Three Simple Ways To Fight Gold Spam

Posted by Stropp on October 8, 2009 Possibly the biggest problem that Aion players are experiencing since the launch of the game, is that dreaded scourge of gold spam. I'm not reading about the queues any more, and from what I've seen the game has had an excellently bug free launch. But, the gold sellers are spamming out the wazoo, and it appears there are no mechanisms in place to combat it. Frankly it surprises me that any new AAA game is released these days without at least some form of method for at least reporting these gold selling fiends. To think that the Aion team didn't think it necessary (and is only now reacting to the problem) considering the absolute nuisance that gold spam has caused gamers in many games over the years, beggers belief. It's my belief that game developers could be doing more to combat gold sellers before their games are released than they currently are. It appears that the developer response is to react to the problem, rather than sit down and think of the issues before they arise. There are a number of things that the developers could do to drastically reduce the amount of gold selling and spam in their games. Here are three.

1. Reduce The Need For Gold

In some games huge amounts of gold are needed to access or use in-game features. World of Warcraft is particularly bad for this. Phenomenal amounts of gold are required to purchase spells and abilities, mounts and riding skills, and features like talent respecs. It's hard, if not impossible, to remove these sorts of mechanisms in existing games. But there is no reason why an in-development game cannot look at alternate methods of payment for some game features. Here's a few ideas:
  • Instead of buying a mount with gold, a quest chain can be completed. The rareity or level of the mount would be matched against a proportionately difficult quest. Makes getting that uber-epic flying mount a lot more ego-tastic.
  • All spells could be dropped as loot, player researched, or given upon leveling. There's nothing new about this.
  • Players would quest or perform a set of tasks for bind on pickup tokens. These tokens when given to a certain NPC would provide a respec.
Even though this is probably one of the hardest methods to implement for fighting gold spam and selling  in a game, it remains one of my favorites because it not only reduces or removes the market, it makes the game more fun by taking the grind out of accumulating gold in the first place. I would much rather get my abilities or spells by going through a series of quests than buy travelling to some merchant and buying the same thing everyone else does, even though it's easier. Having said all that, there's at least one caveat. Some games are based, or have major aspects of the gameplay based, around a monetary economy. Eve Online for example wouldn't be the same without ISK. In this case the gold selling is an unfortunate side effect and can't be avoided, although it may be able to be minimized.

2. Remove Mechanisms That Facilitate The Gold Trade

This is probably the easiest way to make an impact on the MMORPG gold trade. Don't let players CoD or send in-game currency through the mail system. Have all trade conducted face to face or through the Auction House. It has two benefits, it makes it harder for gold sellers to operate, and it improves the socialisation in the game by having players connect with each other to trade. The downside of course is the increased difficulty in transfering money between alts characters, and friends and guildmates. This wouldn't be hard to overcome. Games like Everquest and Everquest 2 do this by having shared bank features. And a game could also allow cash transfers between members of the same guild. The choice that would beed to be made is whether or not the convenience of remote transfers of money, outweighs the inconvenience of the gold trade. Again, for some games like Eve Online, the inconvenience of gold spam wouldn't tip the scales against the inconvenience of removing in-game easy transfers. After all, how would the pirates obtain their ransoms?

3. Provide Players With Moderation Tools

While allowing players to directly moderate gold spam in chat does have some pitfalls, it is potentially the most powerful method of reducing gold spam, and it is (depending on the complexity of the software architecture of the chat system) the easiest to implement. It's simple. Add the facility to chat to allow players to report gold spam in chat. Some games already have this feature. When an account has been reported a number of times (a moderate threshold is necessary to prevent accidental or malicious reports) it is automatically banned from any of the public chat channels and from sending whispers for, let's say, 24 hours. Guild and party chat is still available to the player. Since it's associated with an account, the spammer is prevented from  simply logging in another character and repeating the nuisance. That should be enough, but longer and more permanent chat bannings could be implemented upon repeated offences, including even account bans. As I mentioned above, this could (and would) be subject to abuse by players. The moderation system will need to be monitored by community managers and any abuse dealt with promptly. The affected player should be given the chance to appeal in-game too.

Fighting Gold Spam Is Not A Hopeless Battle

Despite the lack of success that MMORPG developers have had with fighting gold selling in their games, it's not a hopeless battle they are waging. They do, however, need to start looking at their game systems during development, and after, with a critical eye as to how those systems will be abused by the less ethical. (Hey, it's already being done to curb cheaters.) When considering a CoD mail system, perhaps a thought could be given to how it will be abused by gold sellers, rather on how much more convenient it will be for players. All features need to be examined against the rule of unintended consequences. That, ultimately, will be the way to defeat the gold spammers.
  1. West Karana » Daily Blogroll 10/8: Inappropriate Birth Metaphor edition Said,

    [...] has some good ideas to combat gold spam. Simple economics, though, suggest the only real way to combat gold spam is to make NCsoft’s [...]

  2. Gold Spam Nation: Why buying gold makes you an asshat Said,

    [...] of the problems Aion is having, the discussion about gold buying being OK or not has cropped up again. It keeps popping up, for a reason. It’s a controversial subject, after [...]

  3. Gamers Rights Law » Banning in Games Said,

    [...] of good common-sense ideas being tossed around; first for the developers/publishers. Stroppsworld talks about three simple ways to fight gold spam. These are (1) Reduce the need for gold (2) Remove mechanisms [...]

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