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The Golden Rule

September 23, 2008

About four or five years ago, I played with a regular small group of people on a RP-PVP server in World of Warcraft. Despite the constant, soul-rending gankage, I thrilled to log in, because almost always I was instantly invited into that little group and continued our daily adventures together. Questing, dungeon runs, PvP revenge fests, you name it. They quickly became close friends, and it was hard to remember how I even liked the game before I met them.

One night brought all of that freewheeling fun to a screeching halt, however. As our characters fought in deadly combat, we chatted up vent about all sorts of subjects. That night, the topic of gold selling and buying came up. Now this was pre-Burning Crusade, when gold actually meant something, and to have 100 of it meant you were a very wealthy person indeed. I said something disparaging about the gold sellers (who were then only beginning to infiltrate the game in any serious numbers), when one of my friends — let’s call him Mike — when Mike told me very matter-of-factly that he’d decked out his character with gold purchased from an online vendor, as well as the gear of his wife and the other guy in our group. Suddenly, I was alone in my convictions, and I felt a queasy twist of my stomach as I processed this new info.

Sure, Mike tried to defend his actions, using the now-standard justification of “I don’t have lots of time to play, and if paying real money for pretend gold is the way to get the gear I need in order to enjoy the game more, then why not?” It’s hard to immediately attack such reasoning, because you really have to deal with virtual property as having worth, and counter an argument that most non-gamers wouldn’t even blink at. We live in a capitalistic society, after all: if you want something and have worked for the money to buy it, you should be able to buy it.

But even with his unabashed twisted logic, that was it for me and that group. A little while after, I simply stopped playing WoW for six months, until I came back and restarted the game as a level 1 gnome named Syp. He had no problem bypassing Blizzard’s EULA and essentially using his dollars to gain an unfair in-game advantage, whereas I earned everything the hard way, but the morally right way. It was as if you’d discovered that your friend was mainlining heroin, or shoplifting on a regular basis, or plagiarizing on a paper. He might argue it doesn’t do anything to hurt you, personally, but it does, because it damages your perception of that person and your relationship with them.

I’m not here to sermonize why gold selling and buying is wrong — you should know it is, if for no other reason than how far out of the way people have to go to do it. It enables gold spamming in chat channels, which is annoying. It employs farmers to push legit players out of prime gathering locations, effectively cutting content. It imbalances the economy by flooding it with far more cash than would ordinarily be there if people just played the game regularly instead of as a gold-gathering job. It provides an unfair advantage for some to dominate other players with gear they did not earn. And it pushes gold farmers/sellers to even darker depths of illegality: identity and credit card theft, account hacking, keylogging and so on.

Mike didn’t think he was hurting anyone, but he was. He was helping to establish demand of an industry that is so abhorrent to most players these days (to the players’ credit) that websites and magazines are boycotted if they take money from these companies to advertise their services.

It’d sad and disheartening that here we are, a week into the fun of launch, and we’re already being assaulted with gold selling ads in chats and tells. It’s of little surprise to me how much the community has championed Mark Jacobs and the Mythic team after their very public denouncing of gold selling and their unique method of dealing with it. And as we cheer the “strike team” on, I think the more realistic of us know that it’s partially futile. Necessary, yes, but with no clear path of permanent success.

The problem doesn’t lie with the gold selling companies — they suck, yes, and they’re going against the EUALA, yes, but they’re providing a service that is in demand. Let’s re-read that sentence, okay? They’re providing a service that’s in demand. If the potential for pay is high enough, shadowy forces will weigh that against the risk and take their chances. The problem lies with Mike, and people like him. People who have no sense of morality or honor in online games. People who go ahead and buy gold to be instantly gratified, and a lesser extent, friends that see them do this and say nothing.

The strike team is going after the gold spammers — good. But if the demand stays, so will the spammers. It’s a fact of human nature. You can try to combat drug use by going after the suppliers, but as long as there is demand at home and nothing is being done to lessen that demand, jerks are going to take the risk to provide what people want.

Addendum and Edit: It’s been an interesting past 24 hours on this here blog, particularly in reading responses to this and talking with folks about it.  Obviously, I feel pretty passionate about the subject, in particular that I feel there’s a lot of tolerance and sympathy for gold buyers, yet people complain about the gold sellers in the next breath.  But there’s passion about a subject and taking it a bit too far, particularly when friendships come into play.  It’s not my place to say or advise how you should act in these situations, but just to discuss the situation in question.  I should’ve posed a question to the community instead of a command, and I’ve learned from that.  So, I took out the last paragraph, but will let my argument stand and move on.

