Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 27, 2011
This wouldn't happen if game companies sold virtual items

In a weird way this week's news about Chinese prisoner being forced to farm gold in MMORPGs ties in with my previous post about buying virtual items in MMORPGs: If game companies don't sell virtual property, and the only way to get that virtual property is by hard, grinding labor, then a black market which basically sells that hard labor is going to evolve. Whether that is a prison camp or a sweatshop, in China or in some other part of the world, they all sell virtual labor for real money, because virtual labor is the only thing that counts in MMORPGs without an item shop.

A game which has the option to buy virtual goods directly from the game company destroys the business model of the sweatshop gold farmer. Unlike real labor producing real goods, virtual labor to farm virtual goods is based on the artificial scarcity of those virtual goods. As this scarcity isn't real, the game company has total control over the supply, and can always produce virtual items for cheaper than a gold farmer can farm them for. By having legal ways to buy virtual goods, the illegal and morally wrong ways to these goods are made obsolete.
A big agree on this post.

Such a simple solution, yet it is actually the PLAYER who hates the thought of others getting ahead via cash.

If the player would understand that it would be to crackdown on such practices...our MMO's would be better all around.
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I completely agree with your post. The problem is however that for a large group of players the grind and boring bits of an MMO is the fun part. If the game would offer those virtual items they would lose me as customer. By having legal ways to buy virtual goods, the purpose and silly wrong ways to these goods are made obsolete.

I know I can now go to the gold seller and buy my shiny, and thus making my own argument obsolete. But there is a clear difference between the game telling me to either struggle or pressing the easy button, versus the dodgy character trying to sell it to me.
One thing to consider. There is considerable fallout to the publisher, being labeled as "greedy" or the like to opening this kind of store.

If one of the major companies did this there would be considerable fallout. What would be the impact to the core gamer and the subscription? No one knows for sure, making it risky to try it. Maybe when the larger MMO's are in their sunset years this will be practical, but a front-line MMO to do this today would likely have a lot of unintended consequences.

SOE gave me 45 free days of SW:G, which my wife and I are enjoying. I'd buy gold from them. Oh wait, maybe I already can. /goingtocheck
Assuming this is the real Tobold and we aren't all being trolled (which I'm kinda doubting), I've got two words to add to this discussion:

Entropia Universe. Cash in, cash out.

All of you people who want to take virtual capitalism to its logical conclusion stop screwing around with WoT and EVE or whatever and go play that.
The funny thing is, even F2P games are hounded by gold sellers.

No matter how easy to make it for players to get equipment/income, there is always those that are even lazier and wants things now, and cheaper, then the company can offer.

I've mentioned Atlantica Online a few times, but apparently big complaint is the gold seller spam... in a F2P MMO. People are inherently lazy, players more so on many levels anymore.
Games could easily get rig of this by sporadically doing "Free Tibet" analogies. Or maybe a some place with tanks and one single man in front of them.
Note: Station Cash on SOE is for EQ and EQII only.

That was funny! Gevlon is posting as "Fake Tobold" again, then wanted to add a comment as Gevlon, but forgot to switch to the other account. As a result you have the third comment of this post being retracted, because it said "M&S can't think competitively. If something affects them negatively, they hate it.", which wouldn't have been a very believable "Tobold-comment".
so if the pleyers didn't bought virtual gold or didn't need to do it then those prisoners could enjoy their tea in the garden


The economic system we are living now is the most cruel ever in history.The country would have found something else for these people to do in order to gain money...

If you are looking for utopia then join the Zeitgeist venus project.Only if this succeed we will live in a better world.

After the stamp collector failed example to support virtual shops from companies now I see another bigger false example.Sorry to say that I usually agree with you.
I certainly agree with your statement, but I also don't like it. :D

I guess that I am with Phedre. If I could give Blizz $50 and get 10k gold... I prolly would. THEN what? I would be bored and would stop playing. But hey, thats just me.

I kind of feel like Blizz doesn't really take gold sellers seriously, but I don't have all the facts that Blizz has. Why do I see the names of gold sellers in chat? For example, if you say "susanexpress" in trade chat, your message should be blocked and you should be flagged for account review, period.

