Gold Spam Nation: Why buying gold makes you an asshat

Or “Why trying to exaggerate your way out of being an asshat is not working, you’re still an asshat for buying gold”.

Gold spam at its finest.

Gold spam at its finest.

If you’re not playing Aion, chances are that you’ve still heard about the gold spammer problem the game is currently facing. Take a look at the picture to the left, that’s the Looking for Group-channel on my server (Castor-EU), a snapshot of about 5 seconds. The thing just kept rolling and rolling in a never ending stream of gold spam. If you look closely, you’ll notice that it’s not only one spammer – there are actually two of them captured in that shot and there were probably more of them lurking about. In a game that doesn’t even have a free trial yet, which means that the spammers are using paid accounts, that’s a quite impressive amount of gold selling right there.

Because of the problems Aion is having, the discussion about gold buying being OK or not has cropped up again. It keeps popping up, for a reason. It’s a controversial subject, after all. I can see all kinds of side to the phenomenon, but there’s one thing that always gets me – the ridiculous justifications some people bring up to excuse their gold buying. It’s not enough just to say that they are too lazy to get their hands on the gold, the blame is often shifted on the game developers instead. Most of the time, this is absolute BS. SkyRi has given me an excellent example in his comment on Insert Awesome Aion Name. He’s written a post about it himself on Aion Insider, but it doesn’t really say much about the subject at all, so I’ll stick with the comment – that’s where the juicy stuff can be found.

Before I go on, let’s get one thing out of the way – I don’t bash F2P-games. They are usually designed from the ground up with micro-transactions in mind and I truly believe in that model of monetizing a MMO. I’ve played Runes of Magic, I love what Turbine has done with Dungeons & Dragons Online. I enjoy Free Realms, even though I am not sure about mixing a subscription model with an item shop that way. I don’t really care about the item shops that SOE introduced into games like Vanguard and EverQuest 2 either, to a point. People want to buy stuff for real money, let them – as long as the game in question is designed for that kind of business model.

If you’re not clear on that, please read the last paragraph again. Are we clear? Good, thank you, do keep reading.

Want to buy this shaman?

Want to buy this shaman?

Now, let’s go on to games like Aion. Aion is built to have an economy that is not based on real money. It’s based on kinah, the in-game currency. Everything in Aion costs kinah, from teleporting to flying to picking your nose to stretching your wings to look twice at a pretty, half-clad NPC. Actually, it can cost quite a bit of kinah – my teleporting around to visit different locales to grab screenshots for the magazine actually emptied my wallet and leveling crafting in Aion is a very expensive affair. It’s a rather daring design choice, since it makes the economy quite vulnerable in a way. Gold sinks are great and needed to curb inflation, but enter gold buying into the equation and you can get an economy that will crash if you so much as sneeze in its general direction.

SkyRi says that “[a]fter coming from work, I play MMOs to entertain myself, relax and have a good time”. That’s good. He also buys gold, which puts the entire game economy in danger and thus has the possibility to affect the entertainment of the whole server.

Here’s reason number one why gold buying makes you an asshat. It has nothing to do with me feeling that your large wallet makes me jealous or that it cheapens the work I’ve put into my character (one of my best friends bought enough gold to buy his epic flying mount in World of Warcraft back in the day, while I got mine through finding the gold through legitimate means – we still got to fly together, which was great). It’s about the fact that your selfishness has the possibility to affect thousands of other people. Somehow, your time is more valuable. If you truly believe that, and that the gamble you take with the virtual economy by bringing in actual money, you’re an asshat. Simple.

But ok, let’s say you live a busy life. A lot of us do. A few years ago, I was able to sit in front of World of Warcraft from 10 am to 4 am (the perks of being a humanities student), these days I’m glad if I can get a couple of hours at most during the evening. Not only am I more busy, my body really isn’t up for the task anymore. Somehow I still manage to enjoy a game, get characters to end-game, and so does a majority of adult players. Sure, my idea of fun might not mesh with yours, but at least my idea of fun isn’t what fuels the gold spammers to totally ruin the general channels of Aion. Yours do. You create the demand which they supply kinah to. Good going, how does that asshat fit?

Weapon of choice.

Weapon of choice.

