Mindy Basi, AKA Kwill of Kwill's Quill and a PhD from University of Illinois (see a summary of her work on race, gender, and MMORPGs in the middle of this page), emailed me about a discussion happening on the EverQuest boards. The thread, here, is invaluable for the openness with which the writers discuss the day to day reality of running a gold farm. A behind-the-scenes look that also clarifies how RMT effects end up imposing costs on all the players. What a tremendous resource . Mindi: /thank /bow.
The tagline of the story is that professionalization and low-wage foreign competition are driving American mom-and-pop gold farmers out of business. Mom and Pop are unhappy. Should we care?
Here is a most informative post in the thread:
I guess I should mention, as I failed to in my last post, that I have been in the process of dismantling my "business" since Christmas. You may wonder why I do not just fold it up completely and immediately, but that lies in needing to make sure that those I am responsible for, are taken care of. I expect to be completely done within the month.
This is going to be long, but I'd like to explain what my business essentially was, and my views on things in general and why what is currently going on is quite serious for EQ. Not just for the plat sellers like I was, or just those who rely on bazaar gears and trading to equip their character, but also those at the raiding level. While it certainly impacts raiders the least, it does eventually.
I started selling about 7 years ago. I started on my home server, amongst a few other sellers. At the time EQ was EQ, no expansions, fairly new, and you could sell 1,000 platinum for $500. I got into selling because of a GM at the time who I spoke to on occasion who was selling platinum and other items from places like mistmoore, guk, and solusek b. This was at a time a GM was an unpaid volunteer player, and the kinks hadn't been worked out as far as the EULA which forbid the buying and selling of intellectual property.
My tax return for that year which has salary from 2 months of my job which I quit to make this my full time business, showed $150,623.78 after expenses. By this time I had made another character on another server and bought myself another computer and was playing on two. I killed guards in everfrost and sold the weapons to vendors and then bought items from players, or sold the platinum. That's the entirety of what I did to make that income.
There was more and more competition coming in on a weekly basis, and I never made so much as I did the first year, even though I had to work more and more. Like any business if you are one of the only places around for that product, you'll make a killing compared to being in the face of extreme competition.
Fast forward a bit, I started to look for employees who were already selling platinum and items, who wanted a bit more security in what they did and the advantage of things like health care, a more steady paycheck, and the advantage of information exchange on where and how to make the best money in EQ.
Over the years I eventually had 16 employees on 7 servers, and the business was approaching $800,000 a year in income with hardly any costs associated with it beyond paying those 16 people, and health care.
I always operated the business in a strict manner that if I were to ever find out an individual cheated or exploited, or macroed, or duped, or scammed or acquired their coin or items in any other way than fully legitimate means within game, that they would be fired on the spot. I am happy to say that I never had to terminate anyone for this, but sad to say I did lose a husband and wife pair who quit to run the cheese tradeskill exploit as they felt they could make more doing it. It was fixed within two weeks after they quit, and had already been extensively reported.
We weathered various exploits which came and went, and prices which were steadily falling. It's what happens as more and more platinum enters the game, or more and more get into buying and selling. We always kept up, though, until some time into Gates Of Discord, at the end of 2003, when the first major major problem to hit, happened.
Back then prices on platinum had been near $200, per 100k, at the beginning of that year. Within two months, the price fell on the secondary market from $200 per 100k, to $25 per 100k. The problem? There were many guesses and many claims, but it was a combination of many issues. For one there were tradeskills which could be run under a macro for profit. There were many people doing this and using offset hacks to warp around or use combiners like the forges from somewhere outside the zone boundaries so you could not see them. Ever run up to a forge back then and find it was in use but nobody was standing there? Well, now you know what was probably going on. With a macro you could make a few hundred k a day per server per character you had doing it. 40 + servers at the time, times $100 a day per server, and you'd be fairly rich in short order at a steady diet of $120,000 a month. At these prices, at the time, there was room for about 5 times this business in the overall market, at about $500,000 per month. The income on the secondary market was a large percent of what Everquest took in in subscription fees, and this was right about the peak of EQ subscription.
Not only were there macros, but there were rumors of a "banker dupe" which were probably untrue, and there were also rumors of an offset hack to make the server think you dropped to a negative amount of money, which would put your character at a very very large positive amount of money. I believe the latter more, because the banker would require inside help, and while it's possible I don't think it's probable.
