Friday, December 23, 2011

When A Game Leads To Forced Labor: The Great Gold-Making Conundrum

Okay so I'll be throwing a bunch of thoughts in this post and try to make them stick together.
My logic might be a tad out of whack, I might have a problem of perspective (it's usually the case with everyone, so heh), I might use gross over-generalization, so feel free to comment, throw your own ideas, etc.
Do something.
If I'm wrong about any of this, I'd really like to know and where I'm wrong and why.
Otherwise I'll keep thinking that what I've come up with is the best way to wrap my head around these issues.

Yeah I usually don't ask for feedback, but this time knock yourselves out.

The issue of Proper Pricing
Okay basic stuff incoming, but follow me to get to the point I'm trying to make here.

I hate to use the term "proper" because it feels like it harkens back to the Jane Austen days of things being "as the general consensus views them" that clashes with the idea of other things being "okay as long as the people intimately involved with the situation are fine with it". (I think I actually resumed one of the dilemmas that can always be found in a Jane Austen novel.)
But just saying "good" pricing is a little too lacking of what I am trying to convey.

Anyways, it's always an issue to determine what's the value of an item.
You have to factor in the overall rarity in-game, rarity in the AH, value of the Demand, item novelty, use of the item, etc.
And you can't always base your assumption of the price on what's currently shown on the Auction House or The Undermine Journal.
And you can't always assume what people write about on Trade, on blogs, on Twitter, will be the "right" price for your item.

So, people requesting a price for how much to sell X item : yeah gold-makers can give you an idea of a price, but it's not 100% fool-proof that it will sell and that you couldn't get much much more than that.
Figure it out by yourself - all the tools are there for you to use and find out.

You could send out "tests" on your AH and see if you get Buyers, then correct your pricing and try again until you figure out what's the buying threshold for your item, but that won't tell you exactly if it's the right price.
It'll tell you the price at which one person is willing to buy your item - it doesn't mean that it's everyone's preferred price.
You either drink at home or you pay the bar's extra fees.

Someone who buys your stack of Strange Dust at 80g isn't establishing a new ceiling price for the item.
It just means that the person has the money to buy it at that price, doesn't have the time to look for other means to acquire the Dust and is in a hurry to get it right now.
You could continue to price it like that and see if people keep biting and you might be a wealthier person if it works.
I'm not saying it won't - it might work - but it also might not work all the time, mostly because Strange Dust is the first material needed when someone starts to level Enchanting.
Also because Strange Dust can be acquired very easily and cheaply.
And some people don't have that amount of gold to spend on an entry-level tradeskill material.

And by "some people", I mean "new players".

Okay pause here for a second.
No I didn't say that you have to cater all the time to new players.

But I would like to bring out 2 factors to consider right now : the Can't Be Fucked Player and Gold Sellers.

The Can't Be Fucked Player and the Lazy Tax
There are players that have been in this game for more than the length of one expansion and seem to know their way around the game.
And more than likely these are the players that gold-makers will get most of their money from. (With wealthy newbies coming at a close second.)
They are the people that will buy everything they need from the Auction House as much as it's possible.
They are the people that are directly responsible for the success of reselling items that are found on vendors.

"Nah I can't be fucked to go to Ironforge to buy it from the vendor for 1g40s, but instead I'll buy it right here from the Auction House. Sure it's selling for 50g, but really I can't be bothered to fly all the way there just to get one stupid recipe."

And then for weeks and weeks you hear these players complain about how they don't have any gold, how they hate farming, how they hate dailies, how they hate the whole game for being so difficult. (Missing a big part of what MMO mechanics are, aren't we ?)

That extra charge for the vendor item, I call it the Lazy Tax.

I have a close friend who is one of those players.
And I keep reminding him that the AH prices are high because he won't take 5 minutes to fly around and find the vendor, and such.
He tells me he knows, but he's lazy.
I then reply to him that he has to pay the Lazy Tax.
(And yes sometimes he's aware that he's buying items from me through the AH.)

