Meet a typical level 70 human mage (name and server omitted to protect the innocent). He has reached highest level, so what is he to do next? Embark on the endless pursuit of better gear and epic mounts! But he cannot compete with those kids that spend all day in front of their computers and farm gold like it is imminently going to reach the peak of the production curve. Our mage has places to be, people to meet, conferences to attend, articles to write.
Enter the gold sellers. They spam the public channels day and night. “Welcome to Happygold.net, we sell you 1000 golds for only €25 euros”. The mage knows that this is wrong. Those gold farmers are actually kids in China working in depressing conditions, nothing but a techno-sweat-shop. Gold selling inflates prices and demeans the game. It is a form of cheating, as it erases the need to grind for hours to obtain the reward. Yet, you want that fast mount so that you can fly through the skies of Outland at a decent speed. Then there is the issue of writing and talking about virtual worlds and virtual economies, yet never having conducted a real-world online monetary transaction. The mage tells himself that it is all right, it is all in the name of scholarly legal research.
He fires up his PayPal spell.
Choosing the gold seller is a tricky endeavour. He has been writing down names of in-game gold sellers (proving unfortunately that channel spam does work). He weeds out those which are too pushy or annoying. He then goes to several sites, and further filters out the ones which have not even bothered getting their sites in decent English. He then compares prices, and selects one with a 10% extra gold offer, and which also has a well-designed website and decent interface (sloppy coding is a sign of sloppy thinking). He types in his European server, his faction and his character, and selects that he wants to buy 1000 gold. PayPal comes up, requests the password, and the transaction is complete. Was that it? It was way too easy!
Ten minutes later the mage is slowly flying around Netherstorm in his non-epic mount, when he receives a private message:
“Hello, this is happygolds.net” (not the real name of course).
“Oh, hi! Err… how do I do this?”
“Come to SW”
“OMW” Being a mage has the advantage of teleportation, so our hero swiftly materialises in the city of Stormwind, where he is invited to a group by a Level 1 player.
“Meet me at the bank” it says.
“Ok, I’m there”. A generic Level 1 warrior shows up, goes into the Guild vault, clearly withdraws something, and the trade screen comes up. He transfers 1000 gold just like that, says “Cya” and disbands the group and logs out in front of your eyes.
Our mage is left experiencing a maelstrom of conflicting emotions. There’s glee at the fact that he now can afford his epic mount. There’s a good amount of guilt, peppered with the strange sensation that one has just participated in an illicit act, thrown in with a hint of amazement at how fast, easy and painless the whole process was. £20 GBP gone just like that, converted into a virtual currency that can be used only to spend virtual goods.
The immensity of the economic implications of the transaction finally start to dawn. No wonder Sweden is considering taxing in-game economies. The amount of money changing hands must be huge!
Now, off to get that Swift Blue Gryphon.