“Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam!” is a cry that any Monty Python fan worth their salt will recognise with a smile and a sense of amusement, but when you talk of spam in relation to unsolicited contact then it’s rarely funny. Spam is a part of everyday online life, webmasters and bloggers deal with forum and comment spam, online gamers deal with gold sellers endlessly spamming the chat channels, and your junk email box is full to the brim of spam emails offering cheap SEO services, or the opportunity to meet the Thai bride of your dreams.
Spam comes in many flavours, if you’ll pardon the semi-pun. Most people are familiar with email spam. Maybe you’ve received an email from a foreign prince looking for someone to help him get his money out of the country, or a notification that your website is not performing as good as it could but if you click on the below link everything will be peachy. Blog owners have hundreds of spam comments caught in their spam filters, trying to place links to designer shoes, legal aid, or sportswear.
Online gaming has its fair share of spam. Though anyone playing an online game can spam a chat channel it’s gold farming companies that spam to advertise their services and though turning off the chat channels would stop you being irritated by the comments, this is just a surface issue. The big problem is what gold farming can do to the gaming experience.
For the gold farming companies to have the game world items and currency to trade in the first place they have to have hired staff or created bots to play the game and gather these rare items. I wasn’t aware that people do gold farming for living until I stumbled upon this article about Chinese gold farmers. That was a good couple of years back.
Now your game world, the one you could be paying money for is now populated by farmers and bots. They’ll patrol and destroy monsters endlessly, join groups and not contribute, push prices up on the auction house; they’ll perform activities that benefit them but ruin the gaming experience for everyone else.
Like email and forum comment spam, there is a nefarious purpose behind gold farming. Gold-farming sites can install key-loggers, trojans or even viruses on your computer that allows them to gather information from your computer. This has also bled out into email spam. They’ll send out fake gaming company phishing emails that attempt to get your game login information. Once they’ve got access to your characters, they strip them down, and drain your accounts, taking everything.
‘So how is online gaming spam different from email and chat spam?’
Well in short, it isn’t. They all have the same purpose, to get money from you. How they attempt to do that varies, but whether it’s by gold selling, identity theft, account control or fraud, getting money from you is their bottom line. Email and blog spam is relatively (and I use the word carefully) under control. Spam filters on blogs and emails take away huge amounts of spam before you even see it.
However, a simple blocking approach won’t work with online gaming. Essentially, game companies want the standard everyday player to gold farm. Of course they don’t want them to break the EULA or do anything illegal, but they do want players to play as often as they can, and to keep doing the same things for the hope of finding that shiny rare or legendary weapon. Any controls they put in place must weigh up the damage to gold farmers versus the damage that’s done to the game as a whole.
For example, if you increase the drop rate of a rare item, sure the gold farmers will suffer as it is now less rare, but because there is now more of that item in the world, players are better equipped, now the bosses are too easy, so they change the boss difficulty, so players are now looking for better, rarer items etc. etc. etc.
Gold sellers will change their approach to get past any changes that developers include. If the chat channels are changed to not allow any comments with ‘www’ or ‘gold’ in them, then farmers will now use ‘w.w.w.’ and ‘G_O_L_D’ instead.
In the constant fight between online game development and gold farming, will there ever be a victor? Will someone devise a truly effective method of blocking gold farming and botting without the genuine player being adversely affected? Personally, I think we’re a long way off a 100% effective approach, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Neither side is giving up yet.