As MMORPGs have carved out their sizable hole in the video game industry, they’ve attracted all sorts of scrupulous folks. One of those is the third party gold seller. Black markets for real money transactions have been around since Ultima Online. Back then people used eBay to sell gold for real money. This eventually evolved into China (and others) creating jobs out of farming in-game currency to resell it. These real world monetary ties have been only further enforced through items like lockboxes. Now every MMORPG (especially the free to play MMOs) are filled with bots spamming chats with gold selling services or occupying grind spots to make more gold to sell you.
Along with the prevalence of RMT, the sheer size of MMORPG communities have created another type of nuisance: toxic players. Reputation just doesn’t matter as much as it used to when MMORPG communities were tighter knit and games necessitated player interaction to accomplish anything. The risk accompanying trolling or harassing players affected behavior when it meant real penalties. EverQuest players would blackball trolls from groups and Ultima Online players could straight up kill you and loot your belongings. Now that MMO anonymity reigns supreme, with things like pugs comprising most of the grouping content in MMOs and an increase in dispensable characters through fast leveling, the average player is more likely to make a mom joke than help you learn the ropes. Nobody wants to be cursed out or harassed during their wind down time, but toxic players just don’t care who they hurt.
Gold sellers and toxic players. Both thorns in the side of the silent majority MMORPG player, but who is worse?
The Case Against Gold Sellers
“Go to w w w . hax0rz-gold-place . i o to get 1,000 gp for $1 SPECIALS 24 HOURS ONLY BUY NOW!!!! Whipser me!!”
Surely you’ve seen something similar to the above. Surely you’ve seen it paint an entire chat log. When $1 buys you an hour’s worth of work in gathering gold, it’s no wonder people turn to gold sellers. While I don’t blame buyers for eliminating grinding from their MMO diet, the unfortunate consequence is that gold sellers need to plaster their services everywhere to get noticed by those buyers. Even people I know who buy gold block the spam from their chats, but new names and accounts pop up everyday. It’s not like it’s hard to do when they’re all…
Bots, Bots, Bots
There used to be a time when men were men. Now men are bots, at least those farming for gold. Nothing makes a world feel more hollow than watching a train of supposed players slaying monsters with robotic rhythm. It also cheapens the entire experience seeing that your job could be finished by a handful of scripts.
Pay to Win
MMORPGs with a heavy PvP slant can see competitive balance completely upturned by gold sellers. Let’s be real, actual player skill level is a fraction of one’s prowess. The bread and butter of strength for the vast majority of MMORPGs lies in spending time just playing the game. Paying gold sellers in certain ecosystems can result in power spikes that would be impossible otherwise. Of course, some companies don’t even need gold sellers to ruin competitive balance. Developers can usually find a way to keep massive monetary infusions from ruining their game (like bind on pickup items in World of Warcraft).
The Case Against Toxic Players
If something goes wrong, there’s a good chance somebody is going to blow a fuse. There’s an even higher chance that the target of their ire isn’t going to be themselves but someone else in the group. That’s when bitter insults get flung across the virtual chat logs at whoever the insulter is placing the blame on. But that’s besides the point. Nobody messes up on purpose (well, not true, but we’ll get to that). Insults ruin the experience for everyone – either the group needs to boot out the offender and wait for a replacement or suffer angry banter for the next hour.
Then there are the people who get their jollies from purposefully playing poorly or antagonizing with the express purpose to agitate. This may be a reaction from another group member dropping the ball or a perceived slight against them for whatever reason. Trolls can sometimes provide a fun counter to the bitter insulter types, but that’s rarely the case. Instead they usually put all of their effort not just into degradation but to actively cause failures. No chat filter in the world can save you from that.
An old philosophical theory, the social contract represents an implicit agreement among members for a society to cooperate for social benefits. In the context of MMORPGs, this means more levels and more loot. While some developers are diving into anti-social multiplayer games, MMORPGs still remain largely about inclusion. In my opinion, this social contract is one of the top reasons why the genre is so strong. When somebody refuses to cooperate, their sending a message that society is so broken we should just play the game by ourselves.
I’m certainly not going to argue gold sellers or toxic players are good for MMORPG communities. We’ve even posted some practical solutions for lowering toxicity. There’s only so much that can be done though. Policing toxic players past a certain point is going to get innocents into the mix and result in even less communicative games. At that point, I’m done with the genre. I don’t play MMORPGs to measure by item level rankings against other players. Meanwhile, gold sellers can be restricted by gaming systems that ensure the player meet some requirements themselves before being able to fully make use of the gold.
So with that, I have to conclude that toxic players are far worse for MMORPGs than gold sellers.