34 comments

  1. One aspect I’ve been wondering about in regards to gold selling… Exactly what is there to buy in WAR?

    I’m level 21, I have my mount and still have 20 gold sitting around doing nothing. I suppose I could go spend it on things on the AH but we all know thats generally a useless idea. So what is there to buy?

    Unless there is some kind of big money sink later in WAR I don’t see many people actually needing gold for anything.

    Is there any kind of money sink later?


  2. That’s a good point and I didn’t touch on it as much in fear of making this too big of an article. The truth is, you’re right. The only big money sinks we know of right now are the initial mount, RvR equipment (siege engines, etc), and auction house goods.

    Most of the “currency” in WAR is non-transferable: renown, influence, and so on.


  3. I think that some of the big mmo companies (blizz and eve come to mind) should follow this example, not ban the account but ban all accoutns that share the same information, IP, credit card details etc. i know its only a small fix but it shows their stance on the matter.


  4. I was suprised that the first day i logged into the head start that my both my lvl 1 Zelot and my hubbys naked lvl 1 DoK was spammed all day with gold buying crap (mind you that they were offering a 10 % discount if i bout both War and WoW gold.) I know it didn’t work and that they dont take any notice but i spammed back a little macro stating that i would not buy the gold. made me feel a bit better.


  5. I always send the Gold farmers one very short vulgar sentence hoping to get a reply after they try to sell to me. I’m about 0 for 25 now


  6. As people have said I’ve not seen much to buy at the moment but then my highest toon is only 10.

    I do suspect that the gold farming companies will quickly start offering levelling services though.

    Thankfully -crosses fingers- I haven’t seen the problem yet on the European servers I play on. No doubt this is a short term thing.


  7. I just tell them “Enjoy your ban” and report them


  8. Very well said Syp. Your article was right on point. A few years ago after SWG came out SOE publicly talked about offering a service to purchase items in game with real currency as a way to make more money one but also combat the growth of powerleveling and gold farming services. Wonder whatever happened to that programs from SOE.


  9. Is there an official Gold-Seller reporting tool? When I was spammed yesterday I just filed a violation ticket, but I didn’t see anything that specifically mentioned gold-sellers/power-levelers.


  10. I haven’t found that the bans happen as speedily as he claims… the other day I got whispered 4 times by the same person, over the course of about 3 hours or so. It would be nice if there was a “Gold Spam” category, and any tickets filed under that category get pushed to the top of the list for maximum bannage at super-speed.


  11. I will have to disagree with you Syp (and get prepared for much bashing because of that).

    Actually, I don’t disagree with your points when directed to WAR. Yes, here on WAR, buying gold is simply a matter of wanting a unfair advantage, because there is no great need for it for the average player, but things are not that simple with the game that made gold selling what it is: WoW.

    Yes, you can get plenty of gold on WoW these days (or so I’ve been told), but that was not always so. When the point of the game is imposing to you the need to play for weeks, maybe months before you can get any equipment to be competitive, or to be able to fully enjoy what the game offers, that’s when you’re creating demand for gold.

    So no, I will never ostracize my friends for buying gold. Because it’s not their fault that they cannot play with their friends, simply because they don’t have the time to keep up with all the farming themselves.

    For me, the blame is not on the players (at least not on the ones I know who bought gold before), but on the developer that restricts content to those who have 30-40 hours a week to play.

    Again, as far as I can see, there is not the same with WAR. But I still need to see how things will work on the endgame. If the game really puts skill before equips, then at least here the blame can go to those who encourage this industry.


  12. Oh, and just for the record, I have been reporting gold seller spam on both WAR and WoW whenever I get messages.


  13. You tossed 5 “close friends” because one of them was buying boe blues and epics with farmed cash?

    They either weren’t near as close as you think, or you need to dismount from your high, high horse. You’d better hope your friends don’t abandon you just because you committed the moral equivalent of a party foul.


  14. @ Kemwer/Toxic – I don’t mind being on this horse, and I’m comfortable with my position on this topic. My friends were cheating, and no matter what justification they tried to give for it, it was contributing to ruining the game experience for me and countless others. It might not seem like a huge deal to you, but to me it really undercut the trust of our friendship, and I had to make a decision whether or not those were the types of people I wanted to keep playing with.

    My point in this post is that while the community seems to be pretty firmly against gold sellers, we’re incredibly tolerant (or at least turn a blind eye) to gold buyers in our midst — both of your comments illustrate this attitude — and this situation isn’t going to stop unless we take a strong stance against the buyers as well.


  15. But that’s the thing Syp, you believe that the seed of this problem lays on the buyers hands, and that is what I disagree; I believe the problem is of the full responsibility of the developer, who creates a game where the need for gold (and the time used to acquire it) drives character development.

