Why spend weeks working to make money in an online video game when you can just buy whatever you want? That seems to be the question more and more gamers are asking as the popularity of MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games) continues to climb.
For the uninitiated, MMORPGs are games that take place in a vast online world in which characters start with very little and work to become powerful. Along the way, they can choose a variety of paths, such as their "job" (in a traditional MMO like Everquest or World of Warcraft, this usually dictates whether or not one is a fighter or a magic user), their race, and smaller details, like their armor or clothing. The practice of making one's character more powerful, known as "leveling" or "grinding," is often very time-consuming. In Blizzard's World of Warcraft, it can take anywhere from 60-400 hours of playtime to reach the maximum level, which is 60. In Final Fantasy XI Online, however, reaching the maximum level (75) can take a lot longer.
But leveling is only part of the game. Along the way, players have a chance to deck out their characters; they upgrade armor, weapons, and spells in order to maximize their abilities. Typically, the higher the level and the better the gear, the more expensive it is in the terms of the game's economy. Taking the time to earn the necessary money often means a break from leveling... and in order to skip this process, some gamers out there are turning to companies like IGE or auctions on eBay to solve their gaming woes. For real money, they can purchase virtual game money — often known as "gold" (or in the case of FFXI, gil, the long-used term for money in the Final Fantasy franchise), which is then used in-game to gear up their characters.
This system of buying virtual goods and/or money with real money is known as Real Money Trade, or RMT — and it is a bannable offense on most MMORPGs. Regular players, who put in the hours out of pure enjoyment, find the situation distasteful and often rally for greater crackdowns from the companies who run the game — or greater personal restraint from those who purchase virtual currency.
"I think there should be some way to regulate it [RMT]... however; sadly, the problem is deeper than that. The market is there because people will buy it. People will do anything to win, including cheat. I guess what really angers me is that it is poor sportsmanship. As a competitor I personally detest people who would do whatever it takes to win, as far as breaking rules go," says Christian Hildebrand, 30, who plays WoW.