Monday, December 16, 2013

The Global War On Illicit RMT: Player Auctions

Last week I posted an article discussing the possibility of terrorists using virtual world like Second Life and World of Warcraft to launder money.  I think that some people were shocked at the size of the estimated value of $2 billion1 of both the primary and secondary RMT markets in 2007.  A question that came up was: how much does EVE Online ISK contribute to the illicit secondary RMT market?

I don't think anyone really has a good estimate on the size of the secondary RMT market, both for EVE Online and as a whole.  However, I do know of a website,, that facilitates the trading of virtual currency for real world money.  The site was referenced in an academic paper about gold farming and RMT written in 2009 so the site has operated for at least four years.

I conducted a survey of the amount of virtual currency for sale on Saturday, 14 December 2013.  I found auctions for 46 games2 totaling $34.7 million.3  Only three games, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and RIFT had more than $1 million worth of currency for sale.  Two other games, Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic, had currency worth more than 1% of the market for sale.

So what about the other 41 games?  How much was for sale for each game?  I have a Google document with all the games listed for those curious.  The top 10 games in the "Other" category are:

Dungeons And Dragons Online:          $162,000
EverQuest II:$161,568
Lord of the Rings Online:$102,986
The Secret World:$88,130
Star Trek Online:$52,861
Dungeon Defenders:$50,545
Dragon's Prophet:$34,908

So where is EVE?  The game ranked 16th with a sell value of $26,040.  That represented 0.07% of the value of the virtual currency for sale on To compare that amount to the primary RMT market in EVE Online, the 1.82 trillion ISK in sell orders on almost matched the 1.84 trillion ISK that was spent purchasing PLEX in EVE Online's main trade hub of Jita on 14 December.

Is the activity on representative of the secondary RMT market as a whole?  Probably not.  But the site is a major player.  How big?  That will involve making an educated guess on the inventory turnover on the site.  Inventory turnover is a measure of the number of times inventory is sold or used in a time period such as a year.  I have to imagine that the inventory turnover on is at least once a month.  That would mean that over $400 million worth of virtual currency is sold each year on the site.

But based on my observations so far of EVE Online ISK, the inventory turnover is possibly as high as 4 times a month.  Virtual currency is a very perishable commodity as games companies could seize the stock at any time so the dealers in illicit RMT have every motivation to sell the currency cheaply and move it out of their hands as fast as possible.  In order to stay conservative, I would guess at a turnover in the value of the virtual currency of 15 days.  That would result in an estimated value passing through of $800 million.  To play it safer, I would round the estimate to between $500 million to $750 million in sales per year.

I should add a caveat.  The above estimate is known as a WAG - Wild Ass Guess.  Basing this estimate on a one day snapshot is a very sketchy proposition.  If I wanted to come up with a better estimate I would need to take a lot of samples in order to get a better picture of the market.  But I think I can safely say that the site is the home of hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit RMT per year.

This analysis does not include the commercial sites and all the individual players who sell in-game currency on scattered forums throughout the world.  Also, does not encompass the Asian market.  Trying to derive the total market value of the secondary RMT market based on alone will not produce a viable result.

Finally, does the amount of ISK for sale on tell us anything about the effectiveness of CCP's efforts to fight ISK sellers?  But itself, no.  But combined with the number of illicit RMT sites that have stopped offering ISK for sale, the amount of ISK for sale is perhaps another indication that ISK sellers are having an increasingly harder time making a profit selling EVE's virtual currency.


1.  All prices listed are in U.S. dollars.

2.  Excludes Warhammer Online which closes on 18 December 2013.

3.  The value was calculated using the lowest sales price for the game or, in the cases of games with multiple shards, with the average of the lowest prices on each shard.


  1. Good work as ever.

    Eve seems in a relatively healthy position relative to other games. More marginal games like Star Trek Online and The Secret World have a much larger market for illegal currency on playerauctions.

    Do we know how a market for illegal isk of, say, $26k * 2 or about $50k a month compares with the trade in legal isk via plex?

    1. Let's take November as an example. In Jita, which I believe makes up about 90% of the PLEX market (a market guru can correct me on this) 97,183 PLEX were sold for a total of 58.5 trillion ISK. The cash value of that, assuming a purchase price of $34.99 / 2 PLEX (the list price of a 60-day GTC), is $1.7 million. So overall in EVE the price could be $1.8 - $2 million.

  2. Sadly the Eve market window gives us turnover numbers only, not real sales. For all we know it could be a single Plex that is traded all day until it's actually used by someone.

  3. The last time CCP gave us figures (which was a couple of years ago to be fair, when a lot of people were super mad with them because of Incarna etc), IIRC approximately 20-25% of accounts are maintained with PLEX.

    If we figure on ~400,000 TQ accounts, and if we assume that ratio still holds good today, then that means that ~100k TQ PLEX are consumed each month. About $1.75M worth each month, which very nicely supports Nosy's calculation.

    As a side note, that means that the "PLEX For Good" campaign increased PLEX consumption by 10% for 1 month.