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News & Features Discussion  » General: Jennings: Real Money, Real Problems

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  Stradden

Managing Editor

Joined: 7/08/05
Posts: 6729

 
OP  11/18/09 9:56:14 AM#1

MMORPG.com Columnist Scott Jennings returns this week to talk about the gold farming problem in MMORPGs and addresses three of the most common myths about gold farming and how MMO companies react to them.

Scott Jennings

A brief personal note: I’ve been hired (again) by NCsoft this week, to work as a developer and data analyst for their new Game Surveillance Unit. This CSI-sounding department is responsible for quashing botting and gold selling in their titles, some of which has been a bit of a problem of late. While this does introduce some potential biases in anything I might write here, I would hope that you, the reader would understand that I am already chock full of bias anyway, as would be anyone with strongly held opinions, and evaluate my writings accordingly. Especially when I write about something directly related to what I’m working on… say, gold farming?

Gold farming and selling in MMORPGs (the commonly used term within the industry being “RMT”, which stands for “Real Money Trading”) is, it’s safe to say, fairly controversial. A few games such as Ultima Online and Second Life embrace the blurring between virtual and real cash, but most games prohibit it, and most players (especially the more hard-core) claim to despise it. Yet, much like any other vice, there still seems to be a market for it.

Read Jennings: Real Money, Real Problems.

Cheers,
Jon Wood
Managing Editor
MMORPG.com

  dterry

Novice Member

Joined: 1/03/07
Posts: 457

"Inanimate objects must pay for their insolence"

11/18/09 11:17:14 AM#2

I'll probably get flamed for this but....

 

1.) No trading between characters/accounts at all. You sell or give your item (acquired by crafting or looting) to an NPC or an NPC auction house and they resell it to another player at a fixed rate(or variable based on in game availablity of the item at the time of sale) - and then send you back the money.

2.) Force antivirus on the client - same as business VPN solutions - if your not running AV or it is not up to date,  then you fail the logon.

3.) Run your own scan after the AV check - looking for keyloggers or IP/MAC spoofing software on the client. - Do this in the open - not hiding it from the client.

4.) Ban people caught in RMT based on IP/MAC/credit card information.

5.) Enforce password complexity.

 

For starters...

dave1972 Xfire Miniprofile
  battleaxe

Novice Member

Joined: 1/06/04
Posts: 158

11/18/09 11:17:58 AM#3

A friend's WoW account was hacked.  The guild noticed almost immediately, alerted Blizzard through standard channels (in-game petitions, emails, etc.), and it still took several hours for Blizzard to act.  During that time, the gold farmer took everything he could from the guild bank, sold every item on most of the characters of that account and mailed it off to other characters, and started up a mining bot for the character with the highest mining skill.  When the account was finally shutoff and returned to its owner, the mining character was almost full with mined ore.

We have two problems here:

1) The lack of response to multiple people telling Blizzard an account has been hijacked.

2) The lack of response to a bot being used to farm resources for several hours.

 

I will say this for Blizzard - after about a week and a lot of hassle, the account has been mostly restored to its former status.

  Sovrath

Elite Member

Joined: 1/06/05
Posts: 17129

11/18/09 11:33:49 AM#4
Originally posted by dterry

I'll probably get flamed for this but....

 

1.) No trading between characters/accounts at all. You sell or give your item (acquired by crafting or looting) to an NPC or an NPC auction house and they resell it to another player at a fixed rate(or variable based on in game availablity of the item at the time of sale) - and then send you back the money.

2.) Force antivirus on the client - same as business VPN solutions - if your not running AV or it is not up to date,  then you fail the logon.

3.) Run your own scan after the AV check - looking for keyloggers or IP/MAC spoofing software on the client. - Do this in the open - not hiding it from the client.

4.) Ban people caught in RMT based on IP/MAC/credit card information.

5.) Enforce password complexity.

 

For starters...


 

No flaming from me. I've actually thought about #1 for quite some time. Sure, players who enjoy being in game moguls will get upset but there is no reason that every game has to be about every aspect of the mmo experience.

I've often thought that not allowing any direct transfers between characters is the way to go.

  megagame

Novice Member

Joined: 8/05/04
Posts: 11

11/18/09 11:37:08 AM#5

did he get to keep the ore? :)

 

I understand why some players think the devs/support team dont care about goldfarmers, as in some games it is very hard to report them and often take you some time to do, and it take days before anything is done.

