Beyond Gold: Defeating Goldbots and Pay to Win in Free-to-Play MMORPG Ember Sword
By Sune Thorsen at SoCouch Studios
The following is a deep-dive into the problems goldbots and pay-to-win cause for free to play MMORPGs, and how we intend to solve it in Ember Sword.
In online multiplayer games, acquiring gold by killing monsters and selling loot is often one of the core objectives. Because the more gold you have, the better the items you can buy from other players.
And so in many cases gold = strength.
With this in mind, and the great prestige we as gamers attribute to digital items in general, it should come as no big surprise, then, that people have attempted to automate the process of gathering gold.
Goldfarming, or more precisely “goldbotting”, is the process of having a computer program (a “bot”) play the game for you, gathering resources and items, which can be sold to other players for in-game gold.
After a few weeks of your computer playing 24/7, you’ll have more gold than most people acquire in a year, but when you’ve already bought everything you ever wanted, what do you do with the remaining gold?
Correct, you start selling it to other players.
And the gold selling industry is huge. Due to the shy nature of companies engaging in gold selling, it’s difficult to gather industry-wide numbers on the size of the industry, but already back in 2006, 12 years ago, it was estimated that $900m were spent on gold in videogames.
Since then, the games industry has grown its revenue 5–6x, which means the gold selling industry could be worth over $5b in 2018 if it has followed the industry growth.
Needless to say, goldselling is a very real issue in the games industry:
- Game developers fail to monetize the demand for gold
- The black markets on which the goldselling takes place are often insecure and filled with scammers, and the players who don’t fall for the scams get an unfair in-game advantage, and most importantly;
- Due to the sheer amount of gold artificially pumped into the economy because of goldbotting, gold inflates heavily, lowering the value of the gold legitimate players earn in-game.
What has the games industry’s response to these issues been?
In the early days, game developers attempted to ban accounts that were found to use botting software, but doing so was a costly and time-consuming affair as the botting communities constantly made their software smarter and smarter to make the bots harder to detect.
So eventually, game developers decided to change the game design instead.
For popular MMORPGs ‘Runescape’, ‘World of Warcraft’, and ‘EVE Online’, the answer has been to allow players to pay fiat to acquire “Bonds” (Runescape) or “Tokens” (WoW) that unlock a month of premium game subscription, which can then be sold to other players directly within the game for gold.
This practice quickly became an industry standard. And for good reason, as both of these solutions had a huge effect as soon as they were introduced.
No longer did people looking to buy gold have to go to black markets. Instead, they could buy a Bond or Token safely and securely directly from the developers, and then re-sell it to other players.
In Runescape, this reportedly cut the profit for Gold Farming companies by 80% in a matter of days.
Runescape Bonds and WoW Tokens serve two purposes:
- It allows players to buy monthly game subscriptions using in-game gold, which means players with no fiat to spend can still enjoy the benefits these subscriptions offer.
- It makes goldbotting less profitable, ensuring a better gameplay experience for everyone and decreasing the sizes of the insecure black markets.
But one problem still remains; these solutions legitimize pay-to-win.
Wealthy individuals can acquire Bonds and Tokens for fiat and sell them for in-game gold, which can subsequently be spent to acquire the same in-game items in a matter of seconds that would have taken a normal player hundreds of hours.
These systems were great when they started getting introduced 5 years ago, but with the emergence of the blockchain technology and cryptocurrency tokens, it becomes immediately clear that an even better solution exists.
One that does not legitimize pay-to-win.
This is where we propose a different solution for Ember Sword. One that involves what we call the ‘PIXEL Token’.
A Better Alternative to Bonds or Tokens
PIXEL Tokens is the premium currency in Ember Sword. It’s a currency that resides on the Ethereum blockchain and as such can be traded freely both in-game and outside.
Unlike normal premium currencies in other games, however, PIXEL Tokens exists in a finite supply, and whenever we’re out of supply, it will forever be traded between players themselves instead of bought from us.
But you don’t have to buy PIXEL Tokens.
In fact, they can be acquired in-game by selling scarce cosmetic items (hats, capes, skins etc.) that have been earned through PVE and PVP to other players in exchange for PIXEL Tokens, and then subsequently spent on Ember Sword’s optional monthly subscription, or optionally sold to players outside the game for fiat or other cryptocurrencies.
So instead of the old system used by most MMORPGs where:
- A buyer buys a Bond for fiat -> sells it for gold -> buys game-winning items with this gold.
- And a seller first earns gold (potentially through botting) -> Buys a game subscription Bond from another player to get a month’s subscription.
Our solution entails:
- A buyer buying PIXEL Tokens for fiat or cryptocurrencies -> trading them to other players in exchange for cosmetics & other non-game-winningitems.
- And a seller earning cosmetics through simply playing the game -> selling those to another player for PIXEL Tokens to then buy a month’s subscription.
- (making the strongest weapons and armor relatively common and easy to acquire through gameplay, thus ensuring that being good at the game is more dependent on your skills as a gamer than your gear. Since the strongest equipment does not require a lot of gold to buy, the demand for gold is further decreased, removing yet another incentive to goldbot)
Ember Sword still has in-game gold (used for trading normal items, buying things from vendors etc.), but through a game- and economy-design where the most scarce and valuable items (the cosmetics) cannot be bought for gold, we keep the demand for gold at a level where goldbotting isn’t incentivized.
This, we believe, is a much better solution for reducing the demand for gold and preventing pay-to-win, while still allowing players to acquire a monthly subscription without paying fiat. To shortly summarize, PIXEL Tokens:
- Can be earned in-game by winning in PVE boss fights and daily PVP matches
- Allows players to buy monthly game subscriptions without spending real life money
- Makes goldbotting less profitable as the most sought-after items; premium subscriptions, cosmetics, and land cannot be bought and sold for gold in-game, thus decreasing the demand for gold.
- Removes any and all pay-to-win as the wealthy player can only spend PIXEL Tokens on cosmetics, whereas in Runescape, WoW, and other games with Bond-like systems, the wealthy player buys gold, which can be used to acquire better swords, armor etc.
Why We’re Building Ember Sword
With Ember Sword, we’re building the next generation Free to Play MMORPG player experience — a re-thinking of what an MMORPG is and can be.
To us, blockchain represents the opportunity to forge an alternative path for games, moving away from predatory monetization and loot box gambling, towards a future where players have a permanent stake in their game world.
We believe that through tokenized ownership of items, it’s possible to create a fair and thriving no-pay-to-win gameplay environment where players have ownership and control and can securely trade cosmetics via a peer-to-peer marketplace, while still allowing game developers to monetize.
We believe in empowering artists to monetize their work, we believe in true ownership over digital items, and we believe in a persistent decentralized digital universe built by the players, with ultimate freedom and no borders.
And above all, we know that a great MMORPG starts with an excited community finally in control! We couldn’t be more excited for the future, and we hope you’ll join us on this journey!
Learn More About Ember Sword
The Ember Sword PIXEL token private presale is going on right now, with the public crowdsale taking place in Q2, 2019.
To participate in the private presale, contact us via our website or reach out directly to sune(at)socouch.com.
Learn more by reading the Business Pitch, and Games slides, or check out our Introduction to Ember Sword — the Blockchain MMORPG.