Grey market RMT service SwagVault today disclosed several key details of the market's operations, including the fact that over one million Chinese citizens are employed in gold farming in a variety of different MMORPGs in China, through an interview with Eurogamer. Of all those MMORPGs, SwagVault identifies Blizzard's World of Warcraft as driving 70% of all gray market RMT transaction activity. These figures are not statistics or the result of proper surveys, but
are estimates made by a company which claims to be one of
the largest players in the space. Perhaps most intriguingly, SwagVault gives the impression that Blizzard is aware of this activity and allows much of it to transpire.
"We have the same viewpoint as game operators like Blizzard, NCsoft
etc: what we are doing is trying to establish a fair and equal gaming
environment, instead of spoiling it," said Sophia, a SwagVault employee, speaking pseudonymously. "Any market is based on need at first. As long as gamers or players
demand virtual currency or other game value-added services, we will
develop along with that. In my opinion, there is the possibility that
the MMORPG operators will cooperate with RMT companies in future."
Blizzard's business model for World of Warcraft revolves around monthly subscription fees and it is currently a violation of the game's EULA to sell in-game items, currency, or accounts for real money. There have been some signs in recent expansions that Blizzard may intend to begin selling purely cosmetic virtual goods to players through some sort of in-game store in the future, following the model of Sony Online Entertainment and its Station Cash store, but Blizzard itself has not issued any official statements on the matter.
The idea that Blizzard turns a blind eye to some RMT activity is reinforced by evidence provided by another interview subject in the Eurogamer piece, a Mr. Li who has worked for several years as a gold farmer. Mr. Li reports that on Chinese WoW servers (presumably the ones run by The9), administrators are aware of gold farming activity and will not ban accounts known to be used for that purpose.
"In Chinese realms you won't get your account banned for gold farming.
It's treated as a very common thing in the game. In European realms, at
the beginning it was fine and they didn't ban accounts. But later
Blizzard banned so many accounts of Chinese gold farmers," said Mr. Li.
Both Mr. Li and SwagVault go out of their way to clear up several other misconceptions about the RMT industry, such as the confusion between gold farmers and gold sellers. While gold farmers use activity in the game to generate lots of currency for themselves quickly, they are not generally employed by sellers, who instead tend to be large outlets that buy gold from multiple gold farming firms. Most farmers are paid a daily wage based on how much gold they are able to generate, in the range of $250 to $400 USD for top farmers willing to put in very long ten-hour shifts. Mr. Li complains the work often leaves him feeling tired and lacking a sense of accomplishment.
Generating those kinds of wages involves already having access to very high-level characters and having an account banned for farming is disastrous. While it is often thought that gold farmers use hacked accounts, Mr. Li specifies that all Chinese WoW players can use only cash in the form of timecards for their accounts. Individual farming accounts must also spend money up-front to make sure they have the CD keys for both World of Warcraft itself and its two expansions, fees that are essentially lost when an account is banned.
SwagVault is itself a legally registered company that operates out of Washington, D.C. with branches in China and Europe. It is the largest Chinese gold seller and does not buy from sellers who engage in illegal activities. SwagVault instead alleges that large companies have every reason to try and deal with customers as fairly as possible in order to ensure repeat business and that only small, fly-by-night sellers engage in fraud because they can't afford the advertising needed to build a customer base.
""SwagVault will strictly adhere to any recognized ethic moral
criterion and related laws," said Sophia. "And our staff who provide
these services are all professional online players with much gaming
expertise, instead of hackers and villains. Our objective is to help
those players who can not maximize their gaming experiences due to time
shortage or other situations. We assure all our customers that we will
not use any hack or other illegal actions in-game to break the gaming
All of this leads to one question that Eurogamer's original piece (part of a four-part series) has not yet asked– which is why Blizzard doesn't simply take over the clearly thriving business for World of Warcraft RMT itself. If any company could afford to create a Station Exchange equivalent for the most popular MMORPG in the world, it would certainly that game's operators. That Blizzard hasn't suggests it might be afraid of facing the sort of negative fan backlash that SOE had to deal with when it enabled its LiveGamer service in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, only on a much larger and harder to ignore scale.
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