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Now, what about farmers who just kill the same monsters over and over again. These guys make up the bulk of the farmers, because they are essentially farming pure gold (the final product they want anyway). Once again, they take away from resources that an honest player might want. But the greater issue I’d put forward is that it damages the in-game economy. Billy makes an excellent point in his article (link) saying that WoW’s item structure is protected to a degree in that the phattest of l00tz are “Bind on Pickup”, meaning once your character takes them, s/he cannot ever transfer them to another character. However, there is a large set of items known as “world drops,” which are random items that can drop off any monster. Often, particularly to a casual gamer (who lacks a guild of size and skill to take on end game content), these can be some of the best items available. In World of Warcraft, items do not ever “decay,” meaning that the economy, over time, trends towards saturation (items only leave the economy when the player upgrades, or stops playing). Some of the best world drop items on a young server may initially go for a king’s ransom as supply is low, but on a mature server, will eventually go for as low as 10% of their original price. Gold farmers artificially accelerate this process by contributing a vast amount of “farming hours” and immediately turning those items onto the auction market (as opposed to using them for personal character gain). As a result, regular players miss out on this natural evolution of the economy. Now, the flip side is, players get access to items earlier, because of this accelerated saturation. But I would say that this takes away some of the allure and mystique of items, when 5 “Swords of Ultimate l33tness” are available at the auction house for one week’s allowance. This point may be a wash: it ultimately depends on your view of the game. But I do think that the fact the economy is being artificially influenced by people trying to profit off the game is probably a bad thing.

Now, for every seller, there is of course a buyer. Part of the problem is that there is a huge element out there (large enough to fuel an estimated $500 million economy across all games) that would cheat by buying gold. Well, of course. Too many people have more disposable income than time, so why farm for items when you can buy them. I will even admit to once purchasing gold (I wanted to finish an item that needed a lot of arcanite, and hey, everyone else is doing it). I would argue, however, that part of this huge demand is fueled by an ever cheapening supply. Gold farming has become intensely sophisticated. It is not just a bunch of entrepreneurial guys in China: there is a supply chain, starting with the Chinese farmer (making $.56 on an hour), who is typically working in a “farm,” (a warehouse full of computers, remember, your average Chinese guy can’t afford 5 WoW capable computers and a high speed connection). Then there is the guy who owns the farm, who in turn sells his “crop” to either a middleman, or a distributor (such as www.ige.com), or perhaps directly on eBay. Combine this with a limited response from Blizzard (a combination of the lack of manpower, and I would even suggest lack of desire: remember, a single gold farming using 5 computers, is in fact paying for 5 accounts), we’ve seen that gold prices have dropped, making gold accessible to nearly anyone. I remember when I played EQ 5 years ago, 1000 gold was $300 (typically from a guy selling his account: remember, gold farming didn’t exist then). Now I can get 500 gold in WoW for $30. At a price that low, anyone with a reasonable paying job, and remember, gamers in the 18-30 demographic have a ton of disposable income (it’s not like we have girlfriends, and we usually have decent jobs). It’s an ideal situation for the market to flourish.

Why is this any different than say, using a Gameshark to cheat? Gameshark was a great tool to cheat at games with, but remember: YOU paid for the Gameshark, and YOU edited a game YOU played. A MMORPG includes many people, and while the “cheating” is technically open to anyone with some cash (although such transactions are expressly forbidden by the rules I might add), proliferated gold farming punishes those who don’t cheat. To get a feel for some of the impact of this behavior, look at this potential scenario spawned by gold farming:

I want 20 of an herb in WoW, say, black lotus. I want to farm for it, but after trying to farm for two hours, I notice the spawn area is camped by, shock, several gold farmers. So, I turn to go buy the herbs off of the auction house… and notice 20 of them being sold by the same gold farmers that chased me away in the first place. If I purchase the black lotus, I am helping them. But wait! I have no money to afford the auction house prices (after all, I wanted to farm for them in the first place). So, I could go honestly farm the money, to pay for an item that I would like to farm (But can’t, it’s being farmed by gold farmers)… or, I could buy the gold off the internet, indirectly helping the gold farming cause, and then directly helping the recipients of my money (who well then turn around and sell it again).

Yes, arguably, I could be competing with real players for the same resources. But ask any 60 level player who is hanging around farm spots, and he’ll tell you 50-75% of them are gold farmers. Take them out, and the resource field is a whole lot more available. I (and most others) didn’t sign up to play WoW and have to buy gold off the internet just to pay for items that are being farmed by Chinese farmers in order to stay competitive(or prevent an artificial time sink). I signed up WoW to have fun in a persistent MMORPG setting.

Ultimately, the core issue is that gold farmers bring a very disruptive element into a MMORPG because they are using the game as a means of financial success, not as a means of entertainment. And because, by definition, these “professionals” have the tools to gather their resources better than I (and every other casual player) can, non farmers are forced to change their playing habits accordingly. It may mean buying gold (succumbing to the system), or doubling or tripling the time to obtain an item, or perhaps forgoing it altogether. I don’t mind losing out to a better player, who is playing for fun. I do have a problem losing out to someone who views my game as his meal ticket, and not an outlet of entertainment. What’s worse is that a comparatively low percentage of the population can create a devastating effect on the majority’s playing experience. It doesn’t take many farmers (particularly if they’re using multiple accounts) to over saturate a resource area. Ultimately, if making a game that is supposed to be fun into a job is considered a good thing, I think the MMORPG space needs to take a long, hard look at where they’re going, because it’s a disturbing vista of warehouses full of gold farmers.


Jay’s take (the truth):

This topic sure is fun. I stopped debating on the internet after being banned from all the major goth/vampire sites, but not much has changed since then. My colleagues have kept it very civil, but others tend towards the same, "you’re an asshole because I disagree with you" arguments that make being a Republican fun.

I agree with both Billy and Golden Jew, and I disagree with both. Think about that for a moment, it’s quite deep. It is, after all, only a game. I can understand how those treating it as something else can diminish the enjoyment for others. Yet it is somewhat paradoxical that people who say it’s just a game get so angry over the actions of some players. Fairness is a noble pursuit, but should it be a piece of an objective argument? Could you not then say all unemployed or independently wealthy people should be banned from the game because they have more hours to play?

And what of the rules? When playing a game are we not bound to the user agreement, for better or for worse? Even if morally justified, are these farmers not breaking an agreement? Surely racism is part of the overall picture. The louder the kids in the forums scream it is all a facade, the more it becomes apparent. I recall someone stating that hating the Chinese isn’t racism because Chinese isn’t a race. He will one day be the vice president, I predict. But even if this racism is so present it’s tangible, is it not a diversion from the true question? If the racism grew deeper or completely disappeared, there would still be much to debate about the farmers. Their nationality does not matter once you’ve dismissed the many ignorant people who only protest them based on their eye structure.

How many more questions can I ask? Is this the Socratic method or am I just a pompous ass? Perhaps both, perhaps neither. I do know that this debate will not die here, in these hallowed halls of the Lamer. Based on the participant’s reactions to each others articles, it has yet to even die here and I’m sure they will both hate me for not fully backing them. Look forward to falling asleep to many more arguments over the ethics of gold farming. I know I don’t.

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