Why a War on Virtual Gold Sellers Makes No Sense


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.


Simon S Fan

Hey Simon nice links:

“My mystery has to do with Om Malik. I can not, for the life of me, figure out how one of the smartest, most educated, and least echo-chamberish real Journalists (capital-Jay, yeah he’s that good) can tolerate an utterly undereducated, self-important, and pretentious tool and Second Life shill like Wagner James Au on his staff.”


I think its mostly PR action. EA wants to show to the world that is doing something with gold farmers but in my opinion they will lose. Amen


Let me first point out that I can’t stand RMTs (Real Money Traders), buyers and sellers, of in-game currency, items or accounts.

With that said, Mythic, Square Enix, etc, etc. have every right to take action against players choose to use external currency to purchase/sell game data that doesn’t belong to them. There are very few publishers and developers who actually allow or want people to use RMT services. RMTs, which included the buying and selling of in-game currency, items, and/or accounts, are all violating software license agreements and/or terms of services agreements each player agrees to when they sign up. Essentially they are buying and selling information that doesn’t belong to them (which can be said to be stealing).

It should also be said that these activities never fall under the “Fair Usage Act” like making videos, screenshots or information about in-game activities like quests, tips, etc unless specified in license agreements or announcements by the publisher. Even if the RMTs and buyers are located in areas not covered by copyright laws, they are still in violation of the agreements they themselves have agreed to. In simpler terms, your character and data within the game doesn’t belong to you at all.

Where companies have chosen not to enforce the rules they have put in place doesn’t matter. Many companies choose not to pursue the violators for a number of reasons like, financially unfeasible, scope of violators too small, scope of violators to large, etc, etc. At any time the publishers/developers may start enforcing those rules if they want and the user can’t do anything about it except quit the game, delete the software or take the matter directly with the company representatives. Other reasons for allowing the behavior may also included the community acceptance/rejection of the behavior or how much of an effect it has on in-game worlds or even negative press.

My own personal feelings are that the behavior adds nothing to the game and actually hurts legitimate players who do what they can to enjoy the game. Plain and simple, it’s cheating. There are a lot of people start playing MMOs with the same mindset as single player games where cheating and quick routes are many times built into the game. So they drift in the immersing worlds of MMOs with that same mindset without the understanding that MMOs are never meant to be completed. There are others that come from other MMOs where the behavior is acceptable/unchecked by the publishers/developers and assume this game is the same way. Or, they are in “late-comers” to the game and feel like they have to “catch-up” to every else.

What it comes down to is that RMTs interfere with my ability to enjoy and experience the full dynamics of the game. They should be removed and the local game community should shun anyone who partakes of those services, no matter how little they think it effects them. You are renting access to the data from the publisher/developer, if you don’t like it, don’t play or make your own game to play without the restrictions.

…end rant


In my honesty, if a player should a player decide to purchase gold from another player is really their decision. I do not believe Mythic should really interfere with their transaction of gold sellers but when gold sellers starts spamming the channels and annoying the thousands of players available then its another issue. I can see why Mythic hates them but should still acknowledge that there are still many decent sellers who respects other gamers privacy.


I think I’ll cross post this (originally posted on a VN forum for Mythic’s DAoC)

I would have to count myself in that 22 percent. I did buy gold from a gold seller. Once.

I hated it, and would never do it again. It completely ruined the game I was playing.

I play for $15/month because among other things it’s a great value. But as soon as you buy gold for real dollars, everything in the game has its own dollar amount attached to it. This axe is 35 cents. That bundle is $1.65. The amount of gold you just made for the last 3 hours having fun with your friends now has a dollar amount. In the end, the game you play as a diversion from real life becomes *JUST LIKE* real life. And the great value at $15/month now costs $35, $55, $90 per month.

