Back in the days of Asheron’s Call and Ultima Online, a lot of people sold stuff on eBay and made some money. I personally sold stuff in order to make up the cost of the game to help myself afford it. At the time I did not have a job, this was a luxury that needed to pay for itself, and it did. I probably paid for about a year and a half this way and was happy to have the ability to do it. At this time, there were people who farmed for money, but not many, and most of them were players like me who were in reality just trying to make some money if they could. At best you would make about $20k a year which is by no one’s means a good salary.
Then the various companies started to put pressure on eBay to shut the auction business down, and slowly but surely the amount of Chinese pharmers went up. You see the pharmers work for websites that make a business out of selling gold, the players used eBay who didn’t care either way. That is not to say that I don’t think pharmers wouldn’t be around now if eBay were still legal, but they probably wouldn’t be as relevant as there would be far more competition out there. There wouldn’t be as much profit, and as such, not as many i don’t think.
Why I bring this up is that no matter what game developers do, pharmers are here to stay whether we like it or not. The devs pretty much opened up the door for them to become big, and now they can’t close that door back down. Raph Koster thinks the best idea is to get rid of items and gold entirely to stop them, but I doubt this would even work.
First of all Raph is somehow missing the point on why many people play these games: the loot. People love to hate it, truth is that it is huge in the grand scope of things. The one game that tried to do away with loot was City of Heroes which failed after its initial 3 months largely due to its lack of end game (which loot is part of). If you took out loot and money completely, these games would be short term, 2-3 month games which may be good for some people. Raph may like that because then he doesn’t get stuck on the same project for years upon years.
If you go the other way, and start making everything no-trade, no drop, or soul bound as various other games have tried. You still end up with the gold farmers coming in on a different aspect and actually getting particular items for you. Many farmers already do this. In fact, I once heard a story about a team of pharmers who were trying to set up a raid pharm that would allow other players to come into the raid to get an item from the raid as raids are one of the few places pharmers don’t really touch right now which is strange.
So how do you minimize the impact of pharming? Now as I kind of insinuated at the beginning of this article, I actually don’t mind people buying and selling in game items for real world money. As long as you can still get the same in game items & money without using real money, I’m cool with it. My real problem tends to be how pharming really kills in-game economies and in addition takes away some prime real estate from players, as well as increasing general lag and bandwidth costs of companies.
As much as people whine about MMOs being a fair playing space where everyone has the same chance, I don’t think this has ever been true. Most people in the real world sink time in order to get rich, and this happens in the games too. If you don’t have the time to get rich in game because you are rich out of game, why not use the out of game resources in game? Likewise, if you get rich in game because you have the time to sink in it, then why not get resources out of game for that time sunk?
With all that in mind, I’ve started to wonder about the concept of having the company itself sell in game currency to players. By doing this, you basically negate the need for the gold pharms. Gold is the easiest things for these people to make money off from and thus you would be taking away that source. People could still sell money, but it would be insecure and would also have to be cheaper than the company line which could really cut into the profitability of these pharms. Hell, maybe as part of the deal, the player can sell money back into the game (at a lower cost) in order to even out the amount of cash that is in the economy in the game. After all something would need to be done to counterbalance the in game economy problem that this might create.
I don’t know if this would work, but it seems like an interesting option. It would essentially be printing money, which is in essence doing the same thing that is already being done without the prime spots being camped and lagged down, and lessening in game advertising. Maybe that in itself would be a win.