I saw a player the other day, their name was "susanexpress". really? REALLY? Yes its trivial, but why allow that?

If an account is hacked, and they see hacked user "A" sending 10k gold to user "B", why isn't user "B" banned? (maybe they are)

there are sights where I can buy a character, why don't they monitor those characters and cancel the account?

Again, I don't have all the data, maybe these things are REALLY hard to do, who knows.
I agree that adding more virtual goods would solve the issue. But would the fallout be? What other issues would arise?

And who is to say Blizzard isn't going this way? First it was transfers, renames, faction changes. Then pets, mounts and other useless things. Now the remote AH, remote guild chat and DF with your RealID friends on other servers.
"I guess that I am with Phedre. If I could give Blizz $50 and get 10k gold... I prolly would. THEN what? I would be bored and would stop playing."

That's a sad thought. If the point of playing is to accumulate gold, it seems to me that the gameplay itself isn't offering much.
"That's a sad thought. If the point of playing is to accumulate gold, it seems to me that the gameplay itself isn't offering much."

But I guess that I didn't make my point. I don't play to accumulate gold, I play to have fun. :D And for me thats questing, running dungeons, collecting achievements. If I could buy cheap gold from Blizz, I would (probably) do so, buy up all sorts of good gear, then be bored.

Maybe not THAT cut and dry, but it wouldn't certainly kill some of the fun that I have. I like working towards the better gear.
Just a thought, but real economies always have black markets. Legislation exists to limit them, but they perist. They're agile, flexible.

Seems there must be some threshold level at which black markets don't overly hurt an economy. Perhaps they even stimulate it to some extent.

So, how do we seriously expect a virtual world with a simulated "free-economy" to eliminate it when the real world can't?

It's the "free" that has to remain "free" in order for the simulation to flourish, right?

This attitude that it would be easy to get rid of gold sellers if they only wanted to, just doesn't resonate with me.

MMO's allow (more or less) free exchange of goods and cash between players, as well as a farily strong sense of ownership over your goods/cash.

That's a cornerstone of stable economies. Limiting either with too heavy a hand would severely impact the game.
It would be harder to justify shutting down gold sellers if blizzard sold gold. Something more radical should be consider, like removing gold from the game.
Even removing gold wouldn't stop real-world collusion. Instead of selling gold, they would just sell raid spots or dungeon runs or whatever. The problem is, there is no way for MMOs to police that. It is "normal" gameplay, isn't it.

When is getting/paying for help "cheating" ?
"That's a sad thought. If the point of playing is to accumulate gold, it seems to me that the gameplay itself isn't offering much."

Good point. I would have no problem if the item shop would offer in-game gold for real $. Using the cash shop or using a rich alt or guildmember is exactly the same. I won't use either.

Maybe offering cold $ for cold gold makes everybody happy. Except the Chinese prison warden.
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I can't 100% agree with you here, Tobold.

Take EVE. Effectively, if you want to buy ISK, you can do it, legally, from the developer. Buy a PLEX license from them for $15, sell it on the open market for the going rate (something like 300 million ISK last time I played, although that was a few years ago).

Thing is, there were still farmers, and there was still a black market trade in ISK for $. ISK was cheaper on the black market, you just ran the risk of the banstick by buying it.

So in this case, the developer selling virtual currency didn't kill the illicit trade, it just serves as competition, and an upper bound on the prices they can charge. Obviously the trade is still profitable, though.
An MMO with no tradeable currency has been one of my dreams for years, and not especially because of gold farming. For once I'd just like to play an MMO that didn't feel it had to be an economic sim as well.

A system where players just sell to NPCs and the NPCs sell back at fixed prices would work for me.
I don't think it's as simple as opening some kind of virtual store.

Think of it like the misstep WoW made in this expansion with trying to create a floor price for ore by putting a high vendor price on uncommon gems. All this did was encourage ore botting because it was so easy to push through the market. All players had to do was buy below floor, prospect, cut, vendor for a zero-risk profit; and so they did.

