Chapter 2: Literature Review
The phenomenon of gold selling in online games has been the subject of various studies and discussions, each contributing to our understanding of this complex issue. This chapter reviews the existing literature on the topic, spanning the fields of economics, sociology, law, ethics, and game design.
2.2 The Economics of Online Games
Online games, particularly Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs), have developed intricate economies that mirror real-world economic systems. These virtual economies are driven by in-game currencies, often referred to as ‘gold,’ which players earn through gameplay and can spend on a variety of items and services. Studies such as Lehdonvirta (2005) and Castronova (2004) have explored these economies in depth, examining their structures, the behaviors they incentivize, and their interactions with real-world economies.
One key finding is the existence of economic disparities between players in different regions, which can drive gold selling. For example, players in regions with lower real-world incomes may turn to gold selling as a way to earn money, selling to players in wealthier regions who wish to progress faster in the game (Heeks, 2009).
2.3 The Sociology of Gold Selling
From a sociological perspective, gold selling can be seen as a response to the social dynamics of online gaming communities. Yee (2006) found that players often feel pressure to keep up with their peers in terms of game progress, which can create a demand for gold buying. At the same time, gold selling is often stigmatized, seen as a form of cheating that undermines the integrity of the game (Consalvo, 2009).
Gold selling can also have psychological impacts on players. Research by Paul (2011) suggests that players who buy gold may experience feelings of guilt or dissatisfaction, while players who do not buy gold may feel disadvantaged or resentful.
2.4 Legal and Ethical Considerations
The legality of gold selling varies by jurisdiction and is often a gray area. In some cases, game publishers have taken legal action against gold sellers, arguing that they violate the game’s terms of service (Fairfield, 2009). However, these legal battles are often complicated by issues of jurisdiction and the difficulty of enforcing virtual property rights.
From an ethical perspective, gold selling raises concerns about exploitation. Some gold sellers operate ‘gold farms,’ where low-wage workers play the game for long hours to earn gold to sell (Heeks, 2010). This has been criticized as a form of digital sweatshop labor.
2.5 Game Design and Gold Selling
Game design plays a crucial role in facilitating or discouraging gold selling. Games that require significant time investment to progress or that place a high value on rare items can incentivize gold selling (Hamari & Lehdonvirta, 2010). On the other hand, games that offer alternative progression paths or that limit the transferability of items can discourage gold selling.
However, policing gold selling can be challenging. While some game publishers employ sophisticated detection systems to identify and ban gold sellers, others may tacitly allow gold selling, viewing it as a source of revenue (through the sale of banned accounts) or as a service to players who wish to progress faster (Huhh, 2008).
The literature on gold selling in online games provides valuable insights into the causes, impacts, and potential solutions to this issue. However, gaps remain in our understanding, particularly regarding the role of game publishers and the effectiveness of different countermeasures. This dissertation aims to address these gaps and contribute to the ongoing discourse on gold selling.