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Transparency: Gold Farmers Help Players More Than They Hurt

Developer logic says that gold farmers are bad, but developer logic is wrong.

I believe most gamers subscribe to the idea that gold farmers are bad for an online game, especially if this game has a strong in-game economy of its own.

I fell victim to this train of thought, too.

The developers told me that this destroyed the game’s economy, and it caused items on the auction house to be expensive. I didn’t give it a second thought because it made sense. If a single player were to flood the market with a bunch of gold, then simple economics tells us that the value of that gold will drop.

We’ve seen examples of gold devaluation all the time when a new string of quests come into a game that give more gold than the previous questlines and when there isn’t a substantial way for the gold to exit the economy.

MMO Economics 101

I don’t think that this was more evident than in Star Wars Galaxies when the team revamped the game’s tutorial into a linear questline. Prior to the introduction of this questline, a player cracking one million credits was a substantial feat. However, by the time players finished the new tutorial questline, they had at least a million credits, and frankly, since the questline also gave them gear, the players had nothing to spend the credits on. Nearly overnight, the prices of in-game items multiplied ten fold. Of course, the economy eventually balanced accordingly, but this does demonstrate the logic behind those who dislike gold farmers.

But that logic is flawed.

In some cases, gold farmers use exploits and hacks to gain gold. In those cases, it’s clearly not good for the game. However, the majority of gold farmers don’t do anything more than players with multiple accounts do. They train characters onto mobs, collecting the gold that drops. Although this might partially be botted, there are people behind the controls; people who -- for better or worse -- are playing the game.

Of course, there will be objections to the methods that gold farmers use, and I’m certainly not condoning everything that gold farming companies do. I don’t like the rampant account hacking or the possible child labor. But that’s not the idea that developers usually try to sell us on when dealing with gold farmers.

Game developers aren’t being noble

Recently, Star Wars: The Old Republic took pride in taking down a gold selling ring. Community Manager Eric Musco explained that BioWare simultaneously “banned hundreds of accounts and removed over nine billion credits from those accounts.” And the pleebs rejoiced; I was one of them. Until I spoke to a couple of colleagues of mine who were clearly more intelligent than me.

Until I spoke to a couple of colleagues of mine who were clearly more intelligent than me.

Star Wars: The Old Republic is a free-to-play game. It makes quite a bit of money on its cashshop. In SWTOR’s particular case, the items that players buy from the cashshop can be sold on the auction house. The same is true for many MMOs, including World of Warcraft now with the introduction of the WoW Token. These methods are ways to directly turn your real-life cash into in-game gold. In fact, WoW, Guild Wars 2, and EVE Online track the current conversion rate.

I’ve already shown above that gold farmers are not putting extra currency into the game’s economy anymore than any other player is. And if the developers are making gold extremely easy to come by and there are no sinks to take that same gold right out of the market, then the fault lies on the developer not anyone who might be using the system to build a fortune.

Effectively, when developers ban a large number of accounts who are selling gold, they are eliminating the competition in the most totalitarian way. Any gold-selling ring, in a game where there is a cash-to-gold relationship, is competition for the developer. Every dollar that is spend buying gold from a third party is a dollar that the developer will not see.I question the actual motivation of BioWare (or any game developer) when it eliminated hundreds of accounts

I question the actual motivation of BioWare (or any game developer) when it eliminated hundreds of accounts and nine billion credits from the in-game economy. Was it really to get rid of the annoying spam in the common areas? Was it really to stop gold from flooding into the auction house, or was it was to help funnel more cash BioWare’s way?

Imagine this tactic being used elsewhere

Let’s eliminate the idea that we are dealing with real-life cash for a moment because there is understandably a lot of emotion attached to money. In our example, let’s replace real-life cash for player skill. Let’s say there is a guild of hundreds of players who have spread themselves over multiple servers. These gentlemen and ladies are amazingly skilled at the game. They lead or carry other players through difficult content. So far, it’s not unheard of. In fact, it wouldn’t be unheard of for these skilled players to charge in-game currency for this service. I’ve seen this happen in many MMOs. And it would be outrageous for a developer to ban these players.