While other games it takes you max 5 secs, and the goldseller/spammer is delt within 5 mins.

  JuJutsu

Novice Member

Joined: 10/17/07
Posts: 339

11/18/09 11:41:59 AM#6

Number one will alienate some of your customers [including me]. IMO, the proposed cure is worse than the disease. I think the only way MMO companies will ever defeat the farmers is to beat them at their own game. Although Lum didn't mention EVE [he hates scifi games :) ] I like what CCP has done with game time cards as a mechanism to allow players to convert real money into isk.

  Rametlh

Novice Member

Joined: 10/05/09
Posts: 14

No I aint dead yet, I just smell that way.

11/18/09 12:06:12 PM#7

  Ihave played alotta game for a good many yrs, and have seen the growth of gold farmer exployed. I have seen why to I call this the play station era, for alotta yrs now a kid gets a playstaion or xbox what ever game concil they want, and what the first thing they do is go online and get all the cheat codes, why so they dont have to actually do the work, and that is one of the big things gold spammers do for coin. I have a frien had 8 toons payed for each 1 to be powrlvled and say 200g per he paid bout 400 in real money he and his friends who all do same thing, "Oh I want that oh no funds no prob just buy some gold and its mine", so i say it starts long before they start playing in larger MMo's.

I played DAOC since beta till this yr bout may, and I seen were they boot them withing 20 min to still seeing them a week later. I also seen how it ruined the economy for regular players cause they cannot afford 200plat for a item no were near that. How do i try to fix that I report as sooon as i see a goldspammer, but i make all the crafters that way i dont pay the coin for it and get fairly good equipment .I liked Daoc cause crafters made best stuff so i had top the line stuff, u say that takes forever, well I do play the game to play not just to brag what i got and u dont.It didnt fix the prob but mayed it easier for me to ignore what i couldnt stop. I play to play and paying for someone to lvl a toon (am old man, and believe in earning my own way) is not even a question in my book.

  faefrost

Advanced Member

Joined: 1/01/06
Posts: 199

11/18/09 12:14:26 PM#8
Originally posted by battleaxe

A friend's WoW account was hacked.  The guild noticed almost immediately, alerted Blizzard through standard channels (in-game petitions, emails, etc.), and it still took several hours for Blizzard to act.  During that time, the gold farmer took everything he could from the guild bank, sold every item on most of the characters of that account and mailed it off to other characters, and started up a mining bot for the character with the highest mining skill.  When the account was finally shutoff and returned to its owner, the mining character was almost full with mined ore.

We have two problems here:

1) The lack of response to multiple people telling Blizzard an account has been hijacked.

2) The lack of response to a bot being used to farm resources for several hours.

 

I will say this for Blizzard - after about a week and a lot of hassle, the account has been mostly restored to its former status.


 

Do not confuse the lack of visable immediate action with a lack of response. This is one of the common mistakes that our instant gratification generation makes. Instead just read through your post carefully and see why the Providor may have waited and watched for a little bit before simply banning. The hacker/gold farmer created a trail. Honestly Blizzard, Scott or anyone who deals with this does not want to simply shut down and ban a single hacked account. They want to ban a whole trail and where possible shutdown a process. That means observing and generating logs of what they do. Where did that hacker send gold and items? How did he dispose of things? WHat in game mechanisms did he use? What other accounts were touched? How far out did the account relays chain? How was the mining bot behaving? Where was it being run? over what sort of patern? Is there something about it that could be detected by Warden? How are those resources being used or distributed?

Yes, instantly locking down and banning a hacked character does prevent a certain level of annoyance to the guild and the players. But most of that damage can be easily undone. Whereas instantly banning the hacker simply gives info to the hacker himself on how the games security and CS works. Sometimes it is better to wait and watch a little bit. (This is not saying that your friend did not simply hit an extended CS queue or an after hours point where a response may have been otherwise delayed.)

  faefrost

Advanced Member

Joined: 1/01/06
Posts: 199

11/18/09 12:16:50 PM#9
Originally posted by Sovrath
Originally posted by dterry

I'll probably get flamed for this but....

 

1.) No trading between characters/accounts at all. You sell or give your item (acquired by crafting or looting) to an NPC or an NPC auction house and they resell it to another player at a fixed rate(or variable based on in game availablity of the item at the time of sale) - and then send you back the money.

2.) Force antivirus on the client - same as business VPN solutions - if your not running AV or it is not up to date,  then you fail the logon.