Preying on the uninformed and/or misinformed people is part of the gold-making game.
There are guides to make gold, some free, some not.
There are literally tips everywhere if you make the simplest Google search.
It really isn't that complicated to get gold in this game.
Heck if you do your daily quests in the Molten Front for a whole week, you have around 1400g in your pockets, guaranteed.

But what I am trying to point out here, is that there are some lazy people who will pay the price of the AH, doesn't matter how costly it can be, as long as they have their items immediately.
And also they find themselves out of money fast and apparently don't like to farm or do dailies.
And somehow those 2 facts don't seem to ever connect in their heads...

Good behavior
Here's an issue to tackle.
I'd like to encourage people to get their own money to be able to buy my items on the AH.
I want at the same time to discourage people to feel the need to buy gold from 3rd parties or use bots.
Is there a solution ?
To share the knowledge with people seems to work, as demonstrated by the gold-making community.
Distribution of wealth directly to the people ?
It's an option, but it doesn't encourage gold-making habits nor does it warn against the traps of lack of game knowledge or outright scams that await the "lazy" gamers.

I've been thinking of different fun and interesting ways to distribute in-game gold to players and to do it in ways to promote good gold-related habits.
I think it's a good goal to aspire to reach.
I'll share if anything worthwhile comes out of this.
(Feel free to throw me your own ideas as well.)
Now go do your dailies and loot everything...

Oh, and about "info is #1"...
I keep saying that knowledge is #1 in this game.
But you obviously don't need to know every detail.
Take every gold-maker that started playing when Wrath was released.
If you understand the right concepts in your head on how to proceed, you can perform correctly right from the start.
Details and "extra knowledge" can follow as you develop interest in the markets you're working on.
Take Wes and Cold from the Auction House Junkies (great show!).
In their podcast, you can hear them demonstrate that their lack of knowledge on the details of the game is largely compensated by the effectiveness of their auctioneering techniques.
It doesn't hinder them nor do they seem to care about the details, and they still win at gold-making.

So yeah - just wanted to throw that out there.

Back on topic.

Gold Sellers
We see them spammin', we hatin'.

There is one thing that can be sure about gold selling : if they are spamming on every server, it's because gold selling WORKS.

Which means that people actually BUY their gold.

Funny and surprising thing: it's not everyone that knows that buying WoW gold is against the game rules.
Why ?
Because microtransactions are now the norm in online gaming.
Everyone is now used to find games online that are free-to-play and that will offer customization options and stat booster items that you have to pay real currency to acquire.
And in a lot of those games, you can buy in-game currency.
Blizzard has many reasons why they do not want to take that step forward into buyable currency - many of these reasons are a bundle of legal issues.
(Let's just say that it's been known that some people have used online virtual games to launder Real Life money. I shouldn't have to add anything else for you to understand the layers of complication that kind of situation adds to a game for teens.)
But because microtransactions are the norm, people wonder why Blizzard isn't doing it.
Until people figure it out or until Blizzard makes an official statement that says "we're never going to do that and here's why", there are some people that will offer a lot of in-game currency for the price of a meal at McDonald's.

Why would people feel bad about buying gold anyways ?
It's just the next logical step for Blizzard to take, right ?
It's not like you've heard of anyone being caught buying gold, right ?
And even if you've heard that buying gold is against the rules, there's so many gold spammers in Trade and they aren't being actively stopped by Blizzard - it's got to be legit !

And look at those Auction House prices !
If they're that high, what else are you going to do ?
The numbers are so big, the quests offer so little, dailies are boring, there's no way you can play the Auction House yourself because you don't know what to do or where to start, and you "need" those items right at this second !
Why wouldn't anyone buy gold or purchase a bot ?
Gold plated bot ? Mother of God...

The Image of Gold-Makers
I've chatted with a bunch of new players since the beginning of Cataclysm.
I'm the helpful guy that will answer to questions that people write in General or Trade.
The feedback I get from the newbies is that they get discouraged by 3 things in the game: not knowing where they are or where they're supposed to go, unhelpful trolls in Trade chat, and unaffordable items on the AH.
I will usually tell them to pay attention to the quest text, ignore the trolls and to only go to the Auction House to sell items, never buy until you are max level.