Worse yet, the joy is gone. The sense of accomplishment of finally getting that thing you lusted over for 15 levels isn’t there when you merely opened your wallet for it. Even if you DID get in on the raid, killed the boss, won the roll, and got the item the hard way, it doesn’t seem to mean much, because you could have just *bought* it.

I lost interest in the game. Nothing held any real value to me anymore. Nothing was fun. Nothing was worth taking the time to do when I could just buy it, and nothing was worth owning if I wasn’t going to spend time playing. I could afford to spend hundreds of dollars on things I longer cared to have. I drifted away from the game. It was no longer worth the money I was spending, not even worth the $15/month anymore. I cancelled soon after I bought gold.

I watched a couple of friends do the same thing. They bought gold, got some great stuff, twinked themselves out. Then… never really played after that. There just wasn’t much point.

So the most damning thing I can say about gold sellers is not that they interrupt the rest of the gamers by spamming chat channels, rudely camping spawns, or driving up prices by dumping huge piles of gold into the economy that wouldn’t otherwise exist. I contend that allowing gold sellers to do their thing actually causes the very people who buy the gold to leave the game sooner. And enjoy it less.

So, even though I would technically be included in that 22 percent that at some point in time bought gold in an online game, my own response to gold sellers is exactly the same as MJ’s.

Go to Hell.

Rob J

As a guild leader on one of the server in Warhammer Online I felt I could chime in on this situation. The greatest need of gold in the game is when it comes to claiming and maintaining keeps (approximately 2-6g per hour of real time to maintain a claimed keep depending upon which tier). This assumes that the guild has set a reasonable tax rate on its members and that said members have gone beyond this and set an individual tithe setting as well (both are available and only the tithe is optional if the guild lead sets a tax rate above 0%). This expense does not consider that someone has used real life assets to do so. While RMT would cause a huge influx into the guild, this would be an unfair practice to all other guilds attempting to make a name for themselves.

Apart from guilds, you have the auction house where people sell unwanted gear. Prices are already getting out of hand and will settle down as the game ages. But if RMT is introduced then the economy becomes inflated so that only those who participate in RMT can afford to utilize the auction house.

I applaud WH’s stance on gold spammers/sellers in game. Not only are the unsolicited tells (akin to cold calls via telephone that a majority of people despise according to the national DNC database) a distraction, they clutter up the chat system that is supposed to be there for game information. Personally I ignore and report each gold seller that contacts me, but when 5 or more messages come through in less than two minutes time it becomes extremely irritating.

Abuse of a game mechanic is abuse of a game mechanic, be it outside hack programs to give your online character an advantage, exploiting a bug to gain an advantage, or using RMT to gain an advantage.

And I just happen to be a 38yo father of three who fits well into the “only have so many hours a week left over to play games.”


I love joining the game, I started a new character and before I was even fully loaded in I had been spammed by three gold spammers, after ignoring them and submitting them to the appeal system I went ahead and started questing. I almost feel just to block the /tell so I dont hear from them again but I always try and keep an eye on “real people” messaging me heh.

I say good riddens to the gold spam, and the more they eliminate the more accounts they will have to buy outright and loose again. At some point it wont be worth it for them to continue. All I can say is watch out for these accounts being sold on Ebay since its banned out.


Gold buying in games isn’t the big issue people are complaining about, the annoying thing is the idiots who send you tells or join your group and spam you with advertisements. I have over 200g in WAR! and NOTHING to spend it on there isn’t much you need to buy in WAR so I don’t see why people would even buy it, yet. That could change end game but I doubt it.


James, what’s your sources for stating that a quarter of the WAR user base would be alienated by Mythic’s actions?

The Daedalus Project data referenced are two years old, and WAR has been publicly running for less than two months. From the limited context you provide in the one quoted statement you provide from Mr. Yee, it’s not whether he’s referring to WAR or to MMOs as a whole.

What authority do you have to extrapolate Daedalus Project data into WAR? What are your qualifications to discuss WAR? How much of it have you played, and for how long?

