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 :)

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41 Comments

  1. jim says:

    I have purchased gold before once for Lotro to buy a house right after they were released and once in EQ1 to get some nice equipment. I also used to sell homes in UO on ebay before there was a problem with it.

    Every time I have purchased gold I had a goal in sight and I did not feel that the in game effort was worth the time. I normally do not see a reason to purchase gold because it defeats the purpose of playing the game.

    I think it is done a whole bunch more than people will admit and I think it is done by the people that don’t read blogs or the forums, people that do not even know it is against the rules.

    • Gordon says:

      I think people know that it’s against the rules, the problem is that the incentive is too great. Everyone wants to be the best with the minimum amount of effort and buying gold is an easy way to accomplish that.

  2. Autumnn says:

    You touch a lot of good points here.

    I like what EVE is doing with the plex system-they’re getting rid of the middle man and adding an interesting game mechanic. Those people with enough time on their hands can play EVE for free so long as there’s someone out there willing to part with real money for ISK.

    For someone like me, that’s awesome-I can pay 35$ whenever I need to and end up with what the community thinks is a fair price for 60days of gametime in game currency. If I had played EVE while i was in school I would have taken advantage of the system from the other end and spent my extra 15$ a month on booze and cigarettes.

    time = money. There are situations when spending cash on game currency costs me less than spending the hours grinding it out.

  3. Shamutanti says:

    Between myself and friends, we’ve probably put around £500 (that I know of) into purchasing gold on WoW. There’s 8 of us in total and that’s over the course of 4 years of Wow there.

    I personally bought enough gold to be able to get myself an Epic mount – this was around 3 months before TBC came out. I used the rest of my cash to invest in the AH, sold on a huge amount of goods that I had bought out and made myself a couple of thousand gold.

    Later I went on to buy 500g supplements to raise up alt professions and boost up my main’s Blacksmithing/Engineering in TBC and WotLK because I didn’t see it worth while doing it any other way, be it from a grinding or otherwise.

    My friends used any gold they bought for twinking their alts, levelling professions, mount purchasing and so forth.

    Interestingly not a single one of us got caught for it, even when one of my friends ordered 5000g through the post in one delivery.

    Gold buying in WoW was before WotLK pretty frequent, even in TBC, and I would say that before Daily Quests arrived they were the main source of funding for ALOT of players on my server. In fact one guild in particular, upon the introduction of Guild Banks, asked for members to donate real money into a paypal account so it could be spent on Gold to work for repair bills, consumables, etc. and a decent number of players did it.

    The amount of conversations that would happen across Ventrilo concerning wow buying that I’ve had make me very suspicious, or at least did, when people were able to support themselves whilst rarely being online and yet defend themselves with “but I grind money in the morning”. Sure ya do bud.

    Now how this stands for other games? I’m not sure. All I know is the Dailies killed off a large amount of the gold buying on my server for a good length of time, but unfortunately because the dailies never really developed and thus a sort of settled grind set in because Blizzard never pushed the Dailies beyond what they were, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the previous gold buyers went back because quite frankly, those quests were soul destroying.

    • Gordon says:

      Very candid! I think you and your mates are probably in the minority thought in terms of discussing it as I’ve very rarely encountered anyone who would talk about it openly.

      At the end of the day, I think the need to buy gold is very much related to the design of the game. If developers make an easily accessible game with all of the best items bind-on-equip only, then there really is very little need to buy gold.

  4. Longasc says:

    The market must exist, otherwise there would not be so many gold sellers.

    You are right to assume that a lot do it openly and some just don’t tell they do. Two friends of mine used to buy gold, buy levelling services, buy accounts. The accounts got banned and hacked. I guess this was a healthy reminder to get their priorities straight.

    People are right to shut up if they really feel the urge to buy gold, because it is against the usual EULAs and they feel it is a moral issue besides that.

    But people actually want to spend money for ingame advantages, legally. Think of other games and sports, think of soccer in Europe, as soon as people appreciate something a lot money always seems to come into play.