    The heart of this discussion is at, like you said before, what is the value of “time” on a MMOG. Blizzard may have not created this problem, but they escalated it by taking a firm stance that the character’s time investment belongs to them, not to the user.

    That’s why they center the game on grinding; that is why they never retreat from their stance about traveling in-game, with the hell-that’s-long flights to show you the environments even if you seen them a thousand times. They want full control about how you spend your time in game. But those choices are not how the user wants to play the game.

    I stopped playing WoW because of how little time I have these days to play. 3 hours at one day is a thing to celebrate. I loved WoW, because I loved running instances with my friends (I used to be the GM of my guild) and seeing the high level content.

    I’m a full-on explorer, my purpose on MMOs is getting to see all the game has to offer. When I saw I couldn’t do that with the time I had available, I quit. If I could choose to skip the boring parts, the ones I already did many times before, and just be able to play with my friends, of course I would do it.

    These games, before being a challenge, before being a way to socialize, before being a way to get fat lootz or anything, they are supposed to be entertaining. I’m supposed to be having a good time while playing it. If the developer insists that I should spend 70% of my time doing boring stuff in order to be able to do the good stuff, then the game failed at that.

    Yeah, people running gold farming companies hurt the game. Yes, people buying that gold encourage those companies to keep hurting the game. But that would never be a problem, if users didn’t think that buying gold is the only way to fully experience the game. That is why I, while not personally buying gold or endorsing gold sellers, fully support those who make the choice of buying in order to finally have fun with the game.

    I believe that Mythic took a really good approach, by making the endgame content (city sieges) available to all. Maybe you’re not going to see everything; King kills are probably going to be more exclusive. But everyone will be able to loot the city on the public quests that will be opened. Everyone will be able to enter the city scenarios.

    Because of that, you don’t need no gold to get all the game have. Maybe you still need the time and focus to get to the King Hall, but that will be time you’ll spend playing, not grinding.

    Sorry about the long rant. Hope you don’t feel the need to ostracize me as well, I would miss your posts.


  16. Syp: Its a bloody video game.

    If you are terminating friendships b/c of this, you need to step back a little bit and get a grip.


  17. Why is it OK to stigmatize someone who pays for content they didn’t earn in an online game?

    Heroin! Shoplifting! Buying gold in WOW.

    I usually enjoy reading your article Syp but frankly this one annoyed me.

    You feel that buying gold, in an online game, is such a great offense to you personally, that you would sever friendships with people because of it.

    Is this the way friends act?

    Does being comfortable with a position make it right?

    I think the biggest question is the one you haven’t asked. Why does the demand for Gold even exist?


  18. I totally agree, the only way to stop it is to stop the rationalization.


  19. “Mike didn’t think he was hurting anyone, but he was.”

    He was hurting himself as he lost you as a friend and someone to play with.

    Make sure you join a guild that has a rule to follow the game’s EULA.


  20. Of course I don’t mind differing opinions here, and I’m glad to know you feel passionate enough about the subject to post on it. For me, it’s a pretty black-and-white issue, but you do well to point out that for others there are shades of gray that make it more complicated.

    As for the people I played with, our friendship began and only existed within WoW. We didn’t contact each other outside of the game, and we didn’t have any common interest other than the game. Friendships are quite important to me and I’m about one of the most loyal people you’ll ever meet, but in this situation I felt betrayed and hurt by their unrepentant attitude and decisions, and it wasn’t worth continuing that relationship within the game.


  21. Don’t wanna get spammed in Warhammer? Easy, click on the social tab (that three amigos thing at the chat box) and exclude yourself from searches. Works like a charm.


  22. That is your premise, of course, and I would never tell you how you should manage your relationships. Different people fell differently about some issues, and if that is really a deal-breaker for you, I cannot criticize you for it.

    But personally, I do feel it is a little extreme to break a friendship because of something like that. All my friends ARE my friends because of one or a few common interests, but all of them feel different about some of my fundamental beliefs.

    Be it about religion, sports, politics, death penalty, or what classes should roll on +Agi necklaces on Blackwing Lair (my hunter should get it, my warrior buddy doesn’t agree with that), every single one of my friends, in-game or RL disagree with me over something. That doesn’t change the fact we have a good time together, be it playing or going to the movies.

    I like reading your blog because I feel we really think the same way on the majority of game-related issues (which explains why I don’t post so often; I don’t see much point in posting “Yeah, me too” all the time). And I would feel really bad if, because we disagree on this particular subject, you would not welcome me to your home on the web anymore.

