Gold Farmers: The Other White Meat.

posted: June 29th, 2006

So it seems as though this has been a week for topics to sweep through the blogosphere (I really hate that term. Can’t we call it something else? The blogoverse? Blogtinuum? That which is blogged? But I digress).

One topic has been crafting in MMO’s. I stumbled into that topic rather accidentally when I made a coincidental post to those made by the Knights of the MMO Roundtable. Amused at the coincidence I posted trackbacks to them with a little lighthearted jab to which Ryan Shwayder responded by throwing me into the incoming traffic of the information superhighway.

The other topic which has be racing through our electronic Zeitgeist is the subject of Real Money Transactions (or RMT for short). Started off by a post from Dan Reubenfield
which has been answered by Amber Night, Broken Toys, Tipa, Wizzel CogWizzleton CarrierCog IV, and apparently a rabid weasel.

Throwing caution to the wind I thought I would post my own thoughts concerning dealing with RMT.

First, let me just say that I disagree with Dan’s solution. I’m of the belief that one of the problems with MMO’s is that they aren’t closed economies. Mobs are killed and gold is created and enters the economy. At first this gold is used to buy items from NPC merchants so that the players can kill bigger mobs and get more gold. The money given to the merchants leaves the economy and the system runs along like a well oiled Peugeot.

After a while though players start to get to a point where they aren’t buying as much from the merchants because, let’s face it, the equipment the merchants sell sucks. They start using crafted equipment or, even worse, phat lewt. At first it looks as though players buying crafted equipment is OK because now the player is poor again. Unfortunately even though the player buying the equipment is once again poor all the money did was move from one player to another. Maybe a little of it left the system because of the expenses of making the equipment and maybe a little left for a transaction tax but a good portion of it simply moves from point A to point B and stays in the system. When the player uses teh phat lewts the problem becomes even worse because now not even the expenses or taxes leave the system.

Eventually this unspent coin builds up like the thick black gunk that accumulates on black gunk encrusted things, the economy collapses, NPC merchants lose their homes and are thrown out into the streets, and Ford Prefect talks about Magrathea.

So given this I think that trying to beat the gold farmers by generating and selling gold is sort of like trying to get rats out of your burning house with a flamethrower. (Don’t hold it against me, Dan).

On the other hand I think Dan does have a valid point. Gold farmers aren’t going to just go away. They’re sort of like roaches. Sure, you can kill the ones you see but there’s always more hiding behind the walls. So you get a holiday fogger and leave the house, but you forget to cover the fish tank and so your gold fish dies. What’s worse it turns out one holiday fogger isn’t enough to kill all the roaches, so you still have roaches and now you have a dead fish. So you buy two dozen holiday foggers and you set them all off to make sure you kill all the roaches, but you don’t know that in high concentrations the propellant from holiday foggers is explosive because your TiVo didn’t record that episode of Mythbusters since it thought you wanted to see the Will & Grace reunion show. So your house blows up and when the contractor comes out to give you an estimate he says “Didn’t you know that in high concentrations the propellant from holiday foggers is explosive?” and you say “No, because my TiVo didn’t record that episode of Mythbusters.” And in the end it turns out you still have roaches because pretty much nothing short of vaporizing your house is going to kill all of them.

Yeah. They’re sort of like that.

So given that you can’t get rid of them what do you do? Enter the Dragon Exchange Server.

Now I know what you’re all saying: My God, will he ever get to the point? Of course I will.

By setting up an Exchange Server you create an environment where people who favor RMT can live without fear of being discriminated against. You create a place where they can stand tall without fear of the Ban-stick, where they can roam free in vast herds of people with more money than common sense and where they can proudly say “Yes! I did buy that on Ebay!”

You can create this for them and they will be happy and love you for it, but the best thing of all, the very best thing, is that you don’t actually have to play there. By creating this world you give them a place to be, and that place is somewhere other than where you are. Think of it as a sort of roach motel. It won’t kill them and you’ll know they’re in there getting room service, but at least your house won’t burn down again.

