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Gold Buying in Games

Introduction to Gold Buying

If you are not already familiar with what gold buying is, it is a term used for when a player purchases their gold to use in a game from another player using cash. This is also classified as “RMT” or real money trading, depending on who you talk to. In its most basic form, it is a way to trade real life time (in that you work at a job to earn money, and use that to trade) for gold in a game (where someone else has worked in the game to earn the gold). In essence, it is trading time for time, when you really think about it.

While this might not seem like a bad thing, the simple fact is that it is. Through this article we are going to be looking at how it can destroy games, and the various problems that arise because of it. We are also going to be looking at why it is not just the farmers (those who farm the gold to sell for cash) that are the problems, but others as well.

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Where Do Farmers Get the Gold?

One of the big questions to think about is where the game farmers are getting their gold. There are two ways they can do it and still make a profit:

  • Bot characters that go around killing mobs and looting them for gold and items to sell
  • Hack accounts and take the items off people's accounts

In the first scenario, it may not seem like a big problem. After all, who cares about someone running around killing everything, right? Wrong! In games where these bots are not banned, they will become so numerous that you can not even level up your own characters because the bots will be instantly killing anything that spawns, all day and all night long. In games that rely primarily on instances this is not as big of a problem, but for any game that has open world combat, it most definitely is. Nothing is worse than having to quit a game, or otherwise have your entire experience hindered, because you can simply not compete with botters.

In the second scenario, many people will blame each other for the hacks, but when it really comes down to it, this should not be happening anyways. If there was no value in the account hacks, nobody would waste their time doing it, and we would be able to avoid the mess altogether!

In both of these situations, it should be easy to see how they can destroy the game play experience for those who play often, but think about it in terms of a newbie player. Someone just decided they want to give a game a try, and when they jump in they find that they are having to cater to bots and farmers. This turns a lot of players away, and whereas many people will give each new game a try, this is by far the fastest way to give the game a negative feel and a bad reputation for those players, as well as future players.

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They Spam Chat

This is the worst part of the farmer experience, by far. This is experienced just as much in instanced games as it is in others, as well. Because the farmers have to make sales, they must keep the public up to date on their prices and websites. What better way to do this than to sit there spamming chat all day and all night! And when they are using bots, it makes it even easier on them since they can just set the bot up and forget about it while it drives them some traffic from curious players.

The only way to combat the chat from these farmers is to block their accounts. This is often easier said than done, though, as there will be many of them active at any given time and most games have a maximum block list. This means that as you block more and more bots, you will at some point hit a wall to where you are unable to block any more. This leads to you having to start removing some randomly in the hopes that they have already been banned, of which some will and some will not.

If you are in a game that deals with account based names instead of just character based, this can also lead on to a new issue. Being that a lot of farmers are using hacked accounts for their spamming, you can block one of them and end up blocking a legitimate player that was not aware that their account was hacked. The worst part is that there is no way to know if this has happened or not, as you will have to unblock them to see and this will usually just lead to reading even more spam.

A few games have implemented some protocols to help cut back on the chat spam, by removing, for example, the ability to type a website address in to the chat. This ends up serving no other purpose but as an annoyance for legitimate players, as they can no longer give out information like guild websites or even links to information people are requesting. Instead, they are forced to type the addresses in really awkward methods, and guess what: the farmers end up doing this too! So not not only are the farmers still not stopping with all of the chat spam, but now the real players can no longer communicate in a clear and concise manner. Everyone has been hurt by this change, though I would argue that the legitimate people have the short end of the stick since the farmers are mostly just using automated messages regardless.

The only way I can see any company efficiently handling the chat bots is to have some people hired to just sit around and moderate the chat. As soon as a spam message pops up, they can ban the associated account and be done with it. No more having to keep ignoring all of the bots, and no more dealing with the constant spam. Plus this should help thwart future behavior like spamming as people will learn that if they try it, they will get banned. The sad thing is that as far as I have seen, after playing more games than I can count, no company has ever hired people to do just this. Instead, they for some reason end up wasting a lot of time on other ways to get rid of the farmers. I use the term wasted because they are achieving nothing, or almost nothing with their alternate methods. There is only one thing that can help take the farmers down, and that is to be proactive and search them, instead of making players report them. It should not be the player's job to handle this task; there is a reason we pay for the games in the first place!

