A Florida class action lawsuit filed yesterday against MMO gold merchant IGE claims that the firm has reaped "substantial profits by knowingly interfering with and substantially impairing the intended use and enjoyment" of Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft. The plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial, citing Florida's Deceptive And Unfair Trade Practices Act.
The common thread of the complaints appears to be the time lost by subscribers due to IGE's alleged activities, with the "farming" of limited materials such as ore and other items used as the primary example. "The economic damages for this loss of time is in the millions of dollars," reads the complaint. The lawsuit also alleges that "honest subscribers" are at a competitive disadvantage to those who purchase gold from the firm, thus throwing the game's mechanics out of balance.
"The game designers and publishers do their best to make those games to stand the test of time and keep the economies in balance. When people play the game in an unsanctioned way, for profit, it threatens to send the game economies out of balance and diminishes the experience of all the players in the world," Dr. S. Gregory Boyd (pictured left), author of "A Business & Legal Primer for Game Development," said to Gamasutra.
"Traditionally, the players have been harmed by this type of activity and not really had a voice against the people ruining the economies and diminishing the game play experience. Hopefully, this type of legal action will give them that voice," he added.
The numerous other disputes filed against IGE include the devaluation of in-game currency, in addition to the spamming of chat channels and mailboxes with advertisements. Blizzard had recently filed a suit of its own against Peons4hire, a similar organization that deals in the buying and selling of in-game property. That suit's complaints were apparently limited to Peons4hire's alleged practice of advertisement spamming within the game. In further response to the widespread problem, Blizzard today released a one-click feature that will automatically generate a detailed spam report to its team of game master employees.
The lawsuits come at a time when the nature of in-game currency exchange is under debate. "If I can find a way for every type of person in my game to play the way they want to without adversely affecting anyone else, then that's win, win, win. And that's what we'll try to figure out," said Turbine's Jeffrey Steefel in a Eurogamer interview published Tuesday. Turbine runs the popular MMO Lord of the Rings Online, and currently outlaws the farming of gold. Steefel believes that MMO models will soon change to take advantage of the market that companies like IGE and Peons4hire currently fill. "We all know that something will happen in the next two to five years to business models in general, so we're paying attention to what's going on; watching what's going on with [Sony Station Exchange] whose servers support and manage this."
Opened in 2005, the Sony Station Exchange allows for the auction of virtual currency, characters, and weapons collected in Sony Online Entertainment games. Sony charges a small fee for each transaction, which amounted to over $270,000 in revenue during its first year of operation. In a recent interview with Gamasutra, SOE president John Smedley argued that games which are designed with farming in mind do not encounter the same problems that MMOs like Warcraft do. "If it's non-game impacting and just plain cool, I suspect people won't mind it... and if they get a tangible benefit out of it (not paying a sub-price for example) I think people will actually like it. The key is to design games in such a way that 'farming' just isn't possible or beneficial."
Boyd seems to agree. "When playing these games, the exchange is part of the rules and is expected by the players and game designers. The games were designed to withstand that type of play. In these instances, the games do not suffer the same negative effects," he stated.