Buying Gold Is Like Sex In The Victorian Era
The Victorians were not only famous for their prudish views on the fine art of reproduction but also, according to many sources, equally famous for their hypocritical acts of sexuality and plain kinkiness that went on behind closed doors. Sex in the Victorian era was a true example of maintaining an outer standard and saying one thing in public but then doing completely the reverse in private. It’s a fascinating contradiction and the inspiration for such great books as Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (that’s another famous Scot you can add to your list along with Sean Connery and that ginger bloke who played the new Obi-Wan).
You’ve probably figured out where I’m going with this already. Sex in the Victorian age is, in my opinion, a good analogy for buying gold (or platinum or whatever) in MMORPGs. It’s considered by pretty much everyone to be a public taboo and is shunned and decried by the establishment yet a huge amount of people still do it, proven by the sheer number of gold selling companies that exist and the money that they make. The act of buying gold is obviously still going on by the bucket load. I don’t know a vast amount about the operations behind these companies but I do know that some of the bigger ones employ hundreds of people and rake in millions of dollars each year in revenue. It’s a big business and one that consumers are actively engaging with.
So why is it all kept so quiet? Much like Victorian hanky-panky, we all acknowledge that people do it but no one wants to talk about it. The number one reason of course is that there’s a penalty associated with the act of buying gold and the fear of having one’s account suspended or even banned. I don’t know how likely this really is as there’s no way for a developer to prove that a player actually purchased the currency themselves and wasn’t just sent it by mistake, for a joke, or as a gift. The only true way to prove it is if a player is to come out and publicly admit it, something which obviously very few people do.
However, at the height of my Everquest 2 “career”, I actually met a few people who bucked the trend and openly admitted to regularly purchasing platinum (EQ2’s main currency digit). I remember being struck by two things when I first heard them talk about this: firstly, that they actually came out and said it aloud and, secondly, that absolutely no one else cared. Their peers didn’t get angry, didn’t start threatening to turn them into SOE and, above all else, didn’t start preaching to them about how it corrupts the game world. I think we were not only slightly impressed by their candor but actually also completely understood why they did it.
See, EQ2 is a very goal and acquisition orientated game, much more so than any other MMORPG I’ve played. For example, in EQ2, you don’t just visit a trainer to learn your new abilities, you have to buy books of varying skill leveling to learn them. The basic skill is either very cheap or learnt automatically (before level 50) but the higher, and more powerful versions, are a lot rarer and cost a lot more. Now combine this with playing on a PvP server and you’ve got an environment rife with competition and twinking. Many players took pride is totally twinking out alts in the best gear and highest level version spells in order to give themselves the biggest advantage in low level PvP.
All of this meant that it was no surprise to anyone that people bought gold. Low level PvP was considered much more fun than high level and as a result things like crafted armor, weapons and higher version spells were very expensive. I distinctly remember being dismayed when I starting seeing level 20 “Master 1″ or “Adept III” spells sell for more than their level 70 counterparts. Ultimately, the reason that these guys bought gold was because they wanted to engage in the fun of low level PvP and yet have a competitiveness edge. However, they didn’t want to spend hours and hours and hours grinding the cash with their mains before they could do it. I think that has a lot to do with the game’s design.
Although I don’t either condone or condemn the purchasing of gold, I can understand the appeal and, quite frankly, I think the designers and developers have a fair share of blame to take for it. In my EQ2 example, the game is designed to appeal to achievers and acquirers (although is there honestly any need for 7 different versions of varying power of the same level 14 spell?) which creates an architecture that when combined with a PvP server, makes a whole lot of mess, lots of twinking and vulgar competition.
Interestingly enough, World of Warcraft PvE servers are almost the opposite of PvP servers on Everquest 2 in that there is really no need to either buy gold or twink at all in the slightest. Good items are either easy to achieve in groups or cheap enough to buy on the Auction House and everything that can be soloed can be done in non-rare gear. Making money is also fairly easy and there’s no competitiveness to be had unless you engage in battlegrounds and at that point everyone who takes it seriously has the uber heirloom items anyway. Suffice to say, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find out that buying gold in WoW is a lot less popular than in a game like EQ2 and I think that’s purely down to the design on the game.
Anyway, I think it’s a fascinating topic as it explores real world economics, game design and human nature. The real burning question is, if I put a poll on this site asking if anyone had ever bought gold, I wonder how many people would answer is or answer honestly?
P.S. Yes, I actually managed to draw a comparison between history, sex and MMORPGs. My old school teachers would be so impressed