Transparency: Gold Farmers Help Players More Than They Hurt

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

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

About the author

Larry Everett

Don't use a lightsaber to spark up your cigarette.