Hey, a Buyer with close to no buying power isn't going to generate profit for anyone.
If a Buyer is constantly broke, no one will be able to reap the Buyer's future potential benefits and he will be less tempted to go near the AH again.
And he will consider the other less savory options to make gold.

I don't want anyone to encourage gold sellers.

But there's a pickle.
Here's a Blizzard quote about their point of view about gold selling:
''The way to stop this phenomenon is to continue to report and discourage any individuals you might know who do purchase gold, or power leveling services, or buy/trade/sell accounts. When that stops being a demand, there will stop being a supply, and a need to advertise that supply.''
So that brings it back to us.
Gold-makers are pushing for higher prices, reset markets, flip low items to profitable amounts.
We aim for profit.
We take the player's demands for items and we quantify it with a currency amount.
We could ask for less, but we aim for profit.
Their is a direct correlation between the prices of the Auction House and the demand for gold from players.
No wonder some people don't like gold-makers.

Are we pushing players towards gold sellers ?
I want to get to the heart of the matter because I feel profoundly affected by it.
You should all know by now that Chinese gold sellers are using actual slave labor to make and sell people some of that gold, and I do not want to encourage them.
Just like the thought of death (not dying) creeping its' way in my brain when I go to bed sometimes and keeps me up all night, the thought that our little e-currency game is a factor in the torture and suffering of human beings makes me wretch and want to never log on to the game ever again.

Is the jacking of prices to absurd amounts what pushes players to gold-selling sites ?
Is it laziness alone ?

I'd like to make an anonymous survey to know what are the reasons that players have/had to purchase gold from 3rd parties (and if they've been consequently hacked).
Just to know what makes people tick.

I'd like to know if what I'm doing is a necessary gear in the wheels of turning a game into slavery.
Because if it is, then I'm stopping this in a second and deleting everything in this blog except for this post.

If a few bucks means a few thousands of gold for you, how many hours of slave labor have you
contributed to and effectively have encouraged to continue ?
If you keep paying the slave masters, they will keep slave driving.
Shrug it off as much as you want, there are Real Life consequences to your happy happy play time.
You may not see them in front of your eyes, but they exist.

What am I doing here ?
So I am trying to reach an arbitrary amount of wealth to prove to myself that I can master the complex system of a game's economy.

It's the equivalent of any kind of puzzle solving - the setting, scale and length of it differs from one type to the next.
Compare it to any kind of leisure activity: you have a goal to reach, you have obstacles and things that hinder/handicap you from making a quick beeline to the objective.
It's just a pastime.
How much of my life has been claimed by this game ?
Don't get me wrong - I am very rarely bored by the game.
Like ever.
I've fit into all of the categories of players targeted by the game at some point in my WoW life.
I have been a hardcore raider, an alt leveler, a completionist, a rep grinder, a collector, a casual Weekend Warrior plowing through 5-mans, a lore nerd, a purely social gamer, an Auction House addict, a hardcore PvPer (except for Arenas, bleh).

Gold-making has been the most odd meta-thing I've ever done.
And it's particularly weird coming from someone who has longstanding problems with math and should have flunked his economics class in high school (teacher gave me a passing grade because he was retiring and didn't want to deal with me, LoL).

Do I like making gold ?
Well, I like putting time and effort to reach a goal I've set for myself, and that brings me pleasure and satisfaction.
It's fun to do it.
Do I like the thought that I may somehow be responsible for the inhumane treatment of human beings because of the fun game I play ?
Hell no.

