Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 25, 2008

I totally agree with Mark Jacobs' approach of banning gold spammers immediately, instead of banning a large amount every couple of months. But I can also see why the decision to report bannings with pop-up windows to the other players isn't liked by everyone. And I certainly can't support Syp's proposal to ostracize your friends if they bought any gold. But I don't think any of this matters for the reality of gold selling in Warhammer Online, it's all just the inconsequential noise people make about the issue.

The best Mark Jacob's can hope for it to completely ban gold *spammers* from his game. Which would already be a big step forward, but is still a completely different league than banning gold *sellers*. The fundamental problem with banning gold sellers is that me sending you 100 gold in WAR would be completely legit, because we could be best buddies or something. You giving me 20 bucks in return is the forbidden part, but as that part happens outside the game, Mythic won't be able to verify if it happened or not.

Syp is right in saying that the problem of gold selling is the demand of gold buyers. But his solution is wrong, because he short-sightedly attributes the demand to notions of "morality or honor", which is just plain silly. Player's demand for gold is simply a function of how grindy it is to get gold, and what you need that gold for. And that are all questions of game design. It is a lot easier to solve the problem with good game design than to start a successful crusade to stop people from cheating in video games. Google has 80 million hits in a search for "cheats", most of which are about video games, that isn't something we can make go away if we all just hold hands and wish for it very, very strongly.

Fortunately WAR seems to be on a good way to if not eliminate but then at least seriously reduce gold selling by the simple means of making earning gold fun enough, and not having ridiculous money sinks like 5,000 gold epic horses. The level 20 mount in WAR costs 15 gold, and I already have that much money at level 14, without any grind. The trick is that you do earn gold whatever you do, even in RvR. Although the player you kill does not lose gold or items, you loot him and get gold or even items. So you can have fun all evening with lets say defending a keep, spend money on siege weapons, and still come out ahead with gold in your pockets. And there isn't all that much you could spend it on. Renown gear is usually better than anything you can find in the auction house, crafted consumables are cheap enough, because that is all you can craft, and training and mounts are reasonably priced. So we could well see a lot less RMT in WAR than in WoW. And that without needing to never speak to our friends again.
I wonder if WAR's economy will end up suffering from inflation. In WoW, those massive gold sinks serve an important economic purpose: they remove money from the game. If WAR doesn't have anything worth buying with your gold, and if players keep accumulating money while playing, then the value of that gold will eventually decrease.

I suspect that you can't have it both ways--either there's nothing worth buying in the game, in which case you get inflation, or there are highly desirable and extremely expensive items for sale, in which case players with more money than time will buy gold from players with more time than money.
This is an incredibly difficult problem. Jeremy is completely correct to state that the world needs some means of controlling the amount of gold in the game to prevent inflation. On the other hand, the level of sheer repetitive grinding needed to achieve some goals in game make the idea of gold buying very tempting for some.
To take a concrete example, I'm currently trying to level my leatherworking skill in WOW. Just to get the last 3 points of that I need to acquire materials that have a total value of approximately 1800g on my server. Grinding them out myself is easy in skill terms - the mobs are no challenge at all for me. But with current drop rates, I've acquired 2% of what I need in an hour's play, so getting the whole lot would take about 50 hours of (excruciatingly boring) play time. I just did a quick Google search for gold sellers and found that the first one was offering 1000G for £5, making it £9 to save 50 hours grind. For even the poorest Western players of the game, that's a very good deal.

Current game design creates gold farming by making progress in some areas dependent on un-fun activities. If that 50 hours was an exciting multipart quest, I'd do it happily. As things stand people have three choices:
a. spend dozens of hours doing pointless, repetitive, unchallenging tasks
b. buy gold
c. give up and go do something else.

Now I'm not going to do a and b is cheating, so that leaves me with c. Is that really what you want Blizzard?
It's hard to know for sure so far as it's very early in the game yet, but as someone said recently most of the currency is bound to the player, like xp/influence/renown. It isn't a currency in that you can spend it, but since you need a certain amount of it to use some equipment it has a similar property. If most of the equipment can be gathered like that then gold might be worth less.

