The game mechanic and its subversion

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.

This has become an unbelievably massive business.

  • 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.


  1. Personally i think that it’s just stupid to play game when someone rich can just buy same things you’ve worked for.

    What’s the point of playing those games? Let’s say that you are going to achieve a level 50 or something. And you spend a lot of time to achieve this but someone else could just buy 50% Xp bonus and get level 50 faster. When playing game like this you’ll end spending 100s of dollars each month on FREE game.

    -King Vivil

  2. There is very subtle difference between playing in a video game like World of Warcraft from playing in a real time strategy game like Evony. And this is game play ends for any character in a video game when they log out. However, within a real time strategy (RTS) game the players account still remains active. This means that you can have your game assets taken by other players while you are offline. This means RTS games disrupt a person’s ability to think when they are offline, because they are ever mindful they are still actually playing the game, even when trying to study, work or sleep. In a video game a players character cannot be robbed, sold into slavery or killed while offline, well not as yet anyway…

    I have experienced both of these types of games for close to five years now. In video games I have never purchased anything from gold-farmers, there is simply no need to do so because the game it is merely a constant repeat of itself, the only thing that changes is the appearance. However, a RTS is a very different type of animal because it can affect mature adult thinkers in very different way from video games. In addition, a RTS game is actually fought with words that aim to manipulate others. This promotes an abusive and backbiting culture that can become quite excessive and extreme. Because some people enjoy this aspect more than the game itself, it attracts some very unsavory people into RTS games. These people can be very creative in how they assault other people’s minds, or rather whom they choose to recruit to do this for them. The gaming component of an RTS game requires 24/7 play 365 days a year (Some do break over the Christmas period). This is why those that do play them tend to purchase game assets or advantages. This of course feeds the addiction further. Indeed some competitive players that claim to play for free are either people that have military grade endurance, company employees, a consortium of players or the account is being run 24/7 on a RAM based keyboard-scripting tool like Glider to avoid detection for cheating. In this respect a RTS game is not what it appears to be and children can be at particular risk of harm in these environments.

    Here is an example of some RTS games that run 24/7. They are the ones listed as “strategy” that work in “real time.” There are in fact many more around than those listed here, but this should serve to give readers here an idea of what a RTS game is:

    Games producers appear to be interested in two things:

    1. How to acquire more money from consumers;
    2. How to encourage consumers to manage their products for free.

    The game mechanics within any game is the crucial factor that determines how people will act and behave within any game. It also determines its ability to acquire money and encourage innocent users to give their time for nothing to a company many do not know anything about. This is why all online games should be treated with caution. This is particularly relevant to any game company that offers no legitimate office address and conceals the address of its servers, an act in itself that questions it legal standing.


  3. Even legit MMORPGs like Granado Espada have allowed sales people to pretend to be regular players in their official forum. They pretended to help International players “strategize” on how to buy a Singapore phone plan so they could get the special game bonuses offered.

    This is just one step away from what is being said about Evony – that players with powerful items were planted in guilds to exert peer pressure to buy more and “get stronger”.

    Granado Espada has also tried to crowd source game management, especially in regard to bot reporting. This has failed not just because the report system is easy for botters to avoid, but because it has a demoralizing effect on the whole game. Players start to fight with each other over who is reporting whom, ruining the social environment that draws players to MMORPGs in the first place.

  4. I’m not sure it’s cheating as such. I work full time and hire a cleaner to do my cleaning for me. Am I cheating a cleaning in getting someone else to make sure my house is as clean as my married friends where only one spouse works so the other can stay at home and do the ‘boring’ jobs?

  5. Hiring a house cleaner is benefits the general economy by giving someone a job. RMT destroys the game economy by creating inflation and maldistribution of even midlevel items. The level 100 player who can’t afford even level 50 armor through his ability to earn in-game and can’t even farm the item for him or herself because of wall-to-wall bots is forced to either quit or RMT themselves.

    Because there’s even a market for game gold, “entrepreneurs” go the extra mile to defeat any bot-prevention measures until the environment of the game is ruined as well. The social element is removed, and other players can’t ask for help, squad, or to share the spot.

    Furthermore, RMT increases attrition by exposing players to scams and malware.

    Granado Espada stopped banning bots all together. The fact IAH was even ignoring screenshots was proved when some people pointed to screenshots on the forum as well as ticketing, and yet botters weren’t banned. As a result nothing was done about a major invasion from a new RMT operation for three months, and this may be related to a recent outbreak of hacking cases. When games open the door to botters, the situation will always be taken to the extreme because Real Money is at stake.

    I’m glad there is a thriving blogging community about this, because the game companies seem to be choosing PR control over actively managing their games.

