Raph Koster made an interesting post this week on the subject of player trading. As one of the team behind the original Star Wars Galaxies, it's obviously an area that many veteran gamers appreciate his stance on, and he brings up some very interesting points.
Does the convenience of an instantly accessed global auction house, with immediate delivery, actually deprive an MMO of an area which could flourish as an independent eco-system? You can read the whole entry here.
It is a fascinating subject and one that, for me, hints at one of the core challenges that future virtual world designs will have to balance. Imagine for example how much poorer a game EVE online would be if you could buy everything for anywhere? It's a great example of where we as designers, will need to balance the current generation of players demands for convenience, against what might just actually make a more compelling game experience. I've mentioned many times here on the blog that I dislike the terms 'themepark' and 'sandbox' as they do a disservice to many game-design elements that I do believe will live alongside each other in future generations of virtual worlds, and tend to suggest certain things are mutually exclusive when they are not.
I firmly believe that is possible to balance both convenience and depth with a little lateral thinking. EVE for example, at least in my experience, has a more refined implementation of trading, and a much deeper one, than that seen in Galaxies (albeit it without visual customization of a 'store', but that is more due to the inherently different settings than any difference in principles.) ... and I am sure that most can agree that there is room for more accessibility in such a model than we see in EVE. I am almost certain it is something that you will see future virtual worlds tackle.
That makes subjects like this well worth reading up on and reflecting upon, in particular if you have an interest in where we might take these virtual worlds next. Many veterans players, and their ranks grow with each passing year, are almost desperately awaiting the next innovation, or change in approach, in the genre, and topics like this are one of the design battlefields that will have to be traversed to get there!