The issue with low droprates that Sven mentions is a problematic one. I say up the droprates a lot and instead increase the number needed some. You will be much less a victim of randomness.
Besides the mount, there isn't much to spend your money on to be honest, that in itself is a reason, gold sellers might be scarce.
Without goldsinks gold will indeed become less and less valuable. But gold in itself isnt that valuable in WAR. This is essential. The only thing worth buying is the mount, which is relatively normally priced too. Although im nowhere near the money you have tobold, (and im lvl 13 now) im already sure that i can buy it without some extraordinary effort.

These are all good things i guess, and it leads to a game which is not that attractive for gold sellers.
"But his solution is wrong, because he short-sightedly attributes the demand to notions of "morality or honor", which is just plain silly. "

No it isn't. You agree not to participate in such things every time you play Warhammer.

Agreeing and not doing, is dishonest.

Being dishonest is immoral and dishonorable.

If people were being honorable and moral when they agreed to the agreement, then they would not engaging in the activity.

Ergo, the demand for RMT is solely created by people who are acting dishonorably and immorally.

This is a game, not a basic need. Everyone always has the choice not to play if they don't like the rules. That would be the moral and honorable thing to do.

What Items are you trying to craft to get your last 3 Skillpoints?
Since Patch 2.2 or 2.3 leveling Leatherworking is really easy compared to other tradeskills. Especially from 365-375 you can get quite easy. Just make Drums of Battle and Drums of Panic. The Reputation requirements to get these recipes were drastically lowered. I can't imagine that you pay 1800g in raw materials to craft 3 of the Drums of Panic. The dropchances to get these materials are quite higher. If you're also a skinner I bet you can get the required material in under 2h of playtime.
This is a game, not a basic need. Everyone always has the choice not to play if they don't like the rules. That would be the moral and honorable thing to do.

So if I check your computer I will not find a single pirated song, video, or piece of software on it? Because that is just entertainment, not a basic need. And not pirating them would be the moral and honorable thing to do.

Just one example of how completely screwed up the sense of morality on the internet is. Too many people think that cheating in a video game is morally worse than pirating stuff. Or that clicking accept on the EULA is morally more binding than the copyright laws of where you live.
I think WAR has the right idea about things, not only by banning the spammers, but also by not making gold that important. In most games, you need gold to buy the best gear up to a certain point. But if during the "leveling" stage you reward players with gear upgrades for some time put it, players won't feel the need to buy gold. Thats the only way to beat the gold sellers, other than having the company sell it themselves. I myself, who have always had difficulty farming gold, have found myself in a game where its suddenly not that important. I am L18, and sitting on 37g. At L20 I will be able to buy my mount, and still be pretty well off. I've bought a few items off the AH, sold a good bit (most around 50s each), and most of my gear is within a level or two of my toon. With the exception of a few pieces, all of it was obtained from public quests, grinding up influence, and a drop here and there. By putting nice items out there with the currency really being influence or renown, players will work for that item, because at a certain point, they will get it. They won't have to wait on the .02% drop chance, or need to purchase it for 500g on the AH.

Players can rant all they want about the EULA/morality, but in the overall scheme of things, buying gold isn't illegal. It isn't against the law, you won't go to jail for it, etc. They can boot you from the game for breaking their rules, but the arguements I've seen from most seem to want to put gold buyers in the same league as a murderer or child pornographer. In my personal opinion, I see nothing wrong with paying someone to perform a service that I do not have time or patience to do, as long as the items or service was legitimatley obtained. If someone is grinding gold all day and decides to sell it to me for a fixed price, provided they aren't hacking someones account, botting, etc.. then I don't have a problem with that. Unfortunatley, that usually isn't the case. In WOW its spawned keyloggers, raiding guild banks and hacking accounts, etc. I think the only way WOW could change things is if they started selling the gold themselves, slowly I think they are getting to that point. You can buy trading cards for items, do the Refer-A-Friend and buy a mount, etc. Its not that far off to just cut the crap and sell gold.

