The boss of virtual world tech company RedBedlam, Kerry Fraser-Robinson, has said that companies must find a way to bring virtual currency trading into their games. The must, he argued, accept that virtual currency trading will take place in games that have an economy. "Trying to stop that happening is literally like telling the tide not to come in - you will fail."
The comments were part of a wide-ranging interview over at GI.biz, in which Fraser-Robinson slammed the idea that gold trading could be forced out of virtual worlds. More thoughts on this issue after the jump.
"It's going to happen whether you like it or not. People will always find the path of least resistance, if you stop them buying your gold then they'll buy that gold from somebody else who is gold farming," said the RedBedlam CEO. "I strongly recommend that people at least allow for purchase and sale of gold within their game, otherwise third parties will and that will ruin their game. Even if it's not their central revenue model they'll still need to do that, if it's a subscription game, they'll still need to have at least the awareness and preferably the capacity for people to buy and sell currency in their virtual world."
I'm rather torn on this issue. On the one hand, I've certainly encountered gold farmers in WoW, and ISK farmers in Eve, and been annoyed by them. Eve's ISK farmers less so, perhaps, as they represented an interesting PvP challenge during dull times, but the truth is these folks tend to hog resources and get in the way of normal play. Then there's the "dishonorable" matter of getting ahead via your credit card, rather than by playing the damned game. Should that be okay? I'm fairly certain Eve's capital-ship over-abundance has been funded as much by real world money as it has by the hard work of gamers, and I don't think that's healthy. Likewise, when you can buy mounts, or much of the best weapons and armour in WoW, doesn't that devalue them, and make that aspirational target of having the best stuff just a little less interesting? You can see why Blizzard fought against it.
That said, I do agree with Fraser-Robinson, in that I don't believe this activity can be expunged, especially when games are so leaky, and allow their assets to be so easily traded with the real world. If it was an upfront part of games then the developers could benefit even more than they do from subscriptions, and it might ultimately make these expensive games cheaper to run and develop.
Then, as a final note, I have to admit that I'm kind of awed by the Asian entrepreneurs who figured out that gold farming sweatshops were actually a reasonable way to make money within their economies. It's one of those incredible niches that makes the world a really strange place to live in.
What do you think, readers?