You know, sometimes I don’t think we stop often enough to consider just how bizarre our world has become. The cutting edge of technology and culture races ahead of us so rapidly, we either exhaust ourselves in keeping up or get left behind. In either case, we rarely have time to contemplate the fresh new machine that is our world.
Let us pause, then, consider the oddity that is gold spamming in World of Warcraft.
World of Warcraft (WoW), as you may know, is the world’s most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game. It’s an immersive world of swords and sorcery where you slay monsters and complete quests, often playing with your friends. You are constantly rewarded with gold, the world’s currency. As you earn more gold, you can buy cooler weapons, armor and other doodads.
There’s a robust auction system inside the game, where players can buy and sell loot that they’ve found or manufactured. There’s also a bunch of auction sites for buying entire characters on the web. Virtual goods and characters were commonly available on eBay until they were banned last year.
There’s an arm’s race mentality to the game, where players are highly motivated to constantly upgrading their stuff. Additionally, many players aspire to produce particularly attractive outfits (I went looking for an example, but found this amusing t-shirt instead).
In short, you need gold to excel at the game.
As you’d expect, a grey-market economy has bloomed on the web (check out all those ads in the sidebar) to buy and sell gold. This gold is produced, for the most part, by the infamous Chinese gold farmers.
How do these gold sellers promote their wares? They follow an important rule of marketing: go to where your customers are (click for full size):
Gold spammers create characters, and then deploy them at busy intersections in major cities (where the most players congregate). Then these characters (dressed in rags, ironically, because they’re noobies) act like hawkers, spouting the same message over and over again. In the above screenshot, there are actually two rival companies spamming the same location. The problem is bad enough that WoW has posted about it in their forums, and there’s a player-made, uh, gold spam filter to eliminate the problem.
This isn’t news to anybody who plays WoW, and it probably happens in other popular MMPORGs as well. Still, it’s worth stopping to consider how crazy this notion is. Real players are paid small amounts of real money to farm virtual gold. That virtual gold is then marketed inside the game by a virtual salesman. It’s just plain nutty.