In the example above, the best thing to do would be to make the content more difficult or offer more in-game currency for completing the difficult content so that the skilled players have another outlet. Or just let them continue to do it. It’s not actually hurting anyone.

When a game already has a cash-to-gold system built in, gold farmers aren’t hurting anyone but the developers. So the noble act of getting rid of spam or balancing the in-game economics is overshadowed by the idea that it actually helps the developer to get more real-life money.

However, if used correctly gold farmers could actually be used to determine the value of certain items on the auction house. Because there is a large amount of control from the developers side on the value of certain tradeable items, gold farming prices can help determine the actual value of the items or the in-game value of the cash shop currency.

For instance, if there is a spike in players turning to gold sellers rather than cash shop currency, then perhaps drop-rates of items in the lottery packs is too low or perhaps the number of high-value items is too high. (There really is an interesting economic study here.) In this case, gold farmers are a boon to the developer.

I’ll close my side of this discussion with a small caveat. In some cases, the development team has no other real choice but to ban gold sellers. Determining how to raise interest in “legitimate” cashshop currency can be far too costly for the developer, and it’s just easier and better to eliminate the competition. But if that is the reason for doing it, developers need to be more transparent and tell the community that that is why they are doing it. Don’t mask it behind some disingenuous noble cause.

Published May. 8th 2015
  • AWM_Mars
    Bots attribute to server lag and login queues. Any action they do, takes server cycles that the players are denied.

    Why do people seem to wish to deny the developer's an income? Without them there is no game. They quite often portray the Developers as evil and the Gold Farmers as some revolutionaries, a scenario plugged into us as children, good guys wear white, bad guys wear black etc. we have to dissect groups and pigeon hole them.

    Gold farmers are well known to take over areas of the game, often where players have questlines and need certain drops.

    Gold farmers do 'employ' children, quite under the guise of being apprentice's to the computer industry. For the children it is perhaps the only way they can get a square meal a day, but the same can be said for the workhouses of Great Britain, yet we are not as charitable when describing those.

    I am sure many have and will contribute to the comments on Gold Farmers, the outcome depends on which colour you label which side with.

    Personally, the bottom line is, I want my money spent with Developers, so they make more and better online games.
  • Mark_4884
    Headline:
    "Gold Farmers Help Players More Than They Hurt"

    Proof offered:

    "Developer logic says that gold farmers are bad, but developer logic is wrong."

    Why?

    Auction house prices spike but stabilize
    (No numbers given on what stabilized looks like)

    Devs should add more money sinks.
    (They should make the game harder for those who don't use credit farmers or otherwise grind the hell out of money creation.... Great plan)

    Sure gold farmers "can" do things like slave/child labor... (But aside from this mention let's ignore that.)

    Game dev's want your money!
    (Yup. And undermining them making said money sounds like a case of tape worms (that this undermines the bottom line is mentioned again at the end, but is given little to no weight. Ending the game seems a better plan then stopping gold farmers, I guess.))

    "Until I spoke to a couple of colleagues of mine who were clearly more intelligent than me."
    (How you don't see this statement as 'I talked to people smarter then me' equaling they understand better then anyone who would debate against their view is beyond me. Conflating I'm sure you'll say.)

    "I’ve already shown above that gold farmers are not putting extra currency into the game’s economy anymore than any other player is."
    (No you haven't. As I'm fairly sure that gold farmers use bots and scripts to 'farm' mobs and chests (yes you mentioned this but not the fullness of its impact). This is something few if any players do, and surely not at this level. I've watched these bots day after day, while they change their name/account used time and time again.)

    "Was it really to get rid of the annoying spam in the common areas? Was it really to stop gold from flooding into the auction house, or was it was to help funnel more cash BioWare’s way?"
    (1: Yes it was. Gold farmers constantly alter verbiage and tactics to evade detection or extend time till ban. Not to mention having bots generating new accounts to replace lost ones ASAP. Google mmo hacks, bots, or scripts and see the multiple websites dedicated to making and passing out the code to do this. 2: either one or both, does it matter - short of them not been as completely transparent as you might like?)

    "Imagine this tactic being used elsewhere"
    (Like music/movie piracy?)

