The World Bank put out a report this week, a Knowledge Map of the Virtual Economy (http://www.infodev.org/en/Publication.1056.html) in which they try to estimate the value of various virtual services, including that for online gaming. The information in there about the real cash for fake gold market is interesting, although as it is dealing with a grey market, all the figures should be taken with a grain of salt. The highlights that stood out to me:
- most gold farmers make minimum wage
- the middlemen, with english language skills and a university education, make more
- around 20-25 percent of players buy gold
- people buying gold spend an average of US$369 a year
- it costs US$6-8 to for each click on a google advert for “wow gold”
- the total market is estimated to be US$3 billion in 2009.
Currently on my World of Warcraft server, the gold farmers are offering to sell 10,000 gold for a bit over US$21.
It has been interesting watching the economy inflate in World of Warcraft over the last few months. A key factor in this has been “the obsidium shuffle”, which has essentially given people with Jewellcrafter (JC) professions a license to mint gold. The shuffle works because when a JC prospects a stack of ore, they get 6 low quality gems and a chance of a high quality gem. The low quality gems sell for 9 gold each to a vendor, even though they are useless to player characters, the rare gems will sell for between 4 and 100 gold on my server. So if you can buy a stack of ore for under 54 gold, and you have the time to right-click with your mouse 16-20 times, instant profit. Each of the other stacks of ore have similar “floor” price points, under which you cannot lose gold on buying them.
On some servers, because of bot programmes run by “gold farmers” the price of a stack of Obsidium has dropped to around 6 gold per stack. On my server, I can usually pick it up for 45-46 gold per stack. So not as profitable, but still faster than doing any kind of in-game Player versus Environment content. In an upcoming patch, the vendor value of the low quality gems is being reduced from 9 gold to 75 silver (100 silver to the gold), so the floor price will drop considerably. I expect the Auction House (AH) price to follow it down as well. The new equilibrium will still probably allow money to be made from the shuffle, just not in such excessive amounts.
The cat is out of the bag already though. Large numbers of players in the game have already made large profits, and there is not a lot to actually spend it on. Just before the Cataclysm expansion was released the in-game old cap per character was increased from 214,000 to 1,000,000. In the five months since then I have increased my AH traders gold pile from 214,000 to 640,000 (I probably have just over 700,000 across all my characters). It costs me about 1,000 gold a week to raid, so that is enough in-game currency to play for 12+ years without having to run another quest in game for gold rewards. So it means my game account would be worth about US$1,500 to a hacker in the gold farming/stealing business.
There are times when I wonder, if Blizzard introduced a purchasable title of “Merchant Prince”, for say 500,000 gold, just how many characters I would see in Orgrimmar the next day with it floating above their heads.
One area where you can see the impact of the inflation is the price being paid for cutting edge “bind on equip” Epic quality gear that characters can equip for raids. Early in Wrath of the Lich King I recall spending a few thousand gold purchasing several Epic items for a new Level 80 character. In Cataclysm, purchasing a similar set of items for a new Level 85 character would cost me around 30,000 gold, and if I was playing a tank character closer to 50,000g. Its just as well for me then, that there was actually nothing I could buy off the AH for my Paladin Healer that I could not craft for myself at cost price – buying off the AH would have got it for me faster, but not cheaper.
The other area you can see this is in the service economy, where people work for tips. During Wrath of the Lich King, the default price to acquire signatories in-game for a Guild Charter (10 signs required to register a guild) was around 10 gold. Sometimes it went up to 15 gold. I now see people promising 50, even 100 gold for the same service. For crafting services, I was often paid 10g for simple things in Wrath, and 50-100g if I had a rare pattern that was not universally obtainable. In Cataclysm, I would not bother crafting an item for someone for less than a 500 gold tip, as I can usually make at least that, and sometimes as much as 1000g simply selling the item via the AH.
Blizzard recently announced a “Call to Arms”.
One thing that I think most of the other blogs discussing this missed, is that Blizzard is only doing in-game, what the players are already doing in-game. Every day I see pure DPS characters advertising in the trade channels to group with a tank or healer to reduce their wait times, and where a few weeks ago 50-100 gold was being offered, now its 100-200 gold. Once the Call to Arms feature is activated, these players are probably going to have to double their private payment to match the bribe from Blizzard.
Lesson for anyone rolling a new character in a new MMO: pick a tank or healer role as your primary role in the game, or begin to develop the patience of a saint.