Sony Online Entertainment is starting an auction site in which people pay real money for virtual goods. Station Exchange is an attempt to regulate these sales, which until now have been strictly outlawed by pretty much every MMOG, and have been rife with various forms of fraud and badness. TerraNova, of course, is all over this, with a ton of opinions ranging from joy (less fraud is a good thing!) to despair (so much for “role-playing” and “immersion”).

There are other games experimenting with selling content to players. Kingdom of Loathing gives you an accessory for every $10 donated. Second Life and Habbo Hotel charge money for real estate and room decorations, respectively. These are different, though, in that they don’t really confer as much of a competitive advantage as pre-leveled characters and über equipment that gets traded in MMORPGs like EQII.

The competitive argument against selling virtual assets seems to be that it puts players who aren’t willing to spend extra cash at a disadvantage against players that are; the only way to make up for this disadvantage is to spend hours and hours grinding your way to the top. Personally, I think that any game in which competition and success can be boiled down to a “time = money” equation is not a fun game. Is actual skill supposed to be a complete non-factor in RPGs?

At any rate, this type of thing doesn’t really affect me as a player, because I tend to avoid playing MMOGs that involve the kind of competition that leads to eBaying. Even (especially?) in World of Warcraft, I stay far away from PvP, and stick to “casual” solo and party play. For me, level grinding is just something you do so that you can walk around new areas without getting mauled. Buying a character or piece of equipment to skip straight to the high-level raiding is, for me, a means to the wrong end.