In the few cases where there are procedures put in place that keep out the chat spam, you then run across another issue, or technically two issues. Email and private message spam end up taking over, using bots to automatically farm out character names to send the mail and messages to. In these cases I find it perfectly acceptable that players are requested to make reports, as that is something that should really be private to each individual member. Even as these two things are quite annoying, though, at least they are easier to handle than seeing hundreds of chat messages fly by every minute full of garbled up website links and prices! I would take the mail I have to trash daily over that any time.

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They Kill Steal – War With the Farmers

This is really in relation to Lineage II, although it happens elsewhere as well. When farmers have really nice items that can be farmed and are tough to get, they are going to do whatever they can to make it happen. These items are then sold off for cash, much like the gold is. Or, in some cases, they will just sell the items for gold and then sell the gold for the cash. Regardless, the situation remains the same.

In Lineage II, for example, raid bosses were out in the open world. They each had their own timers associated with them, and whoever killed a boss first would get all of the loot that dropped from it. Some of these bosses had small timers, such as twelve hours or so, and others had timers of a week or even longer. As you can probably see, this means that missing out on some raids was pretty detrimental and it could take a long time before you would get another chance.

Because items in Lineage II were so valuable, the farmers came up with an idea. This idea was to run multiple bot trains (with nine characters in each train) so they could take down the raid bosses quickly and easily. Then they would take any drops that came and sell them. If this is not bad enough, it did get even worse over time.

As players started to get fed up of having to compete against the bots, they started killing them off in PvP combat. This worked for a few weeks, which led to legitimate players and guilds being able to raid the nice bosses for a short while, but then the bots decided to take another strike. They wanted to show that they were the ones in control of the game, and they wanted all the players to rely on them for any gear they wanted, rather than having the ability to go out and get it on their own.

When this happened, the bot trains started killing people back. Even with a nicely organized guild, you were looking at maybe, say forty players working together to take down enemy targets in PvP. The problem was the bot trains had two or more times that, and because they were all bots except one, as soon as the main person targeted someone all the rest would attack. It did not matter who you were, what class you were or even what type of gear you had; as soon as the bot train launched their first attack you were down. Then they would go after the second person and so on, until everyone was wiped out.

This went on for many days, where the bots started just going around from place to place killing anyone and everyone they could get to. It is hard to see if it was just their way of getting revenge for how people treated them, or if it was their way of trying to show their dominance, but it got to the point where normal players were not even allowed to leave towns (which were essentially safe zones from PvP) without dying a quick and painful death.

Somehow, I am not sure how the transition happened, they finally stopped killing everyone and the server as a whole decided that we did not want to experience the situation a second time. Because of this, the bots were allowed to roam free as they wished, and nobody was willing to challenge them again because we learned the first time that it was a battle we were not going to win, regardless as to how hard we tried. Even if we were able to somehow stand up to them and defend ourselves, there was a lot of risk involved, not to mention all of the wasted time, so it ended up just being better to let it all go and act as if they did not exist.

Players started scouting the bosses out and guilds were only willing to kill raid bosses that the bots did not want, so they could at least get some rewards without causing another mass slaughter fest. Over time another transition happened, which was really odd. The bots actually started helping people out!

With how Lineage II used to be set up in the past, to get a sub class (a secondary class that you can switch to freely) you had to kill some raid bosses. These just so happened to be a few of the same ones the farmer bots wanted, which caused some problems because it meant that you either had to compete against them (which nobody wanted to do) or you had to just skip the entire sub class part of the game, which was by far the most important thing since it was basically the end game.

At some point, the farmers started helping people out by making a rule that as long as people stayed off to the side of the raid bosses and did not attack the bots or the raid bosses at all (just sit there and watch), they would allow you to hang out for the raid boss kills so you could get your quests done. While this was far from the preferable way of getting quests done (as the bosses had some really nice items as well), it was better than nothing at all! So this became the normal way of knocking out those quests; just sit there while watching the bots take down each boss, then get that part of your quest done and follow them to the next one, rinse and repeat.

There was also another part of the quest that required you to hit a boss that had a seven day respawn timer. This one took a little bit longer before the farmers felt comfortable helping out, but they ended up allowing people to do that one as well. What made this boss, Baium, so important to the farmers is that it dropped a legendary item that was worth a ton of real life money since it was so rare. While most guilds had problems taking down the boss even when they did not have to fight off others at the same time, the farmers had no problems so they were pretty much the ones in control over who got one, what the prices were like for them, etc.