    My personal opinion it is a pity and a bad thing to happen for games and MMOs in particular. The usual counter argument is that other players spend a lot of time in the game, and others don’t have the time but the money. This is a very cheesy way to claim TIME = MONEY. :>

    If the grind to get a lot of gold is soul destroying, get a grip and do not play this crappy game anymore! It is not that everything you want is really needed immediately.

    I am still not “God Walking Amongst Mere Mortals” in Guild Wars because I just cannot stand the really bad and montonous grind required for the last 3 titles. And I really really really would like to have this title, I even feel entitled, I somehow deserved it after playing Guild Wars for straight 4 years. All I would have to do is to calculate how much gold me all the virtual booze, party items and sweets cost and then buy the required gold online. Then I would have it.

    I would have paid for virtual BS, questionable game design and made myself a total moron for a game.

    So much about buying gold…

    • Gordon says:

      Great comment :) I agree with you about the grind aspect. I’m certainly at that stage now where I don’t want to grind and thus won’t play grindy games. It’s why I like WoW, for instance, because it’s easy there really is no need to even consider buying gold.

      • Longasc says:

        Yup, you make a good point: Everything that matters in WoW cannot be bought with gold anyways. And getting gold for the epic flying mount is really not that difficult.

        Still, it seems to be the biggest market for gold sellers. Besides perhaps the notorious NCsoft games Lineage II, Aion, maybe even Guild Wars – where money actually does matter to quite some extent.

        • Shamutanti says:

          Ya’see, this depends. Because everything that ‘matters’ in WoW is subjective.

          For me, an Epic Mount (pre-TBC) was a luxury but also a status symbol, which was for me, important.

          It was everything to my friends because getting somewhere faster meant more enjoyment at a faster pace, getting to enemies quicker in PvP, being able to make jumps from object to object because you moved faster, etc. etc.

          One of my mates was beginning to truly hate the game, until he got himself an Epic Flyer and from that point I’ve never heard him have so fun.

        • Gordon says:

          It’s a decision that I feel developers take and thus why they share responsibility with the gold buying situation. If they made moderate items easily obtainable and more powerful ones Bind on Equip only then they could all but erradicate gold selling but undermining it’s purpose.

          I like WoW how it is now. For example, mounts are affordable, decent items are easy to get but the really epic and powerful stuff can’t be sold. Thus no need to buy gold.

        • Longasc & Gordon: Agree with both of you. Game design can help to make gold buying and character purchasing pretty much pointless. WoW is doing a great job of this with regards to gold buying.

          With regards to character purchasing, I think the primary reason that people do this is simple. Either all of the fun is in the end-game or the person wants to play with their friends at a higher level. To circumvent this, ensure the gameplay (no matter what you want to focus on, i.e. PvP, etc) is enjoyable right from the very start of the game. And design ways for friends of varying levels to play along side one another (i.e. sidekick systems), thus removing any social barriers from the game.

          • Gordon says:

            As much as I can understand gold buying, I cannot understand character purchasing. Well, I suppose I can a little. To me the fun has always been in leveling up the character but I guess I can see why people want to skip it… it’s the same reason people get their friends to boost them through dungeons.

  5. Longasc says:

    P.S.: Talk about doping in sports. Games are usually not that competitive, but the “I did never…” and then they get caught with more testosterone than 100 macho men produce in 100 years in their left finger.

  6. Stabs says:

    It stills feels like Pay To Cheat to me, especially in the context you described of pimping out low level EQ2 alts to pwn in pvp.

    I’ve never bought gold and in guilds I’ve run we’ve kicked players who do in games where it’s illegal.

    In Eve with plexes or if people are using StationCash in Sony games I don’t have a problem with it since it’s specifically allowed.

    But as someone who enjoys a fair challenge I’m not willing to kill dragons because someone bought gold on the black market.