I lost 10 employees at that time. 100k platinum was a large amount back then, still, and to make that consistently on a daily basis with a couple of people was difficult. Since many of my employees were husband / wife teams of players with families to support, they could not afford to remain in a situation where their income was cut down to about $25 a day.
It was fixed, of course, but it is interesting to note that once it was fixed prices never returned to $200 per 100k, but rather went to $75 per 100k at the most. Enough platinum had entered Everquest to drop prices by more than half outside of the game. The effects were very very noticeable in game as well. While the issue was still present, ornate armors and the like which were top end droppables at the time, were reaching wild prices of 200k platinum and up, and they were selling. After it was fixed, top end items which had gone for 25k to 40k each, were now near 75k to 100k each and remained there for quite some time (before the top end item price went up again, and not down).
If you look back, this time period also marks the beginning of the decline of Everquest subscriptions. To be fair this was also in the midst of Gates Of Discord, but I can't help but believe the tidal wave that ripped through the bazaar may have contributed to that happening. It certainly would be frustrating to be saving up for some gear as a casual player, only to find the things you were saving up for nearly doubled or tripled in price within weeks, while your platinum didn't come to you any faster. Part of what my business was, was understanding what my customer's needs were. And many were just your average casual player who bought a bit of plat, 10k or 20k, here and there, to work on some tradeskills or to pick up a new hat or pair of boots in the bazaar. I dealt with a sea of emails at the time, from such customers, who were extremely frustrated at the whole mess, and many who outright quit as they were then almost forced to buy platinum to keep up their level of playing that was fun for them, and that made the game no longer a game to them.
My other customers consisted of the stereotypical plat buyer that people seem to dislike. The guy who goes out and spends $2000 on platinum (which gets you about 15 million platinum right now, or which got you 4 million platinum a couple months ago). These were the people with lots of money or who just had EQ as their main hobby (we all have one of those money sink hobbies to an extent) and had no qualms about spending such money on a videogame as it was fun for them to do so. Then there were the guilds, or guild officers and leaders who would buy platinum to pay for their guild's armor pieces, or high end players who would buy platinum for rare items like amulet of necropotence, mask of tinkering, blade of carnage, or other things their guild did not actively kill, or which were almost required for individuals to make it in a high end guild as they needed a "taunt weapon" or the like.
So anyways, after this great decline, things were very stable for the next year and a half. Prices in and out of game were stable, increasing and decreasing on the order of between 10 and 15 percent per year, which is normal. Prices on platinum dropped from $75 per 100k in late 2003 to $50 per 100k in mid 2005. I spent more time speaking with other sellers, and more time diversifying how we obtained platinum until the point where we, 8 people, were the sole supplier on 4 post merge servers, for everquest platinum to the big three sellers. There was no reason for them to lie to us about this, of course. They did have other sources of platinum at a rate of about 50k per day from people selling bits and pieces here and there, or they'd get a million from someone now and again, but they did not have the steady flow on the 4 servers from anyone else at all other than us. This was about $500 a day per server, or about $180,000 a year, divided amongst 8 people. It was barely manageable when you factor in health insurance and taxes.
In July of this year, one of the big sellers we dealt with, with a name starting with "G" (as I'd rather not mention them here lest people think I am trying to get them more business) told us and their other suppliers that they no longer had any need for platinum from us. They closed off any buys from people, and dropped their price from $50 to $40 per 100k on the market, and instead of having varying amounts for sale per server, they had millions on every server.
Being in the market as we were, it was quite an obvious move to make when a seller would get some sort of single source supplier who could meet all their needs. This is something which happens in games like World of Warcraft, where one supplier might cover all servers with 400 Chinese employees paid low wages to play the game and farm coin for hours and days at a time at a steady rate. EQ has never had that "problem" and even if so, they would be limited to making platinum in the bazaar, as EQ is not modeled as such that you can make money by farming monster kills and getting plat from NPC vendors. This was not a possibility, as a mass influx of chinese farmers would also be noticed within game, unless they were doing Dragons of Norrath crystals, in which case there is not sufficient market for crystals only, in order to supply what this seller needed.
