Update: My focus in this article is on Rocket League Garage co-founder Vicegold and the complicated relationship between game developers and third-parties, but Vicegold himself says he prefers to focus on the removal of Rocket League trading and its impact on players, which he's elaborated on in a post on Rocket League Garage.
"We're really thankful for Psyonix to allow us to run this platform for such a long time," said Vicegold. "We've started a few other projects lately where we don't rely on any other game or product and can't wait to launch them soon."
Rocket League's player-to-player trading system will be turned off in December. For someone like me, the news comes as a mild disappointment—I got my favorite set of wheels in a trade with a friend, but I haven't used the feature in years—but for Berlin-based designer Laurids "Vicegold" Düllmann, mobile developer Donnie "AlbinoPeacock”, and backend developer serubi, the announcement means losing a job.
Vicegold doesn't work at Rocket League developer Psyonix or owner Epic Games. He's one of the founders of Rocket League Garage, a popular website that's mainly used to coordinate trades between Rocket League players, and which makes money from banner ads and a premium subscription option. The site has been his sole source of income for five years now, and employs two others. (There are other Rocket League trading sites, too, such as RL Trades Finder and RL Exchange, the latter of which buys and sells items itself.)
Psyonix didn't explain the decision to remove player trading in much detail, and contrary to the tone of the announcement's ice cold notice that sites offering Rocket League trading services will be "fraudulent" after December 5, Vicegold and Rocket League Garage haven't had an antagonistic relationship with the developer. It's been the opposite: Vicegold told PC Gamer in a call this week that Psyonix has been supportive and communicative over the years.
"They [Psyonix] were always really nice," said Vicegold. "They even gave me access to their API so I could have functionality like a rank tracker. Every time we had a question or something, they always talked to us. Sometimes they said, like, 'OK, please enforce our TOS,' and we always happily obliged to that."
Vicegold's relationship with Psyonix goes back even further than Rocket League's launch: He was a player of Rocket League's predecessor, Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars (the studio got better at naming games in its second attempt), and was one of a small group of Rocket League alpha testers back in 2014. It was then that he founded the website as a way for other alpha testers to distribute extra codes they received. Psyonix founder Dave Hagewood praised the site's first design, and the developer even put the Rocket League Garage logo on a flag that players can attach to their cars. (Other websites, including PC Gamer, have Rocket League flags, too.)
When trading was added to Rocket League in 2016, Rocket League Garage "started to become really big," says Vicegold. Although the site still offers more than a directory of trade offers, including access to the game's leaderboards and a tool for previewing cosmetics, 90% of its traffic is related to trading, Vicegold says. In a post on Rocket League Garage, he put it bluntly: "We lost our jobs today."
Epic has declined to elaborate on why its item trading policy is what it is, or why it's applying it to Rocket League now. The announcement says only that the change will bring Rocket League in line with "Epic's overall approach to game cosmetics and item shop policies, where items aren't tradable, transferrable, or sellable" and that it "opens up future plans for some Rocket League vehicles to come to other Epic games over time, supporting cross-game ownership."
Vicegold thinks it's a short-sighted decision, even if he accepts Epic's right to make it.
"I think that the traders are the people who actually spend the most in the game, because they are the ones who care about these items," he says. "Every big trader I know, they spend thousands, even on Item Shop items, because some items are exclusive. The people they're hurting the most with this change are probably the people who spent the most in the game. So I think it's a really weird decision. And I think it's a decision made by people who actually have no idea how people use the game. But I mean, it's their game, you know? It's their right to do it. But then you also have to live with the consequences."
Vicegold still plans to release some new, non-trading related Rocket League Garage features that have been in the works, but says he'll look for a new source of income as a product designer after that, with the stipulation that whatever company he works for has to be "building their own product that's not based on something else."
"That's the thing I will definitely never do again: build a product that's based on the decisions of another company," says Vicegold. "Because then stuff like this happens, right? Which is sad, because I think there's such a cool opportunity for so many people to build apps and websites around all these popular games like Fortnite and Rocket League. But at some point, you have to realize it's another company, and they have their financial interests in mind, and they absolutely don't care about this third-party project, which is fine, I guess. But you have to be aware that if you start a project like this, it can be gone in minutes."
Like Vicegold, I can only speculate about why Epic is cutting Rocket League trading. Removing the feature presumably dumps some customer support load, and Epic recently laid off hundreds in the name of cost-cutting. But I think the big picture here is that companies like Valve and Epic do like it when people make products based on their products, just so long as it's on their terms—like Valve selling user-created cosmetics on the Steam Marketplace, and Epic sharing revenue with Fortnite island creators under its Creator Economy 2.0 terms. Informal business relationships are out, formal ones are in.