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah, in such a context it is “cheating”, I guess. Because it’s unfair that someone has better gear and better items and thus an advantage in PvP. Of course, in low levels that was earned by buying gold but at high levels it’s earned by raiding. Either way, it’s an unfair advantage to whoever has the most money or time.

    • Gareth says:

      I’m totally against gold buying myself, gold buying I expect with the kiddies as a lot of them seem to be impatient and have a must have it now culture. Sadly a lot of adults must also be putting the money in too, in both EQ2 and WoW the point of the game is to have a world you adventure in, yet cheating by spending real money to make virtual accomplishments possible happens.

      Personally I think these people are playing the wrong game myself, before long though we’ll have some sort of ZT-online pure RMT type of game come to Europe/US where money=power openly and these people will lap it up. In some ways that would be a good result at least if it cleared them off the real games, or maybe not seeing that there are more or less facebook games that do that now which still haven’t stopped them RMT’ing their way through WoW judging by the gold adverts every 60s.

      For EQ2 though I’m not sure I’ve seen any signs of plat selling, I expect there is something that happens on the biggest US servers, but in the UK there are no adverts and apart from masters at the top level there is very little “must have” type of gear for sale that does not require status as well to buy.

      If a game needs real money to do things to be “successful” then why not turn it off, load up a currency trading account and play with that, that’s a game that at least can give you some real success. I’m even against the fluff brought with real money from Station Cash or the Blizzard store, there its a bit of a fuzzy line, my big problem there is slightly different in that the more successful these things get the more inducement there is to warp the game to generate more money (ie less pets in the game you can find or earn).

      Secondly though its funding all the scammers and Chinese gold farmers that I also object to, they’re just plain annoying.

  7. Only person to admit to buying gold to me was a guildmate in WoW. It was before TBC, and he was a Paladin who failed repeatedly at the epic quest for the mount. So, he spent $100 to get the gold he needed to get a goat.

    Personally, I don’t buy gold and never want to. In WoW I was frugal and lucky; I found a pristine black diamond and sold it on AH for the 300 gp remaining I needed for my epic mount. In LotRO, I make a lot of money selling found items and craftables on the AH, not stupid amounts like some old-timers have, but enough to get buy. If I can’t figure out how to make the money in a subscription game then I’m not really interested in playing it.

    That said, I can understand why some people are interested. But, as Longasc says above, perhaps it’s better to not play the game.

    • Gordon says:

      $100 seems absolutely insane to me.

      I guess, my understanding behind the reasoning of it all depends on the value of the gold. If 1,000 gold costs $10 and is enough to buy, say, an epic mount which would otherwise take 10 hours to grind, then technically speaking it’s better “value for money” to buy the gold. That ways it’s perhaps only 0.5 – 2 hours work.

  8. Brian Inman says:

    I totally agree with your article. I have written several blog posts about gold/kinah buying, cash shops, powerleveling etc. Players are always commenting that they hate it with a passion. The funny part is the clicks I get from my adsense ads on my blog that are related. Obviously people are buying it more than ever.

  9. Bronte says:

    Good article Gordon! Interesting analogy with the Victorian Era sex.

    Buying Gold, despite every person you come across being turned off by it, is rampant. I have so far never bought it, but I not ashamed to admit I have considered the possibility. I mean why grind on mobs endlessly or mine or whatever else to make a few bits of digital wealth, especially when you have enough disposable income to just buy some and get yourself that chopper!

    EvE Online is the only game that I feel has a very strange policy for ISK buying. They ban anyone selling or mass farming, but they say absolutely nothing to anyone who bought the ISK. It makes no sense to me. But given that their player base is so small anyway, I suppose constant bans of players buying ISK would end up hurting the company itself?

  10. Kyff says:

    I suppose even in the Victorian Era sex used to be more enjoyable than buying virtual gold. But I get your point.

