The idea that someone would pay a lot of real money for an item that only exists in a fake game world might seem like fantasy, but this really does happen. Acquiring rare or high level in-game items, weapons and armour can be a very long and difficult process. It might require a lot of in-game money or special materials which can only be found by killing certain enemies or completing certain quests. This means that players often have to repeat re-playable quests or kill the same creatures over and over until they have enough to afford the special weapon or armour they have been saving for. This process is known as ‘grinding’ and most players find it very tedious.
Even rarer items might have a random chance of appearing as loot, and cannot be bought. This means that the player has to rely on being lucky, and might never acquire the special item no matter how much they play. These rare items could dramatically improve a player’s chances of advancing to more difficult missions or being able to beat harder enemies, and so can significantly increase a player’s enjoyment of the game. As such, some players make the decision to buy these items, or the in-game gold needed to purchase them, for real money. Some players are even willing to pay hundreds of dollars for particularly special items.
This process of selling in-game items and gold for real money is called RMT (real money trade). RMT became very popular with the famous MMO EverQuest, in which it was calculated that a player could make an average of $3.50 an hour. With a minimum wage of $3.50, if EverQuest had been a country it could have been considered the 77th richest in the world! As RMT became more popular, real world sweatshops began to emerge, in which businessmen in poor countries hired workers to ‘farm’ gold and items in the game to sell for real money. This all has a serious affect on the in-game economies of many MMOs, which work in much the same way as real economies and will suffer for sudden influxes of money, which devalue it for everyone involved. In some games RMT is forbidden and is considered a breach of contract. In others it is ignored, or even encouraged. World of Warcraft forbids RMT in its terms and conditions, but this does not prevent gold sellers from hawking their wares on the general chat in the game. Blizzard will attempt to deal with this issue in Diablo 3 by introducing an official auction house, controlled by the game company itself, in which players can exchange in-game items for real money and Blizzard will take a cut. Eve Online tackles the problem of RMT by allowing players to exchange in-game money for an item that gives them more playtime.
- Guardian Games Blog. An article about Blizzard’s decision to authorise RMT in Diablo 3.
- My MMO shop. A website that sells in-game gold and items for real money. The homepage includes a very interesting explanation of the history of RMT. Warning: if you are an MMO player, check the terms and conditions of your game before buying anything on this site, as you may be in breach of contract if you do.