Opening a virtual store would create a standard, hard currency price of virtual goods. They would either have to make it so low as to make the virtual currency absolutely worthless (see the changes still happening in gem vendor prices), or tolerate creating a real money conversion for an already existing network of people selling virtual currency. If they included useful items in the virtual store, it would only get worse: people would farm for that item to convert to hard currency. If the items are only accessible through the virtual store, it alienates their player base.

I understand there are games that already function this way, but they did they have the prolific botting/farming problem WoW already does? I'd say the cat's already out of the bag.

I think the only potential solution would be significantly more robust crafting professions, as we've seen that botters/farmers are much less willing to get into such endeavors as they're less reliable and require more time and investment between sales.
Eh. To be honest, there will always be buyers and sellers. There will always be people who have money and want something, and people who are willing to do it for money. That's the nature of the world.

The fact that Chinese prisoners were forced to farm gold is kinda irrelevant; you make it sound like MMOs caused this behavior to happen, but if there were no MMOs, they'd still be forced to do some other hard labor (smashing walls, doing other menial non-work).

In all honesty, it's not a bad way for a prisoner to serve his sentence, sitting in front of a computer and basically relaxing as he grinds his prison sentence away. Not to mention that he's technically stimulating the economy even a little bit, 1 penny at time.
1) re
"If the point of playing is to accumulate gold, it seems to me that the gameplay itself isn't offering much."

That is true for some people but it is obviously not for many others. I have over two dozen WoW crafting/gold making blogs in my reader. I think the third podcast started. Unlike WoW, these are growing. Even "fake tobold" started out as a gold blogger. I argue it is the best PvP in WoW, completely balanced (except for Goblins.) I enjoy it. I also submit that if I were hiring a young person, I think the fact they could successfully play the crafting/AH would make me want to hire them far more than if they were 13/13. It shows they probably understand more about business and economics than most of the commenters in these debates.

I also submit the carebear/crafting/AH customers are what makes WoW so large and not just targeting teanage males who own a console and play CoD & Halo.

2) CCP did not say their selling of time cards was to eliminate ISK sellers but to reduce and try to eliminate them. Just because you will never 100% eradicate crime is not an excuse to not invest in alarms or policemen.

3) 4 or 5 years ago someone got some press when their RL$ income from selling virtual goods in Second Life was over a million dollars.

4) The idea of getting rid of currency doesn't work. I think players developed a de facto currency in Diablo or EQ. With cigarettes outlawed, cans of mackerel are the de facto currency in American orisons. The idea I would still play WoW if I was forced to read trade chat constantly and barter whenever I needed something is extraordinarily unrealistic.
Another issue is just generally laws being in the way.

There was a push a few years ago to tax currency gained in online games. Some states have taxes on online purchases, but never in-game items. Creating one currency that is used in game that people can buy puts a straight monetary value on it, which then allows it to be taxed.

Probably a small concern for developers, of course, but one nonetheless.
I partially agree, but I still think there will be a market for the better deal. Why pay the developers $10 if RMT sites sell for $5? Additionally, there could be far reaching ramifications for the player economy. No point in paying piles of in-game gold for something if it costs 50 cents of real money.
Actually, I think it depends on how much the item costs in the game's cash shop versus an online seller.

Ever hear of Pogo? It is a site that has online games where you buy items such as avatars, backgrounds, etc. The "money" you use to buy them are gems. You get about 100 gems per sub a year (at $15 a year - yes year) and you can buy more gems any time you want.

Yet... there are still sites out there selling Pogo gems. They sell them cheaper though than you can get them through Pogo. There are also people selling software that helps you cheat at some games on their site so you can get more tokens (another type of "money", but it buys less items).
If the point of playing is to accumulate gold, it seems to me that the gameplay itself isn't offering much

I think the point is that gold and items act as an incentive to go out and adventure. Back when I played D&D, we didn't play for the items, but loot was a nice incentive to go explore a dungeon.

