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First you get the Money...

I pondered over it for days, possibly weeks. I knew what I was doing was wrong, clearly against the rules and I could lose everything if I was caught. That said, it wouldn't cost me that much money and I could have everything I wanted. No-one except the seller and I would even know.

After a few more minutes thinking, I clicked on Buy. I had just committed the cardinal sin by purchasing my way into power and a few hours later I was meeting the seller in a dark forest. He was kitted out in all the bling, all the best clothes and I knew I could soon have things like that too. Without any further words than an exchange of well meant pleasantries, he handed me over my prize and sped off into the night. I looked down at what I'd bought, which seemed so unrealistic to achieve before, and thought of what I could do with it.

I had just bought several thousand Platinum Coins in Everquest for real money.

"I had just bought several thousand Platinum in Everquest for real money."

Now, this was several years ago when I played Everquest and the concept of selling virtual items for real cash (whilst beginning to become more widespread since it's roots in Ultima Online) was still relatively unheard of and definitely underground, hence my fear of actually doing it because the penalties if caught amounted to loss of your money and account closure.

You might be wondering why I've brought this up after all this time? Well during these intervening years the makers of Everquest, Sony Online Entertainment (SOE), have been vehemently against this practice, shutting down hundreds if not thousands of accounts they've caught buying and selling virtual items. Of course, it's not stopped it in the slightest and, if anything, it's more rife and high-profile now than ever. Blatantly obvious sites such as mysupersales.com are still around and trading items for cash values which you would not believe.

For example, looking right now the 'Custom Cowl of Mortality', which is a single wearable item that increases your abilities and gives you a power is selling for (wait for it): $600. Now, I'm considering buying a new digital camera, and am really debating the cost due to it being around £600, however that's a physical practical thing I can use, own and see (and insure). The Cowl of Mortality is simply ones and zeroes on Sony's computer systems, and yet someone is going to shell out some hard (or maybe not so hard) earned cash for it.

Despite what you may think, this column isn't spurred due to these people who sell items in game, it's about SOE's recent announcement, contrary to years of beating them with the ban-stick, to actually embrace this practice and bring the act of selling in-game items for real money into part of their business. Given they see this as a $200m market, taking a skim off the top of it is going to be a nice little earner for essentially doing nothing.

So what does this mean for the game? The biggest complaint about this activity is 'farming' or taking teams of people to a spot again and again and obtaining a hard-to-get item specifically for selling. The problem is compounded by 'camping', which is the act of these people ensuring they (and only they) get access to the item by not letting any other players have a stab at it. Sony have stated the will do everything possible programmatically to ensure this never happens, but it seems strange to defend and even condone the end product but still intend to throttle the route to get there.

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Chris Caines


Item based games thrive on player economy, when this was all about buying in-game items for in-game money the end was always the same. People did it to improve their digital heroes, there was no real-world gain and the purpose was purely to have a good character by either being tougher or gaining a faster route to content they couldn't or wouldn't plough through low levels for.

Items and money were geared around how much the players were prepared to pay and how much time people were prepared to invest in something which essentially didn't exist; basically people needed to still care about the game. Farming and Camping were arguably still rife, but at least you knew the people doing it actually had an interest in the wellbeing of their character.

Money is the ultimate equaliser, it makes people do things they generally wouldn't be interested in doing (would any of us would choose to work for a living). Wouldn't it be possible to buy a handful of high level characters, let's say enough to be able to farm almost every decent high-level item in the game, and then take people with no interest in playing and give them one job which is to sit there for 8, 10, 15 hours a day and collect items for sale? For that they would receive maybe two or three percent of the sale value of the item. Think that's taking it to an extreme? Wrong, that's already happening and now SOE seems to be encouraging it even more.

"...it's essentially impossible to cheat in an MMPORPG due to the developers finding and fixing exploits so quickly. Is this the online equivalent of GIVEALL?"

This makes a bizarre situation in-game; instead of players snooping round sites and sneaking about buying things, it means anyone with money in real life can simply buy powerful characters instead of working for them like everyone else. It's always been proven that it's essentially impossible to cheat in an MMPORPG due to the developers finding and fixing exploits so quickly. Is this the online equivalent of GIVEALL? For those with more money than sense of fun, perhaps so.

I'm a widely admitted cheater in Single Player FPS games, so to buy my way out of a problem is not a massive leap in morality, except to the point where I sense it's really harming the players around me, which I believe this will do exponentially more than it does now.

With SOE's blessing will these "Exchange Enabled" servers turn into a Virtual Catch-22 scenario? Why play the game when you can buy your way to the top, yet when you're there all you find are farmers camping everywhere you want to adventure. There will be a massive influx of powerful players in the game, none of whom will know what to do with their newfound omnipotence, except perhaps to farm items to make money? Fun, we've heard of it.

Personally I feel this is a defining action by Sony, because it will potentially break or evolve the MMPORPG industry by turning "gaming for fun" into "gaming to pay the rent".

Fed up of working behind the bar in your local of an evening? Give it up and spend a few hours a night playing computer games... it'll be just as tedious, but at least you won't have to deal with adolescent kids pretending to be older than they are. Oh, wait.