On January 1, the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) “World of Warcraft” released a major new upgrade. The 3D Virtual World game has over 7 Million subscribers worldwide who shell out a monthly fee to play the game. In addition, the community of WoW players has created a thriving marketplace for virtual goods on eBay, where virtual weapons, attire and characters have been selling for real cash. While there is no universally agreed-upon value for “Real-Money Trades” (RMTs) market, it is assumed to be worth somewhere between $250 million and $880 million a year, according to experts.
eBay, which has dominated the market for these transactions has confirmed that they are now going to ban auctions for the characters, currency, weapons, attire and accounts of online games such as World of Warcraft, City of Heroes and others.
In most cases, publishers of online games include in their terms of service a prohibition on RMTs. Players who violate such rules can be banned. eBay’s move is a boon for companies like Internet Gaming Entertainment who now own the third party market. Julian Dibbell, author of Play Money: Or How I Quit My Day Job and Struck it Rich in Virtual Loot Farming commented that this development is “sad” because it restricts individuals from being direct participants in the markets themselves. I should note that SecondLife is not affected by this move since virtual goods in that realm are freely traded.
If I had to bet, I would expect that the community is not going to accept this change quitely. It’s in their nature to be active participants, to control the content, terms of service be damned. When it comes to digital content, be it a virtual tool, or a song from Tool, the community always finds a way to get what they want on their terms.
The article on CNET goes into more detail regarding the motivations behind eBay’s decision.