EditorialI Bought Gold

I bought some gold.

Or was it plat?

Credits?

Lindens?

Isk?

Adena?

Clink?

Influence?

Currency units?

It doesn’t matter. What matters is now, when I play, I don’t have to worry about the constant cash crunch, the relatively poor economics of the new player, particularly one without a guild/linkshell/corporation/clan/what-have-you, one that can be exacerbated by the realities of an old economy.

Players – and games as a whole, in fact – seem to typically follow a fairly linear progression of wealth in a game.

You start off broke. You begin to level up. As you do, you make some money. If the player is careful, he at least breaks even on money. If he’s, perhaps, slower about leveling – say, fighting enemies below him a lot, or careful about who he fights – he may make more money. Still, the money (typically) scales with the character, at least until he hits the upper levels.

Then the economy blows out of proportion. Sure, a level 60 in WoW(World of Warcraft) or a level 50 in DAoC(Dark Age of Camelot) will have bigger expenses than a character at half that level. There’s always new gear and repairs, there’s crafting supplies, there’s potions, all that good stuff.

But, inevitably, the accumulation of wealth creeps upwards. After all, there’s a limit to how much you can spend, at least for most people. Use WoW for an example. You level to 60. You level your crafting skills – your two primary and your three secondary – to 300. You buy your epic mount. If you raid, you pay for repairs and potions on a regular basis.

If all you do is raid or PvP, you may run low on money. But, if you do anything else, it’s basically free money. You don’t get experience for it, since you’re already max level. Thus, you’re not outgrowing your gear (and in the top levels, with the exceptions of some crafted items, most of the best gear is dropped from bosses). So, if you’re grinding your reputation with a new faction, you’re making money off the things they drop.

In other words – typically, you’re saving up money faster than you can spend it, assuming you don’t do anything crazy with it. There are money sinks – armor dyes, housing, quests that flat out say “give me money”, crafting – but eventually they typically run out, too.

And money doesn’t gain interest, for the most part. What happens to it?

That’s the evolution of the game economy.

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When the game starts out, everyone’s poor – because everyone has to level. But the people who level higher start to have money filter down to the lower levels. A level one character might have to scrimp and save to get one gold; a maximum level might give ten gold to a beggar without blinking an eye.

As time goes on, that means the default “cost” for lower level gear goes up. If you don’t believe me, watch the Auction House on any new WoW server. Slowly but surely – and maybe not even slowly, depending on how fast people level – the price on all that low level gear starts to rise, as people can afford to outfit their alts and guildies.

Which is why, if you start a game late, you can be behind the times, as it were, when it comes to cash. If you’re not associated with an established group, or lucky enough to have rich friends, you’re not going to be able to buy anything (except from vendors, who typically in these types of games have sub-par gear). The only exception may be if you’re lucky enough to run into an altruistic group of people (and one that isn’t just masquerading as such, such as the one run in Sims Online that preyed on new players).

So, when starting a game, I bought some money.

I have a job. I work anywhere from 30 to 80 hours a week, depending on the project and deadlines. My job pays me well. I enjoy it, though it is work.

I play games to get away from my job. For fun. Grinding on mobs, endlessly gathering low level resources and selling them, that’s not fun. I want to play and be able to afford the things I need.

That’s especially true in games that make you pay for your training. Again, WoW is an example of that. If you have no money, and you level up – no new skill. No new abilities.

So I started playing a game. I didn’t have any friends in the game. I didn’t have a larger group to participate with. I was an anonymous new person. And I couldn’t afford to move on. I couldn’t afford the gear I needed. I was going to have to grind for months, just to get the skills I needed to be able to start grinding to afford the gear I needed to grind up even further. That isn’t fun.

I clicked on a link to IGE. For a minimal amount of money – less than an hour’s worth of pay for me, less than what I’d spend on the box of the game itself – I got enough money to carry me into the middle ranges of the game, enough to get me to the point that I can make enough money to support myself (and enough, hopefully, to hold me until I get involved with a bigger group).

Five minutes later the money’s in my character’s account. I resist the urge to go on a complete buying spree, but I do upgrade my gear and my training – and soon I’m making money faster than before, safer than before, because I’m set.

And when a friend comes to join me in the game, I can loan him some money – and he’s that much more in a better situation. Just like me.

Which brings us to the problem: where does this money come from?

In the real world, you get money by laboring for it – whether that’s flipping burgers, programming video games or singing music. You can get a loan, funded by a bank – which takes the money that it gets from the people who have their money in there, and gives it to you, in exchange for you paying it back with interest. You can win the lottery, which you pay to enter – and which takes in more money than it pays out.

