Friday, April 8, 2011

World Bank Report: 20% of Virtual Game Currency Sold Is Hacked

I am currently reading a virtual economy report sponsored by the World Bank titled Knowledge Map of the Virtual Economy (hat tip: Terra Nova).  I plan on writing more about the report, but given the angst about botting and RMT in Eve Online, I thought I'd publish this quote from the report now:
The popular term “gold farmer” refers to a game laborer who plays an online game in order to produce virtual currency that can be sold for real money. The first “gold farms”, offices where multiple farmers sit at rows of computers and earn wages by producing virtual currency, probably evolved from gaming cafés. Although gold farmers have captured the attention of the Western gaming public, today they represent only a small part of the production sector in the third-party gaming services industry.

The main competitor to gold farms comes from automated bot farms. Bot farms use arrays of computers that each run several instances of the game, each controlled by a program known as a bot.  Perhaps only a tenth of the staff of a manual farm is needed to monitor the bots. Another source of competition are criminal hacker groups that break into players’ and gold farmers’ game accounts, steal the currency, and sell it for real money to wholesalers and retailers. One industry expert suggests that manual farms produce 30 percent of the virtual currency sold by retailers, bot farms produce 50 percent, and hacker groups “produce” 20 percent by stealing it from other players.
Lehdonvirta, Vili. & Ernkvist, Mirko, 2011. Converting the Virtual Economy into Development Potential: Knowledge Map of the Virtual Economy, Washington, DC; infoDev / World Bank. pp. 16-17
I should add that this passage is describing third-party gaming services and not game companies themselves.  Thus, CCP's PLEX sales and Sony Online Entertainment's Live Gamer Exchange servers for EverQuest 2, Free Realms and Vanguard do not count in the above description.

So folks, especially all of you who play Eve Online, there is a reason that people equate botting with RMT.  Because that is where the industry gets about one-half of its currency it sells players.  And the people who are buying in-game currency very well could be contributing to the misery of those whose accounts are hacked, since so much of it comes from hacked accounts. 

Yes, by buying gold, plat, isk, gil or whatever from these 3rd party RMT sites you are giving people an incentive to go out and hack other players' accounts.  If you don't think hacking can affect a game, just ask those who played RIFT at launch.  And if you want to hear a horror story, listen to the beginning of The RIFT Podcast #34 in which Ari described how a guildie fought a hacker for an hour for control of his max level character.

I'll climb off my soapbox now.  But one last note about the report.  Among the experts who contributed was CCP's very own Dr. Eyjólfur Guðmundsson.  While Eve isn't mentioned by name, I'm glad to see that the game I play is drawing interest from sites besides Eurogamer and Massively.

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