Mythic Entertainment, the studio that developed Electronic Arts’ new MMORPG Warhammer Online, has adopted an extreme anti-gold selling policy. But much as gamers claim to hate gold sellers, almost one in four patronize them — Mythic, therefore, is risking alienating a quarter of its user base.

Call me a radical, but when launching a big-budget online game, it doesn’t strike me as a very good idea to risk alienating nearly a quarter of your user base right out the gate. That, however, is likely to be the consequence of an extreme anti-gold selling policy at Mythic Entertainment, the studio that developed Electronic Arts’ new MMORPG Warhammer Online, which is widely seen as World of Warcraft’s best competitor.

As part of the launch, co-founder Mark Jacobs said Mythic had unleashed a “strike team” against gold sellers, individuals and companies who sell an MMORPG’s virtual currency to other players for real money — in fact, they’ve already banned some 400 of them. “I HATE GOLD SELLERS WITH EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING,” he wrote (caps his) in a post outlining the new strategy — and many share that sentiment, especially against sellers who spam “gold for sale” advertisements in the game’s chat channel.

But much as gamers claim to hate gold sellers, almost one in four patronize them, which is why I think the vehement zero tolerance/no mercy policy is a bad idea.

In a study by Nick Yee, a PARC research scientist whose Daedalus Project is perhaps the most respected study of MMORPG player behavior, 22 percent of players surveyed reported purchasing game gold, with those ages 35 and over most likely to do so. Their motivation is easy to understand: More virtual gold buys players better equipment and opportunities, which helps them accomplish game challenges faster, and with less effort. And let’s face it: If you have kids and a mortgage, you only have so many hours a week left over to play games.

So if Mythic succeeds in driving away gold sellers, it seems inevitable that it will succeed in hurting Warhammer Online’s retention, too. For surely players who like to buy their way out of difficult quests but no longer can are likely to get frustrated and leave for another game.

PARC’s Yee concurred. “Players who want to buy gold and who don’t see a particular MMO as truly unique would just switch games,” he said in email.

The problem is, the moment you make an online world with artificially scarce valuable items, you inevitably create a market for buying and selling them. Some game companies turn a blind eye to this; Yee recommends transparency in currency transactions coupled with social pressure against gold selling. Most savvy, in my view, is embracing the phenomenon with a tightly regulated market that’s part of the game, and turning it into another company revenue stream. Indeed, startup Live Gamer raised $24 million for providing just that solution.

Then again, maybe the draconian approach is the way to go; maybe it’ll inspire fierce customer loyalty among hardcore Warhammer fans. But I personally suspect an all-out attack on suppliers won’t do anything to decrease the demand they’re trying to serve — wherever there are potential buyers, there will be someone looking to sell to them.

Image credit: www.warhammeronline.com.

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  1. Forget this stuff! Halo is the ticket baby!

  2. It makes a lot of sense to wage war on virtual gold sellers. If it is condoned the virtual gold marketplace might end up regulated by the SEC or end up with some other complexity unwanted by the game publisher.

  3. Level the “PLAYING” field.

    Just because someone has the ability to purchase gold doesn’t mean that they should be able to use it to level up.

    The game is made to be played, so play it and stop cheating (in my eyes).

    I applaud them for doing this, PLAY THE GAME or find another game to play.

  4. War on Virtual Gold Sellers Makes No Sense « Virtual Worlds Tumblelog Thursday, October 2, 2008

    [...] – Why a War on Virtual Gold Sellers Makes No Sense [...]

  5. Here’s the thing: if buying gold speeds up your gameplay, you exhaust the MMO content quicker, which leads to less average revenue per user (because you’ll desubscribe)

    I wrote a (hopefully) interesting post on how the subscription model affects MMO gameplay (it doesn’t just predict hunting gold-farmers, it even predicts new MMOs will become increasingly LESS fun)


  6. Arleigh Sandoc Thursday, October 2, 2008

    I think one thing this article doesn’t factor in is just how integral is gold in WAR. I’ve been playing the game since Closed Beta and right now there’s really no need to buy gold to be able to get anything in the game. Unlike WoW and FFXI where buying in-game gold becomes a necessity as one gets higher in level in WAR that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    Mythic has done a great job in not just waging “war” on gold-sellers but also making the game not become too dependent on them if a player was to succeed. So, while Jacobs’ declaration of war on gold-sellers sounds great (or not depending on where one stands on the issue) in the end the game itself pretty much makes gold an easy thing to come by and items not so expensive that a player would have to go to a gold seller.

