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.

I was wondering about the reason for this rule. Why should you ban real-money trading in an MMO?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Please note that I have edited the question to ask why you would implement this rule instead of why do other games do this. It was pointed out to me that we close questions specifically asking why a specific game does something; ultimately, asking why all games do that something only broadens the context. I feel this still captures your intentions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gnemlock
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 22:40

6 Answers 6


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 and up to prosecution as an accomplice.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – jhocking
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 11:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @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. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 12:17
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tin Wizard
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 16:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth noting that legal requirements change with location. One country might view something as legal, where another country may not. As an example, if I'm not mistaken, including a "pay to win" model drastically changes how Chinese law interprets your game. This might include changes in requirements, or even an outright ban. I have seen cases where games changed their model to fit Chinese law, previously, due to the large expected player base originating from China. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gnemlock
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 3:21

While other answers are thorough in possible reasons, it is worth addressing the alternate:

Not all games forbid real-world trading.

World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online are two examples where the economy has been changed to allow player's to acquire in-game currency with real-world currency. In these cases, the developers enforce using game time as the "middle currency". If you want to purchase money, you simply buy a time card, and sell the time for money.

Some might argue that this is not real-world trading, but the difference is semantic. Ultimately, you can use your real-life money to legitimately obtain in-game currency, and as a result, anything that can be traded for said currency.

In contrast, Diablo 3 offers a good example of a situation where real-world trading was welcomed; and it did not turn out very well. On release, Diablo 3 featured a real-world auction house that gave players the ability to buy and sell items for real money.

Ultimately, this mechanic was removed from the game; but not at great cost. Since the mechanic was a "day one feature", the in game economy was based on an assumption that real-world trading would always be an option. Economy is a delicate thing - even in video games - for reasons I won't go into, in this answer. As a result, the entire in-game economy needed to be re-balanced to accommodate for this large scale change.

This economy change took a lot of resource. In fact, at first, lead developers were quoted as wanting to make the change, but inevitably feeling that it was impossible due to the required workload. Blizzard ended up losing a lot of money, spent on a complete overhaul of the in-game economy. IIRC, this actually resulted in low profit for Diablo 3; despite breaking records in sales, it all went into fixing the mistakes of building in a real-world marketplace.

This is a good example of "pay heed, weary MMO developer". Not only did the inclusion of the real-world auction house lead to a lot of "free1" work and lost profit, but content cancellation; with the now-low profits, the second expansion was inevitably cancelled, with content already created progressively released as free DLC.

1 Free, in that the developer paid for it to be done, but pushed it to the game as a free update.

  • \$\begingroup\$ When I have computer time, there are some good articles on this I would like to link. Blizzard provide good insight in their commentary on both the inclusion of this system in WoW, and the removal of a real world marketplace in Diablo 3 (TL;DR, in diablo it cost them dearly, as they inevitably axed it, and had to spend more resource rebalancing the game) \$\endgroup\$
    – Gnemlock
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 3:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Extra Credits recently made a very interesting video about the impact of time card trading on ingame economies of MMO games. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 9:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gnemlock Why did it cost them in Diablo and not in Wow? \$\endgroup\$
    – AturSams
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 14:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @zehelvion, answer updated. I will still have to dig up references to add. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gnemlock
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 20:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a valuable answer but the most interesting piece is missing, why did RWT didn't work in DIablo? Why were people upset? \$\endgroup\$
    – AturSams
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 9:46

Are players getting items based on skill and chance, but the chance is driving outcome, which is possible to convert to back to real funds? Then it is Gambling. Forbidden in many countries (noticeably USA, except Nevada) or strongly regulated. Regulations bring noticeable cost and makes your target audience 18+ or 21+.

So totally not worthy return of investment.

Some regulation bodies allows skill games (when your skill determines outcome more than 25%, for example poker).

Recent progress in EU legal frameworks put on the radar 'buy-ins' in games as well.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gnemlock One reason Gambling is used less and less in Regulated / Real money gaming is, that the line between real money and social (what ever this represents) is more and more thin. I believe sooner than later we will see some attempts to enter the market from either side. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 15:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I work in the Gaming. I found a document more fresh then my memory or events round me. Official UK Regulator body paper This is discussion, further actions will be taken and only applies in United Kingdom. Every country is different. For example France forbids it with exempt of national operator and so on... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 16:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ To quote the article, "We have always been clear that our interest is focussed predominantly on gambling-style games (that look and feel like traditional gambling), which may need a licence depending on whether players are staking money or if there is a prize of money or money’s worth.". There is a big difference between games like candy crush and farmville and games that actually intend to simulate gambling. That article mostly seems to deal with deliberate gambling, such as betting on eSports. Any article inline with your above answer, as I have found, appears mostly in commentary. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gnemlock
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 23:50

Quite simply, it harms the ingame economy. The RMTs are greed money grabbing bastards with no concern for the hard work and many months of game play to attain items. RMTS bot to collect ingame money then sell it to lazy players who simply BUY rare items that normal player need to work so hard to get. Also, the RMTs bot gathers items 24/7 and sell them for ingame more (to sell). Selling any item like this kills the price down very low, and thus a normal player who gathers for say even 4 hours per day for practically worthless when bots collect 24/7. Its not hard to work out why RMTs are game killers.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer could probably do with a format. What do you mean by RMT? I would think "real world transaction", but your language choice personifies the " RMTs" as living people. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gnemlock
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 4:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Rolling back edit. It may have been a rant, but the new edit drastically changed the original users response. If you disagree with the points, post a new answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gnemlock
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 20:52

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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gnemlock: You really can't go after illegal trades in a practical way. You can't know a trade was 'illegal', ie did I pay money for that, vs am I giving an item to a friend. You could get some of them, but the resources that would need to be dedicated would be fairly substantial. It would require things like watching trading sites buying items to find accounts. Checking if a specific ip/account conducts a large number of trades and mapping trade networks etc... The simpler option is have no p2p economy. The fact that gold can be purchased in WoW just back up what I'm saying. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 2:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ To clarify, you can go after users who conduct illegal trade; to say "you can't do anything" is a contradiction of 'you can go after the obvious ones'. In some extreme cases, criminal charges may be put forward, though such matters nay often be a civil case. I have seen cases where entire organisations have been shut down, and other cases where accounts were wiped en masse to punish illegal trading. Data analytics can make it fairly easy to flag these sort of things, in game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gnemlock
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 6:03

Not all games forbid RMT.

As stated above there are a few reasons for game publisher to be against it:

  • black market can become a competitor to in-game real money shop (smart developers often prevent this scenario by other means)
  • publisher/developer may want to implement their own real money <-> game currency exchange
  • game design permits bot usage and the developing company does not want to improve their software to block bots that come with RMT. They follow the logic: "if you can't hit the trader - hit the customer" (and if you work not in Asia that it's nearly impossible for you to stop the trader)
  • the company wants to appeal to customers that believe that "fair" = "money is not involved" (no comment here)

There are plenty of MMOs that a) allow RMT or 2) do not allow it but turn a blind eye to it.

People above said that their could be some legal issues but well... I've heard about only I guess 2 cases when someone was able to sue a company for losing their items 'cause often EULA states that nothing in the game is a property of a customer.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You make one good point (bots). I feel the rest is redundant,as they are far better addressed in the accepted answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gnemlock
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 20:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gnemlock yeap, my answer could have been a comment. I do not completely agree with accepted answer, so decided to make it separate. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 17:13

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