Honestly, I don't know what this reflection/thinking/diary entry is all about.
Is this melting pot of ideas the product of an existential crisis brought on by the normal cycle of things of my life ? (I will soon turn 31, so it's expected)
Or brought on by the situation of me as a player versus my point of view of the status of the game ?
Or is this the existential crisis that every gold-maker goes through when they reach their gold cap objective and wonder what the heck they're going to do now (and maybe I'm thinking a bit too much ahead of myself) ?
Or could this be a new cycle of my gaming life in WoW that is slowly emerging, and I just have no clue what it is going to turn out to be ?

What exactly are gold-makers doing here ?
Do we just want a little extra in-game money to save on the side, or are we inflating our egos by reaching an arbitrary number, or are we hoarders, or are we simply playing another kind of puzzler with numbers ?

Ethically, I'm at an impasse.
And considering it all is so overwhelming that I just want to freeze and don't want to take another step because I might be hurting someone.
But I guess the best way to deal with it is to not think of it.
To momentarily cure my issue of the thought of dying in my sleep, I have to distract my mind enough so it forgets about it and then I manage to fall asleep.
Maybe I should do the same thing here.
Just get distracted enough by shiny objects and stuff and happy thoughts and rising numbers and bury my consciousness underneath everything.
And hope it doesn't come back again.

My next post will be on a lighter subject, I promise.


  1. Here's your sammich!

    Nice to see a rant post from you bruddah. I see now that I am not the only blogger with ADD. =)


  2. Sorry to hear your brain hurts from the mess you are thinking. I own a gold selling company, we can talk if you want, and I will be candid. Will give you more information then what you catch from a few glimpses of newsworthy stories... the truth about gold farming isn't so interesting nor newsworthy, which is why you won't know/read about the majority of what actually goes on.

  3. RE: Info is #1
    I once read, in a Tom Clancy book i was reading, that the ones who succeed are the ones who can make good decisions while not knowing every detail

  4. First off, great and thought-provoking post. Second, I think you may have the telescope turned the wrong way. How much in-game gold do you think the tips and information I've put out on PW:G has generated that wouldn't have been there with out it? Hundreds if thousands? Millions? I'd guess in the hundreds of millions of gold. Now think about that for a second. Because of the gold-making community sharing idea and ways for players to make *there own* gold there have been hundreds of millions of gold generated that never had to come from gold-sellers. Never had to be farmed bu interred Chinese.

    You say high prices drive players to buy gold which causes slave labor. While this may be true in some small way surely tithe gold-making community, yourself included, have done far more to produce good in the world by teaching others how to make their own gold than bad.

  5. A thought provoking post for the New Year. Here is my take. No one needs to be 'Gold Capped' to enjoy the game - that's just an arbitrary goal set by some gold bloggers. Most players just need to know the basics of making gold in the Auction House - something I try to teach. Too often gold blogs and gold podcasts talk to other gold bloggers and not the average player.

    And here's the thing. Don't beat yourself up for trying to master the wow economy. What you learn in wow will hold you in good stead in the real world.

    Cheers Marcus Ty

  6. Goblins actually lower costs not raise them. Without us, the supply would not be there, making prices even higher.

  7. I actually made a post a while back on my thoughts about what goblins do to an economy

    What Kind of a Force Are Goblins in a Server’s Economy?

    Didn't remember it till Foo made that comment *facepalm*

  8. Thanks for the comments, guys.
    This wasn't as much wondering about the utility of gold-makers as it was about connecting the dots from our game to slave labor.
    Most of you don't feel like that is very important and I understand your point of views.

    @Josh - If you have any information to share, I would urge you to share it in the comments here. I am not very knowledgeable about the world you're in, so anything would be appreciated.

    @Xsinthis @Foo - I know of our utility in the economy of servers and you are both right. I was wondering if we were going overboard in some areas IF indeed buyers were turning to gold sellers to purchase our items.

    @Marcus @flux - Yeah maybe I've gone a bit crazy on the bad aspect of this subject, though I'm not backing up on the correlation until it's been disproved.
    But I think you are both right in the educational aspect of what the community is doing. And I think we can go further with that. We need more ideas on the subject. Flux, I've read your tweet about holding gold-making classes and I really like that.
    Lemme stew a bit more on the subject...