All that glitters: A gold farming report

Gold farmers have had plenty of time to hone their craft. Players first began selling items for money in the late ’80s. In 1997, the joint launch of eBay and Ultima Online turned it into a proper commercial prospect, although publishers were unnerved. Blizzard deleted accounts, took legal action, and banned non-US IP addresses from its US servers (farmers dodged this by using proxy servers). Other developers were more creative. In Final Fantasy XI, Square Enix unleashed goblin bounty hunters on gold diggers. Some policing attempts backfired, however. In 2007, Jagex introduced anti-bot measures into RuneScape, but these damaged the gameplay.

“It really hurt us at the time but it was the right thing to do – which is why our community continues to grow while others are slowly dying or dead,” says Jagex’s Adam Tuckwell. “RWT [Real World Trading] undermines the integrity of the game and whilst a few players will always want to buy their way to success, the vast majority will resent the two-tier community where money triumphs over hard work. They quit and move onto another game.”

Certainly, many MMO players loathe the activity. John Bain, who runs fan site WoW Radiobelieves gold farming causes in-game inflation, pricing new players out of the market. “In addition, gold farmers annoy players via spam, advertising their services and sites with in-game mail, chat channels, and direct messages,” says Bain. “Gold farmers also monopolize mobs within certain areas of the game, making questing difficult for leveling players.”

Gold-selling companies have been known to break into accounts, stealing items and gold, says Bain, which has led to player vigilante groups. “Myself and several others actively hunted gold farming bots a few years back and suspected bots are kill-on-sight for most veteran players. The ultimate aim of a vigilante is to force the bot to log-off or, ideally, get into a situation such as drowning, falling off a cliff or getting stuck in terrain. Bot scripts don’t deal well with tricky terrain and have almost no concept of 3D movement.”

Digging for gold: The warning signs How to spot a gold farmer

Lack of social skills

“One of the first giveaways is that they aren’t very social,” says Erling Ellingsen from Funcom, creators of Age of Conan. “They tend to not respond when spoken to, and unless it serves their needs they don’t play much with others. They’re completely focused on their monetary goals. They also have a tendency to be greedy, and lack understanding and respect towards people in their group.”

Body farms

Check out the dead body URLs laid out in the main square of Stormwind City in World of Warcraft. Gold farmers spread out the stiffs to spell out URL links to gold-selling sites.

A touch of OCD

Look out for the signs of repetitive behavior: mining ore, killing gremlins, chopping wood, etc.

“A single farming character will rarely be operated by a human being,” says John Bain from WoW Radio. “It’s more likely that several characters will use botting scripts to automatically farm gold, while a minder watches out for any issues, such as a character getting stuck or attacked by other players.”

Not dressed to impress

World of Warcraft gold farmers don’t care about their appearance. “They often have inferior gear, almost all of which will be Bind on Equip, since they do not level via questing and running,” says Bain. Furthermore, their names are often lazy gobbledygook – “Xjveoughf”, or whatever – with a pet cat called “Cat” or a boar named “Boar”.

Despite attempts to rid the online world of gold farming, the activity continues. Heeks does not buy the argument that RWT creates in-game inflation, saying their effect on the virtual economy is marginal compared to the behavior of regular players. And although it has lost the millionaire-making status it had a few years ago, it remains viable and profitable work. “Publishers should find a way to work with gold farmers instead of fighting them,” says Heeks. “My favorite suggestion, though sadly just a joke, was that the game companies should rehabilitate gold farmers by employing them as NPCs.”

Above: Underachieving gold farmers are sent to the naughty chair

For his part, filmmaker Anthony Gilmore believes gold farming is an inevitable presence in virtual economies. “The largest companies that serve as the middle man – or gold brokerage – employ more workers than Blizzard,” he says. “They have access to networks of tens of thousands of workers in the gold farms, from where they acquire in-game currencies. This isn’t just a casual trend industry, it is every bit as organized as any other. As long as there is a demand for their services, they will always exist.”

Nov 27, 2009

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