How Weird is Gold Spamming in World of Warcraft?

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 Spamming in World of Warcraft

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.


  1. Thanks for sharing this view, I too often have some moments where I wonder if something like Neuromancer hasn’t come to pass yet. I don’t play these games, so I have to ask why can’t your character, umm, you know, steal the gold from the newbies? Or do they just take you into a back room with security guards to give you the money when you credit card clears?

    Here’s a story I wanted to write for your Gary Gygax eulogy, but then I thought it didn’t fit with the other comments. When I was about 12 and my 15-year old brother let me play D&D with him and his friends, my character found some loot accidentally, and their characters killed mine off to get it. I thought they wanted more people to play with them, but obviously, they didn’t want me around. I wasn’t interested in D&D after that, so maybe they saved me from a life of gaming–at least I learned enough of the sub-culture to understand the more obvious references.

    I also assume there’s some sort of “morality” built into the play of the game to avoid this sort of thing, but that seems artificial to me. Humans had to evolve that morality over thousands of years.

    The game makers must be torn between making money and keeping the game from being dominated by characters with rich owners. Any day now, someone will cut out the Chineses workers and just make an intersting game based on how much cash you can poney up.

  2. Its the same for Second Life where you can buy characters and “money”. Apparently the Second Life “Linden Dollars” have a real US exchange rate. People in Second Life can set up virtual shops and I suppose could make some decent cash out of “virtually” nothing.

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