If you read much of the gaming press, blogshpere, and official gaming company news, you would certainly come away with the impression that most of the gaming community is opposed to selling in-game currency for cash.
It is cheating. It wrecks the in-game economy. It is a violation of the rules.
The fly in the ointment is all of those sites dedicated to selling in-game currency. All of those gold ads. That seems to argue that some significant percentage of the player population disagrees.
But make no mistake, the gaming companies are against it. The end user license agreements for MMOs almost universally, specifically, forbid it.
Blizzard regularly announces how many accounts they have banned for being involved with real money transactions for in-game currency.
Try listing some in-game currency for a Sony Online Entertainment game on eBay and see how long your auction stays up.
CCP has come out strongly in the past against the evils of selling their in-game currency, the ISK, for real world money. In the EVE Online End User License Agreement, under Section 7 (Conduct) you will find paragraph B that specifically forbids the sale of any in-game items, currency included.
Except, of course, if you buy it from them.
To be fair, CCP isn’t actually selling ISK directly. You cannot go to their site and order up 100 million ISK any time you please.
They will, however, direct you to somebody who will sell you a Game Time Code, or GTC. (Also referred to as an EVE Time Card or ETC.) Or they will sell you one directly if you want.
A GTC is basically a time card like those offered by other online game companies that, when entered into your account, allows you to play for a given amount of time, usually 30, 50, 90, or 100 days depending on the source of the card.
And once you have purchased your GTC, CCP provides a forum and a secure method for selling your GTC to other players for the in game currency.
There is then a company sponsored and supported process which at one end you put in real world money and at the other end you receive ISK.
So CCP is selling ISK.
Yes, it isn’t that black and white. You have to find a buyer, negotiate a price, and so on. And CCP should certainly take umbrage at any suggestion that they are doing this to legitimize the sale of ISK. I am sure that is not the case at all.
But it certainly does open the door. There is a legitimate way to turn real world money into ISK, and I would be surprised if some ISK farming company out hasn’t tried selling GTCs at a mildly inflated price with the guarantee that you can turn around and sell it for an over market price, in ISK, to one of their mule accounts. They keep the account going, make their money, and nobody can say they did not follow the rules. At least one seller on the offical CCP list has a history in gold selling and RMT.
Of course, this leads to the big question, the universal question, which is, “So what?”
In the case of EVE Online, the question is quite legitimate. EVE is the wild wild west of MMOs, where the list of things you cannot do is relatively short. Those is search of “user created content” need only look at the maps of 0.0 space in EVE Online to find an example. (You can see such a map at EVE Tribune.) There is a huge, ongoing saga out there, not one bit of which is scripted or driven by anything requiring you to, say, “Kill Ten Rats.”
In this environment, the idea that there ought to be free reign to turn your ISK into game time seems pretty natural. It fits. It rewards success in a way that feeds the game.
In the case of the MMO gaming industry in general though, it may have implications.
It has often been said that the gaming companies could put the gold sellers out of business by just selling the currency themselves. Keep the current pressure on the gold sellers at one end, while at the other end offer a legitimate way to buy the in-game currency, and gold sellers would wither. They wouldn’t cease to exist, but a lot of them would get out of the business.
The game companies would, of course, like to be collecting that money themselves. There are two things that stand between the gaming companies and the pile of cash represented by this.
The first is the whole “cheating” or “buying your way to success” stigma. There are a few game companies for which this is a roadblock. Probably not many as you would think. Certainly none of the companies owned by large media conglomerates would be phased by this.
The second is the IRS. Or Inland Revenue. Or whatever the taxing branch of your national government is called. Once a gaming company assigns a value, an exchange rate if you will, for the in-game currency, the tax implications begin to crop up. Does that mean that the currency has real value? Does that mean I owe the government a cut whenever I turn in a quest?
SOE got around that with their Station Exchange server by letting the players buy and sell and just taking a cut, ala eBay. Currency can be bought and sold, but there is no official valuation.
CCP gets around the tax issue by taking another virtual currency (GTCs) that is tightly controlled, and making that the unit of exchange for the in-game currency. CCP just sells GTCs and does not take any cut of any further transaction. The end user then trades one for the other without any further real money being exchanged.
So is CCP on to something with this? Is this crossing the “gold selling” line? Does any other game allow something similar?
I find this more interesting than alarming myself.