Typically, in a game, the money comes from what are usually known as a farmer. They make money in the game in various ways – the grinding which I earlier declared as “not fun”. They then sell this money to the company, whether it’s selling by way of being an employee of that company, or simply arranging it through the web site, who then tracks it, and resells it. In other words, the company acts more like a conversion house. You go into a conversion house with one hundred units of money. You want it converted into a different unit of currency. The conversion house takes a cut of it, and converts it. Later, when you convert it back, they take another cut. You exchange a percentage of your money for usability in another area.

Much like in games. I exchange a bit of money – not a lot for me – for money I can use elsewhere. That money I gave the company is much more valuable, after their cut, to the person who earned the in-game money.

With the exception of buying money directly from the company that makes the game – such as the Sony StationExchange program in EQ2 – the money has to come from somewhere. It was earned, it was paid for, it was exchanged.

There comes the argument – that farmers ruin the in-game economy. What that typically means is that the farmers are taking ways of making money that could be used by the players. They sell things on the AH at outrageous prices. They farm groups of mobs. They resource gather items then sell them.

But – for the most part – they aren’t hurting the in-game economy – just the player’s impressions of it.

For the record, I am not talking about farmers who use exploits and tools forbidden by the games EULA to make their money. People who cheat – be it by whatever means – should be banned.

But let’s look at some examples in various games.

In Everquest, farmers would camp spawns of mobs, keeping other players from getting them. That’s destructive behavior, in terms of how it affected other players. Many games have provisions against it in their EULA, however, or the ability to take care of such farmers in a Player versus Player context. Games that fail to enforce their own EULA or have combat mechanics that are exploitable in that way have their own problems.

In EVE Online, the forums seethe with people upset about farmers wiping out entire asteroid belts of veldspar, the lowest level mineral. There’s nothing stopping people from taking care of the situation in a PvP context, however, and there’s no shortage on veldspar in most systems.

In World of Warcraft, the biggest MMORPG out there, farmers have a few different choices. They may run instances over and over again for items, then auction them off for high amounts. Running the instances does not affect other players at all; the item is auctioned off to a player in the game willing to pay that price for it.

It doesn’t matter the level of the instance. I would often take my level sixty character through the lowest level instance on my side, then auction off the various items and crafting resources I got. It was very profitable.

In Lineage 2, the camping and botted behavior has been epidemic. As a notoriously PvP-centric game, and an old one at that, it’s prime material for the fact that games gain money as time goes on.

And that’s an important fact to make, too: in most games, there is no mechanism, or only a weak one, for taking money OUT of the game – especially if the game encourages inter-player economics.

If the money is traded primarily between players, in exchange for player created items or things like that, then money is not leaving the system. It is still entering it from nowhere, however. Any time a player kills an NPC mob and takes their money, that much more money has entered the system. It leads to inflation.

Real world economies have more built into them to help prevent it. Money is taken and destroyed, for instance.

What it basically comes down to is the fact that everyone, around the world, has a different value for their time. Someone with nothing else to do – whether a college student in the US or someone who works in a poor country for a company to make money in a game – finds it worth their time to do the drudging task of grinding to make money. Other people don’t think their time is worth it for that amount of money. I don’t think it’s worth my time to grind for money unless it’s fun – in all odds, I wouldn’t be playing the game I bought money in if I hadn’t been able to buy it.

Instead, I’m playing, contributing in what ways I can to helping other players, and killing NPCs and gathering resources in order to have fun, not in a “must do this to get to the fun part” kind of way.

Buying money from a reputable company such as IGE (in terms of buying and selling in-game currency, not necessarily reputable in other ways) means freedom for me to play the way I want to play. If you say you should not buy money, do you also think you should not take money from other players?

What’s the difference between buying the money (again, assuming the money was legitimately earned in game, in terms of EULA, not in terms of “I like the way they make money”), and asking a friend who is perhaps between jobs to take care of making the money for you?

I bought money. I’m not the only one. The wonderful thing about it is the inherent nature of the practice – if you have the money, you can buy it, too.

And if you don’t want to buy it, I’ll leave you to farm green mobs, mine veldspar, run instances for auction house loot, wipe out entire towns of scavs and pikes, dance for tips in a cantina, do an impression of FedEx in Freeport, or pick every flower you run past for your money. I’ll be the one that logs in, plays, and logs out. I already have more than one job; I don’t need any more.

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