Tobold's Blog
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Buying gold makes baby murlocs cry

Blizzard explained this week that buying gold not only made baby murlocs cry, but also had a range of other negative consequences, as much of the gold being sold would come from hacked accounts or bots "which can cause realm performance and stability issues". Blizzard says: "The negative effects these companies create depend directly on people using their services. Without them, the companies have no way to continue their unethical actions." So if you'd please just stop buying gold, hacking and server instability would magically disappear!

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)'s Uniform Crime Reports, a motor vehicle is stolen in the United States every 26.4 seconds. So I want to urge my readers never to buy a used car again, as that would obviously encourage car theft.

You most likely balked at the flawed logic of the second paragraph. So why didn't you balk at the identical flawed logic of the first paragraph?

I am not saying that account hacking isn't happening. What I do say is that it is a lousy argument against gold buying. If this was the main problem of gold buying, then why not make the Authenticator mandatory and end hacking forever (and power leveling at the same time)? What if Gevlon offered to sell his 214k gold, which he acquired without hacking or botting, would that be okay?

The fundamental question when prohibiting something is whether the activity *by itself* is bad, or whether it just is connected to something else criminal. Take drugs, or prostitution: The Netherlands for example decided that cannabis and prostitution by itself weren't all that bad, but the related drug crimes and white slavery were, so they ended up legalizing both cannabis and prostitution. If Blizzard says that gold-selling related crimes are far worse than gold-selling itself, then they open the door to future legalized gold exchanges, like SOE already did, or even to selling gold themselves. "Buy our legal gold, because not only won't we ban you for it, but also you don't cause hacking and server instabilities!"

Attacking gold-selling just for the related crimes of hacking and botting is as weak as the reason that it makes baby murlocs cry. If EVE Online can hire an economist, then World of Warcraft could easily finance an economist as well. I'd love to see a well founded and researched argument against gold selling based on hard economic data, not murloc tears or playing on the customer's darkest fears. But what Blizzard does here reminds me very much of right-wing parties arguing against immigration by saying that immigration makes crime rates go up. By using such weak arguments, they are actually weakening the case against gold-selling, not strengthening it.
I mentioned this in your other post about FarmVille, but I've been playing one of the other Facebook games called Mafia Wars.

The whole business model is based on sanctioned RMT. Of course, just because RMT is available legally isn't stopping people from offering illegal RMT on eBay.

To me, that's just indicative that unsanctioned RMT is always going to exist in games that allow players to "trade" things of value.

It wouldn't matter if Blizzard offered "legal Gold buying" because the unsanctioned RMT sellers would simply undercut the legal prices. (I can see the spam now -- "WoW Gold! Cheaper than Blizzard!"

So I, for one, applaud Blizzard for attempting to educate it's users. No it's not going to fix the problem, but at least it helps people understand the unintended consequences and maybe a few players won't go buying illegal RMT.
"which can cause realm performance and stability issues"
Curiously enough, this same argument was used by CCP. Of course, they had the stats to back their claim. It seems like Blizzard's playing a game of broken telephone here. I've heard rumors of Blizzard's compartmentalized corporate culture, and this page might be the logical result of it.
World of Warcraft is a game.
Buying gold is cheating.

Imagine if a football or baseball team could just buy their way into the playoffs as apposed to having to win all the preceding games.

Wow is built as an achievement dispenser, when people spend real money to circumvent earning said achievements it cheapens the value of them for everyone.

I personally do believe that the authenticator should be required to play the game. I believe it should come boxed with the game. I'm secretly hoping that their forced switch to the Bnet Accounts is a step in this direction.

Its possible that blizzard could simply make buying gold so cheap, that it wouldn't be economical for the china farmers to continue farming gold.