  7. Nick Stamoulis Thursday, October 2, 2008

    I’m not big into the online games but it does seem to make sense on why they’re waging war on the gold sellers. It seems pretty ridiculous that some can make a hefty amount of money by selling something as virtual as “online gold.” Good for them for heading the attacks.

  8. An awful lot of us in the online games industry disagree vehemently with this approach. Personally, I find it additionally irritating that some games companies continue to try and “wage wars” against things that are, really, flaws in their game design, by means other than simply fixing the game design (I find Blizzard’s assault on MDY particularly abhorrent in this regard – http://t-machine.org/index.php/2008/03/26/mmo-economies-suck-but-developers-are-blameless/ )

    A couple of facts, as observed by working in various MMO companies over the years:
    – If you’re brave/stupid enough to create a real, working, currency-based economy, don’t be stupid/arrogant enough to think you can redefine centuries-old observations on the fundamental nature of human trade and economics. You will lose.
    – If you want to re-define the affair as “a war”, with an “enemy”, you almost certainly haven’t got to the “acceptance” stage of grieving over your less-than-perfect game design, and that means you’re going to waste an awful lot of resource fighting the wrong battles. Hopefully, you’re making enough profit elsewhere that the wasted resource won’t impact your survivability. Hopefully. Good luck!
    – The USA games industry has spent years refusing to give their customers what they want, insisting that they alone have the duty to uphold the commitment to fairness that every player, in their hearts – even though many of the players aren’t wise enough to realise this – secretly wants.
    – …the USA games industry has lost a lot of opportunity to the South Korean games industry (and the people who copied it), who took a “so what? Customer gets what customer wants” approach – and lead to there being a whole slew of games companies less than 5 years old doing a couple of hundred million dollars revenue annually (c.f. http://www.freetoplay.biz/2008/09/08/top-10-free-to-play-publishers/ for some examples).

    All just IMHO. YMMV! :).

  9. David “Historian” DeWald Friday, October 3, 2008

    “Kids + mortgage + job = less time to play” as an excuse to buy coins is a lie.

    You know it, I know it.

    The reality is that you just want to be in the top echelon of players and you are more than willing to buy your way to the top, than put in the time and effort to do it. So what if it takes you twice as long as that guy that seems to be online 24/7? What exactly have you lost by leveling slower than someone else?

    And have you really considered where the gold comes from?

    “Other players” you say? Yes, a small percentage does come from other players, but that isn’t efficient. To really procure gold in a meaningful way you need to farm for it. And while it is possible to pay for cheap labor to farm for you, it is much easier to make bot farms. These farms are designed to kill and pick up gold. That is to kill the mobs that normal players would kill to get gold for themselves. As these farmers pull the mobs from normal players, it makes the game more difficult for everyone. The time it takes for everyone to level increases, since the mobs that they would normally take for themselves are instead killed by the farmers. And there the cycle begins.

    Kids + mortgage + job = less time to play
    Buying gold = gold farmers stealing mobs from players
    Less mobs = more play time needed to for players to level

    I’m not even going to get in to the in-game economic impact these gold sellers cause with the constant flow of gold in to the economy.

    Yeah, you can easily say I’m biased, but I’m only offering a different persective as someone who works with the communities around games.

    David “Historian” DeWald
    Community Manager
    Acclaim Games Inc.

  10. Wagner James Au Friday, October 3, 2008

    Good points, Adam. I think fundamentally the biggest challenge for developers is cultural: a lot of them are fixated on creating an alternate fantasy world, and are viscerally offended that their players keep breaking the immersion with all this cruddy banal real world commerce. To the extent this is the problem, maybe the best solution is to incorporate real money trading into the game’s narrative. After all, a lot of fantasy classics like Narnia and Potter have a connection between the mundane world and their worlds. Creative developers could take a clue from them, and figure out ways to make buying gold for US$ part of the story. (The Lion, the Witch, and the Cross-Reality ATM?)

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