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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Manipulating Your Markets

Barclays, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves ^^

As a rule, I steer well clear of current affairs in this 'ere blog, unless something pops up which I feel has a direct relevance to the Gaming World. I reckon this story qualifies as 'relevant.' It might also lose me some readers. We will see.

I've banked with Barclays for pretty much most of my adult life, and as a rule I've always considered them a decent bunch. It has emerged in the last few days that they have been fined a massive £290 MILLION POUNDS, for spending quite a long time trying to manipulate Libor, the world’s benchmark bank borrowing rate. If you are interested in the details, a report is here. I suspect the repercussions of this will be both widespread and damning for the bank and its Chief Executive, and it poses a lot of very serious questions as to how financial institutions continue to conduct themselves in the face of mounting criticism.

Manipulating markets, after all, can be a very profitable profession.

Having read the above, now go away and consider this report from Massively which details how a small handful of players in EVE Online manipulated the latest 'Inferno' patch to the tune of what would, if you could convert the online currency to cash, be about $175,000. When you look at the original forum post from the people concerned, they even go so far as to quote Gordon Gecko : Greed is Good. It is good if you are one of the people who happens to be on the receiving end of the fortune, but if you're not, or you are forced to suffer because of other people's actions... is it really that great? Barclays will no doubt suffer as a result of their actions, the EVE players lost all their cash (despite such exploits in game traditionally being tolerated to a point), but does it matter? After all, the latter is only a game...

There has been a lot of discussion of late concerning the breaking down of traditional gender stereotypes and the use/misuse of certain real life 'incidents' in a gaming environment to elicit sympathy/empathy (Tomb Raider, looking at you and saying no more) It has become clear that people expect their games not simply to deliver entertainment, but to do so in a way that does not rely on scandalising and sensationalising the environments the gamer plays in. If that's the case for these issues, should the case not extend to those games that allow the player to manipulate the virtual world to a point where it could be seen to give them an unfair advantage over others?

Should people have the opportunity to make massive amounts of 'money' in gaming worlds without consequence?

The subject is one I've considered in a Warcraft sense with Transmog. I am well aware through people I follow on the Blogroll that you can become very rich indeed via this method, but it effectively requires time, effort and ultimately the ability to buy out your competition. I should say at this point I have a grudging admiration for anyone who's capable of making money in this way: I still hear countless complaints at how difficult it is to generate cash in Azeroth, despite knowing full well it isn't. The question then becomes: just how much money is enough? What do you do once you have all the money you can get in game?

What is often easy to forget is that, for many people, the game is the money. Unlike the real world, where virtual currency has only limited consequence, there is as much enjoyment to be had from the process of building an gold-based empire as there is from killing a Raid Boss.

There was a guy in our Guild duringVanilla, who did only one thing once he hit 60. He used to make Hide of the Wild. He'd farm the mats religiously, back in the days when Larval Acid was a hard drop and a key ingredient, and he'd buy anyone else's cloak from the AH regardless of the price. In Vanilla this was considered the key healing cloak for anyone hitting 60, and if you wore on on my server the chances were he made it. At the height of his endeavour he sent me a screen shot of his personal fortune. I'd never seen so much money in game.

When TBC was announced he realised with horror his market was gone, wiped out overnight, and he quit, but not before he sold his account to a random gomer. I lost quite a lot of respect for him that day.

It is an irrefutable fact (in our current climate) that people making huge amounts of money causes conflict. It results in sit-ins and civil unrest for starters. I've seen screenshots posted by people that show that the same response can (and does) happen in game, but regulating such things is never going to happen, and nor should it. We are all very aware of the consequences of Gold Buying, after all, and how Blizzard try their best to promote people to be self-sufficient, but (of course) some people will be better at that task than others, just like the min/maxers and the theorycrafters. It has been clear for some time that the game misses important money-regulators, or as you know them better, gold sinks.

Enter, stage left, the Black Market Auction House in Pandaria.

Insecure for now, but not for long...

Loath as I am to admit it, this is a master-stroke by Blizzard. Aware of the amount of gold in the economy (they have spreadsheets, they will know) I find myself thinking that the developers are in a pretty tight spot. They can't prejudice those people with all this cash, but they need to find a way to make spending that gold attractive. One of a kind items with huge rarity values? Yeah, that should do it, and those who want to be conspicuous with their consumption can do so without it hugely impacting on the rest of the gaming community. Those who don't care and want to just keep making money and sharing their tips out of game won't stop what they are doing anyway, but this gives at least one way of removing some of the pressure.

Let us hope Blizzard ensures that gold does not give an unfair advantage to those who could theoretically buy their way to gear superiority. Time will tell.

As long as making gold in virtual worlds does not cause a destabilisation of the environment that creates said wealth, long may it continue. The real world banks have argued long and hard that conflict and creativity is vital to continue to fuel the marketplace and to promote a spirit of competition that, if managed successfully, should benefit everyone in the long run. Greed, avarice and anger should have no place in either virtual or real world financial decision making, but its clear that's still not the case. Barclays will inevitably pay the price for wilful deception, but whether it is enough will remain to be seen.

In the gaming world, I'd like to think people will make their own informed and educated decisons, as they do with all the other aspects of game play. However, as we discussed yesterday, there are those people who'll happily spoil it for the rest of us under the guise of entertainment.

Let us hope they're not making money at our expense to boot.

1 comment:

farli said...

The total value of all item posted on the AH across all EU realms yesterday was 1.65 billion gold.