Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
04 May 2006
Why is gold farming/gold buying bad?
In a comment to an earlier curmudgeon gamer story regarding Gary Whitta's column, "Let's Shut Down Gold Farmers", GregT answers the question: Why is gold farming/gold buying bad?

I'll assume GregT's comment is directed towards me (?), though if so he seems to have missed two key items in my comment on the same story. First, I don't see anything wrong with farmed characters. Perhaps I'll weigh in about farming and selling gold in more depth another day. He also doesn't seem to have addressed my suggestion that WoW pull a UO and legalize cash for 733+ness, capturing that money to pour back into the game.

Regardless, it was an interesting line of straw men, so let's get to knocking 'em over.

(1) It inflates the virtual economy to put many top-end items out of the financial reach of players who have played "fairly".

This seems a natural enough conclusion in the "real life" market, but has farming really inflated virtual prices? Playing World of Warcraft to level 53, I didn't have any trouble affording anything I needed, and the level 60s always seemed to be able to easily sell [perhaps equally inflated?] items for enough to cover even their luxury purchases.

And it was still easier, come level 60 in a good guild, to go instancing for rare, high-level purples, etc, than to buy. Though items priced to the point where it's easier to quest than buy might seem like evidence for GregT's argument, I believe it still plays into Blizzard's desire that as many as possible earn the powerful items so that next to nobody buys.

Remember that, in WoW at least, items have minimum levels requirements for their users. If you're a rich level 5, you still can't buy the items the level 55s count on daily. And some very nice items can only be gained by completing quests and can't be sold; you must earn them by playing. If every item's price is inflated and it's still enjoyable and easy to procure [and sell] these top shelf items once you hit the proper level, well, is there really any inflation? These aren't the kinds of laws we have governing prices at Wal-Mart. GregT, Blizzard has your back.

Now with character [not gold] farmers, unless they somehow decrease the availability of these rare items (and in a select few cases they have, like Pratt McGrubben's recipes), GregT's claim doesn't necssarily hold water. If a thousand extra successful farming groups hit an instance that, for the sake of argument, holds a Golden Chalice at the end 90% of the time, there are 900 extra Golden Chalices in the world. Seems this would potentially decrease the price of the item!

(2) It encourages servers to be populated by characters who are just there to farm. Thus the signal to noise ratio of other worthwhile players is lowered; in non-instanced MMOGs it also means more people to camp against for spawns.

You know, I always wanted to see someone or a group I knew was farming. In heavens only knows how many hours playing, I was suspicious once, but can't say I ever really spotted one. Perhaps I felt them through lag in Ironforge or at the Auction House somehow, but if there was extra noise, I never knew the difference. This complaint is, for me, in WoW, a nonstarter.

(3) Some of the evidence on gold farming is open to the interpretation that exploitative work practices are engaged in by the relevant companies.

A.) For now, I feel it's still safe to consider farming without thinking it necessarily involves exploitation. Perhaps the amount of cash that can be brought in by MMORPG farming makes it so that the jobs are, nearly by definition thanks to the limited potential to create income, exploitative. That is, perhaps the best farmer can only scare up $0.05 an hour, which isn't a living wage anywhere.

Yet Castronova and the small slew of researchers that have followed, including some recent claims about incomes from Second Life, tell me this sort of exploitation's likely not -- not by definition, that is -- unavoidably the case. If it's not, then there's nothing specific to WoW forcing exploitation of would-be farmers.

B.) Can anyone tell me how these jobs line up with comparable ones available to the people who take the "sweatshop" MMORPG farming jobs?

(4) Farmed characters allow players to reach levels of play without acquiring the skills normally taught on the way; the pool of players talented enough to group with at endgame is unnecessarily diluted.

How does this affect my game experience when my guild enters an endgame instance? Have you played with someone who had purchased a farmed character and had a bad experience? Have you played with a middle-schooler who "legitimately" made 60 sheerly from throwing 110% of his or her free time down the WoW timesink? How can you tell the difference? And if your endgame groups are that bad, have you tried swapping guilds?

etc etc

Bad play doesn't bother me. Don't join/leave that guild. You have alternatives.

I must also say that those middle schoolers, with whom I have grouped on occasion before learning of the fact, drive me crazy.

(5) As with engaging in any black market, because gold farming is illicit and non-regulated you never know what you're buying; while many companies are "honest", you always run the risk of being cheated or stolen from when dealing with them.

But surely you've heard all those arguments before?

Okay, that last one, no, I haven't heard that one specifically in the context of WoW/MMORPGs. I like the moral angle, but not being a potential client, it bothers me less than WoW's weekly maintenance. And, well, eBay's no different. Wait, um, life's no different.

Which is really my tack on the issue. I like the way cyberspace spills into "reality". I like having seedy companies at the fringe where the buyer must beware. My gameplay experience hasn't been diminished by the concept of farming; it's been enhanced. This is no simple fantasy or diversion (and what truly is?). MMORPGs are a part of the fabric that makes up the whole of our lives. Watching people bend rules is fascinating. It's not always for the best, but fascinating nevertheless. Knowing there are people behind the avatars, some playing simply for fun, but others to dodge writing college papers (thus the temporary suspension of my account!), some to dodge their families, some playing drunk (I've seen more of that than I would've expected), and some playing to make the money that'll allow them to drink... Well, there's more to the MMORPG than a bunch of folk just playing a game.</wax off>

I've got much worse to worry about than if someone's paying their way to level 60. I'll let Blizzard handle that one, even if it means doing nothing more than putting my realm on a ph4tt3r server. They seem quite good at watching our back.
--ruffin at 22:04
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