Have money, will go up a level: Inside real-world trading in online games

The world-building around massively multiplayer online games (MMO) is usually very detailed, comprising characters and storylines, an extensive catalog of inventory items, and other factors that can be manipulated by players. With so many choices out there, it’s not impossible to imagine that a good number of people from all over the world who are under the age of 40, or even older, have experienced playing an MMO at least once.

If you’re one of these people, there’s a good chance you’d know how addictive these games can be, and how it feels to spend days just working toward certain goals. Still, others would be more than happy to get ahead with the least amount of effort — and this is where real money trading (RMT) of virtual property comes in.

When you hear that some players have made a career out of gaming, nobody’s kidding. It’s a real thing. Through a number of platforms, like online message boards, eBay, and independent sites, you can sell anything that can be transferred from player to player (i.e., “virtual property”): in-game currency, items, power-up and boosting services, and full-on accounts. Popular games include RuneScape, World of Warcraft, Diablo III, DOTA 2, and League of Legends. Even Neopets isn’t exempt; you can actually buy and sell pets. To put things in perspective: You can buy 2,500,000 Neopoints for $8.15, but some accounts and rare items can go for as much as hundreds of dollars. The same goes for the rest of the games, with accounts going for at least $50 and boosts setting you back as much as $10.

Aside from the obvious ease, why do people participate in RMTs? Think thrift shops — secondhand goods are kept in use, and they’re quite inviting to newbies. For sellers, meanwhile, it’s almost a no-brainer. If you’re a skilled enthusiast with time to kill, a few hours of gameplay can turn into serious cash if you know what you’re doing. And if you’re ready to move on and say goodbye to the game for good, instead of abandoning all you’ve amassed, you can pass it on to someone else for a hefty sum. According to research, the market for virtual property trade reaches over $1 billion a year in countries like South Korea and China alone.

A win-win situation, right? Not exactly. What with most transactions taking place over the internet, some users may be committing fraud and scamming on customers. There are concerns of gold farming, which is when players are hired just to collect currency to sell. And then there are the (justified) protests that it’s cheating and quite unfair to others who are trying their darnedest to make an honest “living.”

There are, of course, questions on the legality of RMTs. Creators, such as the teams behind Final Fantasy XIV and EVE Online, explicitly state on their end-user license agreements that such deeds are forbidden, citing intellectual property claims, meaning you don’t actually own what it is you’re trying to sell and everything is non-transferrable. It doesn’t help that it takes away from the company’s earnings.

As of this writing, there don’t seem to be any laws anywhere in the world that render such activities illegal, per se; in fact, in Europe it’s been determined that publishers can’t really prevent users from selling and redistributing software. However, the worst that can happen if you get caught trading virtual property is you get a permanent ban from the game, and the creators may sue you for copyright infringement.

All this said, if you want to try out RMTs, whether as a buyer or seller, nobody can really stop you. What’s important is being informed and carefully deciding who you interact with. Keep in mind, above all, how your actions will affect you, your fellow users, and the game — the best skill of any great player. You don’t even need a boost for that.


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