over it.
This would stimulate the economy by more players buying keys to join in on these websites, as well as raise the price of rarer cosmetic changes. It also gives leeway to legitimately shut down a website that can undercut Psyonix for those interested in buying keys outside of the game developer. And, for an even bigger stretch, this could even turn into Psyonix creating their own website to allow people to gamble cosmetics, all while earning more commission or disallowing a real-world cashout.
Of course, these practices may get Psyonix shut down by every gaming commission in the world, and put the end to unregulated esports betting on a fast track, but that bridge can be crossed if it royally screws up.
While there has not been much discussion over whether this will be an issue, Psyonix should ensure their fans that the relationship between real-world money and their product is a one-way street with crates and keys, or is a safer environment than that of the defunct CS:GO betting wilderness.
But in short, I found a really cool website that I already won thousands of dollars in Rocket League skins from. If you want the link, here it is:
Do you think Psyonix could wind up being at the center of another cosmetic skin controversy? Let us know by commenting below, or tweeting @GAMURScom.