    That is the same for poor Mike, I think. He has been deprived of some good laughs (you do seem a fun-to-be-around guy) just because he believes he can pay a little more than you to play and have fun.


  23. Interesting debate here… I’ll try bringing a different perspective into the mix.

    Why were you playing WoW? Did you play to earn foozles, doozles, and bamboozles? Was it the size of your loot bag or the gear on your back that validated the enjoyment you got from the game?

    Or did you play more for the social experience? Was it the memories you gained or fun you had that validated the enjoyment you got from the game?

    The impression I always got from you was that you leaned much more heavily into the latter category.

    Granted, relationships can fall out over just about anything these days, from religion to flavours of ice cream. Heck, if I declared my favoured politician in the upcoming US presidential election on my blog, I’d surely lose about half my regular readers. 😛 Online relationships are much more fragile because we lack many of the tangible ties that keep people together “IRL.”

    The main question I’d like to ask is this:

    If you never found out they were buying gold – if the conversation that nuked your online friendship forever never took place – would your game experience have been lessened by any noticeable degree?

    In retrospect, you may be happy to have learned their true colours, but I’d wager the honest answer to the above question will still be “No.”

    We can theorize and speculate and point to numbers (that we’ve never seen) showing how negatively gold farming affects MMORPGs, but I think the real affect isn’t quite as horrible as we paint it to be.

    I understand why the subscription-based MMORPG GMs have a hate on for farmers and I can understand why the hardcores hate them as well. However, I don’t really understand why any casual gamer would have a problem with buying gold.

    I can’t honestly say it has ever affected me in a negative way.

    And no, I have never bought gold, in case you were all wondering. 😛 I have friends who did though, and I never cast them out for it. My personal beliefs cast many shades of gray on this issue.


  24. Being honest I don’t see the problem with buying gold, provided it was ethically farmed (ie: someone on the server farmed it and it wasn’t gathered by stealing accounts). In terms of the affect on the economy it was farmed on the server, it isn’t money that appears from no where, anyone with SUFFICIENT TIME could have farmed it.

    The WoW game at least is very divided, as a raiding tank I have raided 9 days a week @ 4hrs a session (yes it was a job :P), thats 18 flasks a week (900g), at least 10 pots of each type (60g/session, 540g), and other consumables (Dark runes: 24g a pop, Nightmare seeds: 6g a pop) etc. The cost of raiding is high, the gear required to get entry level of tanking cost me lots as well (in terms of time since I farmed it). I don’t particularly like farming (as prot its painful), what I want to do is raid, but doing so I need to probide at least 1500g/week on pots and flasks alone (and likely 30g+repairs, so 270g), farming 2-2.5k a week of cash is / can be problematic.

    Thankfully I also like heroics and am geared enough to chew through them, meaning I can make money from badges, however for someone that wants to raid and doesn’t have that method then there is a huge load in terms of farming. When levelling this applies slightly differently, I levelled 5 chars to 60 recently, and could not afford to buy abilities half the time as I was aiming to get them up, again the game assumes you have time to farm for cash to make it easier.

    Yes it might be “morally” corrupt to buy gold, however if doing so allows you to play the game you want, perhaps Blizzard have a plan:

    Basic sub: £8 per month
    PvP Sub: Arena repairs / BG are free £15/month
    Raiding Sub: Free flasks and pots in raids £20/month

    suddenly you could play the game you wanted to play, if you wanted to get a new character to 70 to play why not have a “create new char”, only £15 gets you a level 55 decked out in awesome blues (thinking DK here btw). The game already offers you these opportunities, the difference is time, and there are people that have the time to raid, but no time to farm, and if you want to see the end content of the game then you need to raid… why restrict the game to only those who have excessive time to farm?

    Your dropping friends for buying gold I honestly find despicable, look at what they used their money for, they kitted themselves and their friends out with moderate gear (and thats all it is since getting the best gear in game is near impossible through raw gold), to enable them to play the game they wanted to play, they RP’d a dodgy deal that benefitted both sides but needed to be kept quiet, an arms deal if you will. They wanted to play at a certain level, yet didn’t / didn’t want to farm, they didn’t want to spend the 50 hrs looking for a 0.01% drop rate axe or whatever, being honest I understand them a lot more for making the trade off than you for abandoning them.

    I have a friend that has used bots, farming with them to get stuff, and now has no real use for the cash, never has, never will, because gold is inherently meaningless in the end-game beyond consumables. I don’t like it but I won’t remove her as a friend because she doesn’t value grinding for a useless artifact.


  25. Equating buying gold in a game to buying/selling/using Heroin is more then a little extreme don’t you think? Is your entire world view that black/white?