    "it would be outrageous for a developer to ban these players."
    (Idk, maybe not depends on ToS. Aside from the fact we aren't even talking about the same thing anymore, one is player taking the time to do an I game service. Maybe for RL cash. The other is someone using bots and scripting (all breaches of ToS) to MASS farm credits for the express use of translating that back into RL $. You equate one person vs a scripted army.)

    "When a game already has a cash-to-gold system built in, gold farmers aren’t hurting anyone but the developers"
    (Not so. It is quite possible for the gold farmers to hurt more then the Devs in the act of farming. For instance the act of farming can be a denial to others of that zone's resources (chests, mob drops+credits, crafting mats). While yes, these things do regenerate (assuming the bots stop long enough to let others have a chance at them) the damage to anyone 'playing through' during was done.)

    We aren't talking about one dude farming gold and telling people he knows he will take PayPal for a million credits. We are talking about highly organized RINGS of people, who used RL people in crap RL situations to bot up world's denying "normal" gamers playing through those areas while needlessly raising auction house prices and undermining Dev money generation. Money that improves the game and gives it reason to continue.
  • NoizyGamer
    Larry, I think when referring to your colleagues, you confused cynicism for intelligence.

    Okay, I get it. EA is evil and so EA must have an ulterior motive for doing something that the players in their games approve of. I clicked the link to the SWTOR forums and busting the illicit RMT ring was in response to player complaints. In fact, you even applauded the action yourself until your colleagues infected you with their cynicism.

    I realize that a David vs Goliath struggle resonates powerfully in our society. The thought of big, bad EA oppressing the little guy with unethical, monopolistic practices that would see executives thrown in jail (or at least hauled in before Congress) in the real world is one way to gain sympathy for the despised gold farmer. Impugning the motivations of EA is a way to bring EA down to the moral level of the gold farmer. Neither one actually cares about the game, just how much real life money they can extract from the player base.

    I'd like to conclude that perhaps you have used the wrong real world political viewpoint to look at the issue of illicit real money trading activity. Yes, the little guy fighting against the 1%, represented by the Wall Street-like EA, does appeal to a certain segment of gamers. But I prefer to look at the issue as one of preserving the environment of our virtual worlds, not as a matter of class warfare.

    When I look at gold farmers, I see them as part of a multi-million, if not multi-billion dollar, industry whose activities pollute our virtual worlds. Issues that you brushed off in your article, like immersion-breaking spamming of chat channels and engaging in economy-harming exploits are front and center to those of us concerned with the environment of the virtual worlds we inhabit.

    But those are not the only issues in which illicit real money trading activities harm our virtual environments. Perhaps the biggest concern related directly to gold farmers is the monopolization of content. I think everyone who follows the MMORPG industry recalls how gold farmers using bots blocked regular players from completing content when Elder Scrolls Online first launched. Do we really want game companies to ignore such issues?

    Perhaps I am just a rube fooled by the lies of Big Gaming. But with as much time as I spend playing video games, I want to experience the games as close to the vision of the game designers as possible. Quite frankly, I care more that game companies are good stewards of our virtual worlds than what motivates them to clean up the pollution that the illicit real money trading operations introduce into them.
  • Larry Everett
    Featured Columnist
    I sympathize with what you're saying, but you are conflating my statements to be about something other than what it is.

    You state that players have complained about the gold farmer spam issue. And they have. Yet a day after this supposed major ban there were still issues with spamming.

    You are also assuming that I condone everything that gold farmers do by mentioning the Elder Scrolls Online example. When I explicitly state that I don't condone all the actions of the gold farming community. However, different actions can be taken to obfuscate those activities that don't require banning.

    You also have no idea about my RL political views, especially since the point of view I expressed in the article is highly captialistic and not the views of those who are "fighting the 1%."

    Also if you happen to read my last paragraph, I stated that there could be circumstances where a company would be force to take heavy action against gold sellers, but the company should be transparent and upfront regarding the reason behind it, i.e. "The gold farmers are eating too far into our RMT program and we do not have the direct resources to compete. So we had to eliminate them from the equation so that the game can remain afloat."

