The majority of MMORPG players will claim they have never cheated, hacked or exploited in any way shape or form. Ever. I'm not quite sure how honest the gaming community has been with itself, but I know there is enough demand for powerleveling services, RMT services and websites offering MMORPG cheats and exploits that it has mushroomed into a billion dollar industry over the past few years. I'm not talking about the little white button mushrooms you see at the grocery store either. We're talking about Hiroshima and Nagasaki sized WTF mushrooms.
Whether or not in game cheating or exploiting is a good or bad thing does not really matter in today's society. Smoking is a bad thing, yet people do it. Murder is a bad thing, yet it happens every where in the world. When building Zergwatch these past few months, one of the core fundamental issues at hand was whether or not to outlaw or embrace advertisers selling MMORPG or powerleveling services or even cheats and exploits. Whether or not to allow users to post cheats, tips or even exploits.
After long deliberation, we decided that our original goal with Zergwatch was to provide a platform that was based firmly on freedom of information and freedom to share information between gamers. The risks and rewards of cheating in an MMORPG are in place and those who choose to cheat risk account suspension, bans or even scorn and ridicule by their respective gaming community.
What drives people to outsource their gaming play time to third world nations for pennies per hour? To say I have never bought in game gold or used a powerleveling service is like Bill Clinton saying "I did not have sexual relations with that women" or "I did not exhale". To say I have never taken advantage of an in game bug to defeat an opponent, score some extra coin or shortcut some experience is similar to Roger Clemens flat out denying banned substances had nothing to do with his Major League Baseball longevity.
For most MMORPG players, buying gold or powerleveling services is a semi sane means of being able to play and compete in the video game you love, but without having to sacrifice real life commitments such as enjoying time with your family, playing real life sports, vacations and other things that actually do exists outside of your gaming world of choice.
To counter that argument there is a seemingly endless flow of powergamers who either inherited a whole lot of money so they don't have to work or are living in their parent's basement who will argue that if they can get to level XYZ and have the best of everything, so can any casual player. I'm sorry, I had to use the Mom's Basement Cliche, this is a video game blog after all.
The point is should a player who is fortunate, or unfortuntate enough to have exponential amounts of free time to grind and gear shun the person who wants to play, but for whatever reasons, real life circumstances just don't allow it?
The bottom line in this debate is the fundamental design flaw of most MMORPG's where the value of your ingame character directly relates to the amount of time invested playing the game and less on skills and acheivements. There has been a subtle shift as MMORPG publishers are investigate RMT commerce for their games as long as they maintain some level or control. In other words, as long as they profit too.
Another welcoming change is PlayNC's Guild Wars, where players can buy into an end game character that requires minimal time investment from the player.
Currently, the publishers scorn the player who wants to get an edge, but the problem lies squarely on the publisher's inability to craft a system that does not entice such services and practices. It's much easier and cost effective for them to place the blame on the player rather than design game systems that can accomodate video game play styles from across the spectrum. 2008 is still a rather new year and I am very interested in seeing what is in store as we progress with new MMO's on the horizon. I'm hoping somebody, somewhere gets it right in a half way decent game.