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Real money trading (also known as RMT) in online games has been going on for a long time, and it has had many effects on the economies of different games. Some claim it is like a plague, and others praise it for assisting them with their gaming. I want to go over some pros and cons to the real money trading, as well as what has been seen as a direct and indirect result of it being left in games for extended periods of time.

It is Forbidden By Developers

Game developers and publishers generally forbid the use of real money trading, as it turns the game in to a pay to win one. Instead of each person having to work for everything on their own, they can turn to their real life cash and buy their way to the top. To combat this, various different approaches have been used:

  • Making gold worthless – this is a more recent one with games like Star Trek Online. While the gold may not have a lot of value, everyone still likes to collect it. After all, if you have 50 credits and your friend has 500, it really does not matter what you can do with it. You still want to use it as a competition to see who can get the most. It is more of a challenge than anything, so the value itself is irrelevant
  • Alternate gearing paths – this would be like in the case of RIFT: Planes of Telara. There, the raid gear is much better than anything else. So while you could go through the time to craft items and farm the materials, you would be better off just raiding and getting the best in slot stuff. While this helps cut back on the real money trading a little bit, there is one big flaw: players started just paying to have people take them through the instances. Instead of offering, say 1k platinum, they would offer up $80 instead. In essence what they were doing was buying the best stuff with their cash, so the gold side of it was irrelevant
  • Cut back on farming – this is something Guild Wars 2 has been doing. The theory behind it is that if you can not farm 24/7, that means the botters can not either. The less they can bot, the less gold they will earn and the less of an impact they will have on the game's economy. As we have seen from this approach, however, it is causing legitimate players just as many problems. Since there are penalties (in the form of less drops) due to farming constantly, those of us who are not bothered by farming are held back with everyone else. Arena Net has been working on a median ground to help combat bots without affecting the real players, but so far that has not shown too much promise
  • Set up restrictions on new accounts – most games are doing this now. They will set up things like chat restrictions or mail restrictions depending on levels, time in game, or other factors. These have shown to be a great help with dealing with spam in the games, but it still does nothing to combat the underlying problem. Rather than sending their spam in games, they just keep more quiet and do their advertisements elsewhere. Most players that are interested in buying gold already know the process, so finding stores is not a big problem for them. So while we do not see messages constantly, the real money trading is still happening on a daily basis
  • Analyze transactions – this is something most games have tried in one way or another. The idea behind it is that most people who buy gold do it in somewhat large transactions. As such, analyzing these large transactions allows a smaller list of people to keep an eye on. Because of this, players and farmers started using alternate methods to make their transfers, such as multiple smaller ones or using things like an auction house to sell a worthless item for a lot of gold. While this was a lot more transparent to players, developers were not as apt to catch on. That has since changed, and now most of the transfer methods are “secret” until you have purchased gold. Along with this, most of the sellers have multiple ideas of how to counter the spying

As you can see, many attempts have been made to keep people from being able to buy and sell gold. Sadly none of these has worked very well though. When it really comes down to it, being proactive is the only thing that can fix the problem. By working proactively, finding the mules that carry all of the gold, as well as all of the selling accounts can be done. Along with this, the trail should lead to even more people that are part of the system, leading to a pretty big bust.

The downside to being proactive is the number of accounts that are hacked. Some gold websites, bots and utilities have viruses in them that are designed to steal account passwords. Tack this on with the almost constant brute forcing that is going on, and you come up with many people being compromised daily. When an account is compromised by a gold seller, they will usually use that account to do their spamming and such. This is a cheaper way for them to do it, as when the account ends up getting banned they lost nothing; it was not their account to begin with. This has led even more people that were banned for legitimate reasons to claim that they were hacked, and it has caused many problems. So the moral of the story there is to not run random files you see online!

Pros of Real Money Trading

Now I would like to take a look at how the real money trading helps games run more fluid, as well as the help it offers the players.

First off, real money trading allows more casual players to get involved with the more hardcore games and still be able to keep up with the curve. There are people that work pretty much all the time, and therefore do not have much free time, that still enjoy playing games that have tons of time commitment. For these people, throwing some of their cash at the game is a way for them to keep up with their friends and stay competitive, whereas they would otherwise fall way behind.

The good thing about people who buy gold and items is that usually (this is not always true, but a majority of the time it is) they lack the knowledge that hardcore gamers have, and therefore do not pose much of a threat. You can see this a lot in PvP games, and you can often even point out who leveled up their character and geared it, and who used their money to bring them to the top.

Being more inclusive of players means that you get to play with a bigger population. This one will really depend on how you feel about it, but I love seeing a healthy, full population of players. It really bothers me when I jump in to a game and you can go minutes or even hours without seeing any chatter among players. I would rather it be so full that you can barely keep up, because that shows how healthy the game and server is. It also means you have more people to play with and against.

Another great way the real money trading helps is when dealing with games where it takes forever to craft or obtain an item. Instead of being forced to spend weeks or months going for that item you want, you can just let someone else do it for you. You will reap the rewards as a result, by trading in your real life work for work in the game. Either way, you are still working!

Cons of Real Money Trading

The biggest con of the real money trading is its effect on inflation. As some players get a ton of gold in return for their cash, they can offer more money to purchase items. As they spend more and more, the cost of the item goes up. Furthermore, whoever was selling the items now has more money to throw back out in to the economy, and it creates a snowball effect. As time continues, it gets worse and worse until the newer players are forced to either go without decent items or buy gold themselves. In these cases they will often end up buying gold, which makes the problem even worse. At one point it gets so out of control that the market is completely destroyed. An example game where this happened was Lineage 2. Bots and farmers were allowed so much freedom in the game that after about a year it was pretty much impossible to be on an equal level to gold buyers without buying some on your own.

This inflation causes even more issues when you are dealing with a game like Lineage II, where it is highly competitive between players. Someone that has to spend months getting their items will continually be picked on by those who bought theirs with cash, and the only alternative the lower player has is to spend their money to support the cycle.

As the botters get more and more gold and sell it, their income increases. As part of this, they start creating even more accounts and using those to farm. You often end up with parts of the game (sometimes many) where you can not even go because there are so many bots it would be a waste of time and you would get nothing achieved. In games where you can slay the bots, it still has no point because they are usually set up with some sort of automatic pathing that just returns them to where they started.

Situation Specific

Because the gold sellers usually use bots to do their farming for them, they are the ones that come up with masses of materials used for crafting. In games that rely heavily on utilizing a ton of materials (Lineage II, Guild Wars 2 and Age of Conan to name a few), this means they are over flooded with the materials. In situations like this, the prices for each material drops down, sometimes to the point where it is nearly worthless. This is sometimes seen as good or bad, depending on who is looking at it. It kills the value of a player farming materials, but at the same time it also saves each person time since you no longer need to farm them and can instead just buy what you need. It is worth noting that this has a much larger impact in games where a large number of materials are used over a short period of time, when compared to those where they are just used sometimes.

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