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Gold farmers are the application developers of World of Warcraft June 18, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in gaming, mmorpg, platforms.

This weekend the NY Times does a color piece on the life of a chinese gold farmer. Gold farming is a topic that the BBC also covered recently, and that is the subject of an emerging documentary.

This an area which conjures up strong emotions. The “Chinese Goldfarmers must die” crowd has many adherents. The arguments that they make are that “It’s cheating” and that “They make it harder for ‘real players’ to get ahead by increasing competition”. As PC Gamer magazine said when they banned advertising by gold farmers:

For the record, PC Gamer’s official stance on these types of companies is that they are despicable: not only do they brazenly break many MMOs’ End-User License Agreements, but they all-too-often ruin legitimate players’ fun.

Opposing reactions have ranged from “You’re racist” to “Don’t blame the suppliers, blame the buyers”.

Blizzard and other game publishers have largely come down against goldfarmers for economic reasons, frequently banning accounts that they suspect to be used for gold farming. Quoting from the the NY Times article:

As Mark Jacobs, vice president at Electronic Arts and creator of the classic M.M.O. Dark Age of Camelot, put it: “Are you going to get more sympathy from busting 50,000 Chinese farmers or from busting 10,000 Americans that are buying? It’s not a racial thing at all. If you bust the buyers, you’re busting the guys who are paying to play your game, who you want to keep as customers and who will then go on the forums and say really nasty things about your company and your game.”

Interestingly enough, Gamerprice.com and the University of Sheffield did some research earlier this year that shows that this “hard line” on policing against gold farming is enforced far more on US servers than on EU servers, resulting in much higher prices for gold on US servers:

Real world prices of Gold on WoW US vs EU servers

Coincidentally, this weekend GigaOm reports that World of Warcraft has stopped growing (see chart below, originally sourced from Warcraft Realms, showing player activity at peak hours declining from a peak in January when the Burning Crusade expansion pack was released.)

WoW peak hours player activity

One wonders whether these two facts are related.

I posted last week about the Facebook platform where I quoted Brad Silverberg on the three elements needed to make a platform successful:

* wide distribution
* application developers making money
* good tools

Blizzard is clearly taking a stand on the second of these elements – it appears NOT to want “application developers” to make money. Second Life, vastly smaller, has taken the opposite approach.

Companies like IGE and Sparter will hope that Blizzard and other MMORPG publishers change their minds over time. While its always possible to live in the grey market, its much easier to do so out in the open.