Life in the virtual world can be just as devastating as the real world, especially when the two interconnect and bite the player in the rear.
There seems to be a fine line between acceptance and rejection when it comes to purchasing and selling items in MMORPGs. Many companies have attempted to thwart such practices, especially when players look to third party companies for leveling up characters, or gain access to bags of gold by shelling out real world cash. In some cases, such as Jagex's browser-based MMORPG RuneScape, the banning of gold farming cost the company two million active accounts, half of the overall user base, because the players believed gameplay deteriorated once the "anti-gold-farmer" controls were implemented at the end of 2007.
However, despite user feedback, companies such as Jagex and Blizzard appear more concerned about subscriber security and engine code stability, and for good reason. Gold, weapons, armor, and possibly even high-level characters for sale within MMORPGs may very well be stolen, taken from hacked accounts by 3rd-party companies who originally provided a "service"--usually power leveling--to the account owner in previous months. By accessing the account, said companies can not only hijack the account, but steal important information such as credit card numbers, addresses, and other billing information.
"Our developers, in-game support, and anti-hack teams work diligently to stop the exploits these companies use and help players who have become victims of their services," said Blizzard in an official statement located here. "We regularly track the source of the gold these companies sell, and find that an alarmingly high amount comes from hacked accounts. These are the friends, relatives, and guildmates you may know who have gone through the experience of having characters, gold, and items stripped from them after visiting a website or opening a file containing a trojan virus. Our teams work to educate players and assist them in avoiding account compromise, but the fact remains that the players themselves are often these companies' largest target as a source for gold, which the companies then turn around and sell to other players."
Because of the overall security threat these 3rd-party companies represent, Blizzard has banned the use of external power leveling and the selling of gold for real money. In fact, that very reason alone is probably why many MMORPGs are now following suit. Additionally, tracking down potential violators only drains the resources needed to tack down code bugs, thus costing MMORPG companies unnecessary time and money when dealing with gold farmers who, in turn, create realm performance and stability issues through the use of "disruptive hacks." According to Blizzard, any account suspected of illegal in-game activity will be terminated.
"The companies essentially take time away from our development and in-game support efforts as we work to stop their exploits and assist players who have become their victims in recovering characters and items," the company added. "They spam advertisements, use bots that make it hard for players to find the resources they need, and raise the cost of items through inflation."
But why would gamers use an external service? After all, doesn't that take away from the experience of receiving gold through quests and encounters, from the experience of receiving points earned via battle and quest completion? Isn't character progression the whole reason for role-playing in the first place: to evolve the character from a mere peasant to a powerful entity? 3rd party farmers seem more like cheat houses, similar to those devices that hooked up to consoles and provided extra cheats originally not available.
Still, the topic of gold farming and its presence within MMORPGs is not new. In fact, a few articles covering this topic actually displayed a gold farmer advertisement within its Google Adsense window. Curious as to what it offered, the click-through led to Forsaken-Farmers, a site offering everything Blizzard banned from its MMORPG: powerleveling and gold. For $12.50, gamers can get 1000 gold pieces; 10,000 for $125. Want to jack up the character's level? For $60, the company will level the character to 60. However, the site now has this disclaimer posted on the front page: "Due to Blizzard diligence on stopping gold selling, we no longer offer in-game mailing of gold. All deliveries are made Face 2 Face and we request that you contact our Live Help staff to setup delivery."
Ultimately, MMORPG subscribers may have to be wary about buying special items in-game, especially when they seem a bit too over-the-top. Gamers should also avoid external powerleveling and gold banks simply because no one should be trusted other than the account owner and Blizzard. Still, as Jagex has seen with RuneScape, many gamers will still reject the new MMORPG laws even though it's in the best interest for everyone.