As far as I am aware, after a year or two of this happening the farmers finally stopped doing all of the raiding, but I have no idea whether it was because of another war or they just got to the point where it was no longer profitable to keep running that many accounts (at fifteen dollars a month each). Either way, it was something that was interesting to experience as a whole, although I really do not wish to live through all of that again in the future.

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They Destroy the Economy

Something that is looked over by a lot of players is how the bots affect the economy. Even if we are not looking at the items they are farming and selling (which puts more higher end items out on the market than there should be), think about the gold alone.

The more gold there is on the market, the less the gold will be worth. This is basic economics, and it is considered as inflation. As the bots run their accounts more and more, they are throwing more gold in to the economy than was planned on when the game was being developed, which means that prices start to go up on a lot of items. For those that are buying the gold this is not a big problem (since as prices of items go up, the price and value of the gold goes down) but for those who like to farm for things on their own, this makes a world of a difference.

In the beginning of a game, you will not really see the effects of the farming and gold selling. It usually takes at least a month before it really starts to kick in, while people are getting more and more situated with the game and the bots are at or nearing the maximum level and are farming. The situation starts to get worse and worse until it hits the point where things are so ridiculously expensive that there is really no way to even compete with the prices unless you are going to buy stuff or spend more time than you want attempting to obtain the items yourself. This leads to a downward spiral, such as in the case of Lineage II, where there are also a lot of gold sinks. After a year or so, the game ended up getting to the point where if you were not a gold buyer, it was pretty obvious because you were the only person without decent gear. Because of this, nearly everyone was buying gold and it started to become impossible to gain a grasp on it (as no developer that relies on monthly income to keep their game going wants to ban a majority of their gamers; it would not make good business sense). Even to this day, a majority of the players are still purchasing their gold because of things that happened back in two thousand and four.

What is the way to fight this inflation? It is actually a lot easier than it probably seems… simply ban the botters proactively in the very beginning. If the bots are knocked out soon after a game is released, and a company goes through the time and effort to keep them in check, the economy will not get to the point where they are causing a ton of damage. A game that has done this very well, at least to my knowledge, is Final Fantasy XI (I have not played it myself, but I have heard many reports about how active they are in taking down people who buy or sell gold). You can actually verify this as well by checking their gold prices online even years after the game has been released; they are still very expensive because there is a ton of risk in the buying and selling market. This is exactly what you want to see, because while you can not kill off all of the gold farmers completely, you can at least dent them enough that they are not flooding the game constantly.

Each time a bot's mule (the character they are using to hold all of their gold, or at least a large portion of it for “safe keeping”) is banned, it reduces the amount of gold out on the market, which causes the currency to start experiencing deflation, although just a little at a time. If all bots are eradicated from a game, the value of the currency goes up, the price people sell it for goes up, the price in gold of items goes down and the number of people buying, selling and botting the gold goes down considerably. The trick to this is that it has to be done before the situation is way out of control. If you wait a few years before you step in and make a big change, it will not have the same impact any more since the market itself will have gotten somewhat accustomed to the higher than normal prices. The effect of this is that no matter what you cause to happen at that point, nothing is going to fix the problem that is experienced.

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Gold Buyers Are the Problem Too

I often hear people complain about gold sellers, but they are really not the only problem. The other side of the issue is the gold buyers. Think about it like this: if there were no people buying the gold from the sellers, they would be earning no money. If they are earning no money, they are losing money when an account of theirs happens to get banned. Not to mention they are also spending a lot of time with nothing to show for it. If this happens, it would not take long before they decide to give up and move to the next game.

Of course, the sellers are also a problem, in that they are creating the market. If there were no sellers, there would be no buyers. As long as the gold is for sale, someone, somewhere will take the risk of buying it.

I guess in a sense you can view it as being a catch twenty two. On one hand you have the sellers that are creating the market for the buyers, and on the other hand you have the buyers creating the market for the sellers. If either one of these is left up and running, the other will also exist just by nature of how markets work. In other words, the goal should never be to take down one group or the other; it has to be to take down both of them at the same time. If any other way is done, it is going to do no good at all.

This is a concept that most game developers seem to not realize. They are getting nowhere because they are only targeting one half of the equation, and without taking down the other as well they are only wasting their time. Even if they can get rid of every single seller in the game, there will be some that start operating in other ways. For example, if you pay attention to search queries, you will notice that gold buying is one of the most searched terms in relation to online games. What does this tell you? That even without the bots constantly spamming their messages in all of your games, they would still be getting sales. And these sales would be coming in because the buyers are always targeting them in the hopes of being able to get their gear quicker, buy something new, etc.

