Angst Amongst The Gold Farms

Julian Dibbell, author and UO gold monger, was recently interviewed by the Escapist, and he wants you to know that you gamers hurt him deeply.

More than anything, he seems bemused by the occasional blast of negative attention paid to the industry he worked in and documented. “I’m certainly aware that RMT [real money trade] and people who actively engage in it are hated by a significant faction … of gamers and game developers,” he says. “I quote Mark Jacobs standing up at E3 in 2003 and saying that he hates the RMT market with ‘every bone in his body.’ So, there you go.

And more personally…

“I have an assignment from the New York Times Magazine to write about the Chinese gold farms. And I went to a few of them, and I actually pulled a shift at a leveling shop. And, you know, not a half hour into my shift playing as some European player’s gnome mage, I was spat upon,” via the game’s emote system, “by one of my fellow players.”

He says it was different during the time he was writing the book. “For one thing, I was working in Ultima Online, which has a different culture about this stuff, right? The gold, the RMT market has been tolerated there from the get-go. It was even kind of encouraged in the beginning. … For another thing, you know, it just kind of rolls off my back, to the extent that people do single us out for opprobrium.” Indeed, he seems like a very laid-back, affable guy that just happened to indulge in a trade that gets the MMOG industry spitting mad.

He also, apparently, thinks I don’t write very well.

He describes the arguments against the RMT industry as “often very crude. … They’re along the lines of, ‘Hey, I worked my way up to level 60, and then daddy’s little rich kid comes along and bought his way up to level 60, and that takes away the meaning of my achievement.’…

…let’s look at the metrics by which you’re measuring achievement. Everyone knows that MMOGs are tests of your ability to sit on your ass in a chair for a week, or whatever it takes to get to level 60. If someone has the will to do that, or the time to do that, more power to them. If somebody has the commitment to the game to plunk down $800 or $1,000, that’s a kind of crazed obsession, too. I’m perfectly willing to honor either way of measuring [that].

“And furthermore, it’s such a limiting view of the complexity and open-endedness of these games to say that it’s all about getting to level 60 or Warlord or whatever you get to before the other guy does. There’s so many ways to play these games and so many reasons to play these games that if you think that’s what the game is entirely about, that’s fine, but that doesn’t define it for everybody else who’s involved.”

When asked what developers could do to stop RMT:

[He] uses one example he’s gotten from the farmers themselves, such as “completely anonymous trades. [Make] the auction house the only way to trade, and [make it] completely anonymous, so there’s no mapping an eBay buyer onto an in-game player,” though he acknowledges that would be “breaking the socialization effect of the economy.”

So, destroy the village so we can save it. Gotcha. But the kicker:

“My impression is that the anti-RMT stuff is stronger in America than it is anywhere else, even more than Europe. … I think it has a lot to do with American culture’s kind of Horatio Alger individualist pretensions. You know, you come into the world and everybody starts off on equal footing, and you raise yourself up by your bootstraps, and nobody has family money to help them along.”

Paying money to gold farmers to short-circuit gameplay, of course, being so much more rational, worldly and European an attitude. Maybe it could be like a tax. Only, you know, not paid to the government. OK, so Russia’s in Europe, so the metaphor could still work. Sort of. Oh wait, I’m making crude anti-RMT arguments again, sorry!