Battling spammers also costs money. It doesn’t take up marketing money or bug hunting money – those are different teams with their own budgets. But battling spam can become a question of design, not only of chat systems but also a matter of UI design and integration. An attempt at fixing the problem might not work, like when NCsoft recently remove the ability to send whispers from characters below level 5 which started the whole general channel spamfest, which means it will have to go back to the drawing board again.

That costs more money, the new integration costs money, patching the servers and clients cost money (server techs want to eat too, download bandwidth comes with a cost), and more money that could have gone into fixing the UI in other ways is eaten up because of the gold spammers. Did I mention why they spam? Because of people like you. Aren’t you glad that you managed to skip those pesky hours of, you know, playing the actual game?

Right, I forget – your gold buying doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s all about you. You get to do what you want in a game not designed around people buying gold. Silly me. Asshat.

Of course, it doesn’t end there. SkyRi goes on and says that

The fact that I have to buy these 3rd party services for me to enjoy the game, in a twisted way, can be viewed as a failure in the companies’ part to not adequately design the game to be fun and cater to the average/casual gamer.

Hurray! The “average/casual gamer”. The good old “if you have time to actually go through the process to get your hands on this amount of gold yourself, you are hardcore/you don’t have a life/you don’t have a job”-argument! Somehow, being “casual” means “having better things to do”, which excuses the gold buying. Let’s forget about all the people who don’t see themselves as anywhere near hardcore (like myself these days) that still manages to get their hands on gold without using their credit card.

Good thing we bought our gold, freeing up time for a casual game of Wii!

"Good thing we bought our gold, freeing up time for a casual game of Wii!"

Please, mister Asshat, can we drop that whole argument now? It’s idiotic, it’s insulting, and you know it – you are just using the exaggeration to get ahead in the argument, just like the hardcore players do when they claim that you guys don’t deserve to have any fun because you are all noobs that should L2P NUUBCAKEZ LOL. Yes, that makes equal sense.

The fun in that comment is not that part, really. The fun part is the other exaggeration, that the game is not designed adequately to SkyRi’s needs. Now, I can’t argue with this – SkyRi prefers “end game sieges, guild wars, arena battles, raids”, that’s why he keeps buying these games. But the thing is, the journey up to that point is designed to be fun, especially close to launch when it is the only thing a lot of people will see before deciding to stick with a new MMO or not (look, I didn’t say all, or most, I said “a lot”). Aion might not do it for you, but it seems like it does it for a lot of other players, since the darn servers are still spitting out queues when I try to log in. You are not saying that everyone, including casuals, are buying gold, trying to get ahead and into end-game quicker since they find the rest of the game boring, are you?

As mentioned earlier, SkyRi plays to relax, to have fun, so…

…mindlessly hacking at 10000 mobs so I can get my next level doesn’t fulfill those needs, it become a second job in order to reach the point where the game becomes fun for me (end game).

Ah! Here we go. You know what, here’s a real problem that we can actually discuss. MMOs, for many, are no fun until end-game and the journey to that point is seen as nothing but a grind. I can agree to that in many cases. World of Warcraft battled the problem by more or less removing the grind, speeding up the process from level 1 to level-cap to a blur. As a game matures, and more and more of the player base exists in the higher levels, this is bound to happen in a lot of games. But the journey from start to “finish”, where you open up end-game, is a staple in most MMOs these days. It currently defines the genre. I don’t like it, SkyRi doesn’t like it.

But I have to ask SkyRi why he keeps going back to a genre that he doesn’t enjoy fully. I am currently leveling away in Fallen Earth. That’s a slow process, but I enjoy the experience, otherwise I wouldn’t be playing. It’s sad that Fallen Earth has fallen into the same trap as Aion, Warhammer and Age of Conan did – the typical XP-grind before you cap out your character. That’s a matter of being unoriginal, or living up to expectations (real or imagined). But instead of not playing a game that isn’t fun, the way out for some seem to be to buy their way past what they perceive as “un-fun”.

I get bored from just looking at the cover.

I get bored from just looking at the cover.

