For Discussion: The Charitable Goldfarmer

In honor of Milton Friedman Day, I toss an economic question: What in-game differences would there be between someone who sold gold for RL money and someone who gave gold away to people s/he had never met before? Follow-up: whatever effects you believe RMT has on your game, are you causing the same effects on a smaller scale when you give a friend ten gold to get started (or any other form of help/twinkery)?

I have seen people give away millions of influence in City of Heroes just because they could, although that has presumably gone down with prestige and the impending auction house as cash sinks. I would expect charitable goldfarmers to farm less gold, since they have less incentive, although they get whatever joy altruists get. Their effects are randomly distributed, rather than going to folks with more money than time.

Would there be different effects if Blizzard awarded 100 gold to a random character once per hour (besides people trying to stay logged on for free gold)?

: Zubon

8 thoughts on “For Discussion: The Charitable Goldfarmer”

  1. I’ll bite, although this could be long…

    difference between a gold farmer and an altruists: A gold farmer is going to collect money faster, and is going to do things like camp rare spawns to the detriment of the rest of the populace. An altruist will be operating on a much smaller scale since they generally aren’t interested in maximizing their gold income.

    RMT vs. friend: Yes, there’s a big difference. Your friend isn’t going to sit there in an area with whatever the mineral de jur is mine it over and over and over for weeks at a time. Essentially, it’s a matter of motivation. A player is playing for some form of entertainment. A gold farmer isn’t playing the game: they’re engaged in a business, and thus what impact they have on the game or the players is irrelevant (to them).

    If Blizzard gave away 100 gold per hour to a random logged in character, it would just make the rich richer. It would favor people who already spend massive amounts of time online, and they already usually have more gold than the average casual player. Now, if it was 100 gold per hour to a random character, logged in or not, it would just add inflation to the economy, since in general everyone would get the 100 gold eventually. Neither of these cases mimic the RMT effects, since people that play lots usually can’t/don’t need to buy gold, and a completely random lottery would have no real effect over the long term.

  2. I think the point of what he was trying to get across, is that there is no real financial impact difference between people who farm in game gold for friends/guildmates and those who farm it for reselling on eBay.

    What a lot of people fail to realize is that gold farming in it’s most general form is what the game is all about. You camp mobs for epic equipment, XP, gold or a quest item, it’s really all about the same thing at the core model. The problem crops up when game designers don’t take into account the maximum amount of possibly influx of new items/gold/levels. While gold farmers do gather larger amounts of gold than that of a normal player, it’s still an influx the economy should be able to handle.

    While I’m not saying designers need to take into account RMT, they DO need to take into account market flucuations and make sure the game has enough money sinks to handle such events. A good example of exactly what RMT does is when higher level players pay ridiculous sums of money for special event quest items. For the most part, higher level players don’t even need money, and are less likely to buy it since they can earn their own with minimal effort. Lower level players though are somewhat capped as to their earning potential. When the special event starts, there is a huge shift in money from higher level players (who don’t need the money in the first place) to lower level players.

    This money is entering the economy after staying stagnant at a rate at least 10x higher than normal. This is the exact same thing that happens on a micro scale for guildmates, friends and of course, RMT. While nobody likes to admit it, especially if it’s their favorite game, or your the designer, is that the game mechanics for economy are essentially broken. If your players have a need to gather sums of money larger than they can effectively gather themselves, you’ll probably find that there is a chink in the socio-economic chain, where lower level players are not “needed” by higher level players, as in WoW. A level 10 player cannot do anything as, or more effectively than a level 50 player can do. Therefore a level 10 offers nothing of economic value to the higher level players. Even in real life, lower class people offer something of value, work on a mass scale, to higher class people, who in turn offer goods that all classes want, but now have an incentive to offer them at a price the lower class can afford.

    The other problem of inflation can be stemmed or at least slowed by more investment incentives for higher level players (instead of just horses). For the most part higher level players don’t even need to buy equipment as equipment from “farming” drops (raids, camping, quests) is far more valuable than having that player invest in other tiers of the economy such as pieces of lower tier items in order to craft a higher tier item, or the work of such a lower player.

    Over the long term I conclude that RMT simply speeds up the process of an already broken economy. If you eliminate RMT, you simply see the next problem down on the list as the “cause” while in reality, the cause is a broken game.

    P.S. Yes, I’ve been studying the effects of RMT on game economies for about 4 years as a bit of a hobby and yes, there are more factors than I’m listing here, I’m just using the first examples to come to mind :)

  3. The EVE Online tech 2 blueprint lottery is a good example of your last paragraph: it takes a little time to get into the lottery, but once you’re in blueprints are issued randomly. They are worth a very large amount of money as they guarantee a large income stream.