That’s the first step. The second step is to make it so that if they so much as stick one single small black chitinous covered feeler out of their little motel you crush them ruthlessly. Seriously, you’ve given them this lovely place (for them) where they can live and be happy, they have no excuse to behave roach-like in what is clearly marked as a ‘No Roach’ zone. If you catch them participating in an RMT outside of the approved servers you delete the character, ban the account, salt the Earth so nothing will grow where they were, and drive to their home and kick their dog.

Given the choice between a place where they can frolic and gambol to their heart’s content or the constant threat of having their schnauzer punted I think most of them will stay on the Exchange Servers.

“But Evan,” you say, “SOE set up an Exchange Server and you still have RMT on the other servers.”

I say to you in reply, “Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.”

I would also say that SOE introduced the Exchange Servers after EQ II had already launched. By that time players who RMT were already scattered across the various servers. By the time the Exchange Servers were created they already had formed ties with friends and communities and many of them had joined guilds. I don’t believe they could transfer their characters to the Exchange Servers and even when they make alts they usually want to remain close to those connections. Combine this with the fact that the ruthless pogrom that so many non-RMT players desperately wish for isn’t occurring and you can see why there are still RMT players left on those servers.

So while it may not be possible to remove RMT players from established games I don’t think it will always be so. Sure, even when a game launches with something the equivalent of Exchange Servers and the most draconian measures of punishment known to man (forced listening to Whitney Houston albums) for participating in RMT on non-approved servers you will still have a few people who will break the rules and participate in RMT, whether it is to get an edge on all the legitimate players or because it somehow makes them feel like they’re sticking it to the Man (I payed real money for a virtual item in a game that I pay you $15 a month to play! Take that, Mister Man!) but with luck there won’t be enough of them to support a robust RMT black market on those servers.


I like the style of your approach, but I don’t know if we’ll ever have the ability to really stamp out RMT’ers on the regular server as aggressively as you wish (though you’d have more data than I on what you can see.)

What’s the difference between a guild mule and a gold farming mule? A RMT exchange ingame and a friendly “twinking?” Developers don’t usually have access to the real-money side of the transaction to verify the actual offense, and without that verification, it’s very hard to tell the difference.

Beyond that, I don’t see the root RMT issue happening from people naturally accumulating stuff. Most professional gold farmers never play the game that way. They deftly avoid the “drain” in the faucet-drain economy- avoiding buying new loot when they level (though, they might, once leveled, suit up for better efficiency) and maximizing coin production as much as possible. In EQ, they’re avoiding things like rent, broker fees, horses, and other “drain” elements.

That’s a design issue. Drain is very easy to avoid, if your intent is massive accumulation of goods. In fact, I know more roleplayers that RMT than I know uber-lewt players (ok, I know few RMT’ers altogether, but socializers talk more about it 😛 ) The Roleplayer is often interested in the more rent-heavy houses in the game and the time they spend in Roleplay scenarios doesn’t earn them any coin. Thus, they’re hit more by the “drain” of the economy and less by the “faucet.” Strangely, their “RMT” purchase used to pay for “drain” stuff is just what the economy needs- more stuff filtered away.

We’re hindered by the design choices of our predecessors. Too many players expect a constant accumulation of wealth. They want that coinpurse to be forever growing. They want grossly different earnings at level 50 than they see at level 10. They want free ammo, and if they don’t get it, they won’t used ranged weapons. They don’t want use-based drain, so they hate repair.

BUT- if we want to curb farmers, we’ve GOT TO make use of a reward system that doesn’t involve an exchangable good- EQ2’s “status” was a step in the right direction- something of value that can’t be traded. Tie expenses for adventuring closer to the reward for adventuring. Minimize the amount of “gain” the gold farmer can expect from 12 hours of play by adding more expenses to that end, and increase the value players see in using non-tradable “status” in the game.

You won’t kill the roaches, but you’ll minimize what they have to feed off of, and maybe more of them will go off to the easier pickings at your neighbor’s.

Comment by Chas — June 30, 2006

The Exchange Server idea sounds nice but it won’t solve the problem, even if you start your game with that system. You’re still going to be using a ton of resources monitoring the other servers to keep the activity squashed and there will be tons of activity on those other servers.

