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With SOE and Blizzard going to new steps to fight Gold farming, the questions what to do with that issue have reached a new level. It is as ever fighting what you want to prevent upside down. Usually when something labelled "criminal" arises, unwanted behavior of people, what is usually called for is control and sanctions.
History shows us that this is a semi-optimal way to solve the problem. Some RL crimes are sanctioned with death peanlity, and still people do the crimes. So what we find is, penalities and controls can never be that tight that "crime" stops. On the contrary, in many regions of the world with extremely harsh penalities and explicit controls crime thrives. This is so because the problem is fought from the wrong side, from the effect.
What is rarely asked is, what is the CAUSE of the steep rise? I would very much see developers go into a detailled research for the CAUSES and REASONS why people today obviously do so much gold buying, when once that was rarer. The point I see always being missed in this entire debate is, why do people buy gold?
Usually you could expect, if a game is fun and bears a right balance between difficulty to attain things and rewards, gold buying would rarely happen. The fact that gold buying is so widely used in my pocket indicated two important things:
1. Something in the MMO systems is amiss. It is obvious that a vast number of people is not satisfied with the challange and progress balances. I am quite sure gold trading is FAR more widespread than anyone here expects, and I also presume most are casual players rarely seen on forums like this. Many still presume gold buyers are only a few ignorants, a minortiy not really worth to ponder about. But for them MMO playing is not a part of their "lifestyle" like for many of us here, its just some alternative to go Bowling or playing cards. Their value in playing MMOs is just different. And with MMOs getting out of the niche of games for teenage Nerds it is only natural that the standing of MMOs shifted in its participants. They expect something else than those old fashioned gamers. For them its merely like a hobby, like collecting stamps. If you have more money, you collect more stamps. They just bring different values into MMOs, and feel the system doesnt entirely suppor their amounts of time they can bring in. If MMOs would not have this ever widening gap between hardcore players with uber gear and casual players left with the trash, we would not HAVE a gold farming problem.
Being no crafter and only adventurer, I can safely say in any game like EQ2 or Vanguard, anything fancy like a house or a ship or any such fancy things are entriely out of reach, if you strictly stick to playing quests. Coming from a Pen and Paper background, I desire ot play my role, I want to go to a quest, and adventure. I dont want to run harvest cotton with my Paladin. Thats not what I play a defender of the weak, or a rogue or a mighty mage, to run around and gather some stupid crops or hack copper for hours. Its just a fact that the income for pure, old fashioned adventuring is WAY behind all those grind-heavy action, NONE of us would do in itself. Or can you imagine a single player game merely with crafting and harvesting? Stand at some crafting station and like a worker at a Ford coneveyor belt in 1930? Press the button all 3 seconds... But in MMO we are told that is fun. Maybe, after all those years more and more people realize this kind of extreme-grind is NOT fun? Maybe its not the PEOPLE who have gone wrong, but the MMO system?
2. The view and value of MMO gaming generally has changed. Raph Koster recently wrote something like that on his BLOG as well. In 1999 with Everquest and Ultima MMO gaming was for a gamers elite, for few people. But in 2008 people just have changed in their approach what they expect of a MMO and why they play it. They do not care so much anymore about what they attain with their "hard work", but they want more fun in the time they play it. Lets be honest here: EVERY MMO if every published as single player game would fail miserably, because even the most sophisticated MMO is, in itself boring, mindless and extremely simplistic in its gameplay. The only fact that lulls us to overlook this, is the fact we are with other people in a more dynamic environment. Based on pure entertainment, MMOs are still way behind the immersion and entertainment a single player game offers. And this is what shifted. People are less and less willing to do a MMO like work, like some chore they need to proof themselves in, they see it more as escapism, as some better entertainment than TV, and thus shifts the value of things, and people have become much less tolerant towards grind.
What I see is, it is entirely pointless to try to make people view MMOs different, to try to "educate" them into wanting different things from a MMO. Customers want what they want, and MMO companies can either start look what changed in the desires of players or ignore it. If you want to stem a flood you may build a dam, but the water will go *somewhere*, it doesnt just go away because you build a dam. Some desires are apparently not filled appropriately and instead of building higher and higher dams, we should look into the reaons why the flood constantly rises.
There are changes in how people view MMOs, and the MMOs did not adapt to these changes in views, in habits. They fell behind, clinging to 10+ year old gaming concepts, and every new MMO is more or less a copy of what is known and used for a decade.
The gold selling "problem" can never be solved with controls or penalities. Thats like pasting skin-tone cosmetics over a skin cancer. What we must do is start to look at the CAUSES and REASONS behind this, why so many people have such a grown interest in gold buying, and then we must try to work with that. The customers obviously buy gold, and in great numbers. Stigmatising them, telling them how evil they are buying gold will change little. If you make better locks, people with craft better lockpicks. We must start to look at the other end, the customers, and instead of stigmatising them we must go to them, ask them why they buy gold and how a game should change so they would rely on in-game mechanisms. We really must get over this entire taboo. We should not fear to look openly into what is going on.
People don't ask questions to get answers - they ask questions to show how smart they are. - Dogbert