If You Buy Gold, the Terrorists Win!

Posted: April 4, 2008 by Kendricke in Everquest 2, General Game Concepts

As sometimes happens, a comment elsewhere inspires an article here.

This one started at Cameron Soderan’s “Random-Battle” blog, where an excellent discussion on virtual property evolved into a series of back and forth commentary eventually touching on whether or not gold buyers should be banned for disruptive gameplay.

To me, there’s little distinction between gold sellers and gold buyers in a game that allows neither.  If the rules say “don’t do it” and you then proceed to do what you’ve agreed not to do, then there should be no surprise at all when the ban hammer comes crashing down on your head.

I’ve felt this way for some time now, but it wasn’t till recently that the story held particular relevance for me…

Recently, one of my guild’s members was hacked.  We found out that it was likely a worm/keylogger used through a hotmail account he was using which was attached to his account.  He’d never purchased gold online, and certainly wasn’t a fan of gold sellers.  Yet, one day he logged in to find out his account’s password no longer worked, and when he mentioned it in our Teamspeak channel, found that he’d logged in earlier and cleared out a large portion of our guild bank.

Once he finally got his account password back, he was able to ascertain that each of his characters had been stripped, all goods sold/traded to vendors (including character housing) and the coin moved off his account.  Customer service was very patient and worked quite a bit with our member over the course of three separate days.  It was a time intesive process to regain the items he was able to – both on his part, and the part of the CS agents involved.  CS was even able to tell our member that they’d managed to track some/most of the transactions and managed to ban those involved, but that there was little legally that they could do, since the IP’s involved originated in countries that the U.S. does not have extradition treaties with.

Anyone want to take a wild guess at why his account was hacked in the first place?  Because it’s easier to fish/farm player accounts than it is to spend umpteen hours botting for cash in some obscure location.  The gold sellers in this case made off with a couple hundred platinum from our member…platinum which wasn’t completely accounted for, which had to be recreated for our member anyway by CS, AFTER they’d spent hours of time tracking down whether or not his story was legitimate.

Now, while that was going on, I’m pretty sure petitions were coming in regarding stuck characters, lost loot, reset raid targets, disruptive channel spam, griefing, etc. Unfortunately, CS agents were tied up for hours worrying about our member’s information and data, so while they did that, they couldn’t assist with other issues.

Now, this is where you tell me that it’s the fault of the gold seller…not the innocent gold buyers.  However, I’d love to hear the argument on how gold sellers would exist if there were no market for their goods.  If there are no buyers, how can there be sellers?  Who would sellers sell to if no one was buying?

You can’t wash your hands clean of the “disruption” argument, not while buyers enable the system in the first place.  It’s because people buy gold in the first place that my member’s account was hacked at all.  You think there’d be a reason to get into that account if there was no market for the goods?

So, in my opinion, all this talk about the poor gold buyers being victimized by bad game mechanics and a need to keep up with other players who have more time is just a smokescreen.  Buyers enable the system.  Buyers are just as much to blame.

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Comments
  1. I’ll copy my response across for consistency’s sake:

    Gee, I wonder what would fix that? If the company regulated the RMT market or designed around it instead of wishing it away, those problems could be avoided much more easily than trying to launch a “lets not buy gold” campaign, which (again) clearly does not work!

    That whole “there would be no market without buyers argument” is great, but it’s pure wishful thinking. Any time where you have a game open to RMT and a community large enough to handle it, people are going to engage in it. Especially when you look at how games are becoming increasingly solo-oriented… it’s all about individual satisfaction instead of group advancement. If you can’t keep up time-wise and you’re jealous of those who can, what are you going to do? Buy gold. Why? Because you don’t care about people getting their accounts hacked or the negative effects of gold-spam. It’s not like you can personally prevent that stuff anyway… you see it all around you whether you buy gold or not.

    Gamers have been resisting RMT since people started engaging in it, and what do we have to show for it? Only 10+ years of futile efforts to fight the gold sellers and an increasingly hostile and CS-intensive gaming environment.

    I hate when people use that argument. Sure, if no one bought gold, then there would be no gold sellers. But clearly, people buy gold. If you try to stop them, threaten them, ban them, track them, warn them, educate them, or beg them not to, they still buy gold. Doesn’t that say something about gamer preferences? Look how many companies stay in business doing this!

  2. Kendricke says:

    I see your copy/paste, and raise you one more!

    I’m sorry, Cameron, but I don’t buy into the idea that the only way to beat the system is to become the system you want to beat.

