Has the WoW Token killed off illegitimate gold sellers?

The A.V. Club covers how the WoW Token intersects with real world economic factors, which is always interesting. Their comments about how widespread unemployment might effect token sales caught my attention, but what really got me thinking was the discussion of how the gold selling market is rooted in, well, less than savory practices.

We WoW players are no strangers to the scourge of hacked accounts, of course, but there are things we rarely see or hear about — like this 2011 article from the Guardian that alleges political prisoners were forced to farm gold for sale on the illegal black market. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and it’s hard to say how much gold selling has been linked to credit card theft and other such illegal behavior.

So the question for me becomes, has the WoW Token done away with buying gold?

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It doesn’t seem that it has, if only because the gold sellers have diversified into other games and undercut Blizzard’s token prices. The token costs $20, €20, or £15 in North America and Europe, with the gold cost varying wildly. WoW Tokens can reach over 200,000 gold in Korea but barely top 30,000 in the US. Spending twenty bucks for 30k gold in North America means every dollar you spent gets you 1,500 gold. The gold sellers can afford to undercut this, and they do, in part due to the fact that black market in game currency is funded in part by stolen accounts, botting, and players in situations such as the ones listed in the Guardian article.

This isn’t meant to imply that the token has had zero impact on gold sellers. It’s definitely forced a market shift, one Blizzard helped begin a few years back by going after gold sellers on PayPal. The creation of the token lets players get gold in WoW without risking giving a credit card number to an unknown third party who may be engaged in outright criminal activity — and it allows players who have a surplus of gold to convert it directly to game time. But it hasn’t wiped out gold sellers — it’s simply reduced their margins, and since in many cases they don’t have much of an operating cost (forcing people to farm for days and/or stealing people’s accounts doesn’t make for a lot of overhead) they can afford to do so.

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This is a disturbing trend, but not one I foresee going away. For some players, economy will win out over security, and they’ll continue to buy gold that might be stolen or ground up through forced farming in order to save a few dollars. Much of this has to do with the economic factors that are so far above my head that I’m walking on the bottom of the ocean beneath them, the consequences of a global economy, but at least some of it can and should still be dealt with by Blizzard. The token was a good first step, however.

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