Opinion

WoW Gold Farming, My Perspective

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Cracked recently published a thorough and insightful article wherein they interviewed a World of Warcraft addict. But Jeremy wasn’t just addicted to the game, he was addicted to monetizing it through farming. I know very well what this feels like, as I used to farm gold in World of Warcraft. But my story is a bit more complex, as I never actually played the game. You might be wondering what I mean, well, I botted.

But first, here’s a bit of background; it was the early half of 2009 and I was working in a dead-end retail job. I made OK money for the area, roughly $10.00 an hour, but I wasn’t satisfied. I needed more money, but was trying to brainstorm ways to get around getting a second job. I hit upon an idea one day when talking with a handful of co-workers about World of Warcraft, I thought I could make some extra money through automation and RMT. I made the decision fairly early on to use a bot to play the game for me. Having used a couple of different bots over the years to level toons, I was not opposed to the idea of using them to make money. I’d purchased currency and leveling services previously in WoW, so I saw an opportunity.

I remember staying up late several nights in a row researching RMT and the markets involved to try and find my niche. There were two main areas I could target with botting. The choice came down to either leveling services or currency sales. I ultimately decided against leveling, as I knew that the responsibility of having control of someone else’s account was something I didn’t want to deal with. So I decided to get into selling gold. I also made plans to eventually sell the accounts once I was done with gold selling.

About a week later, I went and bought four copies of WoW and it’s expansions, gotta spend money to make money after all, and registered four accounts. I also had the good sense to use a VPN when registering the accounts and playing. It was relatively cheap and added what I thought was an extra layer of anonymity. Of course, I was wrong, Blizzard didn’t need to match an IP to an account to prove cheating or botting. But we’ll get to the end of the story soon enough.

For the actual botting, I used a program I had some experience with, HonorBuddy. It’s pathfinding and gathering systems were far more reliable than other bots I had used. And since at the time gathering gold was primarily limited to item drops in-game, these aspects would be my money-spinner. Honorbuddy itself used XML profiles and C++ base code for it’s plugins and profiles. And I was comfortable enough with these languages to make any changes I needed, so I set off.

I started slow, only botting while I was home to make sure the profiles I created looked natural and didn’t get stuck. I still remember the excitement I felt when I came back one day to find thousands of gold and dozens of rare items in the bags on my toons.

Once I was satisfied after a few days of supervised farming, I set my squad of toons on the loose. For the foreseeable future, I had all four of my accounts running at roughly the same time while I was at work. I used a plugin that would automate the process of logins and character selection, then hand the toon off to the actual botting profile. That same plugin would also randomize playtime for each account. I set it so that it appeared to be a single player switching between accounts every couple of hours. A few times I did run all of my accounts at once, but the risk of getting caught weighed on me too heavily so I stopped that pretty quick. Even with the reduced time spent botting, I still had tens of thousands of gold and entire banks full of items and materials across multiple servers. After a couple of weeks, I was ready to find some people to sell to.

I had previously found out what servers my co-workers played on and targeted those, hoping to sell to them at first. I quickly ran out of customers that I knew personally. I was still making a couple hundred dollars extra a month, bear in mind that gold was much more expensive then compared to now. The average buy price was around $4 per 1000 gold. But for a young guy like me, a 10%-15% increase in take home cash each month was worth the extra work and stress I was causing myself.

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I actually started diversifying as well. Because I had far too many materials to sell outright, I started leveling up crafting toons. I would then RMT gathered mats or intermediary materials as well. This added a bit more revenue to my bots, which I was supremely happy with. Although I quickly ran into a problem with market saturation. I had sold gold and items to everyone I knew.

With my supply of repeat customers quickly dwindling, I put the word out that I was selling gold on various gold-selling forums. I couldn’t compete with the companies like IGE that dominated the market, so I cut my prices. The sales volume held steady for a few more months, until eventually I reached an impasse.

I was at a point where I could either expand my coverage and number of bots to cover more servers and increase inventory, or I could just watch my sales slowly decline as more competition pushed me out of the market. For context, I had been botting successfully for eight months by that point, with a total of eight accounts that my bots would rotate between. I was easily attaining a net profit of upwards of $700 a month on average from all of my RMT. With only one three day ban for “exploiting the economy” against me. And that one only happened because I had dumped too many crafting mats onto the market to crash the price. I did this so other competition in-game would disappear, allowing me to then dominate the market with my massive reserve of these items.

I made the decision to quit while I was ahead. Even though I rationalized that I wasn’t addicted because I wasn’t actually playing, I was showing signs of being dependent on that revenue and the rush making that money gave me. Although unlike Jeremy, I wasn’t plugged into a community of gold farmers that would try to keep me going in WoW, I didn’t even play the game with real-life friends.  Although if I had been going as long as Jeremy had, I might have hit the bottom that he describes.

My botting was the only reason I logged in, and I felt like I could put some of my other skills to work and make money in a more enjoyable, albeit more difficult, way. Luckily, I had been somewhat frugal and saved what I could from my RMT revenue to help keep me afloat for a while.

Playing MMOs was always a social activity for me when I first started playing them in high school in the early 2000s. Now, all I saw was money and time spent. My own greed had killed my interest in gaming to some degree. And for my own health and enjoyment, it had to end. I don’t feel like I ever got to the point where gaming dominated my life, I was still employed, but my free time was completely dedicated to botting and RMT. In effect, I was already working a second job, I just didn’t see it that way.

So I sold what gold I could at below market value and then sold the accounts, even though they all had hundreds of dollars worth of gold tied up in items still in their banks. So I definitely lost out on some revenue when I cashed out. But I was completely done with RMT by this point.

I really didn’t want to be the guy who spent his days playing games just to farm currency hoping to sell it. Which is exactly where a lot of gold farmers in WoW are headed. When the gold price crashes hard enough, only botters will remain because their operational costs are much lower. And that means that hyperinflation is on the rise in World of Warcraft, a sign that the health of the game is declining. We’re not there yet, but that moment is coming.

I’m glad I got out when I did, and I’m honestly glad my interest in MMOs has waned partly due to botting. That way I could spend my time doing other things, and developing as a person. I suppose that’s the ultimate lesson here, that the experiences I had were both good and bad in their own ways; and it’s that collective knowledge that makes each experience valuable.

Have you ever gotten involved in RMT? Have you ever had to quit an MMO for some reason? Let me know in the comments.

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