However, this would cause a mass shifting of their efforts from farming to hacking accounts (Something I believe has already happened) That way even if player A buy's X amount of gold for Z dollars, rather then trying to undercut X for Z they can just hack A's account and sell his Xgold for half Z or what have you.
Well, they definitely can't write: if you buy gold, you won't do dailies and if you don't do dailies you'll sooner or later realize, that you are just chatting in Dalaran what could be done with a free chat client with no Tuesday downtime and login queues at peak hours.
Most MMO's that do implement legal RMT do so at just below the price of illegal RMT in order to drive them out of the market.

Without magically creating gold from no work such as stealing or hacking the game, the majority of illegal in-game gold is sold on a slim margin of profit these days.
I feel they miss the point entirely.

Consider the familiar, and justifiably maligned tell in trade chat: "lfm {raid}, Link [Epic!] for invite."

In a game where achievements can be bought with currency, a market exists to sell (via the currency) those achievements to people who haven't played the game.

In the context of gameplay then, using real money to buy and sell achievements that can be achieved with gameplay therefore dilutes and devalues the gameplay.

Blizzard has gone to great lengths to create more BoE items, and more ways to suck huge pots of gold out of the economy through mammoths and motorcycles, but the very fact these can be bought for currency makes me wonder: In so doing aren't they really admitting that the gameplay is a lost cause?

You can already buy trading cards legally that unlock in-game items. How thinly veiled can a sanctioned RMT scheme get before we call it what it is? How long until you can buy a trading card that unlocks a pot of gold at the end of the e-peen rainbow?

By extension then, I personally think sanctioned RMT games are just cutely disguised e-peen fests with deliberately stupid gameplay.

But then, perhaps I'm probably biased. I never really did get into Pokemon.
Exactly what I thought when I read Blizzard's post.
Your analogy is somewhat flawed, Tobold. Cars aren't all stolen to be sold as 'used', whereas I would posit that all hacked accounts are hacked so as to produce more gold to sell, in some method or another.
Has Blizzard legitimised some form of RMT gold selling since I quit? If not, all the gold you can buy is illegitimate and your second paragraph should be changed to "stop knowingly buying stolen used cars" in order to make a fair analogy. And nobody ethical would balk at that request.
Has Blizzard legitimised some form of RMT gold selling since I quit? If not, all the gold you can buy is illegitimate

That is exactly my point. If Blizzard argues that gold buying is bad because it comes from hacking, then by definition gold that didn't come from hacking become legitimate.

I honestly don't know where the sold gold is actually coming from. I've seen a lot of reports in serious newspapers and even on TV about Chinese sweat shops with gold farmers playing characters 24/7 to make gold and sell it. Have those disappeared? Is all gold sold now from hacking? And if I somehow could find a honest Chinese sweatshop with a guarantee that the gold was farmed, not stolen, should I buy it? I'd say of course not, but Blizzard's arguments point in the other direction.
First of all, I hate Murlocs and think they were a horrible choice for WoW "mascot." So they can cry all the want.

Second, if Blizzard doesn't want people to buy gold, then they should cut it out with asinine gold sinks like 5,000g mount training, 1,000g dual spec unlocking, etc.

Third, if Blizzard doesn't want people to buy gold, they shouldn't have painfully pathetic game design like "dailies" that are little more than punching a time clock at the salt mines. They turned their game into a brutal grind. It is their own fault people look for alternatives. People want to do the fun parts of a game. They don't want to grind gold to pay for raid materials and repairs.

Blizzard created the demand. They have only themselves to blame.
They did also mention bots "which can cause realm performance and stability issues", not just hacking, but I concede that they made a mistake in linking RMT gold to just those problems.

However, by "illegitimate" I meant that it's against the EULA. I apologise for not making that clear.
If you are looking for good arguments against gold selling you should consider this write up (which obviously is in German but insightful nonetheless):

I actually live in South-East Asia and I read some interesting newspaper articles there. Something that happens among students (though it's not THAT common), is they will play WoW to make gold and sell it. Which is a whole other thing again than sweatshops eh. Problems such as these are never as simple as they may seem at first sight.

