World Bank: gold farming could prove to be very beneficial to local and developing economies

From here:

How long until we start worrying about sustainable gold farming?

ETA: Obligatory Penny Arcade strip.

When you step back and think about it, it’s so absurd that a hundred thousand people are making a living doing busywork in a video game. Just sort of mind blowing.

3 billion? Wow…

So basically, the MMO market would be worth 30% more if developers dialed back the grinding?

I don’t think that follows. If they dialed it back, they might lose some of their other customers who enjoy that fantasy accomplishment of working for hundreds of hours to achieve a fantasy goal.

And there’s no real way for the MMO companies to capture the gold farming market share, I don’t think: a lot of players are pissed at goldfarmers constantly, because it replaces their “hard work” with cash. If Blizzard, for example, sold gold online, they might lose a lot of their players.

I’m just imagining somebody trying to explain this to Adam Smith.

I don’t play WoW, but as I see it, they could effectively kill the gold farming market if they made a couple changes:

-Eliminate the auction
-Change the more expensive purchases (like flying mounts or whatever) to an experience-based purchase, rather than gold-based. That is, if you did a certain number of quests, then you would just get one, instead of grinding for the cash and then buying it.

Obviously they think the benefit from eliminating gold farming would not outweigh the cost of pissing off a bunch of users who like things the way they are.

Sony did exactly that in Everquest II. I think it was supposedly going to be limited to special servers. Dunno how it worked out for them, but it cost them my business. I moved to WoW and haven’t looked back.

Further, if you also take the total revenue figure from the OP, it looks like the average gold farmer brings in 30 grand a year. That’s not a bad salary even in the first world, and an absolute fortune by third world standards.

Auctions are critical for players who play solo since they need items that others readily make. Diversity certainly makes gameplay last much longer.

Your second point is already happening since there are many ways to get end-game material, whether it’s achievement based, gold-based, or obtained through other means.

But, if you can limit the amount of gold that can be transferred from one player to another, then gold-farming would be drastically reduced. For example, in WoW, limit the transfer to 250g/day (about the same as doing 25 daily quests for 10g apiece), would be quite a restriction that Blizzard could do quite easily and would dry up the gold farming market, if they wanted to enforce the EULA without too much trouble. There might be some grumbling for some players, but by and large, that would rarely be an issue for most players.

Why would the gaming companies want to limit gold farming? Don’t the 100k people doing this have paying accounts as well? Assuming $10/month/account, you’re asking them to give up $12 million/year in revenue for no benefit to them whatsoever.

And I seriously doubt that the elimination of “gold farmers” will draw enough new customer accounts to make up for the 100k accounts lost… but I could be wrong. You would also lose the accounts of those people who hire the gold farmers in the first place, and God knows how much revenue lost that would entail.

But, regardless, why would it make sense financially for Blizzard, et al, to cancel 100k+ paying accounts?

It distorts the economy, which can ruin the play/grind/reward cycle they spend so much time working on to keep people hooked. Players have to feel like their grinding is fair and meaningful and other people aren’t just bypassing it, and the economy isn’t going crazy with inflation or market flooding or whatever because of the professional grinders.

How much of WoW’s RMT is actually from gold farmers? I was under the impression that the bulk of the gold sold by third parties is stolen from hacked accounts.

Eliminating the auction house would make for drastic changes in game play, especially for solo people, also for others. In any case, I don’t think the auction house plays nearly the role in gold farming that it used to.

Problem is, most gold farming services also provide leveling services - they use your character to generate gold for other people, even as you pay to have them increase your levels for you. They would just increase the amount they charge for leveling, as it would, in the end, have much the same effect - players would pay them to earn a particular mount, for example.

^ This.

Either phishing, or after you pay them to level your character they come back a month later and strip your character of everything valuable.

I understand that it distorts the game economy, but that’s not my question. My question is this:

I’m the CFO of Blizzard and I have in front of me a proposal that would cost my company $12 million/year in gross revenues, all for the purpose of achieving game balance. How do I fill this $12 million hole? If my game is successful and earning me money, why would I even bother cutting out $12 million/year? Prove to me that this proposal is, at best, revenue neutral… 'cause it doesn’t sound that way on the face of it.

ETA: Reply to SenorBeef

So WoW’s gold is called the RMT? That doesn’t bode well for China, since it sounds dangerously close to the RMB, and we all know what happened to the ISK.

RMT = Real Money Transactions.

WoW gold farmers are to the WoW economy as third-world workers are to the real economy. They depress the price of things so the rich can upgrade their trade skills 'n junk without needing to invest a ton of time. It’s a great arrangement. That’s why you never see them get banned, despite everyone knowing exactly where to find them. Account hacking is a problem, but that’s why Blizzard took a ton of steps to fix it, like authenticators and warnings.

Cory Doctrow’s book, For The Win, is about gold farmers and unionizing. It’s a great novel, well worth checking out. Plus, it’s free!

I’m sure you could easily justify it in terms of keeping players who would otherwise quit due to frustration, and improving the quality of the WoW and Blizzard brands.

There are plenty of decisions that COULD be made to increase revenues but they won’t do it because it would hurt the company in the long run.