The Prince and The Pauper: The Transaction of Virtual and Real-Life Capital

Very interesting arguments arose from player responses as to their views on the sale and purchase of virtual items, currency and accounts for RL currency. One common argument for the acceptability of these transactions rests on the inherent nature of capitalism. More importantly, some argue that the real underlying transaction is a transaction of time rather than a transaction of virtual items.

I have had friends purchase items from EBay and they have been very happy with the result. I have never been involved myself. I find it much more fun to earn the item rather than purchase it. Though, I do think the idea of making a business by selling virtual goods is intriguing and should not be the 'big deal' many game companies have made of it. These goods have value to many and many simply don't have the time to invest to get the items they want. Just like in life, if you have money, why shouldn't you be able to buy it? [CoH, F, 44]

There are some people that are vehemently against the sale of virtual goods for real life money. However, these 'virtual goods' are things that you could get in any case. Merely paying real life money for them indicates to you that your relaxing time after work is worth real life money to you. I have a friend who makes $50,000 annually. He often buys virtual goods because his time off work is just as valuable as his time at work. Rather than camp a rare drop for 12 hours, he could be working 12 hours and use the money earned to buy the item he needs. It's all about how much you value your time. I have never sold anything, because I never have anything valuable enough to sell. I but I confess that I have bought virtual money for real money before. And I don't regret it. [EQ, M, 22]

I have purchased characters/accounts via 'playerauctions.' My reasons were simple.. I wanted a high level character of a different class and my playtime had been severely cut. I didn't feel like putting then endless hours into the needed leveling and weighed out the value of my time verses the cost of just buying an already made character. At the time I made 18/hr. So, I considered -- could I get a character to 60 in 10 hours of my time? Of course not. I don't regret the choice, I have since purchased several accounts. I have sold things in the past to liquidate from a game I was quitting (Ultima Online) and generally have had positive experiences. [EQ, F, 28]


The dominant argument against these transactions focuses on the inherent purpose of games and their separation from reality. These players argue that violating that separation threatens the essence of these environments, and is plain cheating.

I feel REALLY strongly about this, as it suddenly becomes a mockery of the game when some 30-something rich playboy lawyer, can be the biggest badass on the game, because he went on e-bay & bought some veteran's account. He didn't have to EARN what he got, while the rest of us work hard & toil for things. It's not a matter of it not being 'fair' life isn't fair, I know that but it's a matter of responsibility & respect. When I see a guy slay a huge beast & get rewarded for it, I respect him, cause he worked for that reward, he deserves it, but when you just buy it, it sort of takes away from the point of the game. [RO, M, 25]

However, I would like to absolutely stress my opinions on the topic. MMORPGs are places where people come together and be who they want to be. To stress, MMORPGs are places where people come together and be who they _want_ to be. Perhaps being overly dramatic to drive home the point: the fat can be skinny, the ugly can be pretty, the shy can be outspoken, the handicapped can be whole, and the poor can be rich. The playing field is leveled. Act, speak...BE who you want to be. Operating outside of the in-world context erodes, and in some cases destroys, this fundamental approach. [SWG, M, 29]

Using real-world money to buy and sell in-game items is cheating, just like combat macroing is cheating, The only legitimate and fair path to success in an MMPORG is for the player to play the game -- time at the keyboard. Shortcutting that by using a macro or by buying a pre-made character or high-level item is ultimately unfair to other players who wish to advance in a legitimate manner. [AC1, M, 36]


But players who support these transactions point out that the goal of games is to have fun, and that the separation of fantasy from reality should take second seat to this essence of games - that they should be fun.

