World of Warcraft Gold Buying

With the expansion to World of Warcraft coming out in about two weeks I decided to go back to the game for a while. A couple of months anyway, to check out the expansion and have something I enjoy doing after a long day of job hunting and programming. For those of you who know why I quit in the first place, the underlying reasons anyway, yes I prayed about it a lot beforehand and felt that it’d be ok as long as I didn’t let it run my life. To that end I’ve blocked myself out of the game during the day in case you’re concerned.

Anyway I got on a little earlier today then normal to finish tweaking a few things as the 64 bit edition of Windows apparently doesn’t like the game too well, or vice versa, or both. Plus I didn’t have anything else to do.

I was messing around on the Steamwheedle Cartel server (Character is Anallah) and this guy in the trade channel said something to the effect of “Gold buying ruins the economy”. Having a little understanding of how an in-game economy works (as well as a real world one), especially a purely free market economy like exists in WoW, I had to question his and those that think like him’s logic. It ended up with them (Maronik, and Luke to name two) calling me ‘dumb’ because I didn’t seem to understand what they were saying. I did in fact understand, I simply disputed their reasoning.

You don’t win points with anyone in a debate by calling them dumb because they either don’t understand you or are in disagreement.

Their basic reasoning is a fairly simplistic look at the economics involved, based on real world concepts of supply and demand, and inflation. Basically it amounted to that if people buy gold to purchase items in game, they would increase the going rate of the item and then no one would sell the item for lower. Greed would take over and the price of items would go up accross the board. Leaving people who didn’t buy gold with no way of purchasing items at all.

In other words if item prices are high, more people will resort to buying gold just so they can afford the items in question, which will in turn drive the prices higher. The buying and selling of gold also removes gold from ‘trade’ as he called it. The people selling the gold will also be the major merchants in the system, so you buy gold for US dollars, buy an item in the game, and in all likelihood the person you bought the item from probably was the one selling the item.

People buying gold also causes inflation which is one cause of the problems cited above.

This vicious cycle, he claimed was the reason the economies on almost every server suck, if they aren’t in fact in a supposed depression. He figured, it seems, if people would quit buying gold, all or more of the problems would be solved. He also claimed that reporting people and websites would stop sellers, and that Blizzard actually has a problem with gold buying/selling. None of that is at all true. Here’s why:

  1. There is an unlimited supply of gold on every server in the game. There is no limit at all as to how much gold can be in circulation on any particular server. Inflation is caused by an excess of money in an economy, an infinite supply, no matter how hard one has to work to get it will eventually cause inflation.
  2. Anyone with the time can in fact farm gold, and buy anything they want from the auction house, and then turn around and sell it for a profit.
  3. Any item on the auction house, or in the game at all for that matter can be obtained with very little expenditure of gold. They all drop off of something.
  4. Blizzard this year stated that, “In keeping with Blizzard’s aggressive stance against cheating in World of Warcraft, we banned over 30,000 accounts in the month of May, and with that removed well over 30 million gold from the economy across all realms. The banned accounts were taking part in activities that violate the game’s Terms of Use, including using third-party programs to farm gold and items, which severely impacts the economy of a realm and the overall game enjoyment for all players.” While this might sound like they are doing something, it does not in fact say anything about any measures taken to prevent this activity from taking place. They did not mention shutting down websites, or anything of that nature. All they did was ban thirty thousand accounts who were using scripts and software to farm items and gold. They did not do a thing to people who were doing the same thing without bots and selling gold online.
    You can read the full article here: http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/news/wow-news-06-2006.html
  5. They released an article in 2004 that said this: “It has come to our attention that certain individuals are selling Blizzard’s in-game property for cash on auction sites such as eBay and on personal websites. The World of Warcraft Terms of Use clearly state that all of the content in World of Warcraft is the property of Blizzard, and Blizzard does not allow “in game” items to be sold for real money. Accordingly, Blizzard Entertainment will take any and all actions necessary to stop this behavior. Not only do we believe that it is illegal, but it also has the potential to damage the game economy and overall experience for the many thousands of others who play World of Warcraft for fun. In order to promote a fun and fair environment for all our customers, we are actively investigating those individuals who engage in this inappropriate activity and reserve the right to take legal action against these individuals to protect World of Warcraft for all those who “play by the rules.” If you are found to be selling in-game property (such as coins, items, or characters), for real money, you will lose your characters and accounts, and Blizzard Entertainment reserves its right to pursue legal action against you as well.” Again, it does not mention what actions they’ll take, just ‘legal action’. I haven’t researched this but I have not heard of one single suit brought against someone for selling stuff. I believe these news releases are basically just to make those who complain feel better about the whole issue.
  6. Banning accounts for selling gold, or illegally farming it with bots, does not do anything. You can buy 100 gold on nearly every server for about $20 on almost any site right now, $15 if you shop around. It costs $15 to play WoW for one month. Sell 100 gold on a single server, you have in effect purchased one month of game time. These gold sellers will just make a new account on a new credit card, or better yet just buy one of those prepaid cards. This inconveniences them by maybe ten minutes.
  7. Blizzard has not had any of the gold selling sitesshut down. If they have, it hasn’t been any of the major ones. There are sites up right now that have been operating continuously for at least a  year. www.gmworker.com is a major site, they’re still in business. They practically have a gold price stock ticker service for crying out loud.