3.) Run your own scan after the AV check - looking for keyloggers or IP/MAC spoofing software on the client. - Do this in the open - not hiding it from the client.

4.) Ban people caught in RMT based on IP/MAC/credit card information.

5.) Enforce password complexity.

 

For starters...


 

No flaming from me. I've actually thought about #1 for quite some time. Sure, players who enjoy being in game moguls will get upset but there is no reason that every game has to be about every aspect of the mmo experience.

I've often thought that not allowing any direct transfers between characters is the way to go.


 

It won't work for more then a few hours. Many of the RMT transactions now are provided through in game auction services and similar. Dummy transactions used to mask the actual purpose.

  Jaedor

Elite Member

Joined: 8/17/09
Posts: 879

11/18/09 12:18:17 PM#10

Gratz on a successful job hunt, Lum. :)

It's a tough balancing act for MMOs: how to keep the paying customers happy, how to keep the bad guys out, how to keep the game fun to play. The trick seems to be balancing just enough to make it workable and worthwhile for the majority, which means the minorities will still have plenty to complain about. It's tough on everyone.

  Player_420

Novice Member

Joined: 2/19/04
Posts: 696

11/18/09 12:18:19 PM#11

I thik the first step to combating this problem is simple: Transaction regulations on box sales.

My point is that someone is buying all these accts, and you bet the company can track down certain sales and where they originate, and if they cant that seems pretty silly to me.

I play all ghame

  TuxedoSLY

Ultima Online Correspondent

Joined: 10/29/06
Posts: 93

Blessed be the lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight.

11/18/09 12:20:17 PM#12

NCSoft definitely needs a watch dog for gold sellers. Have you logged into Aion? It's atrocious. Well....the game is too, but the gold spammers are even worse. I remember playing Ultima when it first came out and the only spam I ever saw was people at the bank in Britain yelling about things they had for sale, as there were no auction houses in MMO's at the time.

 

Ah the good old days of actual communication.

  Piewacket

Novice Member

Joined: 12/10/07
Posts: 3

The leg is good. It''ll bleed plenty and we avoid any necessary organs.

11/18/09 12:29:44 PM#13

Ok

So here is the rub. NcSoft stated those exact things 4 years ago. I know because I posted them verbatum on the website after my evening with gmSpam.

So in those years, NcSoft has lost confidence because of the continuation of the preception of the botting and the gold selling. Interesting part is, in game, everyone knows who is doing it, but NcSoft waited too long in Lineage 2 land to deal with the issue. The market in the North American games is now reliant on them because of the usebase numbers don't support the current drop rates needed for the crafting of high level objects.

 

In the newer game, NcSoft has tried to be proactive but alas, these same issues dog them. If that is what you are going to focus on, you have gmSpam who feels as strongly as you do, but the tools to stop this are lacking. NcSoft America was assured by their Korean counterparts that better tools would be available to stop all of this.

 

The bottom line is it can't be stopped because the financial benefits of the goldsellers and the botters far outweights the what NcSoft can throw at the problem via GM's and active reporting.

 

And it is not the deman sir, it is the game mechanics design that is truly the issue here. Look at it really from NcSoft's side. A bit of gold to a person who doesn't have 24/7 to devote to a game, keeps a paying customer in the game longer, balances the playing area against the kid that can stay in game forever and allows everyone to progress. The company of NcSoft doesn't want ot loose paying customers but it has to balance this with the ones who twink themselves to be the top of the server and drive everyone else out of the game because of the imbalance given via the armors and weapon levels.

While your intentions are fine and good, it ultimatle comes down to the game's design to be fixed so these in game assessts don't mean as much as they do now and allow for all kinds of game players to be able to compete at some decent level.