I have made it a habit of buying game-currency for real money, either from EBay or from (IGE). The reason for this is that making money in the game is a very slow and tedious process, and in DAoC requires you to level up a crafter for the sole purpose of turning unusable loot into raw material, and then into trinkets that can be sold. I think the best part of the game (DAoC) is Realm vs. Realm, and I don't like to spend more time in PvE than I have to. I don't like farming much, and even though I leveled up a crafter to be my trinketer, I spend $25 at IGE and can go back to enjoying the game (RvR, looking for the perfect item to buy, play with armor dyes etc) rather than spend countless hours 'working' (i.e. farming)... [DAOC, M, 29]

I can see where buying virtual items outside of game can be a problem to a game's economy, but I can also see where (especially if the economy is already screwed beyond what the publisher/developers can ever fix) buying virtual game goods is a blessing to some gamers. Like for me. EverQuest requires far too much time in order to progress in game (items/levels). I simply do not have that time. I play 15 hours max a week right now, and that is not enough to ever get me out of middle game to end game without wearing newbie quest gear still! For $15 bucks I can buy enough platinum that I've decent mid-level items that will help my char progress. $30 bucks and I've what I need to do great damage and really start moving ahead faster for my limited time. [EQ, F, 35]

I've bought 120kpp in EverQuest. It definitely enhanced the gameplay. Instead of having to go farm all that plat (which would have taken a long time since I wasn't SolRo flagged or anything), I could go have fun. [DAOC, F, 17]


Of course, players who are against these transactions point out that this method of having fun is at the expense of other players who worked hard in the game to attain those achievements. It's not about buying fun as much as it is about destroying other players' sense of achievement in the game and rendering their effort meaningless.

I have neither bought or sold, but as someone who plays a lot of games and takes their time leveling, it does cheapen the 'value' and 'accomplishment' of reaching say level 50 when you are grouped with another level 50 who just 'bought' the character. I guess it's a way of life in today's MMORPGs, I would prefer it were not so. [CoH, M, 44]

If your goal in playing the game is to amass a fortune (a goal which, by the way, is fully supported by the game itself) and you do so by playing fairly (working hard, no cheats, no out of game transactions) and playing hard, how do you reconcile that in your mind? You are who you want to be, and someone, simply because they have more expendable real-world money, takes that away and the staff does nothing about it (this is acceptance, by the way...passive acceptance) how do you feel? /em steps off soapbox. Sorry about that. [SWG, M, 29]

Personally, the fact people will pay RL money in order to buy say, a gun in Star Wars Galaxies, is the mark of ignorance and laziness. Any item can be had with enough effort in the game, so why does someone take a shortcut like this in order to not have to play the game.... Isn't that the point? To play the game? [SWG, M, 28]

But players who support these transactions would argue that players who purchase in-game capital are indeed working as well. After all, RL currency doesn't appear effortlessly either. They would point out that the effort was comparable but merely took place in a different location in a different mode.

I don't see anything wrong with buying or selling items -- if a person works and has extra disposable income, it is a nice way to 'make up' some play time that they lost by working. [CoH, M, 31]


Another common argument against these transactions rests on the game developer's stance as stated in the EULA. Many players feel that it is inappropriate because of copyright or intellectual property issues.

I strongly oppose the buying and selling of game data because it is a violation of the game designer's copyright. Reasons such as 'I'm not selling data I'm selling time' should be allowed as evidence. A knowledgeable legal team needs to find ways to enforce this basic intellectual property right. [Lineage2, M, 43]

I have never been involved in this kind of thing, nor do I judge those who take part in it. It is for the games developers and producers to decide the in game legality of such acts. Some players see it as unevening the playing field, some see it as fair exchange for the hours it takes to acquire these objects. Both arguments have good and sound logical reasoning behind them. [SWG, M, 29]

But skeptics might argue that game developers ban it only because they haven't figured out a way to capitalize on it yet.

I've bought plat for cash in EQ. If I recall, it was 50k plat. As a player who mainly solo'd or grouped in small groups, this allowed me to upgrade my weapons/armor and such to a significant extent. When you have a 40th level character with 20th level equipment, you spend a lot of time dying, and at times it is hard to find groups if you are under-equipped. As for being against EULA, my biggest theory is that the majority of the game publishers who crack down on this are upset because someone else is making money off of them, instead of them. [anon]