Besides, crystals were a big part of what we sold, and nobody was selling close to as many as we did, not even 10% of as many as we did. As a matter of fact, being in this business we were required out of necessity to know the best places and items to sell for money, and not one of those areas had anyone or anything that could come close to what we were doing.
The general consensus was that this supplier got ahold of a dupe somehow, or they had a supplier who had one. When I say dupe I mean any hack, or macro or any way for someone to get money for nothing in game, and certainly something which is not "available to everyone."
We didn't fuss too much about it, though. We adjusted to the prices, kept a watchful eye out for any other issues, and kept up business as usual.
Until September / October. This is when the major problems started. Two new sellers appeared on the auction sites. These sellers were unknowns, new accounts who had millions upon millions of platinum for sale across any and all servers at crazy pricing. Their price? $25 per 100k if you haggled a bit with them, and they could give you as much as you wanted. 10 million wasn't an issue. 20 million? not a problem. In addition to these two sellers, old time sellers who had been gone since the last dupe era in 2003, and had not sold platinum since then, suddenly re-opened shop with millions per server. The amount available per server shot up from a typical million or 2 million listed at a time, to nearly 30 million platinum listed at a time. This all happened within a week. Resellers dropped their buy prices by 30%.
And it stopped again within 3 or 4 weeks. They disappeared, dried up, gone overnight. We honestly figured it had been fixed. But sure enough within the week the "G" named seller had millions per server for sale, and even more of it than they had before. They still denied all sales TO them but they had as much as you wanted to buy from them, and they had a new low price. After a couple weeks the other sellers started reappearing with similar pricing, and it has remained that way to this day. At times they get banned, then they come back. They formed a sort of conglomerate, and they keep in contact and fix prices so they are not competing too much with each other or completely killing off the market, which as they like to point out, they could if anyone wanted to mess with them, as "we can sell it for $1 per 100k and make money, just keep that in mind" which was mentioned to me when I tried to list up at a price less than theirs.
This has been going on for 3 months now, for the most part unchecked. SOE is aware of an issue, but seems unable to find out what it is and put a stop to it. They do ban the seller accounts from time to time (although it appears they have not since before Christmas) but it is really fruitless to do so as the sellers are back up again the next day with tens of millions available for sale. They can't ban an account which these guys have not yet created, and if it's some sort of hack that SOE has not yet found, all these guys have to do is fire up an account, dupe up 20 million, and they are good for a week until SOE gets back around to catching that account. At like $10? per account, plus a game card, I doubt they care other than a minor nuisance when one gets banned.
I find it absolutely amazing that SOE does not know what this is and how to stop it. I can't imagine they don't want to stop it. But I also have to wonder if they are taking it as seriously as it really is. No it's not a case of a bunch of kids running around buying up all the ornate armors and high end items with duped plat, pushing prices through the roof, but it is and will continue to speed inflation within the game, as the platinum entering the game in this fashion is not gotten by killing monsters or trading in the bazaar. The higher the amount of plat in the game is, the more they will need to design more plat sinks in the game be they tradeskills which cost huge amounts to skill up, or armor pieces which require you buy expensive components from NPC vendors.
The conglomerate of sellers, which just lowered pricing yet again, is arguing amongst themselves and and likely will drop prices again soon due to a new seller with millions per server, who obviously has access to the same exploit or something similar, who is selling for less than them that they now must compete with. $5 per 100k is a very real estimate of what this could get to. With the out of game market being roughly $600 per day per server, or about $4 million per year, if prices reach $50 per million that's looking at 4.3 billion platinum entering the game on a per server basis per year. Already at current pricing about 1.5 billion illegitimate platinum will be entering the EQ world this year. If you do not think this will have far reaching impact in game, it most certainly will.
To explain, since many do not understand the difference between someone who sells plat they make in game legitimately, and someone who sells exploited platinum, there is a very large difference on the server economies between the two. A seller who sells plat they make in game legitimately removes platinum that is already in the market, sells it for real life money, and this platinum then enters the market again. The net effect is zero, and the market is completely unaffected. A seller who sells duped plat, never removes money from the economy, he just adds money to it. So if a duper sells 1 million, there is now 1 million more platinum within the global economy.