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How Do You Stop Them?

It is going to be too difficult to come up with a plan without being able to test and adapt theories, but I have thought of some things that confuse me as to why the developers have not tried yet. The big one is this:

You create a new account in the game and then create a new email account. Go to a gold selling website, or even all of them that you can find, and then buy the smallest amount of gold possible. The majority of sites should allow purchases of only a couple dollars, so the investment is actually pretty small (especially considering some of these game companies are earning millions of dollars a month in revenue). With that purchase, you now get the information of one of the gold carrying mules. Do this with as many sites as you can before moving on to the next step.

The next step is to analyze each of these accounts. Find who all they have traded with, who they are related to in any way, etc. This ends up helping with two different things: possibly finding their other mules or accounts and finding who all has bought from them. The characters each have to get gold from somewhere, so no matter what there will always be a trail that can be followed. Whether it will lead anywhere or not is anyone's guess, but it is well worth a try.

Once you lock in on gold buyers, you can start looking at who they have dealt with as well. It should be possible to analyze their account and find other sellers they have dealt with in the past, and this list can keep going on and on. Log each of the accounts and then do one massive sweep of all of them.

I think the fear most companies have is with getting rid of legitimate players (even if they buy gold), as it means less revenue. What I do not think the companies are realizing, however, is that as their game becomes more and more infested, the damage that is being done ends up being irreparable and at some point the game is bound to crash as a result. It is well worth taking the hit in income by a small amount than it is to risk losing a ton, or everything, as a result of not wanting to take action.

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But Aren't Materials Cheaper Because of Them?

This was an interesting event the first time I saw it, where games that require tons of farmed materials end up having cheaper items because of the farmers. It is pretty clear why this happens, too. Farmers are out every second slaying mobs and gathering things, which adds a ton of their materials to the market. The more of these there are on the market, the cheaper they get. This leads to cheaper prices.

What people seem to fail to realize, however, is that players dictate the market. While it is faster to see prices drop on massive stacks of items with the bots present, that is solely because they farm them much faster than any normal player would. Over time, the prices even without all the bots would still drop, so really this is not helping anything other than time.

Along with this, players are who dictate the prices and values of items. If something costs too much, people will not buy it. If they are not buying it, the prices will go down. This will continue happening until it hits a price where both buyers and sellers agree is comfortable for them. While there may be less materials due to no farmers, the prices would still drop down to a comfortable level for both parties, so the end result should equal out.

The other thing to consider is that if it takes too long to gain materials or other items, and so people are not really able to do it, there will be changes to how the drops work to help make it better. Farmers get things to drop more often due to killing many more mobs or bosses, but all that does is help cloud the true data that helps show how often things are being crafted or are dropped. With the actual non farmer data, present, game publishers can analyze it and determine if something should drop more often, require less materials in order to craft it, etc. So again, we hit the point where time is being saved in that progression moves a bit faster, but really it would have the same end result regardless.

In other words, having these farmers is still destroying other areas of the game, but they are not helping anything in the process. We would be better off without them than with them, and this needs to be taken in to consideration. I, for example, actively avoid situations where there are too many bots or farmers just because I already know for a fact that they are going to end up destroying my game experience, and I would much rather not waste time just waiting for that to happen; I would rather just move on and skip it completely until they are under control or, in the case that they are left forever, just avoid them altogether.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, gold buying in games has a negative effect on everyone that plays it. It ends up messing up the economy pretty bad, takes up time that could be devoted to other tasks (for the game managers), and just totally disrupts everything. It ends up making life really hard for people in games that have open world designs, as well, and causes a lot of problems with the more competitive aspects of games in general. Sadly, the only way to fight it is to have people sitting around all the time that are doing nothing but hunting for the bots and farmers, and companies seem to not want to do this. As long as it remains profitable to bot and farm, people will continue doing it, so until game companies step up and deal with the situation, it will continue getting worse and worse. If any company does become proactive and they resolve the problems in their game completely, they will get the same recognition Final Fantasy XI got with it being worthless to buy gold since you would just lose everything. This is the kind of mentality we should be pressing with all of our games, and it is one that I am hopeful that at some point becomes much more widespread. Until that happens, all we can do is remain hopeful!

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