In the world of MMOs, there are few subjects that get people worked up more than gold selling and buying. Anyone who has frequented any of these games has come across it, the unwanted spam mail imploring you to check out http://www.goldspammersrus.com; the chat message repeated ad nauseum in the rookie channels; or the alt named xxxxfffffggggg who stands in the centre of Ironforge yelling about how they offer the best prices. Pretty much every game bans the trade of their in game currency for out of game money; and yet this grey market continues to thrive.
I knew a gold buyer in WoW. He was a decent chap, was married with kids, but lacked a little of the patience to actually earn his gold. He’d paid his dues in terms of levelling, but the high price of items, combined with the lack of time and/or inclination to earn the gold, meant that he went to one of the gold seling websites and bought a bunch of cash. It didn’t take too long for him to realise his mistake. Blizzard caught him, took the gold away, and slapped him with a ban. He then had to explain to all his friends why he was no longer around. Fair play to him, he was honest about it, admitted his mistake and took the criticism on the chin. It didn’t change the fact that he was an idiot to do it, but at least he was honest about his idiocy.
I’ll confess that I absolutely understand where he was coming from. WoW is tremendously gear dependent – you max your skills with such ease, that the difference between characters lies in gear, talents and a little bit of skill. Talents are easily maximised – there are plenty of guides to builds on the web, and there’s usually a “cookie cutter” best build for any given type of character. Skill is only aquired through practice (and this chap in question was undoubtedly skilled with his character); but by far the greatest difference to your character is equipment. And equipment requires large scale grouping, or lots of gold (or sometimes both). When your guild is raiding, and you manage to get a boss to 2% of its health, coming close to killing it and yet falling a little short; there is always a temptation to try to improve your own performance to try to help the guild. And if that can be done by dropping a little bit of real life cash, then why not? After all, you are exchanging pounds or dollars for enjoyment. You do the same at the cinema, don’t you?
Well, no. Not really. Because the cinema analogy doesn’t stack up. Whether you like it or not, the endgame of a game like WoW is competitive. You vs the environment. You vs your friends. And your guild vs other guilds. And as such, it’s more akin to a game of football (or soccer for our transatlantic friends). Now lets see, would you spend real money to affect the result of a game of football? I suppose that you could argue that all you are doing is buying a new air of boots; but as we have already ascertained the gear/skill ratio in WoW is weighted heavily in the favour of gear. So it’s almost the reverse of football. So, gold buying in WoW is like paying David Beckham to come and play your sunday league game of football for you… whilst wearing your boots and shirt.
OK – so the analogy is weak, I’m having a weak analogy day. But, the point remains. By spending real life money in WoW, it’s possible to gain a massive in game advantage. Which is not really what you want to see. And that’s before you even consider that it’s against the EULA (really I have very little time for these pseudo legal flappings – but that’s another post for another day). Or that the proceeds of your gold buying might be going somewhere you’d rather that they didn’t. Or that the gold may be accumulated off the backs of underpaid and overworked citizens of the third world.
So gold buying bad, mmm kay?
You see, some games have legitimate ways to turn your real life money into in game cash. And Eve is one of these.
ETC, Eve Time Codes, are the pre-paid game cards of the Eve universe. The same as any other game, you can pay your set amount of cash, and get a time code that gives you a set amount of time to play. In the case of Eve, $35 (about £21) gets you 60 days of time. All good. But what eve also allows you to do is to turn that 60 day ETC into 2 30 day pilot license extensions (PLEX). PLEX are time codes the same as any other, except with one small difference – they can be traded in game, for in game cash. So, here you are, for your real money you can have 60 days play time, or about 700 million isk (which for you non-Eve types out there is quite a lot), or 350 million isk and 30 days of time. For £21.
Currently my characters in Eve are a little poor. Ok, no, they are a lot poor. Constant war against E-Uni has left poor old Psia unable to make any cash at all, and my alt is draining what little money she has in the bank in his quest to get to trading nirvana. So, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before – I’m going to exchange a bit of my real life folding for some in game cash. The hope is that once I have the money, I can use it to fund my characters for the next few months. This should , hopefully, allow my training regime on my alt to conclude, and for him to start making me some real isk. That isk, will eventually be used to pay for PLEX to support my accounts.
The gear/skill ratio in Eve is what makes this possible. Skills are hard to acquire, whilst ships are relatively easy (on the whole). Skills are only hard as they require time and isk. But the time and isk can be quite large. Skill at flying titans (the largest ships in the game) costs somewhere around 5.5billion isk. The ability to fly a ship doesn’t make you any good at it though – so even after spending that 5.5billion isk, you’ve got months of training ahead of you. In WoW, you could buy a bunch of gold and pay someone to help you get the best armour in the game, which you could then equip straight away (assuming that you are at the relatively trivial to reach level 80), and go out and wtfpwn people and encounters. In Eve you can buy a bunch of gold, and buy a top notch ship, which then has to sit in your hangar for months until you can actually fly the thing. Even then, because the game has no “best ship”, if you find yourself in the wrong situation, no matter how skilled, you’ll probably lose it. No wtfpwning. No easy ride. No quick win.
I’m a gold buyer now, and you know what? I’m ok with that.