    Relating to the topic I really think that buying gold should stay a bannable offense. None of the arguments stated in these replies gives a solid reason. So the t3 master spells are too expensive for twinks or noobs? Learn to play your class more efficiently then. I seriously doubt the upgrade from Adept to Master will be THE diciding factor in EVERY encounter. If lowlevel PvP is more fun than endgame, switch off you XP and you will soon be full fabled fully mastered in your tier. (btw every gold buyer should ask himself why the proices for lowlevel gear are shooting through the roof. Will buying gold and flooding the market with currency help in this regard? Certainly not.)

    Buying gold to purchase housing or mounts is even more ridiculous. Those items are mostly fluff with only very limited practical value. Appropriate mounts are usually available as quest rewards on every level and noone suffers from riding a bit slower.

    And finally as we have the day of strange analogies: In my opinion buying gold to equip characters with the best available gear is like spending all your money on prostitutes and then brag about what ladykiller you are. (Hint: you’re not)

    • Gordon says:

      Regardless of whether we think its a bannable offense or not, the problem is that is that buying gold is almost impossible to prove.

      As for solid reasons… well, I can understand why people do it. If someone wants to PvP, they are obviously going to want to be the best but unlikely want to spend the hours of time grinding the cash required to buy all of the spell upgrades etc. So in that case buying gold becomes the easy way to achieve their desired play style.

      “Buying gold to purchase housing or mounts is even more ridiculous.”

      But that’s exactly what things like Station Cash do ;)

      Oh and nice analogy at the end :)

  11. Ferrel says:

    Great read on this one. The analogy is quite perfect and I think it makes sense. People are going to do it regardless of what we think or do. I don’t buy gold but honestly, as long as I’m not getting spammed for ads, I don’t care all that much. If someone told me they bought gold I’d just say, “Well you must have disposable income” and be on my way.

    To derail… “although is there honestly any need for 7 different versions of varying power of the same level 14 spell?”

    Originally the thought was that levels of spells meant “caster loot.” Essentially to keep up with the fact that melee players can get significant upgrades by finding a new weapon they put this in for casters (of course with CAs it helped melees too).

    The “expected” level of skill for the game was adept 1. If you could get that you were fine. For those willing to go the extra mile you could purchase adept 3s. That would give you an advantage. Master spells were as rare as could be. Nobody had that many and if you got one you were legitimately better than your non-mastered counterpart. Then, around DoF/KoS masters became more common. Now, the “basic” level if spell is adept 3 (now called expert) and masters aren’t hard to come by for the most part. Basically they made a design change somewhere along the way.

    So in short, no, they don’t need that many versions of the same spell anymore. It is just a gold sink now.

    • Gordon says:

      I always thought the spell system in EQ2 was a little whack. I liked the idea of Masters but I thought the whole Apprentice/Adept/Master system was totally overkill. It certainly made it very complicated for new players to comprehend. Plus it just breeds a hellava lot of twinking on Nagafen. You basically couldn’t consider PVPing unless you had a full set of Adept 3s.

  12. Tesh says:

    Tangentially, Puzzle Pirates completely circumvents the gold buying/selling mess via their dual currency microtransaction model where you can go ahead and buy one currency directly from the company. The in-game currency can be traded for this intermediary currency via a blind auction currency exchange system.

    Consequently, you’re literally buying directly from the company, and trading with other players. There is no third party skimming and scamming the system.

  13. Meagen says:

    I really don’t get this whole “I want my account in an online game to show I did something but I can’t be bothered doing it”. It’s kind of like if you’re jealous of your friends having all those souvenirs from trips to various parts of the world, so you pay someone to go over to various tourist places and steal their souvenirs for you.

  14. Wise One says:

    Frankly, it’s quite ridiculous that companies make a big deal out of people selling game currency for real life money. Especially when the retarded mmo companies themselves SHOULD provide an option to purchase game currency with real life currency. Not to mention, that GAMES ARE SUPPOSE TO BE FUN, not overly tedious and extraordinarily time consuming. Yes, everyone loves a challenge, but REAL LIFE should take up hours of your time NOT THE DIGITAL WORLD.
    P.S.
    I am using caps to stress how ridiculous this issue truly is.

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