Sunday, October 14, 2007

Gold Farming pt. 1: Introduction

It was a pleasant Saturday afternoon in the Alliance capital of Stormwind, and the radiance of the sun flooded its paved streets with a brilliant chrome sheen. Adventurers of every stripe congregated outside of doorways, unhurriedly taking their finds to the Auction House or paying their respects to Highlord Bolvar Fordragon in the keep. Suddenly a Level 1 character bolts up to the mailbox and exhorts, "Visit [URL deleted] for the best WoW Gold Prices~ $5.99 per 100G delivered in 1-24 hrs. Powerlevel 1-70 for $359 7 days guaranteed, Honorfarming $14.99 per 10K honor AV"

We're all familiar with this bizarre phenomenon in some form or another. Perhaps you've never had the misfortune of hearing one of these gold farmers hawking their wares in Orgrimmar, but surely you've stumbled upon the "player" who grinds for countless hours without so much as going AFK for a bio, or the 5000-gold piece of Linen Cloth that someone put on the neutral Auction House to transfer funds to whichever faction bought them. Failing that, surely you've heard the derogative terms "Chinese farmer" or "Ebayer", used to denigrate players who play so atrociously that they couldn't have earned their level and equipment, but instead shelled out real-life money for them.

It all seems too ludicrous to be true, until you do a Google search for "World of Warcraft gold" or something similar, and find hundreds of sites willing to sell you not only gold, but powerleveling as well. Blizzard has unwittingly spawned an inchoate industry that pulls in millions of (non-virtual) dollars annually. Unfortunately for both the players and the gold farmers who rely on their work as a matter of survival, gold farming is a self-destructive industry.

Let's examine for a second the possible impetus for gold farming, or more accurately, the compulsion to convert real-life currency for its in-game equivalent. Not many can argue that World of Warcraft is a deeply engaging game, but as characters become more powerful, an exponentially larger investment of time (and gold) is required to continue progress. At level 5 it would not be unusual to level up within an hour, but at level 50 that elusive ding could take days. Unfortunately, free time in real life does not always accommodate this ever-steepening curve, and there is immense pressure (from guild mates as well as from endgame content that requires a high level) to continue advancing toward Level 70. Hence, some players find it necessary to tip the scales in their favor by purchasing gold.

They do so, ultimately, at their own peril. Blizzard has not been shy about hitting gold buyers with their epic 2-handed mace, [The Banhammer]. And not without reason; first of all, the sale or purchase of any in-game paraphernaila--items as well as gold--is explicitly prohibited in the End-User License Agreement and the Terms of Use. Thousands of accounts have been erased, millions of collective man-hours deleted, because of the compulsion to buy 100 gold for $5.99.

That's nothing compared to what the supply side has suffered. In a 2006 crackdown against the gold farming industry, Blizzard nuked over 30,000 accounts, sending an amount of gold estimated to be nearly a billion into the depths of the Molten Core. At current market prices, 1 billion gold could sell for nearly $60 million.

Blizzard sure seems like a big bully in this market, but there must be a reason why gold selling is against the EULA, right?

Right--but I've reached the end of this blog entry. I'll get to the reasons next time around, I promise. /bye

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