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Invasion of the Agorxes

Brasse -- 2007-02-17 22:30:10

Gold sellers are a fact of life. There are a whole lot of them, and mostly, they get up people’s noses (see Wren The Blurry’s article, Invasion of the Agorxes).

No one would notice if they could make money by quietly knitting on a hillside, waving to other players as they walk by. However, there isn’t much money in knitting, so pharmers have to compete with “regular”, recreational players for resources and loot, so that they can sell gold to the same players such that they can buy the goods that they cannot manage to adventure for because of competition from.... you get the idea.

OK, says the player-who-is-not-me, I don’t have TIME to spend twenty hours a week to get the coin I need to buy a pony. Or I don’t belong to a raiding guild, so I cannot ever get the Hat of Uberness (HoU) that everyone in my class says is a must-have. I can’t even get into a top tier raid without it!

Being a quarrelsome old Dwarf, and Dwarves being somewhat right-wing in any case, I take exception to the assumption that all players have a game-given RIGHT to own any particular piece of equipment. I don’t think I have that right, but there is the “if it exists, then I deserve it” mentality. I think the truth is closer to this: if you are insane enough to invest 300 hours to get the HoU, then it is the appropriately insane reward. As for ponies, only two of my characters own horses… the rest trot along on their own two feet. Big deal. I don’t have a HoU either. I am a very busy person, and so play casually these days, and rarely raid. I don’t expect the top tier items.

In the MMO world, the biggest cheat is violating the agreement not to trade in virtual goods outside of the game. You can argue until you’re blue in the face about whether or not a legal challenge would hold up in a court of law. I don’t care. Go lobby to have Boston Legal do an episode for you. The fact is, when you sign in to the game, you agree to the End User License Agreement (EULA) and/or Terms of Service (TOS). YOU AGREE not to do this. Period.

Now of course, that same agreement means not buying virtual goods, either, but you log on and head to a gold seller’s site, and load up on cash, triggering the pharmers to go on another round of mob-hoarding and flagrant violation of game rules. Then you log into the game to get your illegal cash. Thanks, moron. You are in violation of the rules you specifically agreed to, and are the sole reason these jerks exist.

As Wren wrote in her article, now that eBay has decided to ban sale of virtual goods for games that do not allow it, the guy next door will no longer be selling to you to earn his beer money. The group of guys on the other side of the world, who have their own websites for the task, will be happy to take over.

It is widely known that the majority of gold sellers are based in Asia, and that they employ minions at a wage that would be untenable in North America. These people do not want to piss you off, it is their job to pharm money in games. It is how they pay their rent. I bet they don’t like you either, getting in their way, making it impossible to reach quota…

Trading in virtual currency is BIG business. Millions of dollars. Real dollars. It would indeed be a nightmare for any U.S. or Euro game company to take these folks to court. Finding the principals of the companies is hard enough, but prosecuting across international boundaries? We have enough trouble extraditing murderers for trial; it is unlikely that any overseas fake currency issue is going to take high precedence.

Of course, the governments of the involved countries themselves have caught the decadent redolence of money, and are looking for ways to tax the lovely profits flowing into the pots of our little digital leprechauns. That should be interesting. Will gold sellers then be state-sanctioned and protected within their far-off countries? Sure, why not? Cigarettes are perfectly legal here, and they kill people. Selling virtual goods hasn’t actually been blamed for any deaths yet.

Back to the Agorxes though… I think the big MMO companies should put these guys out of business. Immediately. For years, the best efforts of game companies have resulted in bannings in the hundreds and thousands, but the gold sellers are still happily roaring along. One might argue that at least the MMOs gain some money back when the gold sellers have to buy a new copy of the game after an account is banned, but it is not putting a stop to the problem, and requires investment of a lot of man-hours to track down the money-pharmers.

The easiest way to smack the gold-sellers upside the head is for game companies to change the playing field, and go full bore into currency-selling themselves. I remember well the outcry when SoE announced the Station Exchange servers. Armageddon is upon us! It will ruin the game experience, moaned some. It will mean the pharmer punks will rule all the worlds, cried others. Wake up, dude, they already do. Actually, I thought the Station Exchange concept was a bold experiment based on sound business principles. I was very interested in viewing some of that extremely SEKRIT in-game business data collected since launch to see just how well it works in practice.

Imagine my amazement when SoE's Smed went ahead and linked a white paper with that very information! Believe your eyes, when you read his Station Blog, "RMT - What it is, and what it can become" and take the time to peruse the linked white paper. I see changing times ahead, but sometimes wonder why it takes so long to move these ponderous businesses along new paths.

I also think game companies need to go that one step further, and start selling gold and items on all servers, in all games, as well as brokering trades between players.

Before you freak out and deluge my inbox about how you can barely afford the subscription fees, never mind having to BUY stuff to keep up with the Joneses…
a) in many highly successful games that you haven’t even heard of, there is no purchase cost and no subscription fee – you buy extra coin when you need it instead.
b) You don’t need to keep up with the damn Joneses. Honest. Nobody likes them anyway.

Games such as Puzzle Pirates (www.puzzlepirates.com) have made a very good living with a business model already proven successful in Asian game markets.
There is no subscription fee to become a Pirate on many of their servers, YARR! If you cannot make doubloons fast enough to buy a wee ship or a fancy piratey outfit, log on and spend $3 or $4 to buy a substantial handful of game currency. Some of the fun pub games available in PP are also subscription based… play pub games on free nights, pay a month’s fee with your hard-earned in-game cash or yep… buy a month’s worth of swordfighting, poker, drinking and other games for a pittance in real cash.

There is a huge difference in scale between a flash-based game like Puzzle Pirates and the MMOGs we inhabit. It may take some time for the big-business gaming companies to conduct market studies and adjust their business models to this kinder, gentler approach to our pocketbooks. I suspect that we will still see retail pricing for initial purchase to pay for the extremely complex worlds that MMOGs inhabit for some time to come, but if buying currency can offset some or all of the subscription fees, then I am all for it.
I’ll not miss the Agorxes.
Not one bit.

Go ahead, tell me how wrong I am. Please use complete sentences at least 50% of the time.

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WOW!

Alluvian -- 2007-02-13 14:26:05

Forget the H-scroll, you're trying to break the V-scroll!

I agree with the dislike for the gold farmers, but I fear validating EULA's is a slippery slope. The things are not legal documents. They are not read or agree to until after the point of sale, invalidating them in the eyes of most US lawyers I have talked to.

Regardless of that, selling ingame gold could still be illegal. The point is not the EULA or TOS though, it is who OWNS the gold. Is it you, who pays to access a server, or is it the people running the server? The EULA of course almost always states that all your virtual possessions are their property. Since the EULA isn't a legal contract it does not mean much though, and it would be for a judge to decide.

Mythic Entertainment went after some gold sellers in DAOC, and paperwork for court proceedings had started, but I think the gold sellers went bankrupt and folded before anything was decided in court.

One way or another, something has to be legally done at some point on who rightfully owns all this virtual property. Because it does have value.

Some games even let you redeem the virtual for the real. Magic the Gathering Online (only with complete sets and only 'while supplies last'), Second Life, and probably others I am forgetting.
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