Real-Money Trades: turning gold-farming into a game company profit-center

Here's a fascinating interview with Andy Schneider, co-founder of Live Gamer, a firm that provides marketplaces for online game companies so that their players can engage in "real-money trades" -- sales of virtual items that are acquired through playing the game. This is presented as an alternative to "gold-farming," in which people in the developing world earn their living by amassing in-game wealth which is then sold on to impatient rich-world players who don't want to put in the hours necessary to gaining the wealth through their own play. The argument goes like this: legitimate marketplaces for "real" player-to-player exchanges will put "fake" players like gold farmers out of business. I'm skeptical: for one thing, the distinction between "real" players and "fake" players seems pretty arbitrary.
...[W]e spent a lot of time trying to understand the motivation of game players. Why do they engage in RMT? What are the hot-button issues? Does it break the fourth wall or the magic circle? Does it create an unfair advantage for players who are buying items that are giving them a performance advantage?

We looked at what these motivations are, and certainly there are players who want to get a performance advantage. But, there are also overwhelmingly more players who play MMOs and engage in RMT for social reasons.

The social reasons might be one of they want to play with friends who are leveling up faster than they are and they want to keep up, they want to play the game again from a different character class or race perspective, or they want to customize their experience - so they want to go ahead and buy the items that make them feel better about their character.

There's also the players who want to explore everything the game developer or designer has created, and they can't possibly do it because they don't have enough time.

In the end, all of these people engage in RMT because they don't have enough time, but they might have more disposable income. And that's the predominant reason why people that we see are engaging in RMT, and we certainly see all the arguments against RMT.

Real Money, Fake Property: Live Gamer's Andy Schneider on Bringing Item Sales in from the Cold (via /.)


  1. I’ll be interested in seeing which games go for this, since most MMOs I’ve played have explicitly forbid this kind of transaction in their TOS. Live Gamer’s business model requires “the publisher’s support” ….

    Another thing that gets me thinking: procuring digital items and currency to sell to players with more disposable income than time has now become a multi-billion dollar industry. If that’s the case, then the temptation arises to create a game for the sole purpose of selling virtual items to your subscribers/users through an intermediary like LiveGamer. An extra billion or two would look very nice on Blizzard’s balance sheet, TOS or no. =D

  2. There is no different between RMT and gold farmers. It’s the same thing with a different shine on it.

    I’ve worked for a local RMT company as a delivery person, and nowhere in my life have I seen more questionable and downright illegal activities going on at work.

    You’d be surprised just how often people will log into a RMT site using the same login & password as the game they are buying currency for. I’ve seen a manager use that info to illegially log into a user’s Paypal, Bank Account, Myspace, Email, and game accounts, all in an effort to get his money after a user initiated a chargeback on a purchase.

    This same company claimed to not use any bots, and they had a row of 16 PCs each running 4 copies of WoW running into a KVM, operated by one person who came in a few hours a night to check on it.

  3. “In the end, all of these people engage in RMT because they don’t have enough time, but they might have more disposable income.”

    That sentence finally explained to me why people cheat at video games at all.

  4. That sentence finally explained to me why people cheat at video games at all.

    I’d say that’s actually the minority of cheaters. More often, cheaters are people that don’t regard the game situation itself, its stated rules and scenarios, as the challenge to beat.

    Instead, they approach the game at a more meta level, and see the programming as the challenge and cheating is the “better” way to “win” at the game.

    On a single player game, I really couldn’t give a fart about people cheating at games.

    Cheating at a multiplayer game is a little like going into the last hand of contract rummy and realizing that if you just ditch all your high point cards before someone else goes down and don’t steal anything, you can’t actually loose the game. It’s more dramatic if you manage to get a hand with no high point cards at all to start with. Yes, you get to win, but I personally don’t find it very fun to be that guy, and everyone else (if they figure out what’s going on) tends to be disappointed.

    They’re disappointed, because you’ve basically stopped playing the same game they were playing – you’ve created your own winning conditions and your own unstated rules for achieving them.

    Actively cheating takes the level of “fun kill” to a whole new level – the cheater is still playing his own little single person game, but now he’s not just violating the “spirit” of the game (the low point cautious player is entirely within the rules of contract rummy – just like a camper in a FPS is playing totally “fair” but is often considered “lame”) but you’re also totally running roughshod over the rules of engagement.

    From the POV of people playing the “normal” game, the cheater has an unfair advantage.

    From the POV of the cheater, the unfair advantage is part of the coolness, but it dilutes the victory won by cheating. What fills in for the “of course you won, you cheated” factor is the second game the cheater is playing, where he “beat the system” – he achieved his own personal victory conditions. Doublely so if he gets away with it without anyone noticing.

    If he’s just cheating to win the game, and hasn’t set up his own victory conditions (beating the programmers, the security, whatever) cheating gets boring very quickly. It takes that second, additional reward to make a repeat offender.

  5. I see, that makes sense, players are creating their own victory conditions and therefore ‘winning’ in their own way. What had confused me in the past was the idea of achieving a ‘win’ in a game as fast as possible by cheating. I didn’t see it from a meta game perspective, since I found the fun of games the actual process of exploring the virtual world and the artificial rules of that made up realm. Cheating to get to the end was like only reading the last chapter of book or only listening to the last chord of the song, and missing out on everything that led up to that moment.

    I often download software, that I never intend to use, just to see how to get around its security, so I get the whole point of breaking the rules just to break the rules. Although, to be honest, while your point shows there are many other reasons people cheat, I’m sure some do it to be flat out douche nozzles, too.

  6. the temptation arises to create a game for the sole purpose of selling virtual items to your subscribers/users

    Otherwise known as a “Collectible card game”.

  7. I don’t know bout MMOs, as I refuse to rent games, but I cheat a fair bit on single-player games, and will add another reason:

    You like some elements of the game, but the game itself gets in the way.

    For me, this happens a lot with story-driven games, like American McGee’s Alice. I really, really don’t like that type of game, but the art and story were so totally awsome that I played it anyways. I just cheated to minimize the amount of time and energy spent doing the boring game portion.

    I would think there’s some of the same thing in MMOs – some people cheating not because they want an advantage over other players, but because the proper way of doing things isn’t pushing their fun button, and cheating will get them to the parts they’ll actually enjoy. Like the way buying a PVR will let you fast-forward through commercials.

  8. How about designing the game in such a way that you don’t have to spent countless hours doing menial tasks?

  9. one of the main problems with gold farming in an mmo is that it almost always cuases a hyper inflation, gold is devalued so items increase in price. so the players who had the time to level up, gain gold and get items are forced into a scenario where they cant keep up with gold buyers who steamroll ahead becuas ethe ingame economy is so utterly screwed that they cant afford equipment and by the time they’ve grinded the cash they no longert need it. in essence it breaks the game for everyone becuase a minority are eitehr greedy or impatient. I’ve seen this 1st hand as a WoW player who was there from the start.

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