Everquest is actually fairly well designed to ensure that money entering the game is only slightly more than money exiting the game through things like tradeskills, reagents, coffins, potions, soulstones, gems, high price armor completions, etc etc etc. With a little bit more money entering the game than exiting, you encourage mild inflation, which since EQ has no real banks or reliable investments which give a return over time, this encourages spending rather than hoarding of money. This increases trade and player interaction and is very good for the overall health of the game.
Double or tripling or more, the rate of platinum entering the economy without a matching increase in the rate it exits the economy, would and will have a huge effect on inflation within the game. For instance if we say every day that 5,000 people play EQ on a server all who make an average of 1,000 platinum, and spend an average of 750 platinum, the net result is about 1,250,000 platinum which enters the game per day per server. If on top of that a duper is injecting 5,000,000 platinum into the game, that platinum is not checked against normal costs. The 5,000,000 does not have the normal 3,750,000 drain the other players are faced with, thus instead of the normal amount of 1,250,000 platinum entering the game per day, there is 6,250,000 platinum entering the game per day. Also since this 5,000,000 platinum likely enters the bazaar immediately spread among a few people, while the 1,250,000 is spread among the 5,000 players and trickles in, the effect is multiplied to extremes. While the normal intended inflation might be 5% per 6 months, you get much much higher inflation rates. As little as 1 year ago, the "best" items cost 100k or so barring any oddities, on average. Now you find the best items are approacing 400k, to 500k. You can't take a look and say "well I can get an earring of solstice cheap now! there is no inflation!" because an earring of solstice is an old low demand item, and there are a multitude of better alternatives for that same slot. When golden tickets are running 1 million on some servers, and only because that is the most people can charge for one on a trader, there is inflation because these were 200k a year ago on the high end. When a mask of tinkering is 1 million platinum when they were 250k a year ago on the high end, there is inflation.
You can also see the effects here if you wish to read some other threads. Expect to see more and more of these types of requests for "another coin type" in the near future.
While many psts deal with Firiona Vie, there are listings in there of many items which are selling for 1 million plus on other normal servers as well. It is interesting to note, also, that due to the "all droppable" nature of Firiona Vie, that the out of game platinum market for that server is over 5 times what it is on a normal server, with thousands of dollars a day in activity. Also notice which server is hardest hit by inflation and which server has the most platinum flying around, with a population relative to other servers which is much smaller. If you know what you are looking at, you can see problems with exploitation, and their effects on trading, on Firiona Vie first. It's the smoking gun when it comes to these things, a virtual crystal ball that players on other servers can take a look at and see a bit of their future when it comes to the bazaar.
And this all certainly does effect every player. The time it takes to do so and the degrees to which it does, are all different. For the legitimate plat seller, it affects them the most, to be honest with you. With gradual inflation of up to 15% it does not, but with drastic inflation they can't keep up because inflation in game is a bit slower than deflation out of game. Thus while that item that sold for 100k last month might get 105k this month on average, out of game that 100k is worth 50% less. Working at McDonalds becomes more profitable, and it becomes non sensical to sell platinum.
For the casual player who does a bit of buying and selling the the bazaar, selling low end common items to save up for higher end nice items, they are impacted as the low end common items which are not high demand to begin with, sell for less and less or remain stagnant, or at very best inflate very very slowly, while the good and better items inflate at a pace which they can't keep up with unless they play more, or spend more time "farming." For some this is how they play and this is how they have fun, and such outpacing and inability to keep up can push them to quit.
For the new player, they have a few options. They do not have the pool of players to group with, and the game at their level beyond the very early stages, in the void of 15 to 60, is designed around early EQ. It's designed around an influx of coin and items which is old and pre 2003 exploit and pre today's current exploit. To a seasoned EQ player it may seem trivial to save up 1000 platinum if you work at it in an evening, but to a new guy, that figure is astronomic and daunting. Pretend you are level 25, give yourself 1000 platinum, go to the bazaar, and try to equip up to a level of gear you could solo / duo with (because it is highly unlikely to find people to group with at that level to make out a group). I doubt you will be able to do it, and where is a new level 25 guy going to get 1000 platinum anyways? If they have knowledge of the game to the extent that that is possible they are not new to EQ or have inside help anyways. This limits, more and more, the introduction of new players into the game. Of course, there's always the option for these players to go buy some platinum, but should that be almost required? Exploitation drives the new player away, and reduces the attractivness of the game to them.
