Tobold's Blog
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Selling your time

It's still "Termination of Service" day here at Tobold's blog. Some frequently cited major bannable offences in most MMORPGs are selling / buying of virtual currency for real money (called RMT, real-money trade), selling / buying an account, or powerleveling, that is paying somebody to level up your character on your account. The legal position on account selling and powerleveling is relatively clear cut: the player only has a single-user license for his account. For account selling or powerleveling people must necessarily give their account password to somebody else, which is against the terms of service, and thus bannable.

The legal position on RMT is a grey area in most jurisdictions. It rests on the assumption that virtual items are part of the intellectual property of the game company. Thus the game companies claim that you can't legally sell something that doesn't belong to you in the first place. Some people try to get around that problem by claiming they aren't actually selling the virtual item (which doesn't leave the game and thus remains the property of the game company), but are selling their time. That doesn't stop the game companies from banning gold sellers, because "selling time" here is just semantics. What actually happens is that the buyer sends cash, and the seller sends gold, which very much looks like a sale.

In spite of being bannable offences, RMT and powerleveling are still going on in large scale, it is a multi-million dollar business. So I was wondering what would happen if the game companies got a better grip on it, and could really manage to completely suppress all gold sales and powerleveling. Would there be a way in which companies could offer services which help players advance faster in the game for a payment of real money without breaking the EULA and TOS as they exist now?

And I think the key here is the selling of time concept. Powerleveling is only not allowed when it involves sharing accounts and passwords. But if a player paid somebody else with a level 70 character to run behind him and help him leveling, no violation of the EULA or TOS would take place. In a similar vein the gold farmer could also group with the gold buyer, put the group loot options on free for all, and receive cash for running around for one hour with the buyer collecting all loot. I remember that at the time of the opening of the gates of Ahn'Qiraj there were several servers where powerful guilds encouraged other players to contribute resources by holding a lottery in which the winner would get a spot on a Molten Core raid with first dibs on all loot useable by his class. If such raid spots would be sold for cash, I don't think it would break any existing rules. And even if the game companies added new rules, such a transaction would be nearly impossible to detect. You can't ban people for not pulling their weight in a raid, after all.
Here is a proposal: What if once you had leveled a character the hard way to any given level you could then pay a fee and start a new character at that level. Naked without any skills or gear. It would certainly make it easier to level up alts and would solve the "not bloody Stranglethorn again" problem. It would also be a nice little earner for game companies.
You mean, a bit like Tabula Rasa's cloning system? :P
I haven't played Tabla Rasa but my understanding of their cloning system is that it works differently, You can only clone an existing character you cannot create a new character of a different type. It allows you to avoid replaying the first few levels. Cloning will not allow you to create a completely new type of high level character. Even Lotro allows you to skip the first few levels once you have gone through them once. I am thinking of a system where a player with a high level warrior for example can immediately buy a high level priest.
My question is more along the lines whether a company that is currently selling gold and performing powerleveling could theoretically go "legit" and offer only services which aren't forbidden by the ToS and EULA, while still helping people to level faster.

That the game developers can add /level commands and help people level faster is a different issue.
I think the issue here is that the game companies would rather have you pay your money to them than to someone else.
I can see Blizzard introducing the option to start a character at high level one day (for cash, of course).
We already have paid transfers from one server to another. Soon you will be able to pay to change your name, and probably your hair style when WotLK comes out.
I think the idea you have come up with tobold could work in the sense of them being legit. however i can't see poeple willing to pay for these services. many people who pay for powerleveling do so because they don't have the time to lvl up. a leveling service which requires you to be online and following another player would not be very popular. power leveling is popular because people can pay and then go off and do something else with their time whilst their character is leveling.

and as for the gold farming idea. well i know i personally wouldn't want to pay for gold but then have to personally have to follow someone around as they farm it for me.
The 70 tag-along service will not really save much *time*.
And power-leveling and RMT are really selling *time*.

And, in fact, the high-level tag-along service is already part of the market system on a typical WoW server - there are people buying and selling run-throughs all the time. Worse yet (for those who would offer the service RMT) many guilds, families and friends offer such assistance on a free or trade (swapping runs) basis.
It's part of what puts the "Multi-player" in MMO :^)

So IMO, the problem with that market is that it's already available and met to a great degree, is rather cheap, and is paid-for with in-game currency (such as swapping runs, gold, shards, drops).
I could be wrong, but I don’t think there's a sufficient profit motive/margin there for commercial power-leveling services and RMT dealers.
It's a shame that someone always has to ruin a good thing.
Blizzard could probably respond by making all gold soulbound with the exception of moving it to one of your Alts. That would prevent someone from giving you massive amounts of gold, which you paid for online.
Of course they would find a way around this, like buying out a single Beer Basted Boar Rib that you put on the AH for 100GP.
Blizzard could respond to that by setting boundries on what each item could sell for.
All of this creates headaches for the devs and undermines the playability of the game.
So the solution is to set the rules in writing, and if you break them, you get kicked off the island. They don't have much other choice. As far as refunding money, that puts the burden on Blizzard.
Example: A gold seller buys an account, spams everyone in site with thier website info and gets banned 10 minutes later. They call Blizzard and get their refund for the 23 days and 11 hours left on their account. They buy a new account. rinse and repeat.
All of this discussion about how to address RMT and powerleveling aren't talking about the real issue.

It seems obvious to me that the problem is that there are significant elements of the games that are not fun. In fact, so unfun that people will pay other people to play the game for them.

Fix that first.
The problem lies not in companies selling gold/powerleveling services and whether they're legal or not but in *WHY* do people BUY those!

Getting an epic flying mount takes a whole bunch of gold that a casual one night or two per week player won't see in months if not years of playing. Ironically, having one would make him progress faster as he could be spending less time traveling and more time killing/questing! Then all the non-BoP good items are on AH for literally hundreds if not even thousands of gold, so once again, for someone who doesn't have the time to play he's going to be left out in blues once more diminishing his ability to effectively progress faster.

Add to that the HUGE amount of time required to level a char from 1 to 70 and Powerleveling services may become attractive, especially for all those who already have one or more 70s and would like to try another class without spending all that much time leveling it.

Sure, leveling another char has the added advantage that you learn to play it better than if you start at 70, and powerleveling services will surely see some drop in usage as Blizzard keeps cutting leveling time, but the nice items that are out of the reach of casuals will always raise some interest in gold buying...

The only way for gold sell/buy to end would be to have all items BoP: then you could at most buy "time" and have other players take you along on gear-runs, which would be more complicated to set up as it would require quite a few people with a mix of high level chars (tank/healer/dps) on EVERY possible realm/faction and have someone available 24/7 to play all those...

Of course, even better would be if one could do some daily (soloable!) quests to get some badges to eventually buy some nice stuff (they're adding something like that in 2.3, aren't they?!)

This way more nice things would be within reach for casual players...
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