 

 

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  alkarionlog

Elite Member

Joined: 3/19/09
Posts: 1026

11/18/09 12:43:40 PM#14

well the first will pretty much make the GMs or the game be the economy, simple put player would not have any control over ir anymore, what would cause people not to play together.

ban for ip /mac, pc adress name or whatever you can simulate another mac, ip using other programs so it do nothing.

the problem for rmt is have people who buy from then, is almost the same thing was buying stealed things if you buy you are helping then to continue they work. so you would need to hunt not only the gold seller, but also the buyer what I see some people complain about it, to ignore buyers and just go after the gold seller.

and I really hope no one do what blizzard and the publisher of the eve are doingnow making some extra money selling pets(even if make no diference in game) or selling money or any other item, I really hate the mode of subs + RMT on the same game, when I see a game like that I just move on.

and to our friend Scott Jennings here (I hope you read this ^^) since i'm playing aion I can say one thing, almost all the gold seller keep a shop open with they site there in the citys, sometimes one or another yell on LFG chats or even send tell to others, having a lvl limit just make then have a little more work, putting a limit of 30 min make no diference for me or anyone who can make a optical mouse move alone (you just need a nice piece of paper) so even when I wnat to sell things using a personal shop I could just leave him there for all nigh, pretty much what people do to make the gold seller less annoying don't work and that normally piss off the normal player.

but in the end the only way I see any game can be free from gold sellers is people not buy from then, when we still have people buying this thing will happen.

and I only saw one game really free for gold seller and it was a F2P game from aeria, because money there was easy to make and people there don't buy from then, also from that time money used a slot so can't have a lot of money back then

 

FOR HONOR, FOR FREEDOM.... and for some money.

  DrowNoble

Advanced Member

Joined: 1/12/05
Posts: 1283

11/18/09 12:45:19 PM#15

NCSoft has a great feature in City of Heroes, global ignore.  Instead of just ignoring 1 character with a gibberish name, you ignore ALL characters that account makes.  Now developers could use this to see if any account gets mass global ignores, that would be 1 sign that it's a gold spammer.

Another simple solution is have a GM 24/7 that watches the main trade/general/global channel.   They are (in theory) online anyways monitoring petitions, so would not be hard to have a window up showing whatever channel the spammers frequent.  The moment he sees one, boot that person offline and suspend the account.

Also, delete the account  on anyone caught buying items thru the RMT market.  Sure buy that gold, get your epic mount then POOF your 80 toon is gone forever as well as any alts you may have.  No excuses, no exceptions, delete the player's account.  They can be free to start a new one if they wish.

I think checking for antivirus software before allowing login would fine too,  as long as it is clearly stated the client is doing that check. 

  Piewacket

Novice Member

Joined: 12/10/07
Posts: 3

The leg is good. It''ll bleed plenty and we avoid any necessary organs.

11/18/09 1:02:51 PM#16

How can NcSoft be 100% sure you bought gold with r/l money. With in our clan there are loans, gifts, rewards all the time in adena and we talk about them in Vent, so no log of those transactions and why would be in game as reference. Also, there is the abiltiy to scam people so if you look for something being sold at a very high price, you ban both players?

 

No, NcSoft can't just ban. They must be so sure and that is the 2nd rub of the gm's life. It would be nice if they grep'd the sql logs every morning, ran a report to see the amount of adena that changed hands and looked further, but now you have the real problem of places selling in game items too for real life money. How does one track and kill those? Can't be done unless someone says something stupid in chat.

 

We don't have the gold spammers in Lineage 2 that much any more, but the global block wouldn't help much. They need to be able to kill those accounts as fast as they spam their announcements. That would require Ncsoft to double or triple the GM staff and up their training and find gm's that love the game and not just borg's looking for a paycheck.

 

Fruity Oaty Bars!
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  Mirandel

Advanced Member

Joined: 5/19/04
Posts: 105

11/18/09 1:09:13 PM#17

It seems to me the main problem of every company is a lack of software (or additional function in the game) that able to monitor simple things like character names, time spent in game and so on. Take Aion, for example. I know, NCsoft developed a special tool to prove the bot from a normal customer (like placing some item on the ground that only bot program can target). Nice thing but only for individual work. And in Aion we have hundreds of bots. You need enormous time to get them all this way. Yet, the simplest things like inappropriate names, 24/7 play time, IP changes – all seems to be ignored.


In Aion there is a strong rule – the name has to start from one capital letter and there can be no more then one of this letter and only at the beginning of the name. Yet you can constantly see characters with names like zVVs or something like that. Is not that obvious that this is bot-created character? Do you really need another proof? Why not to ban him (and account too) right away? The only explanation I see here – no monitoring. Same with playtime. If there was a way to show every account where player stays for 12+ hours in game (I doubt there are a lot of them – not more then bots) – then it would be possible to check them out. And IP changes. If some account has been always played from a certain IP and then that IP was changed (account hacked, stolen or sold) – good reason to check the in game toon for botting-gold spamming.