  6. I’d have to disagree on the cleaning example – cleaning your home is a real world activity that most people (?) practice at least semi-regularly as part of their ‘life maintenance routine’ for want of a better phrase. A game is just that…a game, regardless of how addicted someone is. It has the benefit of providing entertainment and perhaps arguably some social and intellectual development in limited ways, but comparing it to having someone clean your house, buy your groceries for you, or chauffeur you is rather misleading.
    I just don’t quite understand the mentality of those who buy all the rewards and advances. I suppose they are fooling themselves into thinking they are superior or successful players…I doubt they are really fooling anyone else. Makes the whole idea of game and skill challenges rather pointless.

  7. As you noted, many companies have started bypassing the RMT by selling in-game currencies themselves.

    However, RMT has popped up in every market that would be profitable to farm in. The first party selling of currency does raise other issues, but logically, it does give the developers control to force any RMT movements out by undercutting them, albiet with some side-effects to the economy.

    From a player’s point of view, being able to buy in-game power with outside money undervalues those who play the game but don’t have outside currency to put into the game. The players are not equalized according to the time they put in.

    Here’s an idea to compromise between the systems to reduce RMT movements and still retain some level of equalization.

    Allow periodic (daily?) purchases that exchange some small amount of in-game currency for out-of-game currency. Each time the user does this within the time period, the efficiency of the exchange goes down in the company’s favor.

    1st Purchase: $.50 USD for 10 currency
    2nd Purchase: $1.50 USD for 10 currency
    3rd Purchase: $3.50 USD for 10 currency

    After each period, prices are reset to the lowest level.

    Presumably, the initial purchase or two would undercut RMT sales if any exist in-game. After that, RMT may be cheaper, but players are taking the risk they get caught and banned.

    The smaller purchases could cover impulse buys for the majority of the playerbase. It’s not completely equalizing; players that put more outside money into the game will still gain more power, but the increasing price of the purchases should provide some equalization for all but the most rich of your playerbase.

    It is likely that RMT would still exist in such a system, but much reduced, as the RMT has to beat the 1st-party sales costs and the player’s fear of getting banned and still be able to make a profit.

    That’s the best idea I can come up with at the moment. Perhaps an MMO could experiment with a purely barter based economy, but that opens up an entirely different can of worms.

  8. In the real world, a sports team or competitive athlete can spend real world money to increase its advantages and win more sporting events. How many people get a gold medal in the Olympics without paying anything for training?

    Why should virtual games be any different? Players that can afford to spend more money, should get some sort of advantage in the game. Those players are also subsidizing the developer and hosting costs of the game for all the players that want to play free, or have no money due to living in an impoverished nation.

  9. And those same poor players will be at a huge disadvantage, and will recieve less off a gaming experience due to it. And is many cases effectively ruining their gaming experience. Something you forgot to add in your sports comparison is the fact that all the sports teams have an equal oppertunity to get sponsors or other ways off aquiring money to pay for said training and investing in improvements for the team. The poor players you mention have not the same fair chance. So do us all a favor And stick your poorly thought through comparisons where the sun don’t shine.

  10. @Steven Leicester

    Of course it is cheating.
    We are talking about games here.
    It is like paying your golf caddy to walk over to the green and drop the ball in the hole for you.

  11. @Bruce
    I’d say it’s more like paying your caddy to hit the ball. It’s basically outsourcing work that you don’t want to do. The gold farmers still have to do the same level/item grinding work that you would have done don’t they? They’re not walking over to hole and dropping the ball in… they are being paid to hit it for you.

    No idea what the actual game rules are for this (I imagine some games have terms and conditions that ban things like selling players or game items for real money), but technically it looks more like contracting a specialist to do a job… not cheating.

  12. Most MMO games cover lack of content by loads of grind.
    But there are games in development which won’t go this way.. Like Stellar Dawn (it won’t have levels or XP) by Jagex, or in some games you can choose grind (faster) or “fun” way (slower) which is better than korean MMOs (grindfest FTW) but not as good as single player RPG (fun+XP). Games were made for entertaiment not for “work” (grind).

    -King Vivil

  13. No game will survive the long term effects of having ‘bought’ items or currency allowed. The reasons are several fold. First and foremost, like any real world economy, an unlimited supply of new currency would de-value all existing currency and lead to hyper inflation. Secondly, the major draw of these games is that you can log in and leave the world where you are ‘poor’ behind and be on the same level as everyone else in the world. A ‘poor’ nobody in real life, can be an all-powerful hero in the game world – escaping the ordinary to become the extraordinary. If they are no better off in the game world than in real life….you are going to have a lot of unpopulated servers. Sometimes a game developer has to outsmart the player. Allowing the purchase of gold isnt what the player wants, it is what the player THINKS they want. When you have everything there is to have in the game, how long will it hold your interest? One need only lok at the most successful mmorpg to see that. World Of Warcraft does what it can to stem gold farming(or at least the selling of said gold), and focuses a lot of attention on maintaining a rich economy. The result is a growing subscriber base that in spite of the game’s many imperfections, are still playing after several years. I wouldnt consider 10-11 million subscribers worldwide paying $15 a month, a broken business model in need of fixing.

Comments are closed.