Everyone in RuneScape has one, and each one can belong to at most one player. Under the right circumstances, it can be changed. What is it? A RuneScape username, of course!
As many players who participated in last summer's festivities are well aware, RuneScape now has over 200 million accounts. In terms of choosing a name, that certainly eliminates many possibilities. Yet still, there is plenty of room for creativity, even if the exact name someone might desire is already taken. To name just a few commonly-seen examples, note that one can modify it, misspell it on purpose, or add letters to look like a frame (i.e. XXnameXX).
However, as with everything else, there are unscrupulous players that would do anything to set their hands on a name they want. Whether their ambition is instant fame or attention, they simply lack the ambition to create and be satisfied with their own name, or there is some other source of motivation, beyond the grasp of this writer. In any case, there is a black market for buying and selling names, much like the more infamous real-world trading.
On the other hand, unlike real-world trading, I have some simple proposals to virtually eliminate it with relative ease.
But first, let me explain this bizarre notion of selling names. How in the world does it work? If you want to buy or sell a maple log or a stripey feather, you walk to the Grand Exchange and proceed with the transaction. Clearly it's not that way for names.
To draw a parallel with real-world trading, a good portion of the business is conducted on third party websites, in an underground fashion. And what about the rest of it? Conjure up images of spy movies with people from the mafia meeting in a crowded coffee house to discreetly discuss business for an accurate depiction. There are ways of messaging someone and discreetly hinting at interest for such a deal without actually straight off saying it and jeopardizing an account with a mute.
Once both parties agree, how is the swap done? Suppose player 1, named "Giraffe" wants to change their name to player 2's name "Zebra." Player 2 changes their name to "Tempname1" (or does so in advance) and waits until they can change their name again. Then, Player 2 changes their name to "Fish" and the name "Zebra" immediately becomes available to everyone. However, this is coordinated with Player 1 so that Player 1 can snatch the name nominally before anyone else has a chance to get it.
Before we go further, remember that there are several good reasons not to engage in this sort of trading.
- It's against Jagex's rules! You are not allowed to trade game currency in exchange for real world services such as name trading.
- Personally I thought #1 was convincing enough. I certainly don't want to break Jagex's rules! Fine though; another issue is that this is effectively a trust trade and someone has to go first. There's a potential for either party to lose. Either one party takes the money and runs off (the more likely scenario) or the name change is done without the other party ever paying the money.
- It's not in the spirit of the game. The idea of choosing a username is to pick something unique yourself, and buying it off someone else was never something that anyone intended.
- There are many other names you could pick. Even if it were okay, why do you want to spend your hard-earned money buying a name off someone else? Enjoy spending your money on something else and choose from many available names. Just how many are available? Look at the numbers side by side:
200,000,000 « number of names taken
473,838,138,121,616,896 « number of names available
That's a lot of free names! Even though some of them are things like "dsal3sdkjd78," there are plenty of nicer-looking ones available. And this number doesn't even count using a space in your name!
Returning to the point, how big of an issue is this? The rarest names are of course, ones consisting of a single character like "3" or "K." There are 36 of these: twenty-six letters of the alphabet and ten numbers. A few may have been banned for various reasons, and others abandoned, but it's safe to assume there are at least 25 still floating around. The amount of gp people are willing to pay for these names easily reaches several billion.
Beyond these, there are hundreds of two-letter, three-letter, and first names (like John or Kate) worth hundreds of millions at least.
Then there is still a larger set of names consisting of simple dictionary words which people somehow seem attracted to. I won't say their names, and I also do not approve of their actions, but several of my friends have obtained or been offered ten or twenty million for such names. There are perhaps ten thousand of these, including combinations of words.
Of course, it is plain silly to assume that every one of these name holders is ready to sell off their name at the slightest opportunity. I've met some of them and I'm confident that they would not be tempted to do so. However, RuneScape's account security is not quite state-of-the-art. With one quick phish that gets through or a good guess, a hacker can get a RuneScape password. There are a lot of good things about JAG and all that, but one does not need to answer those questions to change character name. In fact (and I say this matter-of-factly, not to encourage hacktivism), it would not be difficult to get the name kicked off entirely and have it available to others and probably gone, within hours.
Add this all up and we have a half a trillion gp problem. That's enough money. Of course, this creates somewhat of an issue for dealing with it. Where does this money go if you successfully eliminate supply? Think about it for a second. If you can't show off a name, it follows you'll still want to show off by purchasing armor or rares, effectively injecting cash into the rare market. Yet this one-time effect is a better solution than letting the problem run indefinitely.
So, what is my solution? Recall earlier, when a player switched their username, and the second-to-last name they had became available. Instead of making it immediately available to all players, place it in a holding pool. Then, after weeks or months, at some random time, make all such names accumulated to that point available names again, much in the same way that inactive old accounts are recycled. It doesn't sound like such a good deal to have a shot at snagging the account along with a hundred other people at some random time in the future, now does it?
Next, at least give the option to lock up account settings like name changes with JAG. This will ensure security for people who want their name protected and further disable vandalism.
Now, if Jagex is really against name selling, they could publicly name and shame people to go even further.
But Jagex has changed its mind on policies before, even if such a reversal has been proven to be not so popular. So what if name selling were OK?
Jagex could magistrate trading names between players, in addition to enacting the measures I outlined above. We've established that, despite some grumbling, we can buy bank spaces or a Pegasus teleport for a few dollars, so why not name changes?
Regardless, even if this issue is never really resolved, I strongly encourage you to stay away from this whole business for all the reasons I mentioned before. I really do hope Jagex will sort this out, though, because (no pun intended) fairness should be the game of the name.