In the world of MMOGs there exists a pervasive problem that continuously confounds developers and players alike: real money trading. This is essentially the practice of paying real life currency (US Dollars) for in-game currency. Many players don’t see anything wrong with this, but upon deeper inspection it becomes very clear why this is such a huge issue, and why it is so difficult to resolve.
First off, the exchange rate for in-game currency is usually very high. Ten dollars will usually purchase a massive amount of in-game currency. What this means is that the people who “farm” in-game currency to sell have to generate (usually) trillions of in-game currency every month in order to keep selling and make decent money. This means that, not only does this inflate the in-game economy much faster than normal players usually would, it also means that these “farmers” generally have to cheat in order to make a profit. By cheat I mean use unattending macroing techniques, exploiting bugs that developers aren’t aware of, etc. In other words: they’re getting it in a way that you as the casual player don’t have access to.
As for inflation, this makes it so that it’s much harder for new players to enter the game. Because prices have increased so much through a non-standard game mechanism (that is, they didn’t go out and slay monsters and collect loot to get it) new players who are using standard game mechanisms have to work much longer to be able to afford that uber-cool stuff that everyone lusts after. This means that new players are generally less likely to continue playing the game for any extensive period of time.
So finally, what is the solution? Well currently there is no absolute solution to the problem, other than fervently hunting macro-gamers and exploiters, but one of the best solutions I’ve ever seen is the one implemented by EVE Online. EVE Online, one of the older successful MMOs (7 years at the time of this writing), has implemented a system that they call PLEX. This stands for Pilot License Extenstion and it is an item that exists in-game. A PLEX allows a player to apply game time to his account. The truly genious thing about PLEX is that it can be purchased outside of the game for real money, or purchased within the game for in-game currency (ISK in EVE).
This has a bi-fold effect. First, players are able to safely and easily purchase in game currency with real money through a system that EVE Online has implemented. They purchase a plex for $15 or so, they receive the item in-game and sell it on the in-game market for about 400 million ISK. The other effect is that the buyers of the PLEX in-game are actually players who benefit from this process, because it allows them to purchase a PLEX and essentially play EVE for free. It is the most elegant solution I’ve ever seen.
However, this hasn’t completely solved the problem. There are still websites that offer 400 million ISK for $12 or $13 dollars, which is a couple dollars cheaper than CCP (the maker of EVE) offers it on their official website. This means that some people will of course purchase these cheaper options, risking their account information on untrustworthy sites just to save a couple bucks, but this measure has been hugely successful. For me, I would much rather go to CCP and pay a couple dollars more to know that my account information is safe rather than save a dollar or two and potentially have my account hacked and all of my super-uber-leet spaceships stolen from me. Actually I prefer to play the game like a religious zealot to make 400 million ISK every month so someone else pays for my subscription, but that’s just me…
Remember folks: the reason that these real money trading sites exist is because actual players buy from them, so the best thing you as a player can do is stay away from them.