I've said before that loot to me is like a MacGuffin in the movies. It's not so much important for it's own sake as it is a motivating force behind your character's adventure. If Galahad had been able to buy the grail from an item shop, there wouldn't be much point in questing for it. ;)

If the adventuring in an MMO is so tedious that people would rather pay to skip the adventure, then that's a serious design problem that an item shop doesn't really cure.
Of course it would happen. It does happen as several commenters poited out.

The only way to outbid the gold sellers is to sell gold for a price that is below theirs. However, if goldsellers use prisoners to farm the gold, however, they cannot realistically be outbid.

Anyway, companies don't even try to sell gold cheaper than gold farmers. Fighting gold sellers is probably the last reason for a company to sell in game gold for $.
Stopping gold selling (other than through an MMO Cash Store) is simple. Simply do not allow any way for gold or items to get to a player except through standard MMO interfaces (looting, rewards, etc.).

If no can give you gold/items then how can sellers deliver?
The better question, PK, is who would play that MMO?
Gold selling is like piracy - it can't be eliminated and a little arguably does no harm but that doesn't mean you want to let it run rampant or do nothing to discourage it. MMO companies make a choice of what to do within the framework of how their game works, what effect gold selling has, etc. They're not interested in methods that would work 100% but harm the game for the majority; nor are they interested in providing for the convenience of those who would prefer if gold selling were the norm. They're interested in cost effective ways of keeping it at a level that they can tolerate.
THe key point is that gold sellers aren't really in the business of selling gold - they're selling "convenience" and "win". Make a trade in gold unprofitable, and they'd put more emphasis on power-levelling, or rigged PvP so players can get their "Studly god of war" title without actually having to fight one million pvp battles.

Wherever there is a reward or achievement that comes at the cost of some effort or challenge, there will be people who want that reward without having to make the effort. And there will be entrepreneurs willing to help them... for a price. The only way to put them out of business is to create a game in which there is no effort or challenge required at all - just press this button for a max level character in full raid epics. Congratulations. You've won the game. Please keep subscribing anyway :)

I know this will probably be censored by you but here goes.

Some places in this world desire virtual untraceable commerce to further certain activities.

These places have people who want this virtual commerce to continue to further certain strategic goals. The people who want to make these activities continue ALWAYS have state sponsorship.

If you think that any "just try X" prescription will solve what dozens of cyber experts are at this moment trying to do... well you are hopelessly naive.

FYI - This revelation comes out about the same time as this revelation:

Coincidence maybe?

Yeah Blizzard doing direct sale of virtual goods would really help things by making hacked accounts EVEN MORE VALUABLE. What an idea...
"Yeah Blizzard doing direct sale of virtual goods would really help things by making hacked accounts EVEN MORE VALUABLE."

Sorry, but I don't follow your logic here. How have they become more valuable?
I suppose that he means accounts would be more valuable owing to having stuff purchased from Blizzard in them.
I know this will probably be censored by you but here goes.

I only censor profanity and ad hominem attacks, not paranoid nutcases.
You are glib about the role of artificial scarcity in MMOs. That is a strong contributor to their success. People enjoy the chase for rarity and it is a strong motivator in MMO play.

Put up an item shop, and the Chinese farmers will simply undercut the item shop. Make the items non-tradeable and cash-only and you lose the proportion of your playerbase who doesn't care to trade cash for character power. Make the items really cheap and it costs more to run the cash shop than the MMO gains in revenue.
Someone was pointing out in the previous post that if I have to spend 20 hours getting something and you sell it for $10 then my time is only worth 0.50 an hour and I stop playing. How do you remedy this? Does the shop sell the item for $200, $300, $500? Do you make it only take an hour to get so that shop can sell it at a reasonable price?

If the item can still be acquired in game then don't the gold farmers just keep doing what they are doing and sell items continue to sell items at a 0.50/h rate (or whatever labour costs them, not much if they are prison guards forcing prisoners to play)?

Assigning an official dollar value to game time means that people will only see the dollars, not the game.
I haven't tried WoT yet, but these posts you have been making have stirred my curiosity.
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