A Philosopher's Blog

Paying for Fake Stuff

Posted in Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on June 12, 2010
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Like all WoW players, I’ve gotten the in game spam from people selling gold, power leveling and so on. However, I recently decided to actually look into these services. Not to use them, but just out of curiosity.

Looking at these sites, I learned that they do profess to sell a wide range of goods and services. The most obvious is the sale of game gold. For a certain amount of real money (via PayPal or credit card) a player can get fake gold for use in game. However, these sites also offered to level characters, get reputation for characters with various factions, and to get emblems (used to buy high end items) or gear. To do this, all a player need do is order the service (“add to cart”), pay, and then hand over his password for his WoW account so that the employees of the service can play his character.

Obviously, handing over the password to a WoW account is a rather bad idea. After all, when someone has the password to an account, he can strip the characters of gold, sell of gear, and often gain access to the guild bank (and strip that). Of course, services that make money by leveling characters and so on have an incentive to not screw over their customers, so perhaps a person can hand over his account password without finding that his characters have been stripped.

One thing that struck me the most about the sites was the cost of the services. For example, one site charged about $1000 for 500 emblems of Frost (the highest end emblem that is used to but top end gear). While getting that many emblems would involve a lot of time, that is a lot of money to pay for fake stuff in a game.

On one hand, if people want to spend that sort of money for fake stuff, then that is their choice. It might not be a wise decision, but there is no requirement that people must spend wisely.

Also, if someone would rather pay than play to get the levels, gear or gold, then that is fine. To use an analogy, it is fine to hire someone to paint a house or buy a pre-made computer. Sure, a person could do these things herself, but painting or assembling a PC is time consuming and not everyone enjoys it. So, if it is okay to pay people to do stuff like that, it seems fine to pay people to level characters and such. After all, it can be a real grind to finally get that geared up level 80 character to play in the high end content. Running the same damn instances over and over can actually get a bit tedious, thus making playing more like working. As such, it would seem to make sense to hire someone else to do the tedious grind. That is what people do in real life when they have the money to hire people to do such tasks.

Of course, it seems a bit odd to hire people to play a game. It seems a bit like hiring someone to play monopoly until they have gotten property and hotels, and then take over at the end of the game. But, if someone wants to do that, then that seems to be their choice.

On the other hand, hiring people to do this does seem to be a form of cheating.  Someone who pays others to get his gear for him is not earning his gear, which would seem to be wrong (but, obviously, a rather small and insignificant wrong).

While WoW can be played against the computer (PVE or player versus environment), there is also play against other players (PVP). Players who are willing to pay others to get their gear for them (and have the money to do so) will gain an unearned advantage over the players who will not do so or cannot do so. This, it would seem, would be a form of cheating.

Of course, it can be replied that a person who buys the gear has actually earned it by getting the money to pay for it. To use an analogy, if someone buys a better computer than the one I built, then it would be odd to say that he did not earn the computer and that I did.

However, it could be argued that this is not like buying a computer but perhaps a bit like buying a trophy. Just because someone has the money to buy a first place trophy does not mean that he earned that trophy.

It is, of course, tempting to say that it is just a game and hence this does not matter at all. The same can be said about all games and sports as well, which might be quite reasonable. After all, people do get rather carried away about sports and they probably really should not.

When I am playing WoW and run into people with complete sets of amazing top end gear I sometimes wonder if they earned it or just bought it. When the player begins an instance run or PvP battle by insulting everyone else about their inferior gear and then goes on to play stupidly, I really suspect that the person bought their stuff. Then again, people can play a really long time and still be very bad.

In my own case, I would not use such services. Laying aside the ethics of the matter, it seems absurd to pay someone else to play a game for me. Also, I have better things to spend my money on, mainly real things.

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