Friday, 12 March 2010

Can we all have a sense of perspective here, please?

There's been a huge amount of raging about how bad gold buying is on various forums following Tobold's post on the subject.

  • Gevlon (the man who advocated that poor Africans should take up piracy) has suddenly come over all moralistic and declared that "there is no harmless cheating" in a comment on Tobold's post. Perhaps he should go back and read his own post on law and morals from last year.
  • Syncaine said that "buying gold makes you a bad person" and
  • Daergel stated that "if someone told me in game that they had bought gold, my reponse would very likely be the same; I would add them to my ignore list and raise a ticket."
  • Update: Gnomemaggedon has managed to escalate still further with "I hope some punk comes and burns down your friggin house you scumbag gold buyers!".
Now I'm no fan of gold buying or selling (it would spoil the fun of the game for me), but I really don't get all this outrage. Even if we accept the hypothesis that most gold comes from hacked accounts (and, as Tobold points out, nobody has actually published any hard data on this), the worst consequence is that somebody could have their account hacked and their gold stolen. That's it - some temporarily lost pixels and perhaps a few days of playing a video game missed out on while Blizzard restore everything. The gold buyer has broken no law, nobody has died, nobody has been injured and nobody has lost any real money.

So where does it stand on the list of sins?
  • Less bad than any form of real world assault or robbery? Pretty obviously (unless you're Gevlon, anyway).
  • Less bad than driving your car when tired? Again, yes. You are putting real people's lives at risk when you do that.
  • Less bad than copying a friend's CD? Yep. Real artists lose real money from that.
  • Less bad than ninja looting? Debatable: in one case you're potentially deprived of a lot of stuff for a few days, whereas in the other you're deprived of a valuable item long-term. I'd say gold buying is about as bad as being a persistent ninja.
So that's it. Gold buying is about as bad as ninja looting. It's undesirable, but at worst the consequences are annoying. So lets all calm down, shall we?


  1. I'm pretty sure you're missing a number of key pieces to the puzzle.

    1) Being hacked carries a sense of personal violation. Almost anyone who has experienced it has described it as such. I think that moral systems are obliged to treat that very respectfully. Take away the sense of violation, and rape becomes merely a chance at pregnancy & STDs; it's bad, but not as bad as we know rape to be. Similarly, although on a much smaller scale, being hacked is worse than being ninja-looted.

    2) A single instance of ninja looting affects one person - maybe 4 if you're talking about Frozen Orbs (although again, only one person would walk away with it). Gold buying supports an organization that attacks thousands of people a year.

    3) Organized crime is worse than single-crime. Gang murders are tried as dual-charges of homicide and gang-related violence (at least in some states). Therefore, and again on a much smaller scale, gold buying is worse than ninja-looting.

    4) I'd go as far as saying that CD piracy may not be as bad as gold buying. In order for piracy to be bad, the pirate has to have intended to purchase the thing. If I never intend to buy the new CD, copying it is no loss of anyone's money. Furthermore, piracy at least functions as free marketing. There is no social upside to gold-buying.

  2. Christian

    Thanks for the comments - you've raised some interesting issues.

    I take your point about the sense of violation that comes with being hacked, although I think you're stretching the point with the rape analogy. Although a sense of personal violation is part of what wrong with rape, there are many other horrific consequences that, to my mind, make it far worse than merely unwanted pregnancy + STD + sense of violation. Rape is a serious assault with real physical consequences and it is clearly much worse than gold farming.

    A single instance of ninja looting may only affect one person, but so does a single instance of hacking. However, my analogy was with persistent ninja looting. If you're going to compare like with like, you should compare either the total effects of a single ninja with the total effects of a single hack, or the combined effects of all the ninja looters with the combined effects of all the hacks. That's where it starts to be similar.

    Again, I think it's misleading to compare a single crime with the whole of organised crime. By definition there, you're comparing many crimes with one. Are the combined effects of all the individual assaults and thefts in the world really less bad than the combined effects of organised crime? For the victims, I'd argue probably not. What makes organised crime problematic IRL is the concentration of power in the hands of individuals, which allows them to muster forces comparable to those of governments and hence threaten the integrity of the state. I think we're a long way from the gold-sellers having any power in the game comparable to that of Blizzard.

    As for your comments on CD cloning, why would somebody copy something they never intend to make use of? It's a common defence to say that "I never would have bought it", but in that case, why would you bother stealing it either? It's true that it does in some sense provide free marketing if people are honest enough to use the copy as a free trial and pay for the thing afterwards if they like it, but I do wonder how many people really do that, as opposed to using it as an excuse.

    I'm also not sure about your claim that "there is a no social upside to gold-buying". Gold buying allows people who are busy IRL to play a game they enjoy on a roughly level playing field with those who have lots of free time but less money. Now I don't think that's enough of a benefit to justify it, but it is a factor.

    Finally, I should repeat that I am not arguing that gold buying is a good thing, merely that it is a minor evil, as opposed to a major one.