Regulating gold farming

I’m in Malaysia for a WIPO seminar on the software industry (note to self: in the future, stay away from water and ice). Yesterday there was an interesting session on the gaming industry in the Asian region. The representative from the Japanese software industry gave statistics on the subscription-based online gaming market. By 2006, there were 660,000 people playing subscription-based games (of which 90,000 were female). Laura Ho from the Malaysian Multimedia Development Corporation had an interesting take on virtual property. While it is clear that some games make claims over ownership of virtual goods, what happens in exchanges between two players? While the actual ownership over the intellectual property may be clearly delimitated through licences, what is the relationship between users?

This made me think about the growing economic importance of virtual economies, but also brought me back to my own experiences with gold selling. On the plane in I read an article in Edge magazine on the behind-the-scenes work of support staff at NCSoft Austin. A prominent part of the interview talked about the problem of gold farmers, and about the amount of resources that go into curbing farming. Support staff are very much aware of the activities of gold farming, so they claimed to conduct account banning, as well as being familiar with Chinese IP addresses. One of the claims is that farmers are given away by sudden large earnings, or by unusually large transactions.

Farming is clearly aganst most EULAs, but I was wondering about the extent of policing excercised. For example, I think that whatever the evils of farming, the underground economy could actually be good for a game. Farmers must be subscribers after all, and many other virtal inhabitants appreciate access to gold without countless grinding hours.

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