Anyway, if gold selling makes murlocs cry, even baby murlocs? I'm off to buy me some gold.
I think Muckbeast hits the nail on the head. The only way to stop gold buying, is to reduce demand for it. And I agree crying murlocs and other threats aren't going to help them stop it.
Legal gold buying isn't an option either, imo, because of what Xash says. It cheapens the value of ingame achievements, which are the core of the game.

And by the way, cannabis is not legalized at all in The Netherlands. The only thing that's somewhat legal now, is the consumption of cannabis. You formally are not allowed to carry it with you, though you won't be punished for it, it can only be taken from you.
On top of that, it is illegal to produce and sell large quantities of cannabis. Only the so-called coffeeshops are allowed to sell small amounts of cannabis to consumers.
So what do we get? MORE criminal activities, since demand increased, and MORE problems which come from people being able to consume cannabis freely.
So it's not a very good example to prove your 'legalize it' point ;-)
I think they have to fight it in every way they can.

Remember a lot of the people playing WoW are quite young including members of families who play together.

It would be hard to explain to a 6 year old who is getting $20 for his birthday present and wants to spend it on WoW gold that it negatively impacts server stability and easier for them to relate to the notion it makes baby murlocs cry.

It's also in the style of Blizzard's humour containing, as so many of their jokes do, a pop culture reference (to "making baby Jesus cry").

Arguing that players shouldn't buy gold because the gold sellers often cheat is important information that a lot of players don't know. We've seen it in Eve recently where in response to aggressive in-game bannings the isk sellers attacked the player base instead:

I think you're taking your deep knowledge of the genre for granted. Most players, particularly most child players, have no knowledge of how the gold black market works and think very simply it's cool to be able to buy 1000 gold for $10 if they choose to. Those are the people this marketing is aimed at.
I would normally not believe Blizzard's claim, but I think EVE laid out some pretty good evidence when they drop kicked the farming bots. Both server performance and customer service requests dropped dramatically per CCPs presentation.
Before I would get behind a "Say no to Gold!" campaign I would like to get some accurate measure of what impact it actually have.

We are too often quick to blame AH inflation on goldfarmers, instability on bots and hacking to goldsellers.

How much would servers improve if all spamming, botting and hacking was removed? (EvE which works on a single server system will have different techn. advantages then Blizz multi server system)
How many accounts get hacked? And how often is it actually related to goldselling (compared to how often people just dont admit that they gave their details to a friend...)?

Tobold: I think your comparison to drugs is a very good one. For the last 40 years most western nations have spent millions of dollars yearly in their "No to Drugs" campaigns. But, today drugs are more widespread, easier accessible and cheaper then ever - and most importantly: linked to a large network of organized crime.
Noone want to admit its wasted and the fact that banning something undesirable and criminalizing it, is not the solution for all types of unwanted behaviour.

Blizz have the possibility to change their world to minimize the need and desire for gold:
1) Remove BoE items and put emphasis on BoPcrafted items/items bought with badges/honor.
2) Remove the cost of in-game services like fast mount, dualspecs etc. and replace with questchains/achievementbased currency.
3) Increase security for accounts, instead of opting for the battlet stupidness that is making our account easier to hack.

That was just on the top of my head. I am sure a team of economists and game designers, given a week or two, could come up with atleast 50 features that could greatly reduce the need for gold to be bought and the desire for accounts to be hacked.
"If Blizzard argues that gold buying is bad because it comes from hacking, then by definition gold that didn't come from hacking become legitimate."

But Tobold, Blizzard didn't argue that gold buying is bad because it comes from hacking.

They argued that gold buying was bad for quite a few different reasons, including the connection to account hacking, but also including..

1) the use of disruptive hacks in the game (i.e. the infamous underground mining hacks)

2) the rampant spamming we see from goldsellers

3) the use of bots which make it harder for honest players to farm if they so desire

4) the raising of prices through inflation.

