Debate: The Secondary Market

Today and every Saturday, two of our writers are going to team up and duke it out in an editorial debate. Each of these debates will examine a core issue for the MMO gamer. We kick things off with the mother of them all: the secondary market. What do you think of gold farming, powerleveling services, account selling? Patrick Driggett argues that they’re a fair part of the game and Dave Gammon counters that they drive people away. Dave and Patrick are both staffers on WarCry sites.

Read what they think, then click on to our message boards and get on board yourself.

Debate: The Secondary Market
Patrick Driggett (FOR) vs. Dave Gammon (AGAINST)

Patrick Driggett: While the stance for being Pro-Secondary Market is probably quite unpopular, I believe that it is a topic that cannot be analyzed in a vacuum. It has been said that it hurts the internal economy of a given game world and creates a rift between casual players and those who buy gold or services. However, it should be considered that without the accounts being paid for by commercial gold farmers, that the developers would not have as large a budget to do any number of things, including bug fixes and new content generation.

It can also be said that the amount of people contributing to the market is much higher than expected as the value of accounts are have their own monetary value. While this does not, in itself, make it right, it does lend to the fact that a large population of gamers see it as an acceptable practice to include into their game play. Additionally, stepping outside of the big, triple-A, MMORPG titles, there are many successful games that allow for the secondary market to exist without damaging the player base, their experience, or the in-game economy, as it is an option anyone can partake in.

Dave Gammon: While this secondary market may help with subscriptions, that money from farming isn’t going to the developer/publisher. They lose out even more because they’re generally giving people a deal on subscription rates. 14 days of powerleveling from 60-70 on WoW can cost around 300 dollars. If the game companies wanted to, they could have a GM move someone up in level in a matter of seconds for as much or as little as they wanted. They couldn’t get away with it, because people would see that as greed or cheapening of the game, which is what this secondary market is already doing. It might be more acceptable, but that acceptance doesn’t come without regret because there isn’t much that can be done to stop the secondary market.

The real problem with this secondary market is that it ruins the experience of all the gamers. Most normal MMO players try to make their own money and farm bosses and such. In games like Final Fantasy XI, boss mobs can be covered almost 24/7 by these farming crews, making it severely difficult for someone to make any attempt to catch any of these mobs. The items end up in the auction house or available for direct sale on their site. Either way, they win. Not only do they sell the items, but they also create the demand by monopolizing the spawns.

The other experience killer comes as a result of the powerleveling that’s available. The player that buys their way to the top generally has no clue what they’re doing and this makes things like raids and simple grouping very annoying to those that actually know how to play their class. It’s maddening when the guy who is supposed to watch your back cannot figure out how to attack.

Patrick Driggett: I that a lot of assumptions are being made. First of all, you have generalized the Secondary Market but only provided points concerning power leveling and farming. The Secondary Market can provide sustainable income to the company through subscriptions of gold farming, buying and selling accounts. If someone has given their account to be powerleveled, they have introduced a problem in the form of account compromise. They have given a Secondary Market vendor their account information and in some point in the future it could lead to security problems. This is its own problem and can occur by giving your account information to a friend or guildmate as well, not exclusively the Secondary Market.

Second, using one game as an example about boss mobs being camped by farming crews points out a flaw in the design of that game. This problem is not rampant through out games where there are instances and even in the case of contested mobs, most boss mobs are killed by legitimate raiding guilds, not mythical gold and loot farming teams. That being said, how do you back up that all players lose when they sell these items? If the items are being put on the market, then the items are accessible to everyone.

Lastly, by mentioning a powerleveling player as having inexperience, then you are ignoring the fact that many systems in new MMOGs are enhancing the ability of the player to level faster, even level while off line in the case of Vanguard. Inexperienced players will still exist regardless of Secondary Market intrusion or not. What I’d like to see are verifiable, repeatable circumstances where the Secondary Market has either caused a game to be unplayable and truly ruined the experience of all players in all aspects of the game.

Dave Gammon: Actually, I addressed the general player experience and then chose to focus on powerleveling. Inflation becomes a big problem as well. Where the economy is such that money is not easily acquired and there are many costs along the way, this secondary market damages an otherwise stable economy. It forces players to make a choice between dropping their account or shelling out more money for in-game money. Many find it inconvenient to simply pay the subscription. Why would they waste more money on a game?