    In the end, I do appreciate the discussion and your points, but I strongly disagree with them and the premises they stand on.
  • NoizyGamer
    Larry, let's cut to the chase. You posited that gold farmers are a net positive for MMORPGs, but you failed to give one example of a positive effect they bestow. The closest you come is to say that game companies can monitor the activities of gold farmers for market trends. But any half-way competent company is already tracking these metrics on a global level.

    Your argument is reduced to the following:

    1. EA/Bioware lied about why they shut down an illicit RMT operation because you continued to see gold selling spam, probably because more than one gold seller was operating on the shard.

    2. If EA/Bioware is lying about why they are fighting illicit RMT operations, then they are probably lying about gold farmers being bad.

    3. Since EA/Bioware is lying, that makes gold farmers good for games, just bad for EA's bottom line.

    4. If EA is lying, that means all the other game companies are lying also.

    5. Game companies are only justified in cracking down on gold farmers if the activity of the gold farmers threatens the financial existence of the game.

    I probably should have not responded to this article when people pointed me to it. But when you implied that only dumb people think that gold farming is bad for games, I had to make some sort of reply.

    Oh, and if it makes you feel any better, I'll retract the reference to the 1%. But the appeal to the anti-Wall Street types stands. That way, you are appealing to both the Occupy movement and the Tea Party.
  • Larry Everett
    Featured Columnist
    I appreciate your views on my views, but you have misinterpreted them yet again. I never said that EA lied, but it was not telling the whole truth. I also never said that people were dumb for thinking that gold farmers are bad. Again, you're conflating instead of taking the things I said at face value. Therefore, the premise of your argument doesn't hold weight because it's based on my thinking that I believe that EA is the big-bad (which I don't) and that people who believe that gold farmers are bad are dumb (which I don't).
  • Tenzin Kendrick
    Interesting... The only times I've heard gold farming defended is by successful gold farmers. Interesting to have an opinion that isn't directly profiting from the business.
  • auther_pendragon
    It isn't the gold farmers that are the problem in the games I have played. The problem is the bots that advertize the service and the horrible prices.

    The advertizing bots post their message 1 time per second so if there are any in town the chat becomes unusable(sometimes there are 3-4 for the same site in 1 town).

    Then there is the pricing. In the games I have seen them in their rates are much worse than buying items from the cash shops and selling them in the auction.
  • Spitt_3299
    Having been in the RMT biz for a while I can attest to both sides of the controversy.There are positive and negative effects, and there are people who will do anything to make a buck - even at the expense of all others.
    Don't forget that Gold Farmers have to pay a monthly subscription fee and that they have to pay for CDKeys as well. By banning Gold Farmers, developers can actually create a cash influx. The best way to deter gold farmers, is by using the token/exchange items. It won't get rid of them all, but it will help.
    But when the benevolent gold farmers, the ones who take pity on you when you're about to die, would normally step in and help, don't go crying that the server is dead.
  • Larry Everett
    Featured Columnist
    Thank you for confirming my thoughts. I didn't think all RMT were bad. I've actually run into some decent RMT players in the past.
  • BuzzIrk
    Gold farmers do much more harm than "good". These Real Money Trade "companies" are also rife with credit card fraud. I've had some cards decline transactions with the legit game company because the game was associated with so much fraud due to the RMT with third parties. Be aware you are dealing with people that already are breaking the rules.

    I think you'd be hard pressed to find a RMT gold farmer that doesn't run bots. They clog up the servers, steal the hunting areas and if you mess with them the enforcers come out and ruin your day. They remember who you are and their bots and cheats, find you and punish you. I saw this over and over in Lineage 2. In Vindictus, for example, they can't mess with you except that they clog the servers and have forced the developer to implement auto-banning methods that have affected the player base that happens to do the dungeons the same way a bot would do.

    If you decide not to buy from the farmers then you are left behind economically. Your legitimately earned stash is worth less and less.

    There is an interesting link to the developers in that once they saw the amount of money going to these other companies they took notice. IMHO the free-to-play genre as we see today is due in part to it. I wish i could remember the name of the documentary there was years ago about the RMT industry.

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