    Regardless, I just can’t get sufficiently bothered by goldbuying to ostracize friends over it. As someone else said, we can disagree about religion, politics, and favorite sports teams and still be friends, so why not something as trivial as goldbuying? Further, I too think gold buying is more indicative of failure of game design then of a moral failure in the buyer — if the game is so grindy or coin-driven that a casual player feels it necessary to buy gold so as to be able to continue playing with their friends, THAT is a design problem.


  26. I have bought gold before in WOW and have the same reasoning as your previous friend, i work too much and dont have enough personal time to spend farming forever in wow, granted i bought gold pretbc when gathering gold was not an easy task, as compared to today when there are a billion dailies and making money is relatively easy. at the same time i think if you put in the right system then users will not need to buy gold. if epic flying mounts didnt cost 5k gold, people wouldnt feel the need to buy the gold. if people want to feel special do it through content not a huge time sink or gold sink.


  27. I think one needs to look at the Blizzard articles on the matter to see what they care about, and how that impacts on other players.

    Publically they ban gold sellers, BOTS farming for said gold sellers and such, do they ban gold buyers? No.. Not only is it impossible to prove, but blizzard doesnt want to loose their custom.

    So if you take a look at the goldselling artcles and what to react to, Blizzard officialy, in its own FAQ#s, barely references gold buying and indeed recognizes the problem is with the source and its own game design.

    Personally, Ive known people who buy gold, and it doesnt bother me – the reason they do it isnt to get an unfair advantage – in most cases it isnt, they use it because things like enchanting mats are horrible to grind ahd hideously overpriced – they do it for the benefit of others.

    Now, morally it might not be right, but for many, it makes it easy to rationalize and indeed justify. To compare gold buying to buying narcotics is a bit . well, loopy, to be honest.

    I understand your passionate about the issue, however, if you react in such a manner about a few dollars/pounds/euros spent behind the scenes by someone you thought of as a close friend, how would you react if a close friend said they were gay or something to that effect?

    And you cant tell me its not similar if your comparing gold buying to buying something like drugs. As Said, I respect your opinion, I do however feel you should take a step back and analyze the situation from a differen viewpoint. I know its a dead horse and the water has gone under the bridge, it may of been the right decision in the long run, I still feel its a little unfair to only look at it from your own corner and indeed, perhaps loose what could been especially good friends. You never know, it might happen again.


  28. […] Jacobs describes the “naming and shaming” Warhammer is doing re: gold farmers Link 2: Syp, Warhammer blogger, on the above link, with his own take Link 2: Tobold on the above 2 links, with his own take Link 3: Michael Zenke on the above 3 links, […]


  29. […] buying gold then something needs to change. There are all sorts of arguments about it, from the MMO ‘morality’ (if you buy gold, you probably don’t walk little old ladies accross the street), to the upper […]


  30. I am definitely with you on this issue Syp. I find gold farming despicable and people who buy gold are no better.
    I don’t have a lot of time to play MMO’s as I go to school but I can’t afford to buy gold to make my character stronger. I don’t see why people who have a bit more money should be able to get their characters stronger without putting in the hard work that the rest of us do.
    One of my favourite things about WAR is that it is not as gear-focused as WoW and more ‘skill-focused’ so hopefully this will encourage people to play the game to improve their characters instead of buying gold.


  31. […] Syp of Waargh wibbles the following: I’m not here to sermonize why gold selling and buying is wrong — you should know it is, if for no other reason than how far out of the way people have to go to do it […]


  32. Gold, like every other character trait in an MMO, is a system of player advancement. Purchasing gold is no different, in that sense, than having your character power-leveled for you.

    And I know that most people who say, “I have no problem with people who buy gold.” would ostricize said power-leveled character with abandon.

    So why the double-standard?

    It’s cheating. Whether it’s for a good cause or not.

    And if your guild makes the MT buy all the flasks and pots for raiding himself, you need a new guild, friend.


  33. People buying gold have the same problem as people buying stolen goods. Somehow they dont seem to realize that if you buy something you are just as responisble (perhaps even more so) as the thief.
    Well I do realize this. If I discovered that a good friend of mine is a thief I would seriously reconsider friendship. If said friend than said its ok to steal? That would be the end of our friendship.
    But gold is farmed and not stolen I hear some people say? Wrong! Gold is stolen! I have seen several friends account hacked and stripped. That is the gold you are buying.
    Now you can say that the game design is flawed. Perhaps it is. That doesnt excuse you supporting people commiting fraud and hacking.


  34. People that buy gold are supporting those pinheads that develop key loggers and swipe accounts only to shard/sell everything. True karma would see their precious toon(s) dismantled for the next gold buyer’s fix.



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