It's not going to be news to anyone who follows this page, but World of Warcraft has of course already spawned an active external market. What's different is that Blizzard, the developer, has announced [text below] that it will attempt to shut the thing down. To my knowledge, no major developer has really tried before, but Blizzard has a strong track record in terms of using whatever means necessary to protect its products against the perceived abuses of rogue players. Perhaps they will succeed. I certainly hope so.
If they do, we might have to start thinking of World of Warcraft as the first of a new generation of virtual worlds. It may not seem all that different in terms of some design aspects, but if its war against eBayers succeeds, it will end up being very different in terms of atmosphere.
Since the link to the call to arms announcement is on a changing news page, I'll just paste the text here:
"Selling World of Warcraft In-Game Content for Real Money - Block on 12/10/04
We also want to remind potential buyers in the game to please refrain from buying in-game property with real money. We understand the temptation to purchase better items, but Blizzard, and not the seller, does own all in-game property. In addition, we feel that characters can find ample equipment and money within the game through their own adventuring and questing. Please understand that if you do purchase in-game property from sellers on eBay and personal sites, we may temporarily suspend your account, and at the very least, delete the offending items.
Thank you for understanding our position. Blizzard Entertainment is committed to maintaining the atmosphere of fair play and fun in World of Warcraft."
There have been a number of angry posts on the forums about eBaying, the presence of bots, and reports that the dreaded Chinese Adena Farmers have descended on the game. Experienced players have been pointing out that these practices have a bad effect on the gameworld, citing evidence from Lineage II, FFXI, and others. There are still some rather clueless "who cares" posters, and the predictable free-marketeers, but on the whole, most people seem to realize that there's a communal interest at stake. It will be interesting to see what a community does when the development team comes out strongly against eBaying, since we;ve never really seen this before.