Brandon Thomas


Admittedly, you have a point, but I think the matter is the speed at which such a degeneration occurs. Ostensibly, however, natural progression (sans RMT) would create a bell curve in which a nominal level of wealth could be considered “average”, for any number of reasons.

However, introducing RMT into the equation feasibly creates a much taller, narrower curve; less like a bell, and more like a spike. Your median becomes stupendously extreme, and your ends are that much further away from it.

For the record, just so I can make thing a bit clearer on my opinion: Most of my objections to RMT come from the fact that ultimately, a game is designed to have rules. We don’t neccesarily like all the rules, but they exist, in order to ensure that all players within said game have a fair and equal shot.

I don’t neccesarily thing RMT is a bad idea (assuming it was done by the company running the game, had no intrusive in-game adverts, and was priced fairly); my issue lies mostly in the fact that people are willing to leverage an advantage unrelated to the game (real world liquid assets) to make themselves superior in game, when not everyone can do the same. In a game like WAR especially, which is by nature a very competitive game that needs strict rules to ensure fair competition, it goes against the spirit of the game itself.

Its like using cheats to beat Contra, and then bragging about how skilled you are.

Adam Martin

Brandon – yep, but the same kind of problem happens all over MMO game design too, so the RMT version of it is far from unique. For instance, the skew of “what percentage of players are at what level” in a game can often cause the same problem. So:

“If such inflation occurs, developers MUST account for it when introducing new gold purcahsed services in future content (whatever those may be)”

…that happens IRRESPECTIVE of whether you have RMT selling going on.

Yes, RMT contributes to that problem, but the problem is already there, has been known about for 10 years now, and if you simply (somehow) banish RMT, the problem remains, and … oh. Right. We still see people leaving the game.

LaughingTarget – war on chat-spammers is a war I’m happy to fight ;) – but that really comes under the topic of community moderation, not game-design. But chat-spam != RMT. Likewise, people using stolen credit cards to create accounts (which some RMT traders do) is another way I’m happy to fight. But neither of those are wars on RMT.


Interesting article but I disagree almost entirely with its content
Gold farming is a systemic rot in many MMO’s that needs to be stopped.Some of the reasons have been mentioned
1.It makes it harder for normal players to gain wealth ..or it effects there rate of gaining gold
2.It unbalances games economies …we can see this is UO.I play on Europa and people ask exorbitant prices for items
3.It undermines the purpose of epic questing .”why quest and adventure for gold if I can just but it ? ”
The arguement that people over 35 are more likely to buy gold I don’t think is a motivating factor ..it’s because they can more easily afford it. If you allow it due to that reason,the time justification ,where do you draw the line ?Next it will complaints like ” it takes too long to raise levels …how can I quicken this ”
In a game that is item centric this makes the playing fields unfair .Also in a game that is PVP focused it really makes it unfair as then wealthier people can buy items that allow them to compete against people that have spent months raising there wealth or maybe being good PVPers that allowed them to loot.
No in my opinion,and Im someone who actively plays MMO’s ,to justify Gold Farming is a bad idea and I can see no compelling reasons why it should be legitimized
Thanks :)

Brandon Thomas

Personally, I find the issue with RMT to be this.

Game Designers, in order to create sufficient content, must design around every possible thing out there. Its one of the reasons we saw so many changes to consumable items in WoW. If you don’t, players will inevitably exploit said unconsidered aspects.

Now, you may be asking what the heck this has to do with RMT. I’m getting to that, but first, lets get down to some basic economics: the supply and demand curves.

Now, ceteris paribus, economics tells us markets naturally reach equilibrium. Prices never exceed what a consumer will pay, and demand never goes above or below what the producer can put out. Everyone is, if not happy, at least content with the way things are.

Introducing RMT into this equation unbalances these factors. Suddenly, those who are successful outside the game (success being defined as having enough disposable income to afford RMT services, such as the purchase of in game liquid assets), are able to buy a great deal more at what was once the market equilibrium, creating an artificially inflated demand, and causing prices to rise as supply dries up.

