Jonathan Steinhauer's MMO Column
Steinhauer's Opinion: Gold Farming, Part 1

Jonathan Steinhauer | 26 Nov 2007 18:10
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So in Bree, one such hawker was spamming his automated message every couple seconds and a frustrated gamer suggested that all transactions of money be prohibited except within a player's personal account and within guilds. Not a bad sounding idea on the surface, but the work around is even simpler than the recent 'tell' fix. For example, another player observed that the hawkers would simply shift to the trade market and would have the gold buyer 'sell' the gold farmer some useless piece of ingame junk, thereby allowing the farmer to get the gold to the buyer. The first player responded that they should just shut down the entire trade market then. Of course, trading is one major appeal to many MMO players and removing the market would be a major blow to the game itself. Not really a good option, but what can be done?

Well, the short answer is probably not as much as we'd like. As long as laziness and greed exist, there will be a market for gold farmers. They are far from fools, too. They've managed to meld their activities into the basic functioning of MMOs so any action that makes farming outright impossible is an amputation of sorts to the game itself (such as the market example above). But just because there isn't a cure (to continue my medical analogy), doesn't mean the battle against this virus isn't worth fighting. This is being done on all fronts.

On the gaming publishers' end, most companies are proactive about banning gold farmer accounts that they locate. Of course the hawkers are much easier to find than the actual farmers, and RMTers are clever enough to keep these separate. In some cases, such as on EVE Online, companies are removing illegally gotten gold from buyers' accounts, resulting in actual deficit balances. Also, as in the 'tell' example above, many designers are trying to find ways to make life difficult for the farmers and enhancing honest players gaming experience. The OOC spasm on LOTRO are still annoying, but at least they are less common that the 'tells' used to be.

On the gamers' end, players are actively reporting spammers and getting hawkers' accounts banned. At an even bigger level, the players of World of Warcraft even filed a class-action lawsuit against IGE, one of the biggest US RMT companies.

All of these actions are great, though most of us probably wish there were more. Realistically, game designers are ultimately bound by the rules of capitalism and therefore must make cost-benefit analyses on all actions they take to see if it will be worth the effort. But is there anything more ingame they can do? Maybe more actions like the 'tell' limitation that Turbine instituted? Or perhaps the gamer mentioned above was on to something (albeit not entirely) and there are ways to modify trading that will inhibit gold farmers but not crash the market itself?

What do you think? I'll let you know my thoughts next time.

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