The mechanic behind games is quite simple. Firstly you are given assets or skills, secondly you are given a task or a problem to solve then thirdly you are rewarded when you succeed. This is simple but compelling to the human mind. Put a whole pile (or sometimes just one!) of these mechanics together and you have a game.
Massive multiplayer games (MMOs) are different because they are persistent worlds and the game developers cannot create an infinite number of mechanics, so they work by making the player repeat mechanics lots of times in order to progress in the game. This is called grind.
Some bright sparks came up with the idea of doing the grind for other people as a business (called gold farming). They play the game then sell the result of their work in the real world for real money. So the purchaser of such in game assets is paying to cheat.
- Approximately 400,000 people are employed in China and other Asian countries to play these games to manufacture in game items.
- These people work at this mining for 10 to 12 hours a day for a salary of around $145 per month.
- Between 5 and 10 million game players in the West are buying these items.
- Total revenue of this mining industry is between $500 and $1 billion per year.
So now the inevitable has happened. Gold farming has gone first party. People are now making games where you can bypass the gaming mechanic by paying real money to the game publisher.
This mechanism can be made especially invidious. New players to a game can be given protection from the other players for the first week of play and be given a whole pile of “free” in game assets to get them started. The problem comes at the end of the first week when they are hooked on the game having committed so much time and emotion to it. However in order to be competitive with the other players now attacking them they have to start to spend real money. The more they spend the more stuff they have to compete with.
And the amount of real money that these subverted games need off a player can be remarkable. They tend to take it off you in $30 lumps, but they are geared up to take as much as $3,000 off you at a time. Which makes these some of the most expensive games in the world to play. Even though their marketing says that they are “free”. And often they are inferior copies of established games and are nowhere near as good as games that cost a fraction as much to play.
As if this wasn’t bad enough these games sometimes have a gambling mechanic built into them. These effectively mean that you are gambling real money for in game assets. So you get through that real money even faster.