This may very well put said item beyond the reach of the typical player who does not have the same out of game success to afford these services. This causes something of a ripple effect; by increasing the liquidity of a select few, they in turn increase the liquidity of those they purchase from, causing prices to rise across the board, slowly but surely.

Now, going back to my original point: If such inflation occurs, developers MUST account for it when introducing new gold purcahsed services in future content (whatever those may be). Inevitably, this slope drives out all but those who CAN afford such RMT services (assuming a long enough timeline), else those players who utilize those services will make trivial whatever sort of content was previously locked by a certain amount of currency.

As an example, I point out Final Fantasy XI. If you want to see an economy that’s gone to hell and back, there’s no better example. Because of unchecked RMT growth, prices for a single item can be in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of gil. As a new player, that sort of barrier to entry is astronomical, as the developers never engineered the game to function at such inflated levels. And these aren’t just items for game veterans; these are items which are primarily useful only to newer players.


I quit WoW because of all the gold selling spam. Mythic would do better to make sure that 3/4 of the players aren’t alienated by constant gold spamming ruining their experience than making sure 1/4 wants to have an easier time of things. So, a bunch of people bought gold. Great, fun, how many left because they got sick of the unwanted advertisements?

Adam – This would be a particularly good example as to why we can’t have governments meddling in currency values via central banks, currencies can’t be artificially regulated by groups, no matter how intelligent or well meaning. That’s an interesting experiment to run using MMOs.

Adam Martin

WJA – yep, at NCsoft there was a rather considerable number of people internally pushing new game designs in that direction. Unfortunately, a rather high correlation exists between those that were in that loose group (that ran across territories and studios), and those that were pushed or jumped in or before the recent retrenchmennt. LTM http://brokentoys.org was the only one – I think – who’s been public about it, and he’s given some interviews that give a good introduction.

My friends in SOE tell very similar stories about groundswell opinion internally of trying to get that stuff into core game design. But then, I’ve been hearing *that* of people at SOE for the better part of a decade now (ever since the early eBay’ing of EQ characters), so I gave up faith that they’d manage it a long time ago :(.

Look to the web startups that are doing games, IMHO.

Adam Martin

Rae – interesting; where do you get your stat from that “Most of the player base doesn’t want the buyers or sellers either one around”?

Because … it’s absolutely fascinating seeing the real stats on what’s *actually* happening in an MMO (the data-mined stuff that the bigger devs and pubs spend millions of dollars on alone), as opposed to what is *perceived* as happening based on reading forums and playing the game as an individual. And there’s usually a lot of surprises in there.

To be clear: I’m not calling you out, just interested to know if this is opinion or fact? (and because the facts are rarely shared, and if it’s on fact, I’d like to see more exposure of it: game devs tend to know (under confidentiality) the facts of the games you personally worked on, and the competitors facts you know only from getting drunk together at GDC and all sharing them late at night in the hotel bar – and that’s something I’d like to see converted into some rather more open sharing :)).


I disagree with Yee. In performing the usual hanging of these gold farmers, Mythic is inspiring more and more gamers to come in and play and that Warhammer is a fair and just game.

Obviously you have never seen gold farmers occupy several mobs just to farm their gold and reducing the game to a crappy experience.

You have no time to play Warhammer? Want to buy gold to get your next gear/mount/item? Stick to WOW.


Gold buyers and sellers, hands down, ruin game economies! Most of the player base doesn’t want the buyers or sellers either one around. If you can’t play the game the way it is meant to be played, save your money for something else. And on another note, gold sellers are notorious for using illegal means to support themselves, like identity theft, stolen accounts, and stolen credit cards.

Wagner James Au

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?)

David "Historian" DeWald

“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.

Adam Martin

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! :).

Nick Stamoulis

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.

Arleigh Sandoc

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.


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.


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.

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