  4. Its true that gold farmers in a sense do what other players do, extracting currency from the game thru killing mobs and resource harvesting. However, the focus on the game as a business rather than an amusement leads to distortions such as the camping of rare spawns, difficulty for casual players to find the mineral du jour (nice turn of phrase, Silvanis), and an incentive to use exploits (the impact on the pricing of Dire Maul drops, for example). An altruist is unlikely to cause any of these distortions, and simply giving gold from player A to player B would seem to have no effect on the overall game economy.

    I have to disagree on the comments that high level players who spend lots of time on line are unlikely to need / buy gold. Thats only true if that player is using their time to farm or play the auction house. PVP or raiding are huge time sinks that don’t necessarily lead to much gold. As a one-time tank for a raiding guild I found it to be a huge gold sink. Repair bills on epics, purchases of potions and other consumables could eat up large sums each night, and a raiding schedule leaves less time for farmng. Most epic drops were bind on pick up, and the guild bank received most of the bind on equip drops, so it was rarely a profitable activity. On the flip side, once a casual player has their mount and a couple of nice auction house BOEs, there seems little need to buy gold.

  5. City of Heroes seems to be the place where this is most likely, particularly compared to WoW where people were going broke from armor repairs in raids. I myself having given away ~5 million influence, which sounds like a lot til I note that this was from a Scrapper badge whore.

    The big difference is that RMT sales can be made large scale, and effect large networks.

    Even an individual, for yucks, handing out gold to people who ask for it on the forums might be lucky to have an audience of 5% of the total playerbase. An individual giving the gold away for free can’t farm much, since they are one individual, fairly rare, and usually have a real job. They also focus across social networks — forums, guilds, et all — which mitigate the effects by keeping much of the money inside a smaller group where it gets traded directly to crafters at normal values rather than flood individual item purchases.

    RMTs, on the other hand, tend to focus on spreading to individuals least willing to game the market, and are thus more likely to flood auctions and cause inflation quickly. They’re also more likely to produce more gold, since they’re being paid for their work.

  6. If it’s the same amount of gold over the same amount of time, then yes, it’s the same effect.

    Thus the problem many people have with RMT: it’s not some moral dilemma, but rather it’s the inflationary effect of so much more gold being pumped into the economy by 24×7 companies than could otherwise be created by players even if they tried.

    I myself have never bought gold for another reason – in every game I’ve ever played as soon as I found out the cheat codes, I had fun for 15 minutes then the game immediately became boring. Why bother slogging through when I could enter the cheat code, by the same token if I buy gold, then i’ll just buy great BoE items, not bother with the dungeons or grinding rep for items/recipes, etc. It will become boring. hmm if I want to quit maybe that’s the way to do it.

  7. The whole topic has fascinated me for a few years as well. Seems that there would be no difference if you controlled for three different things:

    1. Harvesting Rate
    2. Content Exclusion
    3. Static Pricing

    If the rate at which mobs/drops are farmed is greater than some abstract “natural” harvest rate (which is a function of non-farmer’s game time), then, farmers are contributing more gold into the money supply than would ordinarily be expected. However, its only the difference as all players “create” money by killing mobs and selling drops. Farmers will probably be much more efficient, so its probably fair to say, on a player-hour adjusted basis, farming contributes to an increase in the money supply which might or might not be bad. Likewise, legitimate players spend a portion of their booty on themselves in various money sinks no matter what, so in effect we should look at the net harvest rate. For a farmer, very little is going into the built in gold sinks.

    Game play is affected negatively if farming activities exclude legitimate players from consuming game content by spawn/node camping, etc. Content exclusion probably reduces the rate at which legitimate players can add to the money supply, exacerbating #1. In theory if gold farmers were able to exclude every player on a server from ever killing a mob or harvesting a drop, then players could ONLY get gold from the farmers through RMT. This is bad. Short of that, if farming has an impoverishing effect on legitimate players, then farmed drops sold in-game (rather than through RMT) should fetch lower prices because the legitimate player money supply is reduced. Unless of course, everyone just runs to a gold seller and buys gold in RMT. This is probably always bad.

    Finally, if the money supply is ever increasing and items with static pricing in the game do not move as a function of the overall money supply (e.g., equipment repairs, monetary quest rewards, NPC vendor buy/sell prices), uncontrolled inflation will ultimately result. Players with “normal” harvesting rates will take it in the shorts. When a quest only gives a fixed 2s reward when a level ten vest of incredible goodness costs 57G, that player is feeling the direct effect of RMT on the game economy. The donor phenomenon is actually a reaction to this effect on some level and may actually drive those lowbie drop AH prices up.

    I don’t think #1 or #3 would matter if the game’s economy were designed to adapt to the overall money supply. #2 would still be the problem.

    So, on the donor/farmer question, donor doesn’t really affect #1 and can’t affect #3.

    I recently switched servers from a very old server to a relatively new one. Prices were wildly different. On the new server I must get 2 or 3 in game mail gold seller spams a day as well as random tells. On the old server it was much less prevalent and prices were lower overall.

    Net net, I’m with yunk. RMT seems like a cheat code, whether for me or someone else, it still has the effect of trivializing my economic impact on the game economy.

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