Monday, February 15, 2010

Does Blizzard support goldsellers?

Gevlon posted an article in which he argues that Blizzard secretly supports goldselling, "proof" being that they haven't eliminated the practice yet. People who disagree have their comments deleted, so Azzur asked me to post his reply on my blog. While I can hear you snickering in the back about Tobold the defender of free speech, I think you'll find that my comment section is full of people who disagree with my point of view, and I never censor them as long as they do it politely. Thus here is Azzur's letter:
Hi Tobold

I tried to respond to Gevlon's blog directly but looks like his comments moderation has silenced all of his critics. I come to you because I believe that your blog is a neutral place to post arguments. I am hoping that you can post this on your blog.

This is my response to Gevlon's post:

A short summary: Gevlon claims that Blizzard supports gold-selling because they have not done 'all they could' to stop it. This is all despite Blizzard banning accounts, having detection measures (e.g. Warden), etc. But Gevlon ignores all of these evidence and are instead claims Blizzard are lying. Several commentators (including myself), question his theory and propose that gold-selling exists because stopping it completely is impossible - for it would lead to unacceptable server performance.

The problem with so many Gevlon posts is that he frequently makes a wrong assumption (in this case, Blizzard supports gold-selling and that it is possible to stop it). Even with this wrong premise, he continues adamantly claim that he is right. The commentators who question his base assumption are all silenced (in his view, we are 'trolls')! In this case, how is there recourse for sensible argument?

In fact, in the comments section of his post is this from Gevlon himself:
"The debate is about WHY Blizzard tolerates goldselling and you are welcome to come up with answers conflicting mine.

Denying the obvious fact that they do it is either trolling or being retarded."

When some commentators question his logic, Gevlon responds with: "Server load: come on! The server can handle 2*120 players spamming spells in WG, but can't handle text chat? Are you computer illiterates or trolls?"

If you read all the comments, there are computer programmers (me included, but I was silenced!) who question him on this statement. Gevlon is wrong, for text filters will impose an unacceptable server load. Of course Gevlon is too stubborn to see this. And note his use of 'strong language' of 'computer illiterates or trolls'. Many people will be swayed simple because of this. But don't be fooled: If you know better, real-time filter of text will lead to unacceptable server performance.

Of course, rather than admit wrong, he goes on with this one about licensing from Google: "@Drew: that's why LICENSING exists. They don't have to develop tools. They can license tools, for example from google. Or from the guys who made the "free speach filter" for the Chinese.".

This is all nonsense. Firstly, it's no guarantee that Google will even licence their technology. Secondly, Google queries and performs string matching on an existing database. World of Warcraft relies on real-time input from other people. They are totally different things! The latency that will result from string matching will result in unacceptable performance.

Gevlon also comes up with ridiculous suggestions like capchas for killing 'non-quest monsters' (so that bot farming can be identified), banning low-level ppl from trade, etc. I suppose he doesn't understand that gold-sellers and bots can easily circumvent this and measures like this will harm innocents instead. He doesn't even understand the basic tenets of freedom (lucky Blizzard does!). He thinks that it's alright to have the majority constrained due to the actions of a minority. Bank alts? Low-level newbies? They're all acceptable collateral damage!

An article ( shows that Blizzard already puts restrictions on trial accounts to stop goldselling spam. Why would they do so if they tolerated gold-selling?

Gevlon is living in a fantasy land where he imagines all these bizzare conspiracy theories. His imagination is so vivid that "Blizzard tolerating gold-selling is an obvious fact" (slightly paraphrased from Gevlon). Obvious to himself only, despite having no evidence whatsoever. Perhaps he'll like to live in a land where people are guilty until proven otherwise!

I do believe that goldseller cause economic harm to Blizzard. Not because they wreck the economy, because for WoW goldselling the same is true what some people used at defense for legal RMT in EVE: Goldselling does not create additional gold for the economy, it only transfers gold from one player to another. But goldsellers cause harm because they are often unscrupulous in how they acquire the gold they sell, and their illegal activities of botting and hacking result in customer service cost for Blizzard. A single call to customer service because of some bot or hacker costs Blizzard more money than what they earn from that customer in several months. Thus I'm pretty certain that Blizzard would like to eliminate goldselling.

But when I say "Blizzard would like to eliminate goldselling" that is like saying "The WHO would like to eliminate Malaria": The goal is clear and laudable, but the way to reach it isn't all that obvious, and you wouldn't want to do it at any cost. As I stated in the past, it is actually extremely easy from a game design point of view to eliminate goldselling: You just make all items bind-on-pickup. That is easy to prove: For any WoW player it is obvious that alternative currencies like lets say Emblems of Frost are *far* more valuable than gold. But there are no "emblem of frost sellers", because the emblems and most of the items you can buy with them are bind-on-pickup. Problem solved! But of course if you do the same to gold in World of Warcraft, you just eliminated the player-to-player economy, plus some ways of players to help other players. Thus making gold bind-on-pickup would work, but it would have a serious cost. A cost that Blizzard thinks is too high.

And the same cost-benefit analysis could be done for any possible way to block goldselling: Would it work? And if yes, what would the cost be? Gevlon for example has a point in that removing the ability for goldsellers to advertise websites by forming words with level 1 corpses in cities would work, and wouldn't inconvenience other players too much. On the technical point of how much lag an anti-gold spam filter would produce, I have not enough knowledge to offer an opinion. But any filter is a cost per se; for example I sometimes talk German with German friends on an English-language server, and some completely harmless words of the German language like "weniger" (less) are blocked by the chat filter as potential racial slurs. And software to catch goldselling behavior, like sending money from one player to another, will always have a "false positive" rate, e.g. I once sent several thousand gold to the account of my wife, for her to buy an epic mount.

So I think we can't make a blanket statement whether Blizzard is too weak or lenient to eliminate goldselling. We would have to examine every single proposed way to do so, and carefully consider the possible up- and downsides, as well as how the goldsellers would circumvent it. If Gevlon were right and it was just Blizzard who was deliberately inactive against goldsellers, then how come every other major MMORPG has exactly the same problems? Do you know any MMORPG with over 100k subscribers in which you can't buy gold?

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