If it’s profitable for IGE and their ilk to farm and sell items or gold in your game they will do it. You’ll end up spending just as much time and money policing those servers, and the occasional mistaken banning of an innocent person will cause the same amount of bad PR.

I don’t completely agree with Dan that the devs selling the items is the answer though. The real solution to these issues, and one that Dan mentioned, is to get away from the item centric model. If items or gear are what defines your character then you’re going to want the best items/gear. If the only way to get them is to either grind for money for a week, go on some 4 to 6 hour raid, or buy the money to buy the items from someone like IGE then a protion of your players are going to opt for the easiest route and buy the gold. If, instead, what defines your character isn’t their gear but their skill, or even their level, then their is no market for the sellers of gold and they’ll move on to a game that does have a market.

Comment by Sisca — June 30, 2006

If it’s profitable for IGE and their ilk to farm and sell items or gold in your game they will do it.

True, but the idea isn’t to stamp them out completely. Rather the goal is to move them to the Exchange Servers. At that point they will be faced with the choice of being able to legitimately make a profit on the Exchange Servers, where they can openly advertise and most of the people who would buy their product have gathered, or try to illegitimately make a profit on the other servers where there are fewer customers, they can’t advertise as openly, and they risk being banned not just from those servers but from the entire game.

By working with such people companies can get a bit more control over them. Do I think that Exchange Servers will completely stamp out RMT on non-RMT servers? No, but I think it may seriously reduce the problem.

Comment by Evan — June 30, 2006

BUT- if we want to curb farmers, we’ve GOT TO make use of a reward system that doesn’t involve an exchangable good

The problem I see is that the only true way to do this is to make it so there are no exchangeable goods of significant value. If you simply make the currency non-transferable then the gold farmers will sell items. If you make it so that no item of significant value can be traded you eliminate the role of crafters.

Yes, it would be possible to force gold farmers to change their model from selling coins and dropped loot to crafted items but you will most likely just end up with crafting areas filled with farmers working away just like they use to farm zones.

Comment by Evan — June 30, 2006

Well considering all the problems with Station Exchange (which I cover in detail on my blog) I don’t think that SOE really gives a flying flip. As you are an SOE employee maybe you know otherwise but as a person that likes the idea of RMT within the legal bounds of Station Exchange, I am rather disappointed. I moved on the SE servers because I don’t have time to grind for hours and hours and craft hours on end to make money. So SE let me be able to keep up with my friends some of who do have hours and hours to play.

Personally all I have gotten lately from being on Station Exchange is problems trying to buy and sell because of the numerous problems they have had. Also it seems that as of late the number of people using SE to buy and sell has dropped big time, I assume this is also due to the previously mentioned problems.

The problems I see most with this issue is that people are going to get tired of all the SE issues, roll new toons on normal servers, but they are still going to be hooked on the idea of buying plat. So all that SE is doing at the moment is creating a larger number of gold buyers on normal servers.

The overall problem is that RMT isn’t an issue that will be easily solved, if ever solved. As there is always going to be people with more time than others to play, there will also always be those that have more money than time. Many of the latter are going to continue to be willing to spend real world money to keep up with the Jones so to speak.

Short of taking player trading completely from MMOs I really don’t know what can be done to solve this issue. Maybe make it where people have to either craft or quest for all their gear and loot. No broker, no auction house. Just vendors.

Make the vendors then actually have good gear. Gear that players would actually want. Make all items non tradable to other PCs, but allow gear to be hand-me down to alts. If you ask me one of the biggest reasons people end up turning to gold buying is because they don’t want to have to grind or craft all over again to be able to equip their alts when they have perfectly good gear that they are no longer using on another toon.

Of course you could turn everything from coin based to a barter based system. But then all that would happen is people would flock to selling items in place of coin.

Comment by NeuroNomad — July 2, 2006

As an artists for SOE I am pretty far separated from the running of the Station Exchange so I really have no idea as to why they are having so much difficulty. I can say that I seriously doubt that it is because people simply don’t care and I suspect that the problems stem from the scale of the project making it more difficult than it would seem to be at first glance, but of course if I actually went to get real information about it I wouldn’t be able to speak about it.

