Having returned to several MMOs recently, I have been surprised to see that gold selling is still quite common place. Purveyors of these and other dubious services still regularly spam the in-game chat channels of games such as Star Trek Online and Guild Wars 2. I would hazard a guess that games based on single server environments amplify the hawking of such wares. I have not seen such messages on the Gilrain server where I play LOTRO for several years. However it is clear that gold selling is still a “thing” within this genre, irrespective of my surprise.
One of the commonest issues facing a new player of MMO, is a shortfall of in-game gold. There are game mechanics in place in most games of this genre that allow you to legitimately amass a sizeable personal fortune but they require time. Therein lies the problem. Long term players at endgame frequently have a substantial supply of gold that ceases to have any major benefit for them. Gold is often most required midway through the levelling process. Having recently returned to both STO and Guild Wars 2, I’ve found that I am spending the respective in-game currency on upgraded gear as fast as I earn it.
Now this is exactly the sort of scenario that could potentially encourage some players to use the services of a gold seller. Let us not waste time on any moral debates about such vendors; that is another blog post all together. I and many other people have used gold sellers in the past as a convenient means to an end. However with the advent of free to play games and the common practise of using multiple in-game currencies, surely the financial benefits of using gold sellers has fallen by the wayside? Simply put, are such services value for money?
Let us use STO as an example. Perfect World sells Zen for use in the C-Store, where players can by ships, commodities, buffs and boost and all the usual trinkets and baubles you find in a MMO. Recently I bought 5300 Zen for £32 (€45, $49). I then spent 5250 Zen buying 46 lock box keys (4 x pack of 10 and 6 individual keys). At the time keys were selling on the in-game exchange for 2.6 million Energy Credits. Within one hour of posting the keys they had all sold for a total of119,600,00 Energy Credits. This may sound like a lot but high end items can sell for 10 to 15 million Energy Credits or more. However if spent prudently this is a reasonable war chest for a new player.
So to summarise, I effectively spent £32 for nearly 120 million energy credits, using legitimate game processes. However a Google search not only yields the names of the most popular gold sellers online but also lists a gold selling comparison site. MMOBux provides quite a comprehensive service, with reviews of gold sellers and price tracking. It’s both mind boggling and yet perfectly logical that site such as this should exist. Using the comparison site I determined at the time that MMOGA could source 120 million Energy Credits for £27 where Koala Credits could supply the required amount for £93.
It would appear that it is more cost effective and safer to buy in-game currency in STO via Perfect World, rather than take your chances with these third party vendors. It’s a similar story with Guild Wars 2 as they allows players to purchase gems and convert them directly in-game into gold, via a server wide exchange mechanism. At present you can safely buy in-game, 2800 gems for £30 and convert them to 532 gold. Again the third party gold sellers cannot really undercut the official tariff and therefore can only offer an equivalent price.
So based on these two examples, why is gold selling still a “thing” in the MMO genre? Why would anyone be willing to risk losing their currency order, just for a negligible saving (and assuming there is one)? It’s an interesting question because obviously people still use these dubious services as my Google search showed. I think like most questions the answer is complex rather than binary. I get the impression that a lot of players haven’t stopped and done the maths, so don’t realise they can get in-game gold legitimately and without risk. I also think that gold selling advertising is a bit like supermarket special offers. When you actually crunch the numbers there isn't actually a deal to be had but you are distinctly given the impression that there is one. Also third party gold sellers probably don’t care too much about whether the customer is actually the owner of the credit card being used.
As there is no significant advantage to buying gold from third party outlets, you would think that players would prefer to use the legitimate services associated with many games. MMOs have operating costs so spending money directly via the developers helps support the game and its future growth. Gold sellers drain money from this revenue stream which is ultimately damaging, not only for the game but for the player as well. All things considered there shouldn't really be any reason why gold selling is still a “thing” in 2015. Perhaps if more players took time out to consider the matter, such services would become obsolete.