So, no, by definition buying gold that doesn't come from hacked accounts is NOT legitimate.
Gold sinks do have a function. Just like the lolchievements they serve as a virtual goal that is achievable with reasonable effort. People like the feeling of having reached a goal they set themselves, even if it is a silly, virtual, in-game goal.

Having achieved the goal, such as fast flying, fancy mount 31 or vanity pet 57 makes the player happy. It is not necessarily the obtained option, but having obtained it compared to how hard it was. That directly connects who else managed to do it.

Goldsellers are a plague. No matter how many spam reports you click, the next spammer will surely sprout up shortly. Teleport hacking gatherers are a nuissance for legitimate gatherers.

Blizzard customer support is tied down by reports about bots, hacking, restoring items, spam and whatnot. Response times could be better for everyone if goldsellers would be eradicated.

What is next? Pay goldfarm company X to be allowed to play unmolested?

According to a press releases by the Chinese government this year, gold selling is actually really illegal in China. Maybe the Chineese are embarrassed by the negative publicity.
Blizzard should provide the Chineese authorities with the information they need to persecute goldfarmers.

Key reason why hacking, botting, farming and selling flourish is that the gains to be made are good and there is virtually no risk, with continents dividing victims and criminals. Persecution by the local law enforcement would tilt that balance considerably. =]
"Persecution by the local law enforcement would tilt that balance considerably. =]"

What local law enforcement would that be? In China where they work, in US/France where the servers are, or perhaps the country of the victim?

Internet legislation and law enforcement is tremendously difficult. If it was that easy, it would probably happen.
I hate to rise to the bait of a political statement however I want to correct or point out a flawed statement in your last paragraph.

"But what Blizzard does here reminds me very much of right-wing parties arguing against immigration by saying that immigration makes crime rates go up."

It is not immigration that conservatives or "right-wing" groups have a problem with.

It is Illegal Immigration that we have a problem. Because it is Illegal a crime is committed just by the nature of the situation. Additionally the human trafficking and property destruction along the boarder is not something we should tolerate either.

Now as for gold selling I agree with you that Blizzard is a little overly paranoid about it. They should do like Eve and make a PLEX like system.
It would be hard to explain to a 6 year old

Seriously? A 6 year old? LOL! Because I know my 6 year old is running up a credit card buying Gold and playing on the internet with strangers.
In Aion 1 million Kinah is now down to $8. You could do alot with that much Kinah. I'm not sure what the going rate for Gold is in WoW but if it drops to $4 for a million I'm going to buy some.

It takes me personally far less time to earn $4 than 1 million kinah.
Malchome, that is a very restricted US view of the immigration problem. I was talking about a much broader scope. I can assure you that lets say the British National Party wants all immigrants out, even those who entered the country legally.

Because I know my 6 year old is running up a credit card buying Gold and playing on the internet with strangers.

Given that WoW has a minimum age restriction of 12, I would think that the baby murlocs were a joke, and not an attempt to explain RMT to 6-year olds.
One interesting analogy between Blizzard and gold producers is the United States and the War on Drugs.

During the 80's and beyond, the United States engaged in a policy to attempt to irradicate world-wide supply of illicit drugs. This was done by providing funding to foreign countries and contractors to spray drug fields and increase Para-military law enforcement efforts against traffickers. This first attempt to control domestic drug use was a "control at the source" policy – the “source” meaning where it is made. Control at the source has for the most part been a failure.

From wiki: "At least 500 economists, including Nobel Laureates Milton Friedman, George Akerlof and Vernon L. Smith, have noted that reducing the supply of marijuana without reducing the demand causes the price, and hence the profits of marijuana sellers, to go up, according to the laws of supply and demand. The increased profits encourage the producers to produce more drugs despite the risks, providing a theoretical explanation for why attacks on drug supply have failed to have any lasting effect."

As an example: After coca eradication programs in Columbia went into effect, there was evidence of higher production in neighbouring Bolivia and Peru soon thereafter.

