Tobold's Blog
Friday, April 21, 2006
Banning as publicity stunt

Recently Blizzard announced 5,400 World of Warcraft accounts banned and over 10,000 suspended "for participating in activities that violate the game’s Terms of Use, including using third-party programs to farm gold and items".

The announcement was a masterpiece of marketing spin. The people that were banned were those that used bots, automated programs that played the game for them. But by putting phrases like "Please note that selling World of Warcraft content, such as gold, items, and characters, can result in a permanent ban of the involved accounts from World of Warcraft." into the announcement, Blizzard made it look as if the banned players had been the widely hated gold sellers. Now certainly it is very likely that a large number of the people that were banned for using bots to farm gold are also selling that gold for dollars. But they weren't banned for selling, they were banned for botting. The difference is that botting can be detected, while selling gold is impossible to detect.

The problem is that one character sending another character 100 or 1000 gold is perfectly allowed within the terms of service, and Blizzard can't ban either the sender nor the receiver for that transaction. The bannable offence is the other transaction taking place in the other direction, of the buyer sending dollars to the seller via Paypal or similar means. Blizzard has no way of seeing that part of the transaction. A 1000 gold transfer looks suspicious, but if the sender and the receiver claim to be real life friends, with the one helping the other out, there is nothing that Blizzard can possibly do.

The famous (or fabled) chinese sweat shop where 3 guys play 8 hours each on one account and farm gold 24/7 using cheap labor instead of cheating with a bot program is not affected at all by this banning action. They are not doing anything forbidden in the game, and the forbidden stuff they do outside the game is invisible to Blizzard.

If Blizzard wanted really to stop the real money trade (RMT), where some people farm gold and sell it to others for cash, they would need to other things. For example a Google search for "WoW gold" gives nearly 3 million hits, and 11 sponsored links. If Blizzard would just visit the 11 sponsored links and sue these 11 companies, that would already stop 90% of the WoW gold trade.

But as their legal position in this is questionable, Blizzard prefers the publicity stunt way. Instead of banning people when caught, they wait until they have a large number of them together, and then ban 5,400 players at the same time, with a big press release. 5,400 players is less than 0.1% of the current subscribers, and most of them will just make a new account with a different credit card and carry on cheating, so Blizzard doesn't lose much money. And while this is totally ineffectual to stop RMT, it looks good in the press, and gets a lot of positive news coverage.

Even if they could, Blizzard would never ban all the buyers and sellers of gold. There are many thousands of sellers accounts, and for each seller there has by economic necessity to be several buyers. I wouldn't be surprised if there are several hundred thousands, or even a million people out there who already bought WoW gold. Banning them all wouldn't be economically viable for Blizzard. Banning the 0.1% of botters a few times per year is enough to keep their image clean and cash register ringing.
Story in context: Bay area local newspaper carrying advertising in print for WoW gold and powerleveling. With the argument that "we are not using bots that could harm your account, so it's perfectly safe".
You mentioned suing the goldselling companies. But what would you sue them with ? You have a licence agreement (which they are not breaking, this involves copyright on the game files so that you can not use the graphics or models in your own games), and a terms of service where the only action against players is termination of your account.

Unless you believe in frivolous suing (also called strongarming), just the threat of a lawsuit or suing them to force them to spend money of lawyers, even if you have no case, to harm the competition or to drive them out of business.
Well, Blizzard does threaten legal action against people selling unofficial guides to WoW on Ebay.

I am not a lawyer, but I think the legal argument against gold selling is that all items in WoW belong to Blizzard, thus selling them is illegal. A bit like the city of San Francisco coming after you when you try to sell the Golden Gate bridge. :)

You sound like you're in the despair and acceptance phase when it comes to gold farming....buck up camper, its going to to be okay.

-Prognosticator @ VirginWorlds
I got carried away with my comment, so I posted it here:
Dancing around the issue of RMT

I personally don't have any qualms with gold farmers, some of my more enjoyable game experiences in WoW were frolicking in a popular camp area.

At the end of the day the companies must decide if or not they support gold farming. If so, implement it as part of their own infrastructure and streamline it, shutting out and aggressively fighting all other gold farming companies that don't use said infrastructure.

If they don’t support it then they need to be a lot more aggressive, but finding a cost effective way to do so, yeah…
What if...Blizzard themselves sold the gold?

WoW!!! What an idea!!!

You pay Blizzard for your Gold, then they mail it to you in-game.

And Blizzard will charge you less than whatever price those 11 websites are charging for their Gold. So the Gold Farmers lower their prices, but they can only lower them so far, and they cannot compete with Blizzard, because Blizzard doesn't have a bunch of employees that need to be paid for working 24/7 to Farm items to sell on the AH for Gold.

Blizzard just creates the Gold.

The Gold Farming companies will close down because they cannot possibly compete with someone who doesn't have to play by the same rules!

Then Blizzard jack up the price of the Gold they're selling and make even more money of their addicts, I mean customers. When the Gold Farmers come back, Blizzard drop their prices and shut them down again.

The WoW economy would bounce up and down during the price war like a yo-yo with an elastic string, but the Gold Farmers would eventually be driven out of business and the economy would settle down again.

There's absolutely nothing to stop Blizzard from doing that, and IMHO it would work far better than suing the Gold Farmers.
Um, capn john... there's this thing called inflation - perhaps you've heard of it? Putting more gold into the economy just devalues the rest of the gold. If you can buy a hundred gold from Blizzard for a few bucks, then anyone selling stuff on the AH will take that into consideration and jack up their prices. Think of the affects of duping on any MMORPG economy (UO is a good example) and you've pretty much got the same situation... only Blizzard would make tons of money in the mean time.

As nice as it would be to completely eliminate gold farmers, that just won't work. Its impossible to eliminate them all. But at the same time Bliz has been EXTREMELY lax in terms of trying to stop this kind of behavior. They're completely willing to go after some guy selling his WoW guide on ebay and at the same time they completely ignore the fact that gold farmers are advertising in a newspaper.

If anything, Blizzard knows that theres a sizable amount of people who are willing to spend real money to enhance their MMORPG characters. Tough enforcement would turn away those kinds of people away. That equals lost accounts from both sides of the spectrum - gold farmer & gold buyer both already pay Bliz $15 a month for every account.

Actually you'll find that three guys in a sweat shop using the one account full time, is doing something banable, they're account sharing which is against the ELUA and TOS...
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