What technical problems need to be solved to catch gold farmers?

You keep saying this, but perfect information doesn’t mean you can solve the problem perfectly. Obviously, this is an easier problem because it is much smaller and much more controlled than the the drug war, but that doesn’t make it an EASY problem. An obvious example is chess, both players have perfect information about the state of the board, but one of you is going to lose.

Drug dealers HAVE to smuggle their drugs into the country. Do you think they always use the same method? Do you think that when the Feds find out, they keep doing the same thing? I imagine the people who run the drug smuggling operations are probably fairly bright.

It’s a similar case here: Oh look, all of these accounts here got banned, they were all doing this. Let’s not do that anymore.

You may disagree with it, but it’s within the terms of service. Such a debate is best left for another thread.

The problem is that things simply don’t work this way in WoW.

Let’s tackle the three main ways that people trade.

The Auction House: Since anyone can access the AH, it would be unusual to sell gold this way. It would be, ahem, extremely obvious to everyone if you put up a 1 copper piece item for 1000G. This would inevitably lead to your character being reported.

The AH is probably not where these transfers are occurring due to the public nature of any such transaction.

Face to face trade: This is unlikely but not impossible (due to the inconvenience of having to meet a third-world gold farmer at the same time, and in the same place in-game).

The problem with tracking such trades is it’s the only way for people to give things to one another. I’m sure it’s done, but it will generate a huge number of false positives. It is EXTREMELY unusual to actually use this function to trade items of fair value. A far more typical exchange might be:

1 - Someone trades you a relatively low value component for nothing. The recipient uses it to craft a valuable item and give it back to you.

2 - Even high value items are routinely traded among guildies for free or in exchange for (partial) materials or, at the same time as worthless items (like conjured mage water).

3 - People can be giving large amounts of gold for legitimate reasons (to a friend, to someone who is giving them gold on another server, paying back loans, to someone who has made an item for them in the past or will in the future (possibly on a different character or account).

Mail: Mail is probably how gold farmers sell gold. You don’t need to meet with someone face to face and be on at the same time. The problem is that there are legitimate reasons to mail large quantities of gold (including the above). I mentioned many in my other post, like cross-character or cross-account gold transactions, guild banks, gifts, and so on.

Of course, yes, doubtlessly tracking the money is the way gold farmers get caught and banned. The problem is it’s not instant and some will inevitably get through, as well as the vast majority will take time for a human to investigate. The gold farmers don’t make it easy, either; they often use either stolen account information or current/prior customers to distribute gold. If a keylogger steals an account’s info, a farmer logs in, reduces the character’s whole fortune to cash, then mails it to a gold buyer, how do you catch the farmer? All you can do is ban the hacked account and the buying account.

The only way to truly quash everything would be to put very restrictive rules on the playerbase. In the meantime Blizzard does seem to be improving matters, as (at least on our server) botting and gold spamming are at record lows.

High ranking guild members often don’t get paid back either, because the payback that they want is social. Supporting the guild gets them recognition. Equiping new members helps the guild recruit new members. They’re not looking to get in-game economic payback.

There are social reasons outside of guilds that operate the same way. My kids wanted me to join and play, so they helped equip me. They wanted some of their friends to play, so they did the same. They are not expecting to be paid back with anything but an expanded base of friends to play with.

How do you decide who’s selling IRL and who’s just generous?

It’s not an analogous situation. Drug smugglers can try different ways into the country, which aren’t under surveillance. There is no way to transfer value in game without being watched. All gold farmers have to have a major net outflow of value from their accounts over time. You can track that exactly. Normal players will not have a major net outflow of value from their account, except in certain circumstances that, of the ones so far mentioned, are easily tagged.

I responded to all the ones you mentioned. Do you think my responses are overlooking something?

You seem to think that I’m claiming that every interaction must be balanced. I’m not. Me sending you 3000 gold and a few days later you sending something of value to me is fine. At the end of the day, farmers will have an overwhelming outflow of value, and there’s simply no way to hide that, since the service that gold farmers are selling is an unequal transfer of in-game value.

Social network mapping.

People who give friends or relatives or guildmembers gifts in game are going to be socially connected. They’re going to play together, join guilds together, raid together, chat. Goldfarmers aren’t going to do any of that stuff. In addition, the transfer of value is likely to be a very small percentage of the worth of the player. No one’s going to give away the vast majority of their wealth. Except someone who’s getting paid for it.

Which adds yet another layer to it, a layer of expense, of programming, of processing power, and of room for bugs.

Again, Blizzard is not composed of dummies. They’ve given this more thought than you have. They’ve shown strong efforts to stop gold farmers, including banning accounts by the thousands on multiple occasions. Is it really the likeliest explanation either that they’ve not thought of this method, or that they know it’d work and reject it because they secretly like having gold farmers–a secret they cover with regular bans of farming accounts?


I’m starting to come around to the fact that it’s a harder problem than I initially thought. Good job to y’all on bringing up corner cases that make the false positives harder to weed out.

I’m sorry, it was a poor analogy. I wasn’t trying to draw a straight comparison between drug smuggling and Gold Farming… I was trying to draw a comparison between how drug smugglers are constantly changing their smuggling methods, just like Gold Farmers are constantly changing how they earn their money and how their filter it down to the accounts they actually use for the point of sale.

But here’s the point, you’re talking about an extremely complex social network that doesn’t just involve one realm, and some players can, and do, have multiple accounts. The network that you’d have to build here would be very difficult to maintain and query.

Of course, it’s only useful AFTER you’ve determined if they’re showing signs of being Gold Farmers… there’s plenty of people who only group up for quests and instances when they have to, because they prefer to play more solo.

So now we’ve got a solution that involves maintaining a dynamic classification system for each realm, maintaining a dynamic social network that includes all realms and accounts, and manually reviewing each hit to verify that you’re not banning a legitimate player. And this is a simple problem?


Okay, just saw this. I tend to reply as a read (I know, bad way to do it). I imagine that one could get at least one PhD thesis out of this problem.

Not true.

If you’re going to delete a character you’ve played for awhile you liquidate their assets then send the money to your other characters. Alright, you could track that by them all being owned by the same person.

I know of an case where someone was leaving the game entirely, liquidated all their characters, and mailed the money to their guildmates.

Thing is, with eight million players you’re going to get a WIDE range of unusual but legit behavior.