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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ethics in Goldmaking

A fair warning - parts of this post will be explicit and /or upsetting for some of you.  I've been wrestling with trying to balance being entertaining with making a good blog post lately, and the result has been no gold posts in a few weeks.  And that's definitely not entertaining.

We've all some idea, in how we lives our real lives, of what is right and what is wrong.  For some, it's dictated by empathy; for others, religion; for others, justice.  We live by a set of rules called laws, which govern certain behaviors through fundamental restrictions on what we can and cannot do.  Some of these are inflexible.  Others are.  I can't punch folks for no reason.  I can probably get away with doing 40 tomorrow morning in the 35 speed zone on my way to work (I too like to live dangerously).

On top of that, there are rules and conventions that the law does not govern - like writing out thank you cards to the folks who send you wedding gifts.  Or calling your mom on Mother's Day.  We've a full gamut of these "rights" and "wrongs" in WoW, too.  A complete set of "shoulds" and "should nots".  You should not camp the AH.  You should not scam.  You should not buy items you think are duped.  You should not buy materials from botters.  You should not buy gold.

That cuts to it rather quick, doesn't it?  In WoW, as in the real world, there are a varying array of potential consequences to breaking different rules.  But it's a diverse game.  To be sure, uniform enforcement of many of these rules has been wanting.  If you've been around a few years, you'll remember that Blizzard laid off Customer Service reps in drovesnot too terribly long ago.  It was about the same times that we started seeing a lot of newer player reporting features in-game.

The result, though isn't justice.  A close goldmaking buddy of mine was permabanned about 20 months ago.  For dominating the auction house for several weeks following patch 4.3.  The guy was purely legit, and completely up and up.  But his competitor organized his guild and officers offline to file non-stop reports until he got the hammer.  It took weeks.  But it finally worked.  And 3-4 phone calls and a dozen or more appeals online didn't help.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease and those jackasses made my bud squeak something fierce.  He re-rolled, but it was never the same after that.  It was, at that point, when I stopped projecting my own ethos and morality from real life onto this game.  I had previously trusted Blizzard to enforce their rules with discretion, swiftness, ruthlessness, and justice.

How dare that jackass botter steal my node - report em - hope Blizzard nukes your account.  How dare this level 1 spam trade with haunting spirits?  Reported.  How dare they?  (You are what you dare)  But they can't do that!  (Yes, they can; they just did)  And playing by the rules - didn't make folks better.  Sometimes it just made them banned.

Let's be clear.  This is WoW.  This is a game.  It's fun.  I'm not advocating treating people like shit, but let's take a dispassionate look at a self-righteous ethos and see where it actually gets us in the game.  If you think it makes you a better person or that it somehow affects the ultimate outcome of your afterlife - fine - I'm not touching that with gloves on.  The world certainly has far crazier crap to sort through than the lens with which you apply ethics to video games, though I really doubt Jesus cares if you corpse-camp the opposing faction 30 minutes - or if you buy gold.

Dealing with botters and even dupers, in an logical sense, is pretty straightforward.  Either you buy their stuff, or one of your competitors likely will.  Now I've heard this one a lot, "But dupers sell gold and that damages the economy."  Well, listen up cupcake - your server generates millions of gold every single day.  It destroys some significant percentage of those millions every day.  The goldsellers on your realm sell half a million to a full million every few days, max.  None of them know you.  None of them have heard of you.  To think that you're going to make a socio-political statement or somehow save the game through a carebear stare of moral superiority - it's not just silly; it comes off fairly conceited, as well.

Real-money trading in WoW dwarfs the economies of several countries in the world (yes, the real one).  It has been in the game since vanilla, and it hasn't gone anywhere.  Nor will it.  In fact, Blizzard loves it.  Because without RMT, there would be no cash shop.  RMT proved the model of suckers with fat pockets long before the sparkle pony was ever a twinkle in Bashiok's eye.  With all that cheese spreading around, why wouldn't you want the developers getting a slice?

Now, I'm not saying - go buy gold.  I'm not saying go sell gold.  I'm saying let's not pretend that RMT is the bane and doom of the game.  The economy hasn't crashed.  WoW hasn't been killed.  Oh yeah - except that one time back in 4.0 - when the popular bot du jour Pirox was broadcasting archaeology digsite coordinates over in-game channels in some silly attempt at crowdsourcing / networking and every last man was banned into the ground.  Who here was shuffling in March / February of 2011?  Which of you remembers the spike in ore prices and the scarcity of supply?

Did legits dust off their mining picks and get back to work?  No.  Because, like picking tomatoes, those are jobs that Americans just don't want to do.  I'd wager that gatherbots have become so ingrained in our current economy that they've formed a symbiotic bond with goldmakers on a lot of servers.  And have they crashed the economy?  Killed the game?  No.  Do they return like cockroaches every time they're banned?  Yes.

There is no right; no wrong.  There is only risk and profit.

Do I think you should go buy a bot and start botting?  To be honest, I don't really care - that's the point of this post.  I'm not telling you what to do.  I'm telling you just to think of these things not in terms of right and wrong, but in terms of risk and profit - because there is no right and wrong in this game - only risk and profit.

