I thought I would write a little post about little things called "Massively Multiplayer Online Games".
I've done some awfully extensive MMOG studies, and one of the things I've found that it seems most people seem to not understand is the connection between economies and grinding.
When you are running a standard MMORPG, such as World of Warcraft, Everquest 2, The Matrix Online, City of Villains, or mebbysomethingthathasn'tquitecomeoutyetbutisgoingtofailbecauseofthesesameflaws (cough), you are charging a monthly fee.
Monthly fee = keeping players playing for many months.
Keeping players playing for many months = needing lots of content which takes lots of time. IE, grinding content.
You need lots of content. One way to make content is to allow players to generate it for you, which not only creates content but also is, in itself, a powerful and nearly unlimited amount of content. However, if you (like most MMOG developers) fear this step, the only other option is to provide content yourself. Content which costs time and money to develop.
Lots of freaking time and money.
So, what connection does that have to the in-game economy?
Let's look at economics. I do love economics.
You have your 1000 hours of content all planned out. Players scale the ladder. They get the Stick, then the Greater Stick, then the Stick with the Nail in It, then the +3 Enchanted Nail-Stick of Arsehammering. It's perfect, right? They'll spend months, and pay you shit-loads.
Until, of course, someone gets that +3 enchanted nail-stick. What does he do with his old nail-stick?
He sells it. Shocker, right? That's assuming you've made selling it worthwhile. Otherwise, he simply gives it away, which is even worse, as I'll explain.
If you're at all clever, you've provided for this in one or both of two ways: you make the nail-sticks degrade as fast as you swing them, and/or you create a balanced economy.
If you have done neither, here is what happens: he sells it, and the person he sells it to turns 200 hours of content into 50 hours of content, just like that. With his +3 enchanted nail-stick of arsehammering, he hammers all the arses he shouldn't have been able to reach for fifty or a hundred more hours. He short circuits your treadmill. He skips your content, compressing it into a squidgy little mark on his boot.
At $15/month and 75 hours logged-in/month, you'll lose $30 if you lose 150 hours of gameplay. PER PLAYER.
To reiterate, gifting newbs costs devs quite a lot of real cash.
To keep this from being trouble, you have five options.
1) All items degrade, so that arsehammer nail-stick can only cost you a few hours of content per trade, rather than hundreds. This will piss off players, and has to be extremely fast. "Bring a crate of hover-bikes" pops into my head, for some reason.
2) You get a kickback (either in real money or in added time) for each of these trades. Real money is difficult, because most players are not willing to pay anywhere near the actual cost of the equipment as stated above. Usually, the act of balancing an economy is an attempt to make it take 150 hours to be able to afford something which cuts 200 hours into 50 hours. Thus, gifting utterly bypasses this option.
3) You can restrict items to specific level brackets, so it only costs you a few hours. This doesn't work very well because they'll just get gifted in every level bracket.
4) You can have time-locked content. For example, skills that take a specific amount of real-time to learn. IE, Eve. This works pretty well, especially if you don't much care for option 5:
5) You can have unlimited content. This requires hundreds of dedicated team members. Obviously, the easiest way to do this is to allow players to create their own content - "dedicated team members" don't have to be your employees.
Now, RMT is simply not an issue in comparison to having a stable, in-game economy. Stop bitching about RMT until you get the fundamentals right!