For the average player in a guild, with some raid gear, and who plays a few nights a week, trades in the bazaar a bit, does a few tradeskills, has some twinks, and on and on and on, it's just standard inflation. You are the beginning of the plat drain. The coffins, the high cost tradeskill components that must be purchased from NPCs, the soulstones, the gems, the portal fragments, the gate potions, the 500 plat for ornate armor on turn in, the 10,000 plat for qvic armor on turn in. These things are here and at higher and higher costs in order to remove first and foremost, the normal player injection of platinum into the game through legitimate means, but they are also there in order to remove the platinum from past and current exploits from the game. You pay a premium on this stuff because Joe Macro over there exploited the game to make his $200 a day back in 2003, or because that duper over there exploited the game for $25,000 a week for the last 3 months and is continuing to do so.
For the raider, you pay like the average player, though you have access to the high end droppable gear in order to offset that cost. You can get stuff that is worth hundreds of thousands of platinum, and you can easily cough up the 10K for a piece of Qvic armor. It doesn't affect you as much because you buy and sell on the high end, and the high end is the most inflated and the plat sinks to counter it have not yet been introduced, and when they are they won't be too difficult to deal with for you, the top end raider. There is some effect, not monetary, from less new players sticking with EQ, and average players getting frustrated with inflation on their way up to your guild and quitting before they reach that level of play. The downsizing of eq associated with less accounts (I do not claim exploitation to be the ONLY reason for this) and it being more and more difficult to find good players to fill your ranks.
But it does affect everyone. Turning a blind eye to it does fine in the short term, but the effects do reach everyone eventually, and the longer it is left unchecked the worse that effect will be.
As I said earlier I am getting out of "the business" and won't be selling platinum and items for real life money anymore as soon as next month. I am still concerned with the state of the situation, though. It has nothing to do with my own income, as it has teetered on low profit and a waste of time for over a half a year now. I've more concern as a player. While I could write another novel about how I think in a proper system, the out of game trade of items and coin for real life money helps a game more than hurts it, it's not the issue here. As a long time player of EQ, who will remain playing for fun only and not as an income, it is in my best interest to get exploitation stopped for how it may affect me as a player and not how it may affect how I feed my family or pay my mortgage.
Happy New Year, and another update for you all.
I've obviously been keeping after this issue and I'm sad to say that it has not stopped, but gotten increasingly worse since I last posted.
A second exploit was discovered and fixed since my posting, which involved ornate rogue pants, summon poison (no drop no sale) combine with tradeskill seal, and get back a poison that sold to vendors for around 275 plat. Since this could be summoned per 15 seconds, that's 275 plat x 4 per minute, or about 1.5 million platinum per day. This is when run with a macro of course.
This required a level 46 rogue and ornate pants with poison skill. Something which could be made up in a couple of days.
Though this fix seemed to stop the problems for a few days, they resurfaced which lends credibility to the fact that there is indeed another exploit out there not yet discovered and fixed.
Price dropped again at the beginning of January, marking now the seventh price drop in 3 months. Buy prices for the main player in the market dropped down to $13 per 100k on most servers and they are the ONLY reseller who buys platinum, and sell prices have dropped an average of $5 per 100k over the past two weeks. This is a 20% drop in just two weeks. 100% drop over a 6 week timeframe.
From some of these guys you can now purchase platinum for $150 per million with a small amount of haggling. If it continues to drop at the rate it is going, $50 per million is about two months away at the worst case, four I'd guess at best. Also the amount of platinum for sale has skyrocketed, going from suppliers having totals of about 4 million, to most servers having 20 to 30 million for sale at a time just since my last posting.
It takes time for the effects of this to be felt in game, but each
expansion there usually are more and more platinum drains put into the
game because of activity such as this. Who pays? The players do, not the
exploiters. The exploiters walk off to the bank with a $25,000 weekly
check, while the players have to dig up more and more plat for their
tradeskills or quest armor, or, as the exploiters would love, have to buy
from the exploiters as it becomes the only reasonable source of platinum.
Final comment: note that Firiona Vie, the RP server to which many turned in naive hope at one time, has become the benchmark server for RMT analysts. Bitter irony.