Approach an ordinary game the same way. How about a game like Titan Quest? There’s a lot of play time in a dungeon crawler game (people are still playing it, and Diablo II), yet you might not enjoy the early stages. Perhaps you want a maxed out character from the start. If there’s no cheat code, chances are that you will choose to not play the game. I would love to play as the black mage in Final Fantasy Dissidia, just because I love tarutarus, but I know that the rest of the game will only be a pain before I reach that point. So, like through magic, I choose not to play it. Simple.

Do you play MMOs because you want to play a game with your friends, or hang with the rest of the co-workers at the water cooler and talk about that awesome raid against the Elyos you took part in yesterday? Fine, I get that. You like raiding, sieges, stuff that isn’t available at level 1? Fair enough. The game up until that point isn’t fun for you, so you look for that cheat code. The only thing is that the cheat code here doesn’t ding your Asmodian to level 50 instantly (you have to wait for the Recruit a Friend-scheme to get even close to that). The cheat code is the numbers on your credit card, from which the money that fuels an industry which will hijack general channels and screw up the in-game economy comes from.

No comment needed.

No comment needed.

You get the gold, you might even get a fully-leveled character (which was probably used to farm gold while being leveled, and that might get your account hacked, which in turn might empty your guild bank, so you again take the chance of your choices affecting other people), which is great for you, bad for more or less everyone else.

You know what? Fine. Keep your exaggerations and your justifications for paying for gold. But don’t for a second believe that you are nothing but an asshat who believes his/her time is so valuable that you risk scaring away other people because of it. Those gold spammers that’s been running crazy through Aion didn’t come out of nowhere. They came to Aion because they knew asshats would be there to pay them money for kinah, opting for an easy way out instead of playing the game. Can you at least accept that, instead of looking for idiotic excuses?

Until we get a game that is great fun for everyone, ask yourself if you’re actually playing the right genre if you feel you have to buy gold/kinah/ISK/leveling services to have fun.

Next up on Gold Spam Nation: How did we get here in the first place and what can the genre do to get to the root of the problem?

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  1. Longasc says:

    Several (!) of my friends are gold-buyers and they admit it freely! They take the denial to a whole new level, everyone does it, so it’s okay! :( They don’t play Aion, but they did it in WoW.

    I am sorry to say, but the only solutions to this are…

    1.) games designed in a way that demands people to do something by themselves instead of buying it with gold. Also, no grindy game designs that drive people to desperation and make them think about “what if I buy some gold?”
    2.) punishing gold buyers and sellers alike, no warnings, no second chance or temporal ban, but immediate termination. Many companies don’t do this, as the gold buyers apparently are not only among the “casuals”, but also among the most hardcore players. Why ban good customers?

  2. Scopique says:

    I’ve never understood the allure of buying gold, only because that while there are a lot of gold sinks in these games, gold doesn’t help you level (which was mentioned). Having the cash DOES take a bit of worry off your shoulders in that you’ll be able to buy the gear you need — and in many games, if you’re not geared properly, OTHER asshats won’t play with you.

    I will say that when I bought the EVE Online retail box, I converted the 60 hour time cards into PLEX and sold them in-game. This is a game-supported mechanism, so I didn’t feel bad about it, and it helped out during my time in-game.

  3. Petter says:

    I’ve bought and sold PLEX as well, but they are handled differently – the money comes from the market itself and they work as ISK-sinks. The game is structured to have them there.

  4. [...] commentator Petter has a single word for those who buy gold: asshat. It’s going on your permanent [...]

  5. Rer says:

    Thanks for the link. Excellent response article. Definitely adding you to my blogroll :D

  6. [...] Petter re: Gold Selling – “It’s about the fact that your selfishness has the possibility to affect thousands of other people.” [...]

  7. Hambone Hamlet says:

    After reading your this, all I can think is would players really care about people buying and selling gold if we did not see it? If gold sellers did not spam the public chat channels and did their advertisements via websites or twitter and not ingame would we care.

    People are going to buy gold because its quick and cheap and then they are going use that gold to buy things like mounts, houses, armor, and/or weapons (hopefully player-owned, got to help the economy).

  8. [...] people like you. I love MMOs, I love the culture and the communities. But you, Mr or Mrs Goldbuyer? You’re an asshat. Go cheat in The Sims 3 instead, where you can feel all high and mighty instead of screwing your [...]

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