Where to Break The RMT Chain

I've been thinking a lot about the RMT situation in WoW. Part of the problem, as far as I can see, is that it's very difficult to point to any one part of the RMT chain and say "this is where it can be stopped".

The sterotypical Chinese gold farmer knows enough responses to keep him going, and if he does get caught, another account is not hard to get. The people who employ him are not likely to do so directly - indeed, IGE have stated that they don't employ the "producers". Those same people, when they sell the gold, are breaking the terms of service of most MMOs, certainly, but those terms of service have yet, as far as I'm aware, to see legal challenge. And I get the feeling that they may not be all that robust in such a situation. I think Sony's Station Exchange may well have weakened any defense the MMO publishers could put up - if they're willing to sell items for cash themselves, then it may well be legally tough to argue that nobody else should be allowed.

And then there are the people buying gold - they're breaking the terms of service as well, of course. And from the point of view of most people, they're breaking the game as well. But this has always happened with games, of any kind. Collectable card games, like Magic: The Gathering and all its descendants, are dominated by people who sink large amounts of money into acquiring the right cards. Soccer championships are won by clubs who spend millions on getting the right players.

I'm not willing to go from "it always happens" to "it's acceptable", though. But I'm having real, genuine trouble in picking out what bits of that chain you can prevent it at. It's impossible to monitor every in-game transaction, or even every suspect in-game transaction, because the very economies of the games mean that prices vary, and Twilight Texts at a gold a pop may well be the reality of that server's market, even as they sell for peanuts on another.

One suggestion has been to simply set up games where no transactions can take place - where characters can't give anything to or receive anything from other players. But I can't see that one working; the trading aspects of the games are very important to many players. And, of course, that doesn't and can't stop the other aspect of RMT - power levelling.

So yes, it's a problem - but what can be done about it? I'm coming up pretty short on solutions myself.

Posted by Drew Shiel at September 5, 2006 10:58 PM

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