But to totally eliminate it as much as possible (there will always be someone who will buy it), that requires a game designed around the need to not have it be that important. In Guild Wars its not needed that much to be competitive, only real reason is to buy vanity upgrades to make your armor/weapons prettier/flashier, but the stats still cap out at a point that anyone can obtain easily. I think WAR is headed down that road as well, where it is a game based on tactics, strategy, and skill - not on how much better your gear is than the next person. Provide the player with gear they can work toward, but make work within reach, and not feel like a terrible grind. If you can keep it fun and entertaining, the players won't feel the need to go out and buy gold to fix what amounts to a problem with the game itself - lack of fun of some part of it.

To craft the drums you need the rep to buy them. Unless I' m out of date, you need exhalted with Caverns of Time to get the recipe, which needs lots of runs. So far , I've been LFG for ages and nobody's doing normal runs these days and my gear isn't up to heroics (hence the need to craft some).

If that's wrong, please tell me. I'll be one happy Druid!
You dismissed the idea that it's the morality of players causing demand as being "just plain silly".

"Player's demand for gold is simply a function of how grindy it is to get gold, and what you need that gold for."

A player's desire for gold is a function of what they need it for. The obstacles that the game provides to getting that gold, however frustrating they might be, are part of the game.

A player's demand for gold in this context is the point at which he decides "I can't be arsed with this" and goes to a gold seller to shortcut the route to his desire.

So you have a desire, an obstacle and an "illegal" way to bypass the obstacle.
The player's decision is totally a morality call.

A game's design can influence this decision by making the desire less or the obstacles smaller, making it less tempting for a player to step over the line. But for many people (typically the achiever types), a game with no desirable things to work towards becomes a lot less fun.

Ultimately I believe the only way to really curb the goldsellers is to get tough with the players that are creating the demand by using their services.

Sorry for this off-topic point. I believe both those patterns are available to you at honored now.
"So if I check your computer I will not find a single pirated song, video, or piece of software on it? Because that is just entertainment, not a basic need. And not pirating them would be the moral and honorable thing to do."

You can't justify a wrong by implying that other wrongs are made. Specially with what is clearly an ad hominem attack.

If you want good debate in your blog you should set the example.

To the point in question just one thing:

Read the EULA. You can't buy gold. Period.
"Ultimately I believe the only way to really curb the goldsellers is to get tough with the players that are creating the demand by using their services."

Well, take drugs for instance.
We can see the good results that that perspective is achieving.

In this i do agree with Tobold. Specially in mass market games, if you don't want subscribers to cheat, remove the incentive to do so.

The challenger here is how to make a player feel "special" or that he "achieved" something without forcing him to grind gold or loot for hours? Perhaps recording a bit more of information (in the vein of Tome of Knowledge) and provide "custom" rewards based on the ability that the user uses more. Thinking WoW, for example at the end of a epic quest line the reward for a druid healer would be a staff that would grant a small bonus or an additional effect to the healing spell he uses more. That and perhaps a wider range of looks for armour and weapons.

Of course the one who are true achievers would probably move away. But there are always niche games tailored for them and the big companies will eventually provide solutions for a bigger customer retention, maybe by financing more niche games to capture the ones disilusioned with the mass market mmorpgs.
Gold screws up all in-game economy by giving the average player large amounts of gold for a small amount of real money. For example @sven who needs $1800 to buy mats to finish his leatherworking. Sven wouldn't need $1800 if RMT hadn't already jacked up the economy of his server.

Everything on the AH is relative to what a player is WILLING to pay for it. If some players have extra gold from RMT, then everyone needs that same amount of gold to buy the same AH item. So either go waste your time grinding, or buy gold online.

Although I'm not sure if it will work in WAR, but in WoW the best advice I can give as to earning gold is to roll an Alt. This is great because in the end you get another character to fool around with and you get a ton of gold. The trick to grab two gathering professions(skinning and herb are my favorite). NEVER spend any money at the AH except for large bags. When you go to grab your new skills put all your gathered mats on the AH. Druid, warlock, and pally are nice since they get free mounts. I am parked at 68 on my druid(because of warhammer) and I currently have 3.5k gold, free flight form and I'm over half way to an epic flyer and not even 70 yet. Not bad for 2 months worth of leveling. I'm sure it is quicker to just do daily quests but I sure like having gold and a new toon.
Buying gold is not morally wrong. That is utterly preposterous.