    Keep in mind that even on SOE’s exchange servers (which ARE regulated RMT), hacked accounts exist. Your utopian ideal that regulated RMT “would fix that” is simply not working in reality. It’s a great idea on paper…with nothing factual to back up the assertion. You’re working on a theory that’s flawed.

    The fact that there will always be buyers isn’t something I’m arguing. I accept that. The fact that there will always be sellers for the buyers isn’t something I’m arguing. I accept that. The fact that buyers can be and should be banned right alongside the sellers is the point of contention. You seem to feel it’s somehow wrong for studios to decide that players who can’t or won’t follow the rules they agreed to should be allowed to keep playing, all in the interests of “good customer service”.

    I disagree.

  3. wilhelm2451 says:

    I always seem to make the mental leap from the war on RMT to the war on drugs and I tend to evaluate proposals about RMT through that lens.

    And, yes, it is an analogy and it breaks down if you start trying to force it (RMT treatment programs? Legalization of medical RMT?) , but there are enough parallels that I think it is useful at a high level.

    The US went through a draconian war on drugs where federal drug laws were used to incarcerate sellers as well as users for long stretches. While no newspaper headlines pronounced the war lost (okay, maybe the Village Voice) the US clearly moved away from the “lock em all up and throw away the key” theory and went back to letting states treat possession “for use” as an infraction, usually punishable by a fine.

    When it comes to RMT, we watch WoW ban accounts en masse, both sellers and buyers. Their press releases remind me a bit on the war on drugs, always about numbers of accounts banned and amounts of gold taken off the market. The net result seems to be some fluctuation in prices and some pain for a few of the smaller RMT players. But the trade goes on and flourishes.

    Ban ’em all does not seem to be working. Furthermore, banning the buyers is acting against self interest for the company. The buyers are not scamming the company, reversing credit card charges, or hacking accounts. No, they are generally users in (otherwise) good standing who are part of the masses that pay the bills that keep the game running. Some companies, like CCP, just remove the ill-gotten in game cash and maybe suspend your account for a short period of time if you are a repeat offender.

    But does that mean we should legalize it, open the doors to RMT? For most games, the economies are too fragile to allow that. Just the inrush of easier gold from the Outlands has made inflation in the low level equipment economy staggering. And we’ve seen prices at the bazaar in EQ. That would surely get worse if let people buy plat for cash. EVE alone among the MMOs I have played has enough churn in its economy for them to give customers an indirect but legal way to purchase in game currency.

    With the current games, designed as they are ignoring or excluding the influence of RMT, we’re going to be stuck with the status quo. The only variation is how rigorously a given company goes after the trade.

  4. Great post. The best argument against the pestilence that is RMT that I’ve heard.

  5. Xeavn says:

    First off, I think there are going to be players that will always want RMT, and I think there will be players who will always not want it too. This is why I think the exchange servers are a good idea. If you want RMT in your game, if you want to spend money to be able to keep up with so and so, then you have a server where this play style is allowed and accepted.

    If however you have chosen to play on a server where it isn’t allowed and still attempt to do so you should have your account banned if you participate. I don’t know if Blizzard and Sony are currently banning the gold buyers yet, but they should be. The gold sellers pretty much plan on the account they are using being banned. Chances are they purchased the account fradulently anyways. The gold buyer is the one who has something to lose. He is one who has played on this account for 6 months, maybe a year, gained some good armor, made some friends, run a lot of dungeons. This is the person you have to punish for buying gold, or gold selling will continue. Part of the process is to educate the players so that they know if they buy gold they are risking losing it all. Then you have to follow through on the threat and not give the account back when they call up to customer service mad about losing thier account. Sure you may need to review the decision that was made, make sure that the evidence is good, but the account shouldn’t be given back if it is.

  6. Rick says:

    I like cut ‘n paste too. How about some links?

    Blizzard’s reasons why gold selling/buying and powerleveling is bad, m’kay?

    http://www.mmorpg-center.com/story-97.html

    Posts from financial investments forums, where people who have never played WoW get charged for items in virtual worlds (seems like it’s mostly Blizzard, NCSoft, and Runescape. Makes sense, the biggest worlds).

    http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.html?s=38145acec50713fea74665f3d3c927bf&t=450004
    http://selfinvestors.com/tradingstocks/credit-cards/beware-of-credit-card-fraud/

    I feel bad for the people how know nothing about mmorpg’s and can’t figure out why Blizzard is scamming them, or they think that it’s Blizzard’s security that somehow allowed credit card processing to go wild. It not only affects players in-game, but it’s a pretty big problem to ordinary people who don’t even play games.

