It definitely does speak of a sort of decadence . . . or perhaps it gives an indication of just how important the game is to some people's lives that they're willing to spend money to improve their standing in it. Then again, the same could be said of people who play for many, many hours a day.
The game isn't a competition, it's a consensual reality. Any race to the top aspect and any status gained from what you have is a social factor, not something intrinsic to the game. These people aren't paying the company running the game for the items (I'd probably have more problem with that, in that I think it would mean fucked-up game physics such as Peter is talking about.), they're paying a player who generates the items in the usual way. It has a slightly odd effect on the in-game economy, but no different than an in-game in kind trade would (I'll give you this item if you do me this favor), and certainly no differen than if you were to give something to somebody you've never met before in-game, but who's your friend IRL. This last happens all the time, and it breaks the shared experience exactly as much or as little as using out-of-game money to buy in-game goods.
Have you tried to create an online game economy?
Here's how you can try this, if you're curious about the challange, and you want to see this from an entirely different perspective.
Buy NWN. That's Neverwinter Night. It lets you create your own worlds.
Now, set up your own world. Big effort, even with the tools available, and all the various spiffy mods around to help you, but do it anyway. Pay particular attention, though, to the economics, because this is what will drive you the most insane.
Now, make it available to players online, and see what happens.
It's an extremely difficult problem. If you go Monty-Hall, and make money trivial to acquire, it has no meaning within the game anymore, and acts more as a nuisance than a part of the game. If you are too stingy, you make it nearly impossible for low-level players to ramp up in any appreciable fashion, and people start to give up. The challange is gone.
I think Blizzard has done a brilliant job of balancing challange and reward.
Even with the farmers and out-of-game gold salespeople, overall, the game remains fun. But those people fuck with the balance significantly if you're not careful.
It seems to me that balancing an economy is all about the manners and rates in which things of value enter the system and exit it, though. Out-of-game trades only affect the balance if they influence players to act in a different manner than they otherwise would *and* the game's mechanics support acting in those ways. How differently do the farmers play the game than normal players who are looking for cash? Can the game's economy handle this extra cash infusion (which, from the perspective of the game's economy, is really just people playing very actively and efficiently toward the goal of making gold)? If not, is it the out-of-game money that's really creating the problem? All it's doing is moving the gold around and creating an incentive for generating the gold...but these games usually already have implicit or explicit incentives for generating gold.
It has a significant effect.
Before farmers enter a region, you have x number of mobs available to kill for various quests you're attempting to resolve.
After farmers enter a region, you have significantly less than x number of mobs available to kill for your quests.
Now, if these are in-game farmers, you have a natural limit imposed. You won't have that many farmers potentially disrupting the area.
However, if you have out-of-game farmers involved (where the incentive involves a desire to earn out-of-game cash), now you have people with multiple accounts raping the area, and disrupting the economy.
Typically, a player interested in playing the game for its own merits will only have a single account. If they have multiple accounts, it's usually because there are multiple people in their home environment, or they're attempting to overcome some other kind of limit (e.g. the number of classes available to a player within a specific realm, in the case of WoW). But if the incentive is to make real-money, people act differently, and it skews the game. Now, the designers have to somehow account for that variable... and it's hard to say what people will do to make real money.
Both in a sense.
There are people who have hired folks in third world countries to have multiple computers running with multiple accounts. These folks use scripts, and mostly keep a watch on each of the computers to make sure nothing has gone wrong.
The scripts basically fill the person's bags up with loot. When the bags are full, he goes off and sells everything (maybe with another script, I dunno). I think one person might handle six accounts. And there's another person who has set all this up with several people.
As to incentive for doing this, we're talking about possibly millions of dollars.
On the plus side, these guys working the multiple accounts make a small cut from all this, and use that money to help their family in many cases (we're talking about some really sad places, like somewhere in the middle of Mexico or whatever). But they're not making anywhere near the kind of money the person who hires them makes. *That* person is raking in the dough, and isn't really doing all that much more than co-ordinating efforts to 'earn' it.
It's a very serious problem, overall.
You don't get it...
You can only handle about 6 of these machines yourself, maybe.
But, if you have 12 people in some po-dunk nowhere handling 6 machines each....
steroids. You want to start your own sport where people somehow
compete as to how much they can enhance their performance with drugs
and who can come up with the best drug regimen, sure, go right ahead
and do that.
I've bene saying that for years. We should have a "Green olympics" and the "X-Olympics"
In the green ones you play what we now consider fair."
In the X games, you can do whatever you want, (esp if it kills you). just think, that would make such great TV.
Remember when you see it on TV< you heard it here first. :-)
Hmmm...I've gone back and forth on this one. As a player, it strikes
me as really icky that somebody might use out-of-game advantages to
help them in-game. It definitely does speak of a sort of decadence . .
Here's the problem, if any.
The 'cheating' that other people are doing, are avilable to you as well. You can just as easily pay USD for some bonus in your virtual world game. If it were not available to you then it would be unfair.
But you can do it too, you just choose not to becaue you have an idea of what the game 'should' be like, it offends your morals or ethics because it goes against what the game authors intended.
But the only person stopping you from cheating also (or walking away for that matter and finding a better game) is you.
If you're caught botting or multiplaying in this fashion, you get banned.
*Catching* these people, however, is another issue. It has happened, though.
I know some folks in our guild have managed to get a couple of these people banned.
Does your dinky little MUD catch *all* the possible multiplaying and script abuse, or just the more blatant and obvious ones?