A player losing out on items is a separate commentary on the advancement of the game itself, where many items become obsolete. Yes, getting all these items up on the market makes them accessible. There’s a difference between accessible and affordable. Prices on these items continue to go up, so the secondary market can leech more and more money from players, some that simply can’t be bothered to play the game at all. The price should go down if there are so many of said item available. These teams are not “mythical” and I’ve experienced the grief first hand. Perhaps boss was the wrong word to use and named mobs would be more appropriate, as I’m referring to mobs that can be found out in the normal world and don’t require raids to be killed.

I’m not ignoring any facts about the leveling systems in new MMOGs. Just because games allow for faster leveling, it can’t be assumed that there’s nothing to be learned in the process. I know inexperienced players will still be out there, but the problem is severely aggravated by the presence of these secondary markets. Also, by powerleveling, the person that reaches the end content of the game will likely get bored of the game faster and unsubscribe sooner than the person who invests their time in leveling up a character. You can chalk that up as a game flaw, but it’s one that’s unavoidable. Developers simply can’t keep up with the speed at which players get through their content, which takes weeks and months to create and days to beat. They might get a number of faithful subscribers out of the gold farmers, but the people they service won’t necessarily remain for a decent amount of time.

In the end, it’s the game company’s decision to say whether or not this kind of activity is good or bad. When they ban thousands of accounts on a regular basis, it’s a fair indication of how they feel about it and how this market really doesn’t help them in anyway. Keep in mind, if a game company bans 1,000 accounts at $12/month, they’re saying no to $12,000/month. Their rules also indicate their position very clearly. This is no different from any other business having to deal with people making extra cash off their product and they’re willing to emphasize that by turning down the short term gain it would give them.

Patrick Driggett: First thing, there is no proof the Secondary Markets destabilizes the economy of a game world. Yes, prices may rise, however once items level out to a price that they can still be sold at, there is stability. Why does this make player’s quit? It doesn’t. There are 8 million subscribers in World of Warcraft and the Secondary Market is rampant there. Yet as a newer player myself, I have had no problem making gold and getting items for myself. I am not exceptional, I am indicative of the normal user experience. Again, I’d like to see actual metrics that correlate the introduction of the Secondary Market with a) the destabilization of an economy AND b) the resulting loss of a playerbase.

Second, there are farming teams, that is a given. Their impact on game play is questionable, however. Yes, they do cause problems in some games and in some instances, however, we are not debating item farming teams, we are debating the Secondary Market. While farming teams are a symptom of the Secondary Market, they can be handled on their own while still allowing the Secondary Market to exist.

Lastly, companies who do not support the Secondary Market, simply haven’t found a way to make money off of it. There are plenty of companies who successfully do, see the May 11th article about Entropia Universe as an example. To say that someone who has had their character powerleveled “will likely get bored of the game faster and unsubscribe sooner than the person who invests their time in leveling up a character” is also a gross assumption. They pay that money because they want to experience the ultimately fun parts of the game and not deal with the grind so many developers throw in there to keep us paying. It’s a design flaw. Again, I’d like to see any data at all that backs up these points.

Dave Gammon: How do you know that people don’t quit over these things? Why shouldn’t they quit over this? People quit games for a variety of reasons. Many people express their anger towards this market that invades and spoils their gaming experience. I don’t think it’s so unreasonable to believe people would abandon a game because of it. I may not have any numbers to support this, but you don’t have any numbers to counter it. 8 million subscribers for WoW is just an easy number to say. The number could be smaller by hundreds of thousands and can change on a daily basis. People tire of the game. The only sure number you can pull from there is the number of people that are part of these gold farms.

How does a game like Entropia fit into this issue? If the primary objective is to make money, as opposed to simply venturing through a storyline and having some fun, then where’s the secondary market? The point is simply to work in a virtual environment to make cash. I believe a choice is made by the companies to not try and make money off people like this. They just want people to have fun in these games. Not everyone has the money to invest in such things and not everyone cares to do so. Such an economy can pose problems too, inviting opportunities for fraud. At least if someone defrauds you in a normal virtual world, where no secondary market exists, you’ve maybe lost a bit of effort. If you’ve lost money, it’s gone for good. Heck, the existence of the Secondary Market is why some want the government to tax virtual incomes. If you ever decide to quit a game and sell stuff, you won’t get anywhere near the amount of money you paid for it. MMOs don’t need to carry that kind of risky investing.

Now it’s your turn! Tell us what you think of the Secondary Market in the discussion thread.

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