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MMORPG Gold Selling – Not all that glitters is gold

MMORPG Gold Selling - Not all that glitters is Gold “Buy WOW Gold Cheap”, “Buy Maple Story Mesos”, etc. – we, as gamers, are practically plagued by the ads like these. We see them inside the Google AdSence rotation, we are spammed with them while playing our games and reading our emails… More on that, many of us are directly abused by gold farmers and their in-game activity like robbing us of good spots and top-rated mobs. Still, I’m sure i would be safe to say, that even if you didn’t buy in-game currency, someone you know did that, and maybe more than once. This is a huge market, but were you ever wondering how it’s working and what you are stepping into when you decide to “buy cheap gold”?

It’s all began back in 1997 with Ultima Online players selling their stuff with EBay and PayPal. There were instances of real money trade back in 1980′s and even earlier with the terminal based multi-user dungeons (MUDs), but it had no comparison to the established market we have now. As the online games market grew, also grew the gold farming market. It’s mainly based in China by now (about 80%), but there are other “sweatshops” all around the world – this term means a place or organization where gold farmers are working.

“Gold farming” term came in use because of Lee Caldwell, who was a notorious MMORPG scripter that was caught up in 2001 on admitting that his company hired workers in USA to earn gold by “farming” it in Ultima Online. By 2004 the gold farming industry grossed roughly $500 million (according to UO Treasures data published in 2005). In 2010 Chinese government estimated the market growth exceeding several billion Yuan and still growing ( 1 billion Yuan = around $145 million). There are approx. 300 million of users participating in gold farming activity for a variety of games, and the global market combined was estimated at over $10 billion back in 2009.

So, how does it work? Practically, there are these simple Chinese (or not) guys that are working in some place like internet cafe or a garage stuffed with people playing online games. Don’t get too excited, it’s not like they’re having any fun there – working 12-14 hours shift a day and getting paid like $145 a month for watching over some bot software – a carefully arranged macros for killing and looking things in-game – is a hard work. There are other people that check games for bugs and holes that would get them unfair advantage like duping (cloning of the in-game items or gold) or some sort of cheating. Their employees can earn more than $100 000 per month the time.

Here’s an example of World of WarCraft macro: the program controls a high-level cleric and a hunter or other damage dealing class. DPS kills the stuff, cleric automatically heals him. Once they are loaded with expensive items, gold farmer manually leads them out of the farming spot to unload and sell, and then guides them back to the spot. Actually, alive human being are needed in this business only because of GMs constantly looking for bots – a human player would answer when he’s asked some question to check if it’s a program or not.

After the gold is “farmed” it must go through “the laundry” process, i.e. gold being cleaned out of its criminal past. Usually it’s done by tossing the sums of money between different accounts that are registered with different credit cards and on different computers to ensure the safety of the process – money being tossed until the traces of their origin are completely lost. More accounts are used for the reselling of “clean” gold. This is why when Blizzard went on banning every gold farmer out there in World of WarCraft back in 2007 so many accounts got banned – not every of them was exactly a farmer, many were launders and resellers.

For every reseller of gold, there’s a wholesale seller who supplies players with it for real money. One of the biggest gold sellers out there is IGE (Internet Gaming Entertainment). IGE president Steve Salyer told CGW in 2005, “We don’t farm assets, nor do we endorse any type of cheating or abusive farming practices. IGE is leading the way in efforts to help prevent these abuses. We spend a lot of time speaking with sellers and educating people involved in the secondary market. IGE is against abusive farming practices wherever they are taking place.” But IGE was targeted back in 2007 in a lawsuit saying that IGE is “…reaping substantial profits by knowingly interfering with and substantially impairing the intended use and enjoyment associated with consumer agreements between Blizzard and subscribers to its virtual world called World Of WarCraft.”

Actually, gold sellers are up to even more mischievous things than spoiling someone’s game play. The same good old IGE was linked to a child abuse scandal in 2007, when it came to light that IGE’s founder Brock Pierce was connected with Marc Collins-Rector, a founder of pre-YouTube video network DEN and a pedophile, who also went on hiding his money from child abuse victims. It was found that Collins-Rector may have helped fund IGE.

Recent study of gold farmers activity done by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, a PhD student, showed that gold farming and drug dealing markets has a lot to share: gold farmers behave in online space a lot like drug dealers do in the real life. Aside from doing illegal things and being very shady, they are very selective with who they do their business with, gather in gangs (do business with individuals that are like-minded to them) and rely on middle-men to do their more far-ranging activities for them.
And, speaking of illegal activities – gold farming is really illegal in China since June 2010. Ministry of Commerce of China issued a press release stating that, “The virtual currency, which is converted into real money at a certain exchange rate, will only be allowed to trade in virtual goods and services provided by its issuer, not real goods and services.” Chinese government must have been really annoyed by all the gold farmers money passing around them, so it finally leashed out. A little bit earlier they went on banning “World of WarCraft: Wrath of the Lich King” from the market and look like they’re going to ban it altogether after Blizzard’s contract with NetEase (Chinese popular ISP) expires.

So, when you are thinking about buying WOW gold, you may need to think it over – or, at least you should be aware, that you may fund pedophiles or someone even worst on your way to the bright gaming future.

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