The problem is in the game design. Period. WoW has all kinds of gold sellers because it's risk/reward system is set up poorly. Change it, refine it and the gold sellers will be out of business with no other steps that need to be taken.

It's like anything else in life. Punishing the drug-user or prostitute-solicitor is doomed to failure. And with those two specific examples, punishing the drug-seller and prostitute is also doomed to failure. A more realistic approach must be taken that changes the system to adapt around those practices and minimize their risks and damages to society.

It's the same with RMT and virtual worlds. To expand that, I would say it's the same issue with griefing.

Either change the system or be prepared for failure. In the real world that means an overcrowded prison system and police state - in a virtual world that means a sub-par gaming experience or even the literal end of that world.
Game design is the A#1 best way to attack RMT. There are a lot of ways for developers to design the game to lessen the demand for players to buy time outside of the game. Not all of these methods are bulletproof or without other issues, mind you.

However, attacking it at the design is much, much, much more effective than simply declaring it wrong and trying to enforce that rule after the demand is created.
You dismissed the idea that it's the morality of players causing demand as being "just plain silly".

No, I'm dismissing Syp's solution to ostracize your friends because they cheat in a video game as just plain silly. Yes, it is wrong to cheat in a game. No, "wrong" is not a black and white thing, it is a grey scale, and the "wrong" of cheating in a video game is still very far on the light side. Would you abandon your friends because they got a parking ticket?

What I think is silly is how screwed some people's moral compass is, that they are very willing to let other things slide which are far more serious, but present cheating in a game as the crime of the century, which should be eliminated with radical measures.
@Campmaster/Oscar: Thanks for your help. Sometimes it's good to be wrong!

Back on topic. I'd agree with Notmercury that game design is the best way to address this. Even if none of the participants in this thread would want to buy gold, it's unrealistic to design a game that only works if your players are perfectly ethical. The reality is that some people aren't. By making the obstacles to rewards ones that are challenging and fun rather than boring and time-consuming, a designer can reduce the demand for RMT. It will never be eliminated, though. At least not until hourly wage rates in the third world are comparable to those in the west, which isn't going to happen soon.

Ultimately, you can pay someone to do boring stuff for you, but there's little point in paying them to have fun for you.
"It is a lot easier to solve the problem with good game design than to start a successful crusade to stop people from cheating in video games."

It is a lot easier to sit down and say "It is as simple as having a good game design" than to create that 'damn good' game design.
^ Knowingly or not, Mythic has done a pretty good job of it in WAR, and I'm pretty sure it could be taken even further.


Accepting the EULA is like following the rules of the road in a deserted private parking lot.

Sure you can do it, but you're not legally bound by it. The EULA is a bit different because they force you to do it before they let you play the game but I'm sure people pay it just as much heed as they do the four-way stop signs in an empty parking lot...
Tobold, friends can also be on a scale just like "wrong". If the basis of a friendship is playing video games together then yes dropping that friendship over cheating can be appropriate. Would you think it "silly" to leave a guild that condones cheating?
Going after the buyers would certainly be a step in the right direction. Take the gold away. 3 day supsension. Done deal.

Perma-ban the selling account obviously, and trace it back to the farming accounts if possible and ban those as well.

I don't see how anyone can support action taken against gold farmers and spammers and place no blame on the gold buyers. Excecute the prostitutes and pimps but let the Johns go free?
Gold selling may be encouraged by bad game design, but some people are always going to support it since MMOs are a competitive environment.

There are people who desire the advantage that gold buying and powerleveling gives them. Not because the mid-game is boring or grindy, but because it allows them to "beat" others and it gives them a misplaced sense of self worth.

I had a friend who started using gold sellers to get all his gear and characters to max level in WoW. He's now absolutely helpless in any other game and has lost the basic ability to quest or dungeon crawl effectively. He had problems finding objectives in the AoC newbie quests even with the mapping feature telling him where to go. He also stopped playing Warhammer Online after one day saying all his characters died to quickly.