Dupers - I still report em sometimes - more as a calculated business decision to keep em from crashing my markets if I choose not to deal with them rather than some sense of duty to protect the game from folks like that.  Because, let's face it - the game had protection, but they were all laid off.  Folks livelihoods were destroyed so Blizzard could crowdsource their job by appealing to my sense of duty - yeah, screw that, I think I'll buy and report whoever I feel like.

I'm not so sure I'd go as far as scamming someone or orchestrating a hit on someone to report em til they're banned when I know they're legit.  That's getting pretty personal and directly ruining someone's day.  But the idea that shelling out $50 for some pocket gold or botting nodes somehow ruins the game is a hypothesis that frankly, has been tried, tested, and found to be about as reliable as American foreign policy in the 21st century.  Now, battlegrounds - I almost don't run em because the team with the least bots generally wins.  So I'm not saying bots have zero negative effect on the game.  And duping, I accept is gonna happen and it won't get ubiquitous, because that's just how duping works - dupes are held tightly by the folks that find them so that they don't draw attention and get fixed too quickly.

But all that may be just too polarizing.  Yeah, I might have just gone off the deep end.  Maybe it'd be more relatable if I told you CKS was developed before anyone knew whether it violated the ToS.  Or that Blizzard still has given no explicit confirmation that many->1 keystroke duplication is A-ok.  Or that the arguments used to get tacit agreement from GMs were based on multiboxing - I mean, lol - come on, which of you multibox WoW whenever you use CKS?

Are you feeling complicit yet?  Have you ever tried realtime scans?  One click buyouts?  There's also the  kind of gray area where folks farm nearly instant respawn lowbie mobs for expensive transmog gear mashing a button like a monkey every 5 seconds while watching Youtube.  Or maybe even wiggling their mouse while CKS does it - neverminding the fact that G19 keyboards had been doing it since BC.  See - it's not just black and white, but several shades of gray we walk through - some of us in our happily rationalized, but not entirely pure, daily routine.

Now don't misunderstand.  Telling you to consider these seedy, but well-known aspects of the WoW economy in terms of risk and profit rather than right and wrong - it's not an invitation to get started on a TOS-abusing syndicate of goldmaking.  It's hopefully removing some of the more subtle barriers in your mind.  It's reminding you that there is risk, even in legit goldmaking.  The old saying, pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered holds true.  The temptation within some of these less savory methods often gets the better of folks, and they end up banned - trying min-max under the intangible and temperamental nature of Blizzard's enforcement.

But to be sure, there is gray.  Like driving 40 in a 35 zone to work.  Like AHK'ing a load of ore.  Risk is a scale, to be measured, adjusted, and balanced - according to your needs.  Will you let your competition snag those rare crafting mats?  Will you form a COD deal with a bot farmer?  Will you join a fellow competitor who bot-camps the AH in a whitelist agreement?  Will you really mill all those ten thousand stacks of herbs at the end of an expansion to stockpile for the next one via even CKS?

Those are personal decisions I leave to you.  Because I don't think a lot of it is my business.  I just think you ought to know the risks and plan appropriately.  This is WoW - a game we pay a large corporation to enjoy, and I still believe that FSM / the greater deity of your choosing doesn't care about your video games.  So be smart, enjoy it, and don't take risks if you can't live with the outcomes.


  1. If your friend got banned, then he obviously broke the rules. End of discussion. Don't blame Blizzard or the people that reported him. That's childish.

    1. How's that Blizzard Kool Aid taste?

    2. I mean - I could post and catalogue the dozens of screenshots of conversations my friend kept - the chat logs that we had over the weeks that it happened - the screenshots of the convos where officers inside this guild privately told him that he was being targetted byu the GM and many others in this guild.

      That would've made the post a LOT longer, and it really wasn't the point of the post. I suppose that had you been able to read more than a few paragraphs before posting your knee-jerk reaction that you would've probably realized that.

      Ultimately, if my readers don't trust my writing - then fine - don't read. I'm better at this than most other folks in the world. And unlike your reaction, my story is solidly based in facts. So when you talk about childish - I see you - jumping to conclusions based on hunches about a situation that you know nothing about.

      End of discussion, though? Please. I myself have been banned for transferring 150k from one Account to another via mail - on the same Obviously I broke the rules? SO I should just take it, right? It wasn't until I made a ruckus over it that auto-bans within accounts stopped. So - this isn't the 'end' of anything. And if you think that having some nuts and questioning authority is childish, you should really try popping Blizzard's nuts out of your mouth long enough to think critically.

      Obviously you're an asshole, so unfollow and unsub - my stuff is for folks who are capable of thinking for themselves - not people like you.

  2. For everybody's reference, it may seem like I went a bit overboard here. This guy attempted to post at least seven additional responses over two days that I ended up deleting because it was a waste of time for anyone to read them.

    I left the original post up purely so everyone understands - my blog is not a speakeasy for trolls. If you want to be a punk, go get a job and start your own blog and be a punk.

    This guy missed the entire point - which is hard to do in a post that repeats it in bold letters. The point wasn't to assign blame for bans, but to highlight the fact that the ToS is unevenly enforced. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter who was right - it matters what happens.

    There's a risk and folks would do better being aware of it.

  3. I like your post but it also saddens me in a way. I like the way we or at least I started out. I started out believing ppl would be fair and treat me as they themselves would like to be treated, but boy was I wrong. I sense you started out the same way and then slowly became more cynical caring only for a few good ppl that you met in game. I know I did and that is what saddens me.