  7. Rijacki says:

    I’m with Xeavn.

    When they first announced the Exchange idea and were thinking about it for -all- servers, I was against it heartily. Then when they announced it would be just on a few new servers and would allow free transfers TO those servers, I thought it would be a good idea for a cordoned off community that wants to be engage in RMT. I was hopeful it would be a place to point those who insist it “needs” to be part of their game play.

    I will admit I was adamently against the idea of transfers TO the Exchange servers because of how it could (and did) affect the global economies at the time it was put into place, but it did settle down and now it’s a good way to say “there’s the way you can do it and stay in the rules”. I’m still against the idea of ever having transfers FROM the Exchange servers because then it would just be a holding tank for “legitimate” RMT on all servers.

    Sadly, most of those who want to buy aren’t interested in doing it “legitimately”. The Exchange servers, where it is allowed as long as it’s within the service set up by SOE, are rather underpopulated. Some say that it’s because they’d have to play away from their friends, others say it’s because the buyers don’t get any “edge” from their RL money if everyone can openly buy. For the most part, though, it wasn’t a phenomenal success and the RMT buyers didn’t flock to it.

    Going back to Kendricke’s entry, though, I agree that the buyers are FAR more to blame than the sellers. Even though I realise some may be newer players and might not have read through all the rules, etc. To “educate” the casual or first-time would be buyers, I think there should be a pop-up information box as the last step before a character is created that, in plain no legalese language, states buying or selling in-game items, coin and character is not allowed except on the Exchange servers and using their special service and should also name the servers where it is allowed. The pop-up could come right after selecting a server and could have a different one if you select an Exchange server (stating it is allowed there using the special service and you can’t transfer a character FROM that server, etc). Then have a random, once every month or so, pop-up reminder while starting the game with the same information after clicking on the Play button (that way it could reflect server of the character). Then no one could say they didn’t know, or couldn’t understand the EULA section, etc.

    Once you “educate” the casual and first-time buyers, or even before or while it is put into place, I’m with Xeavn, ban anyone who participates. Ban them left and right. If the risk to buy was higher, there would be fewer who are interested in taking it. Even the dedicated buyer would be wary.

    But, the heat has to be on the sellers, too. The spam filter is excellent. GMs and CS working to ferret out the sellers is good.

    And, yes, I agree with Rick. It hits far more than the gaming community. But that’s not the only reason it’s bad.

    In my opinion, too, is the permissive attitudes and resigned responses of “Any time where you have a game open to RMT and a community large enough to handle it, people are going to engage in it” that keep it going as much as those who actively buy.

    I was on EQ1’s Firiona Vie from a couple months after it opened until I left EQ1 right before the release of GoD. On FV, nearly everything was tradable. Things that were No Trade on other servers could be traded on FV. In the beginning, that wasn’t a problem because there was a Trivial Loot code in place (can’t get loot from encounters too low in level to be anything but “trivial”, in EQ2 – grey encounters) which limited a player from getting items that weren’t challenging. The community was also pretty tight knit and the RMT didn’t get much of a toe-hold. But then PoP came out and the Raid UI that came with it broke the trivial loot code (as long as you had a raid, you could loot anything the lowest member could… and you could make a raid of 2). The next summer, something got broken in the transfer system either intentionally or by accident and transfers to and from FV were allowed to -all- servers with all equipment and money intact (prior and in the rules for transfers, only transfers to/from Stormhammer were allowed but only for characters originating on FV or Stormhammer). By the end of the summer, the transfer issue was temporarily fixed (broken for good later, at least until I left). During that time, too, Yantis moved into the Bazaar and -openly- set up shop. By the time I left, FV was an “Exchange” server but with Yantis as the “service”. Until LDoN came out, if you wanted -any- high-end equipment you were required to have in order to be invited to groups or raids and could not get a group yourself for, you were told to pay him (I refused). LDoN offered some relief because there was a non-RMT way to obtain items.. as long as you could find the groups to get the points.. but groups were more plentiful and accessible. However, the number of people who never engaged in RMT and had no interest in ever engaging in RMT had dwindled to less than, well, probably the number of non-RMT on the EQ2 Exchange servers. One of the prime reasons I left EQ1 was because I refused to participate.

    Did RMT kill EQ1? Not for everyone. It’s still going strong and having development continue for it. It’s open prevalence though did, though, kill it for me.

    Maybe EQ2 is still young enough that the majority isn’t resigned to the existence of RMT on all servers. As long as the majority openly and vocally still see it as wrong -and- the game company is actively doing things to curtail it, I’m hopeful.

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