Today, I'm talking about gold buying. No, not the $1,000 per ounce commodity that commercials don't shut up about. I'm talking about WoW gold. Guild Wars gold. FFXI gold. Runescape gold. The kind you pay real money for. The fake kind.
To those of you familiar with the Massively Multiplayer Online scene, you should be aware of this process. For those of you who don't, it goes a little something like this:
Player feels a little down. Player decides "hey, lets get a shiny new sword!". Player isn't the wealthiest (insert any MMO) player. Player gets message from (insert Asian gold-farming company here). Player decides "hey, I've got 15 bucks! lets get some gold!". Player buys gold. Another one bites the dust.
Most of the time, transactions play out like that. It doesn't stop there, however. That player's money goes to some guy running a "sweat-shop", full of computers, with maybe one worker for 3 or 4 machines, running macros and farming gold all day. You've undoubtedly seen them, the players with absurd names who all move in the same patterns constantly, repeatedly, at all hours of the day. These are also the players who will spam you with constant messages about purchasing that gold. Perhaps 1 player in 100 will actually purchase gold; but we're talking about a game with millions of players. A game with it's own sophisticated economy. Once you have maybe 100,000 out of 10 million with absurd wealth, that begins to shift the balance of power. Rare item distribution doesn't follow any sort of circular pattern.
The disruption these operations have caused have game-altering, even international consequences. The popular in-browser MMORPG Runescape just recently had to drastically reshape it's auction system, PvP system, trading system, and update it's EULA. All in attempt to shut down one of the largest gold trading centers in the world. For the most part, it seems to have worked. Complaints have gone down about being spammed by gold traders, and people are seeing less auto-miners and other farming macros around the game. Guild Wars, a game second in userbase only to World of Warcraft, actually had to block the entire country of Taiwan from accessing its servers. It turns out, almost every single spam/goldbot was traced there. Some even say the revenue gained from the gold farming prompted the Taiwanese government to support these farmers. Recently, the Taiwanese have been allowed back into the game on American servers. Spambots have become a nuisance again, though not as much as before.
So while games are fairly successful thus far at heading off the gold sellers, there are still any number of ways popping up every day that circumvent that progress. I guess the honest players just have to hope that eventually, our games will be (mostly) free of these insidious balance-wreckers.