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There seems to be a set of rules (or game design criteria) common to free MMOGs, to encourage fair competition. One such rule is that each player may have only a single account (despite the difficulty of enforcing this effectively). A related issue has recently come to my attention, where a player who does not themselves play often, instead of using their limited resources for their own gain transfers them to another, stronger player. Commonly these might include spouses or disinterested roommates or children, or friends who are no longer active in the game.

Does this advantage violate an essential aspect of the design of the game, or should it be permitted?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Josh Jan 6 '15 at 18:28

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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One mans trash, is another mans treasure.

The simple answer is, if you allow trading, this will happen on many different levels whether you want it to or not. Over the years I've come to accept it in my little browser game. The only thing I have done, is a simple IP lock for buying/selling things on the marketplace. Same IP? Can't buy. This presents its own issue, thanks to workplaces/colleges/etc sharing an external IP and thus you may be blocking two legit trades. I don't allow direct trading, but if I did I'd also have that same rule of limiting IPs via code check. Sadly, this is extremely easy to get around, even for common users.

If a user wants to do it, they'll find a way. In the end spending too much time trying to limit the impossible is going to drive players away. Too many security checks, or false positive bans, etc. I just put the rules out there, and if someone makes the mistake of letting it be known they are doing something like via chat, I'll will likely inflict a temporary ban or something to try and get everyone's attention.

In Summary: Thanks to various technology, if you allow trading of any type, there are going to be people who run plenty of accounts through proxies and even simple things like one on their cellphone and another on their desktop. You simply aren't going to stop someone from doing this stuff, aside from maybe finding a way to get a fingerprint/dna scanner required for your game. You can throw it in your rules if you want a moderator to keep an eye out, but that WILL cause false positives eventually.

Are you wanting a community, or bots? I'd take 1 spouse playing rarely and doing some minor trading over 1 bot on 24/7. The spouse has a tiny chance of interacting with others. And in the end, community for an mmo is how you keep players long term.

And last but not least, it is your game design. If this particular issue feels wrong, by all means spend the time to try and stop it. My opinion is simply that it will hurt your community more than help it.

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Many online games actively encourage players to trade among each other. When you allow trading, you can't stop people from trading unfavorable (like "selling" valuable items for free to a good friend).

Discouraging gifts to weaker players

When you have a game where items are an important factor of how powerful characters are, these can make the game far too easy for the receiver of said gift to still be enjoyable. Also, when players already got everything they need, they won't feel any reward when finding new items which would be an improvement for a character of their level but aren't for them because they have extremely overpowered equipment. But without a constant reward stream, MMOs quickly lose their appeal. The game will feel boring and dull and they will quit soon.

(personal side-rant: This is why I hate it when I play an MMO and high-levels start giving me stuff for free. No, you aren't helping me and you aren't making the game better for me. You are ruining my game experience! When you want me to feel welcome so I stick around, be nice, give me hints, offer me fair deals, but don't take away the actual game).

A common method to avoid this is to have progress requirements for equipping items, like requiring a certain character level of character stats. Nothing would stop a veteran from giving their Level 90 Sword of Awesomeness +10 to a level 10 newbie, but the newbie won't be able to equip it before they reach level 90 themselves, so they won't have any benefit from it.

Discouraging gifts to stronger players

Weak players sending their items and resources to stronger players can be prevented easily by making sure that the stronger player has no need for them because their progression level means that they can get these far easier themselves. When the progression level greatly affects how many resources a player has access to, a low-level player will no longer have an effective way to boost a high-level player. A level 10 player sending the 100 gold they make daily to a level 90 player won't help them much when a level 90 can make 1000 gold in a minute of regular play.

When you have any resources which accumulate even when not actively playing the game, these resources should be untradeable because otherwise they are an invitation for multi-accounting.

Preventing either

Another option which was (afaik) invented by World of Warcraft is the "Binds when equipped" game mechanic: The first player-character who uses an item is the only one who can ever use it. The only value it has for other players is the resale value to NPC traders. This prevents veterans from handing their old equipment to other players, but still allows them to give away anything new they find but do not want to use themselves. So there is an even harsher form, the "Binds when picked up" mechanic which applies to some items and only allows the finder of the item to make use of it. These two mechanics can be used to prevent items from getting into the hands of players who shouldn't have them because of their level, but is also a great trade inhibitor, so you should think carefully about which items you want it to apply to.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So this is why these games use this bind-on-equip mechanic? Now it makes sense. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – ashes999 Jan 6 '15 at 14:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is an excellent answer with an RPG slant. My particular design (4x RTS) has hard gathering caps without levels, but you've given some excellent food for thought. \$\endgroup\$ – Iiridayn Jan 7 '15 at 19:19

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