Mb Ncsoft does something like this but presence of the same bots for days (and on the same spots) sais otherwise.
 

  Kyleran

Bitter Vet™

Joined: 9/13/06
Posts: 19005

Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions. Pvbs 18:2, NIV

11/18/09 1:14:03 PM#18

Good article outlining the problems RMT presents the industry, addresses some of the long standing myths and assumptions, and lacks in only one real area, potential solutions to the problem.  (which I'm sure OP is keeping close to the vest in light of his new position with NCSoft).

There are many possible solutions, from more active enforcement using GM's, algorithms that scan for illegal gold trading activities and perhaps, just maybe, designing a game so that told buying and selling has little real impact on the game world. (which many companies are doing of course)

Each solution has pluses and minues of course, and its not an issue that will soon go away.

 

"In these forums 'honest' seems to be a symonym for 'hates the game just like I do'" - ohioastro
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  Khaunshar

Apprentice Member

Joined: 10/09/06
Posts: 343

11/18/09 1:16:29 PM#19

Amusingly, and paradoxically, every party in this mess has the same interests:

Players, Developers, GMs and Goldsellers all need the company in question to try their best to ban, restrict and hinder Goldsellers, as long as they do not do so by devalueing farmable ingame items or currency.

Why would a Goldseller want GMs to ban him? Well, of course he would prefer if the GM banned all other Goldseller Chars but his own, but since that isnt likely, and backdoor deals are simply not done (kudos for bringing that up, Lum!), he ll take the good with the bad.

THe reason is that the product, or service, of the Goldseller rises and falls in value depending on the popularity of the game, which in turn relies on its playability and health.

Goldfarmers, esp. rampant Botting, cause large damage to the game, make some areas almost impossible to play in,  and generally esp. in the western markets drive off players and damage the ingame economy. If Goldsellers were left alone to their devices, within weeks the competing companies would, in an attempt to outdo each other, overrun the entire server with their bots, drive off the players, kill off the server for most intents and purposes, if not the entire game. Of course, that inevitably renders their investment (time, accounts, workhours, hardware etc.) useless: They have effectively killed their own market. Already beforehand, sales will drop fast as people lose confidence in the game.... few people will buy ingame currency if there just isnt much of a gameworld left.

Thus, as long as you dont get rid of the Goldsellers entirely, every ban is a minor increase in quality of gameplay, and thus raises the value of the Goldsellers service, because it keeps people playing, and that means it keeps giving goldbuyers reason to buy.

Not to go into the motivations for gold buying too much, but many do it to be richer than the people around them, to show off their superior equipment and luxury items, and the less people there are, the less useful these things become.

At this time, I believe the RMT problem has to be incorporated and solved at basic game design level. Its not something you can viably battle through customer service anymore, it got too big and too professional.

  Sovrath

Elite Member

Joined: 1/06/05
Posts: 17129

11/18/09 1:27:11 PM#20
Originally posted by faefrost
Originally posted by Sovrath
Originally posted by dterry

I'll probably get flamed for this but....

 

1.) No trading between characters/accounts at all. You sell or give your item (acquired by crafting or looting) to an NPC or an NPC auction house and they resell it to another player at a fixed rate(or variable based on in game availablity of the item at the time of sale) - and then send you back the money.

2.) Force antivirus on the client - same as business VPN solutions - if your not running AV or it is not up to date,  then you fail the logon.

3.) Run your own scan after the AV check - looking for keyloggers or IP/MAC spoofing software on the client. - Do this in the open - not hiding it from the client.

4.) Ban people caught in RMT based on IP/MAC/credit card information.

5.) Enforce password complexity.

 

For starters...


 

No flaming from me. I've actually thought about #1 for quite some time. Sure, players who enjoy being in game moguls will get upset but there is no reason that every game has to be about every aspect of the mmo experience.

I've often thought that not allowing any direct transfers between characters is the way to go.


 

It won't work for more then a few hours. Many of the RMT transactions now are provided through in game auction services and similar. Dummy transactions used to mask the actual purpose.


 

but you have to read his whole solution. And yes, this will not work for people whose main purpose is to buy and sell.

His solution is that you sell to npc's. Npc's sell to the players and at a controlled price point or price range.

So you won't get one person selling a piece of thread for a million of the current currency.

One could still make money by collecting and crafting but they wouldn't be able to charge huge sums for their wares. I realize people would hate this but since I've always hated the whole economy thing it would work for me just fine.

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