And this is what we are seeing in the gold producers. Blizzard has pushed any attempts to sell gold to the fringe - via account banning, corporate action against sellers/bot makers, the spam reporting tools, etc. This has forced the gold selling industry to go further "underground", so to speak. And the result is an increase in the more illicit activities that Blizzard has detailed - all for an ever increasing profit margins.
(Please note that I am not in support of Gold sellers - I'm merely demonstrating an analogy that can possibly explain why gold sellers have become more aggressive and illicit in their means of acquiring and distributing their product).

Enter the United States' second stab at reducing domestic usage: Attempting to stymie domestic demand. This was done through domestic education and advertising, domestic enforcement, etc. And while this approach has proven to be mildly effective, it has not eradicated the problem - it has simply marginalized it and made it less socially acceptible for users.

Blizzard's recent post is about trying to squelch demand. It is equivalent to the "this is your brain on drugs" ads of the 90's, showing an egg frying in a pan. It is education via scare tactics... and just like the U.S., it cannot eliminate the problem this way. It will only marginalize it.

Now, there is ONE strong correlation to drug use in a society - it’s the socio-economic diversity of its populace. The more economically disadvantaged people in a society tend to be the biggest drug users.

What does this mean in wow terms? People who are unable to get the gold themselves via farming, etc, while at the same time feeling they NEED that gold to be able to participate in groups via purchasing/enchanting the requisite gear are the ones who will buy it.

And I believe that Blizzard is correctly applying pressure to demand on gold via this front - making it easier for players to acquire gold and gear. The dailies, tokens, and easier 10-man raids are all working towards this. This is the TRUE way to eliminate the problem. If someone has plenty of gold, why do they have to buy any?

The scare tactics Blizzard is using now? They will work to some degree - but more by making purchasing gold less "socially acceptable" than anything else, which will only decrease demand marginally.
Mrsuitcase: Blizzard making earning gold from NPC's easier, or rewards bigger, will never solve the problem. It will only cause ingame inflation. It will not change supply and demand (since there is no demand for gold by itself, but demand for stuff which is paid for with gold).
A great example showing this is the Diablo 2 gold (which has close to no value), and the d2jsp website. Players simply switched to an external virtual currency (ingame there were no reliable alternatives), since trading without a reliable currency is a p.i.t.a. And, ofcourse, they are buying that d2jsp virtual currency for real money as well.

Your post is also a perfect example why you can never control a market, whether it's a real life market, or a virtual one.
Whenever there is supply and demand, there will be trade, and there will be competition, resulting in people with different amounts of money. Which will result in stuff that not everyone can afford to be sold.

As I see it, the only way to stop gold sellers, is to stop ingame trade.
Any game can remove gold sellers at a stroke. Simply remove tradeable currency from the game.

It doesn't even mean the game has to go without an economy. I'm sure anyone that reads this blog can think of several ways to design a virtual economy that don't require or allow any direct player-to-player trading of currency.

It's been apparent to me for a long time now that, since gold-selling has been a known issue for over half a decade, and since there are clearly many ways to design it out of the games entirely, that the people making the final design decisions do not want it to stop.

What I have yet to work out is why. If they want to use it as a revenue stream themselves, why are many so slow to incorporate their own gold-selling systems? If it really causes the huge knock-on problems (and I believe it does), why don't they want shot of it?

In the end my best guess is the ultra-conservatism of most MMO designers. We do it this way becasue that's the way we do it.
“It doesn't even mean the game has to go without an economy. I'm sure anyone that reads this blog can think of several ways to design a virtual economy that don't require or allow any direct player-to-player trading of currency.” (Bhagpuss)

I think that this may be impossible.

Anything that can be traded potentially has value. If a tradable item has no value (no demand), then it’s not worth trading, and there is no resulting economic activity (and it may as well be a solo game).

If something is tradable and has value within the game (such as a BOE item that is in demand for any reason), then there is a risk of RMT. In fact, even RMT power-leveling (which is not a tradable commodity) is addressed in Blizzard’s position post.
"I'm sure anyone that reads this blog can think of several ways to design a virtual economy that don't require or allow any direct player-to-player trading of currency."