Also, as unfortunate as this difficulties are I don’t really think they disprove my premise. My theory is that with Exchange Servers working properly to provide a place for RMT players to play legally and with strong discouragement of RMT on non-approved servers a balance can be set up so that players such as yourself can participate in RMT without the majority of anti-RMT players feeling that it damages their game play (I say majority because there are almost certain to be some zealots who will feel that even though RMT is restricted to specific servers the company approval of RMT on those servers somehow effects them). The fact that Station Exchange is not currently working correctly takes it outside of my premise and would only disprove my premise if the difficulties with Station Exchange somehow proved that a company cannot support something like Station Exchange.

Your post has helped me to see something that I had missed before, however. The answer doesn’t necessarily lie with the Station Exchange itself but rather with the servers on which it is legal. Station Exchange is simply a tool to get a bit better leverage on the gold farmers and RMT players but it is the creation of areas where RMT is legal and where it is illegal that provides the answer. RMT servers do not have to provide anything like Station Exchange. Trades can proceed through whatever processes they’ve been using but because the transfers occur on approved servers they are legal. People who wish to engage in RMT will still have much greater incentive to use those servers since there is no risk of their account being banned.

Of course it is still in the company’s interest to set up something like Station Exchange. By making such a tool they provide further incentive for people to choose the approved servers over non-approved servers since it will be unavailable on the non-approved servers. It will also allow them to get a better handle on the larger RMT groups by offering things such as advertisement space. Finally it can be another source of income for the company.

Comment by Evan — July 3, 2006

Dan Reubenfield idea has one fundamental flaw. Such action usualy leads to hyper-inflation as seen in third world countrys that tried to print their way out of debt. However, I also consider his rant to be somewhat sarcastic. Atleast, I surely hope he didn’t really beleive that.

I take a rather sinister pleasure in watching holy crusaders spout off strange silver bullet ideas to solve the RMT issue. Lets disable auto follow, yeah that will solve the plat farmer problem. Sure great idea, no wait, no it’s not!

We live in a world. It is constantly changing. Either you adapt or you go extinct. Your choice. Plat Farmers, Macro crafters are part of that world. Developers that turn tradeskilling upside down to the point that, /boggle its actualy popular and you can nolonger extort money selling weapons, are also part of the world.

One way of looking at the situation is that Plat Farmers and Macro Crafters are symptoms of a disease rather that the plague itself. They are symptoms of the disease of lazyness and not having enougth time to do “all those tedious and honerous things”. Though some people might actualy find those things rather enjoyable and far from honerous. So do we try to mask the symptoms or should we try to cure the disease itself? Can the disease be even cured? Perhaps it is a terminal illness in some patients.

Another way of looking at the situation is that these Plat Farmers and Macro Crafters are just enterprising business people, that like many other players, have found a niche market. If you view it this way, so long as they are breaking no rules, there is nothing you can do about it and as a capitalist you really should applaude their efforts or beat them at their own game. Just make sure you don’t break any rules or else the feds will eventualy get you as ineffectual as they are.

In the war against RMT, developers have come up with some solutions but at the same time, some game mechanics promote such practices.

For Example:
Most uber fabled loot in EQ2 is no trade. Thus. unless people start selling loot rights, RMT can play little part in the aquisition of uber fabled loot right? Well, not necessarily. See, to get that piece of uber fabled loot, you must pay with blood and sweat, repair cost and expensive masters on brokers. Those things cost money which if you are raiding 24/7 you are too busy to raise on your own. So who do you turn to to bankroll you?

In my opinion, you can not eradicate RMT. You can reduce its popularity. There will always be people that are willing to pay real money for gold and there will always be people willing to try to sell gold for money. Granted, it is annoying to get spammed by these RMT marketeers but overall I’d say what I see in EQ2 is nothing compared to what I used to experience in Diablo 2.

Comment by Zygwen — July 19, 2006

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