Instead he prefers to gank people on a PvP server in WoW and steamroll people in the battlegrounds with his s3 arena gear. It's a sad story, but 100% true.
One of the other 'risks' of no money sinks is de-valuement of gold in general. Remember Diablo II? Gold was worthless at higher-levels because you couldn't buy anything with it. There wasn't any mounts or repair bills, and consumables were cheap. At the same time, this isn't much of a problem, because it would mean that there won't be -any- gold farming. However, there might be more Renown-RMT or other powerleveling-style services, which cause the same types of issues.


Yep, Drums of Panic are available at Honored with KoT:

Get your furry butt down to Quartermaster!
I've commented on precisely this issue on SC's blog over here:

That didn't take long

Good design is really the only way to minimize (not eliminate) RMT. The other alternative is to fully embrace it, as Puzzle Pirates has via the doubloon mechanic. Trading money (or goods) for time and time for money (or goods) is a time-honored pillar of capitalism, and wishing it away is unrealistic, disengenuous, and more than a little hypocritical coming from a company charging subscriptions.

The "trouble" with RMT isn't that such bargains themselves are being made (other than the bad design that spawns it), it's that the money isn't going to the company. Three Rings cut RMT off at the pass with doubloons, and profits handsomely from the strategy.

Of course, their game design is heavily skill-based, rather than level/loot based, and doubloons are mostly spent on cosmetic items. It works from the ground up, rather than trying to kludge something like WoW or WAR into a different business model and game design.

As for the "moral" argument, why the name-calling and accusations? Morals and honor are absolutely not silly, but neither do they have a place in a conversation where the system is constructed to undermine any calls for such. Fix the disease, not the symptom. Blaming gold sellers or buyers for a fundamental design flaw is passing the buck, and taking some sort of "moral high ground" when doing so is extraordinarily Pharisaic.
"So if I check your computer I will not find a single pirated song, video, or piece of software on it? Because that is just entertainment, not a basic need. And not pirating them would be the moral and honorable thing to do."

No you wouldn't.

Having said that, why would you measure your morality by your neighbor's morality?

"What I think is silly is how screwed some people's moral compass is, that they are very willing to let other things slide which are far more serious, but present cheating in a game as the crime of the century, which should be eliminated with radical measures."

That's a fine viewpoint, but you're making an assumption that one who says the first thing is wrong, is doing the second thing. I've seen no evidence in this discussion of that. And even so, each offense is independent, and implying that someone is hypocritical doesn't let the first offense off the hook either!

Seriously, if I told you I was going to give you 10 dollars for your old video card and you sent me your old video card, but I never sent you the 10 dollars, I would be violating our agreement. That would be morally wrong, not because I didn't send you the 10 dollars, but because I didn't send you the 10 dollars that I AGREED to send you.

Of course, we can all agree that it was a poor decision on your part not to prevent the opportunity to be taken advantage of (we will call that poor design), however in that case, it wouldn't lessen my obligation to meet the conditions of our agreement. Your lack of foresight (or distrust) doesn't excuse my lack of honor and integrity!

Gold buying/selling isn't immoral.

Gold buying/selling, when you've agreed not to, is immoral.
Did you really agree to it though?

You had to scroll through three pages of legalese. There was no opportunity to negotiate; you either agreed in whole or get to never play the game you just paid $50 bucks for.

That is a coercive contract. Maybe if they had read you the EULA BEFORE you bought the game, you would have a case for it being immoral to violate the agreement.

But they get you to buy their product, then hit you up with a contract you have to agree to or lose your money. In reality, its a contract that no one reads. That's coercive. And it really has no legal or morally binding power. It's like jaywalking; its a technical foul, not a moral foul.

Basically I suspect most EULA's are legally suspect, and the only reason they stand is because most people aren't interested in getting into a lawsuit over a video game account. If AT&T tried a contract like that, they'd probably have the attorney general on their ass for unfair trade practices.
Morality has no relationship to legality. Laws can be immoral and moral acts can be immoral.