No, sorry Bhagpuss, I'm struggling to think of how to have a virtual economy which doesn't require or allow any direct player-to-player trading of either currency or items which will serve as a de facto currency.

Diablo 2 was already used as an example. Gold was rubbish in that game, the gold cap was so low and there was so little to spend it on that. It was impossible to possess or trade any amount of gold which would be valuable enough to someone else that they would give you a valued item in exchange for it.

So, what happened? De facto currencies. Perfect gems. Runes. Stones of Jordan. Basically, items which were scarce, useful, small and convenient.

Not to mention moving the entire currency out-of-game. People didn't sell gold in D2, they sold actual rare items directly for real cash.
"It doesn't even mean the game has to go without an economy. I'm sure anyone that reads this blog can think of several ways to design a virtual economy that don't require or allow any direct player-to-player trading of currency."

If the game allows player to player trade of items (but not gold), and some of the items are valuable (say magic weapons) you will just get an alternate form of currency.

In WoW it would probably be infinite dust, or some of the end game shards or orbs. If you disallow trading of reagents, then one of the other tradable items will take it's place.

Currency isn't really all that magic, it is just the commonly accepted value proxy. Most people can form a mental model of haw many dollars/gold/credits/francs/whatnot an item is worth because they know they can trade their currency for other items. Eliminating any official currency will tend to let other tradable items step into that vacuume. Things that stack well and have intrinsic value will be the most likely "new currency".

Once you establish a new currency then the gold traders will start doing whatever they do now, but to gain the other stuff not gold.

Problem not solved.

"Fixing" gold buying could be partly done by totally eliminating any player to player trade. Or by having blizz sell gold cheap enough to undercut all the existing gold sellers. Either of those might be "baby with the bathwater" solutions.

Making player to player trade impossible (or pointless) still won't 100% fix things. After all there is no player to player honor trading, and there are honer grinding services (and power leveling). Which makes the downsides worse ("you mean we screw a big part of the game and it doesn't even fix the problem? it only sort of fixes it?")
They should do like Eve and make a PLEX like system.

Completely agree, that was a really clever idea to pull the market out from under the gold/ISK sellers in that game. Here's a good article on explaining how and why it works. Very Freakonomics-ish.
I'm agreeing with Blizz although I'm not a fanboy. I've heard so many stories of hacked accounts and gold sellers that there just has to be some significant impact. Also I know some botters do not get caught (an ex-guildie sold his account, was caught botting, reported consecutively over many days, and yet nothing was done).

I'm not sure the premise of 'removing goldsinks' would stop this illegal activity.

After all, you dont actually need epic flying. Esp with the new boost to regular flight. And not many items are BOE. A handful to be sure, but not much. There are a few well known gold sinks (ring, mammoth, motorcycle), but beyond that there isn't alot you can really do with alot of gold.

Plus the fact that it really is quite easy to make gold. You can do the dailies, but you dont have to. Do the daily heroic. Do a raid (16g per boss), do battlegroudn quests. Do regular quests. Farm. Learn a crafting profession. Play the auction house. Dance naked on the mailbox. Many many ways.

I've recently started a few economic experiments just taking some very simple ideas and working them. For example I bruoght a fresh mage over to a new server, started a DK, and just from a level 58 DK and a level 10 mage I have now 800g without farming of any type or AH playing.

Also from level 70 to level 80 you will get 2000-3000g in just quest rewards and greys, let alone anything you gathered or greens. You can do icecrown dailies to get 250g per hour with an epic mount (a little less without). You can gather ore or herbs at level 80 and make easily 250g an hour (Last time I did so I made 500g per hour).

I'm not bragging but pointing out how easy it is to get money.

Finally you absolutely dont need those gold sinks. So I find any arguements of 'well Blizz makes us buy all this gold' total hogwash.
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