Tuesday, February 19, 2013

And You Thought the Brawlers' Club Was the Seedy Underbelly of MMOs

One day last year, I was goofing off in Ratchet while waiting for the BG queue to pop.  Every so often I get the urge to check out the Steamwheedle Cartel's Auction House and see what items people are trying to sneak across the Faction DMZ.  Most of the time they are pets, but once in a while you see some low-priced raw materials or a nice piece of gear go through the WoW Black Market.

Anyway, I'd been perusing the miscellaneous items for a minute or so when I got a whisper from someone.

"Hey, what are you doing here?"

Whatever.  Since I've been known to drop in on low level zones on my max level toons from time to time, I've grown accustomed to such questions.  Some people seem genuinely perplexed that I'd not be spending all of my time in the Firelands or Icecrown Citadel, I suppose.

"Just loitering around, waiting on a BG."


After a few moments longer, I closed the AH window.

"Yr not waiting on a delivery, are u?"

I blinked.  "No," I replied.  "I'm good."

"U sure?  I've got some gold here for u."

"Yeah, I'm sure."  I then took a flight path to Org and marked the toon as a gold seller while on the way.


About a little over a year ago on Age of Conan, I spent a couple of hours teamed up with a pair of players, a Guardian and another Barbarian, while working our way through Conall's Valley.  There are quite a few stretches of the valley where safety in numbers is essential, and I was grateful for the company.  The conversation was good, and we had fun really sticking it to the Vanir.  Over the next couple of weeks, when I'd login to Age of Conan I'd find one or both of them online, and we'd group up and chat.

Then, for a few weeks there was silence, but that didn't surprise me much since the three of us had families and jobs.  I never saw the Barbarian again, but one Friday I logged in and saw the Guardian and whispered a hello.

I was ignored.

Puzzled, I whispered a hello again, and then I saw it.

The account started spewing Gen Chat with gold farmer spam.


What exactly is the amount of money that the gold farming industry makes?

Back in 2006, the BBC estimated that the industry made $900 million, but that was well before WoW's current popularity.  I'm not exactly sure whether you can directly translate the increase in WoW subs from 2006 to 2013 to corresponding increase in gold farming, but it seems reasonable to say that MMO gold farming is at least a billion dollar business.

While that's not iPad dollars, it's still a big chunk of change, in the realm of such non-IT brands as Heinz ketchup.  Think about that the next time when you see gold farmer spam in Gen Chat:  gold farming is big business, and people are willing to skirt the law for it.

But at what cost?

Everybody knows somebody who has had a hacked account.  Sure, you may get your virtual stuff back, but you really never get over the sense of violation.  And the company involved has to spend time and money in getting your stuff restored, never mind attempting to prevent it in the first place.

All of that costs money, and affects a company's bottom line.  Security one of those hidden costs that you never see in a company's balance sheet --the lengths a company goes to protect itself from the Black Hats, and the costs involved in successful hacking attempts, user accounts or otherwise-- but it does exist.

MMOs are a game, but you can't say that they are just a game.  That's like saying that the New York Yankees or Manchester United aren't worth much because they both are organizations that play kids' games.  Good luck trying to say that to a sports fan.


I suppose I ought to explain the trigger for this post.

A few weeks ago, a dormant account from a fellow WoW guildie who'd passed away from an illness over a year ago suddenly became active and refused to respond to tells.  An alert guildie informed Blizz, who quickly shut the account back down, but the sheer brazenness about it still sticks in my craw.  The Black Hat had to find out about and hack the account, reactivate it with (most likely) a stolen credit card, probably upgrade the account with the same, and only then could they go on their merry way.

Just a game, right?


  1. Makes you wonder, how many of those active WoW accounts are gold spammers? And how much money does Blizz make off of those gold spammers?

    1. I suspect that there are far more gold farmers out there than Blizz would care to admit. As long as they don't hack accounts and don't make it obvious what they're up to, they're probably tolerated to a certain extent. But once they venture into bot and/or hacking territory, the gloves come off.

  2. I figured the current ease of gold-getting nowadays would have stopped or at least reduced the need to buy gold.

    Last year, the same thing happened to me--a dormant account was reactivated except the guy *was* responding to tells. But I thought it was odd because he didn't seem like himself, and wrote to him (the real account owner) through Facebook. He contacted Blizz right away and it was shut down.

    1. That's happened to another guildie in the past year as well, where the person in question was responding to tells, and it quickly became obvious that it wasn't the same person.

      I'm starting to suspect that some of this is coming from old PCs that have been junked.

  3. I havent seen gold spammers in a while but I am paranoid about hackers because with all those lovely pets that you can cage and sell, my account has become that much more precious to me. It is scary to see your friends accounts being hacked though. And one of a friend who had passed on...

    1. I'm sure that hackers have changed their tunes a little bit. When my account got hacked back in Wrath, they were using it for farming mats, but nowadays the pet business is doing better in some ways than the old mining and JC gigs.

      Just make sure you've got that second method of authentication, Navi. That's critical in this day and age.