For that reason, I also don't equate breaking a law, to breaking an agreement.

In this case of a EULA you specifically must agree to to play, you have the option of saying I Disagree or I Agree. This isn't a legal question, it's a "will you play by the rules that we've established" question. If you agree and have no intention of doing what you agreed to, you are LYING.

A coercive agreement would have you backed into a corner to where you MUST agree.

That isn't the case here. The mantra that this is just a game specifically applies to this. It is a piece of entertainment that nobody is forced into a position to play. So, "just a game" heightens the immorality of agreeing to play by the rules, but not doing so.

And btw, that agreement is also an agreement with the majority of player base by proxy, since they have agreed to it and desire those conditions.
"Morality has no relationship to legality. Laws can be immoral and moral acts can be illegal."

^^ Corrected
In North American Systemshops Ltd. v. King et al. (1989), 68 Alta L.R. (2d) 145, the Alberta Queen's Bench held that where a software vendor placed a license agreement inside a sealed box, the agreement was unenforceable since the vendor had not used any of the "simple, cheap, or obvious methods" to notify the Customer that there were restrictions imposed on the use of the licensed software prior to Customer's removal of the shrink-wrap.

By the way, it's the TOU which Blizzard invokes to condemn the buying & selling of Gold & Virtual Goods, not the EULA, but as both "contracts" are worth less than the paper they're not printed on, feel free to click Accept then forget they ever existed.

Just keep this in mind: if Blizzard catch you doing something they disagree with, like buying Gold, they're also free to drop the ban hammer on you.
This brings up an interesting question: If you brought a game you had opened back to the store and told them that you had read the EULA and decided to decline it, would they return your money?

Somehow I doubt it.

And no, it does not have to be sign the contract or die to be coercive. Its when you have no power to negotiate at all that the issue gets raised, and that's the case in many things we do. Ever negotiate a cell phone contract? Didn't think so. Know a company that will let you set the terms? No you don't.
I think by trying to control Warhammers RMT borders it only puts MORE reason to make gold MORE valuable in game. If they start banning the farmers and deleting the gold inventories it only stresses the demand of the gold that is currently available to sell. It is relentless (despite your morality rants) gold buyers don’t go away because a wall of text eula or even zealous GMing. The demand is intimately linked to the supply.

The gold needs to be more liquid between real life funds and in game value so you would see trade balance that promotes gameplay and not simply a shallow reflection of RL funds or RL time (which is an unfortunate reflection of game design). It would work this way; allow people to pay for what they want in the game that is obtainable by normal game play. Allow an alternate subscription method for players who need faster/easier/simpler content but at a relevant cost. You can scale the cost of this type of subscription based of the loss it would incur based on how much faster they go through the content. Warhammer is a game not meant to be played forever and I’m sure they can come to an analysis of what is a good mean for average amount of subscription time paid for and scale the cost for this type of service accordingly.

If the latest 50,000 Warhammer players people spent an average of 40 hours played (40 hours worth of farming time ~ 150gold) and an average of 2 months of subscribed time to reach the highest level then It would be fair to offer a char level 40 for the subscription cost of two months and a small payment for the value of the gold. This would be simple economics for Warhammer developers to work with as they can ALWAYS undercut the farmers, which is their Achilles heal. Not only does it skewer the farmer’s efforts to win in the trade environment, it also pins the need from the player base for a game they are willing to play. I think this model would also benefit from happier players, as the farmers bring an onslaught of hidden effects such as gold scamming, spamming, and ramming into the economy of the game and would be greatly reduced because of the suffering profitability for farmers.

So using this method, the actual character a person plays is in no way "super" or "overpowered" as it is nothing but a normal character, with an accelerator built in. It is only a notch in the belt of overall player diversity. Regular players won’t be burdened by a decision like this because they can achieve the same exact char, using less money in exchange for more time, simply a different notch in the belt. This might even be a better business model for the company that has to pay for server uptime and stresses of wear and tear of their game. They get paid for their efforts to give you the best possible use of their intellectual property instead of the money going to gold-farmers, which is a win scenario for players as well in the macro-economic picture.

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