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I am soon going to go public with an MMO game and I am currently in the progress of writing the terms of use I expect players to follow (no swearing, no spamming, no cheating... you get the point).

My game allows players to trade rare items with each other.

I noticed that almost all online games which have trading, usually have a clause in their terms of use which explicitly forbids players to trade ingame items or ingame money for real-world currency. What's the reason for this rule?

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

Gameplay reasons

Many players would like to have online games as a fair competition where the most skilled (or most determined) players are most successful. Other players buying their way to success by using money they acquired outside of the game could be seen as detrimental to their game experience.

Economical reasons

Many games have an item mall as one or the main source of revenue. Those who don't, likely don't want to rule out the option to start this one day.

An item mall means that the game company itself sells ingame items for real-world money to make the game easier. When other parties do the same, they indirectly compete with the game company for the budget of the players which reduces the revenue of the item mall.

Legal reasons

As soon as money is involved, the game becomes a serious business.

One problem is that when people paid good money for an item and then you make a game mechanics change which makes the item useless or removes it from the game, they might try to sue for compensation. IANAL, so I don't know how likely it would be that they are successful in court, but your legal department likely has better things to do than dealing with that.

An even more serious problem is that your game could be used for illegal money laundering. Someone could, for example, buy some items from North-American players, sell them to South-American players, and use their money to finance their drug cartel. This could attract the attention of law enforcement and cause all kinds of disturbances ranging from annoying questions over searches and seizes of your equipment up to prosecution as an accomplice.

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The first potential legal problem you list is no different from the game company selling items to players. But the money laundering issue, bingo bango. – jhocking Aug 23 '13 at 11:57
@jhocking the difference is that when you only sell certain items yourself, you know which items you shouldn't nerf without causing a backlash but are free to mingle with anything not mall-bought. When you allow real-money trading every tradeable item could be bought with real money and you can't nerf anything without risking someone feeling ripped off. – Philipp Aug 23 '13 at 12:17
In addition to Philipp's answer, note that in some regions this could qualify as gambling, which could introduce all sorts of issues in the realms of legal action and taxation. – Amadeus9 Aug 23 '13 at 16:26

I don't think forbidding real world money trading is likely to stay the norm.

The reality is if you are able to trade an item in game there is nothing a MMORPG company can do to stop it. They can maybe take down the more obvious traders where a single account/IP is moving large amounts (or spamming in game) but if its an open market place (ie the ebay or MMORPGs) where anyone can sell and anyone can buy then there is little they can do apart from set up sting operations and try to catch a small percentage of people and that means they are wasting lots of time and resources that could be better spent on improving the game. Maybe they can waste more time trying to come up with a more complex solution.

But if your economy isn't build to resist it and people can bypass it then you economy is going to suffer.

Personally I think the best solution is to either totally stop in-game trading or fully embrace real world money trading and sell it yourself (maybe it would be enough to keep the game free), keep watch on any other markets that popup and undersell them (you are making your own money after all).

Games seem to be heading in these directions. If you look at Planet Side 2, Hawken, Warframe and so on they don't have in-game money, but they do have XP that can also be earned in game or brought with real world money to speed up the process. Those aren't fantasy RPGs though, trying to wean players off GP could take a little finagling (RPGs are often about immersion in a fantasy world, if you make it impossible for characters to buy and sell then it seems very artificial). Perhaps gold still exists but can only be used to purchase 'standard' items but you have supernatural enchantment points that can turn those items into magical ones. That way GP is basically made useless provided you have enough to enchant stuff. Then there is the soul bound items like in WoW.

Other wise maybe "Your character doesn't want to give 10,000 GP to Larry the Dwarf, you don't know him that well. Maybe if you adventure together you will become friends.". You would have a small amount that characters can give to anyone. You could monitor the amount of time characters spend in proximity to each other and the activities (it not just idling). But that still leaves you with botting and complex trading networks (if I can only trade 100GP, I just need to setup 10 proxy accounts to move 1000GP. Or maybe you can only trade after reaching a specific level to prevent dummy accounts. But all that stuff will just waste resources and add odd rules.

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