Now you might be asking yourself, “Why doesn’t Blizzard shut these sites down if they say they are such a problem?” Well the answer is pretty simple, it’s about the money. See while Blizzard has made a great, game, it takes a LONG time to get anything half decent. Since the game is entirely about your character’s gear, it makes sense that people want better gear. If they can’t get it, or their gameplay experience is not satisfying they will move on and find another game. You’ll have a few hardcore nutcases that will continue to play because they have a lot of time on their hands, and got lucky a few dozen times in an instance or raid. I know it happens, I’ve gotten really lucky myself on more then one occasion. For the most part though people will just cease to play if they aren’t having fun or feel the game isn’t entertaining enough. Just ask all the MMORPG’s that have lost customers because of World of Warcraft. Their games suck, so people left.

So people are tempted to buy gold to get a little extra edge, instead of spending the next three solid months of their life doing boring tedious crap to get that rare item they’ve been wanting. Or that final item bind on equip item in their class set so they can look cool without having to do three dozen Scholo runs to get it. Either that or they have to farm for hours on end to afford it. If they are lucky they are already level sixty and can do Silithus quests. Most of those aren’t soloable by every class though. 

In fact it usually isn’t the best items in the game that people want. All those can’t be sold anyway. It’s the decent, more common items that people want to buy. You can purchase blue items en masse, but purple epics are almost never for sale.

Well the reason Blizzard doesn’t shut these guys down is pretty easy to deduce. People don’t want to do boring tedious crap to get gold. These gold selling companies are willing to do the boring tedious crap for everyone, for the price of some real money in return. They have several employees, and other people who play all day and night in shifts to produce this product. That means that they have multiple accounts that they are paying for. Blizzard shuts down a site and sues a company, they lose who knows how many accounts by doing so. That’s $15 a month per person. Say one site has ten accounts, that’s $150 a month and well over $1500 a year ($1794 to be more exact) they’ve lost just by shutting one measly site down. That’s a pretty conservative estimate too. If the people who feel they have to buy gold to get ahead can’t buy gold anymore the game seems less fun, and they’ll quit playing unless presented with a viable alternative.

So in effect these guys actually help Blizzard out by enhancing the experience of a sizable number of their paying customers. That’s why they haven’t and won’t ever do anything to eradicate the problem. All they’ve successfully done is drive the price of gold in their game up. It used to be about $5 for one hundred gold, now it’s almost $20.

If you’re one of those people who thinks that isn’t true, here’s a list of gold sites. Almost all advertise instant delivery, and they can all hold up their claim.

  • www.gmworker.com – They’ve been around over a year. One of the more expensive sites.
  • www.thsale.com – Cheaper site, give away free stuff with your purchase quite often. They seem to be based in California.
  • www.guy4game.com – Thisis a Canadian site, decent service, alright prices.
  • www.mmoinn.com – These guys actually give away promotional codes to get discounts.
  • www.ige.com – These guys are pretty big in the online game currency business.

There are hundreds, possibly thousands more just like these out there some cheaper, some more expensive, and some of ’em have copyrights going back to the late ’90’s so they’ve been up a while. No, Blizzard nor the other game companies who’s ‘property’ is being sold online want to see these sites shut down. Do you think Sony doesn’t have the resources to shut them down? Please.

Warner Brothers nearly sued a guy just for putting some lyrics and guitar tablature up on his website for Eagles songs, I think Sony and Blizzard could sue some people for selling their property ‘illegally’ if they wanted to as well.

So how does one help the problem if Blizzard is unwilling to sue these sites? Well you won’t like the answer but here’s the solution: cancel your account and tell them why. Convince other people to cancel their accounts and tell Blizzard why. If Blizzard sees it’s going to cost them money to allow these sites to operate without problems, they’ll start suing. A lot of people are going to have to quit though to get the point accross.

The only other way to end the issue is for something that I find pretty abhorrant in any economy: regulation. They’ll have to start regulating prices in the game. This will cause a huge black market to form though. People will quit selling stuff because they can’t make the in-game profits they are used to. Generally speaking this is a short term solution to an economic problem, but it can be effective if used correctly.

Honestly though, it’d be even simpler to solve a lot, but not all, of the economic weirdness on most of the servers. I’ve seen it be successful in another online game, and it can work for Blizzard’s games too. You simply limit the amount of gold available on a given server. No more infinite gold supply, put a cap on how much can be in circulation at any given time, and implement a commodity type system for buying and selling trade goods (like a stock market). Give better quest rewards that can’t be sold. The farmers won’t be able to make as much, and the gold sellers will eventually go out of business.  It will suck to start with and prices might rise to start with. People will hate it but it will put the sellers out of business in more or less short order. Prices will eventually go down too. It will royally screw over people who don’t understand how that stuff works, or are too lazy to mess with it though.

But since Blizzard doesn’t want them shut down, they won’t limit the currency supply or do anything else except try to make a good show of it all. Even if they truly did want to see them go away, policing seven million people is a logistical nightmare.

Gianna Masetti of “The Noob” webcomic said it better then I ever could though. Check this out http://www.thenoobcomic.com/daily/strip226.html , read that one and the strip after it and you’ll see exactly why Blizzard doesn’t want these guys to go away, no matter how much they try to appear otherwise.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. Have fun!

-Aaron

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