It started simply enough, with a question from one of my clanmates.
“Is anyone in the clan selling Gold?”
I’d assumed he meant what we refer to as a “coin swap,” where during past events you can get bonus currency by finding a clanmate interested in spending real money, and gift each other rather than buying for oneself. I told him that no, this event that wasn’t as attractive an option as in previous events, and that no-one I knew was all that keen.
“No,” he replied, “I mean just purchasing Gold.”
Now that was a different kettle of fish.
War Robots is an interesting kind of game in that valuables are strictly non-transferable. No matter how much Gold you might have, if you want to gift a clanmate 500Au so they can buy something, you have to buy new Gold rather than sharing your personal wealth. Bots, weapons…the only thing the games really allows you to freely share is knowledge.
That has some interesting downstream effects. For one thing, it limits the long-term effectiveness of the currency. Longtime players will simply accrue it like midrange players stockpile Workshop Points, a resource in search of a purpose once all the obvious purposes have been satisfied. The game offers some frivolous outlets with the skins, but being candid Pixonic hasn’t even begun to explore the opportunities here. Note to Pixonic: you might consider studying what Blizzard has done with mounts in World of Warcraft.
By the same token, asset non-transferability has hampered the resource-selling black market- but only somewhat.
This wasn’t the first time I’d bumped into the practice of selling Gold in War Robots. We had a clan member who was in the habit of asking for a leave of absence from the clan, then coming back with his pockets bursting with Gold. After a few such occurrences, some of us officers had a chat with him about it.
This was largely because our clan’s values and principles did not seem to be compatible with Gold buying from a vendor outside of Pixonic. The rationale was simple. In a game of transferable wealth, selling that wealth is a potential source of actual income. That isn’t to say it’s in harmony with a game’s Terms of Service (TOS), but if you’re not hung up on that then it’s feasible.
But in War Robots, where all Gold has to be acquired through Pixonic, how could a merchant expect to turn a profit? After all, there are really only two ways to do that. Either buy Gold cheaper than the market rate, and sell it at a profit, or buy it at the market rate and sell it at a markup. This made for an interesting puzzle. SInce anyone could buy Gold at the market rate from Pixonic, the second option was pretty-much a nonstarter. There’s no “service value” a Gold seller could provide to justify the higher cost.
That left only one option- getting the Gold more cheaply than the market rate. As we discussed it, this surely pointed to illicit activity. For instance, using stolen credit cards. Or abusing the refund system to defraud Pixonic. In short, while buying Gold in and of itself wasn’t necessarily immoral, the methods the sellers used to provide that service surely were. As such, it wasn’t something the clan could sanction.
I relayed all this to my clanmate, and he seemed satisfied with the answer. But he mentioned that he’d heard that some app developers get a discount at the Google Play store, and that’s when things began to unravel.
Surely, I thought, if there was one legitimate way to buy War Robots Gold at lower than the market rate, then we could not categorically dismiss the activity out of hand as unethical. In addition, if there was one legitimate way to obtain War Robots Gold at a lower than market rate through discounts at the Play store… could there not be others?
Being an iOS player, this had never really occurred to me. And when my clanmate showed me a screenshot of the Gold seller’s solicitation (“Android only”), the wheels started to turn. Could we have had it all wrong? Could there in fact be perfectly legal ways to sell Gold in War Robots that’s particular to Android users?
To do that, you’d need a way to get Google Play store credit, so that your actual capital outlay for War Robots Gold was reduced below the market price (creating the room necessary for profit). And apparently, they’re not uncommon. One article I found had nine different, perfectly legitimate methods to earn Google Play store credit.
And that’s when it clicked. This was no different than the stereotype of the “Chinese Gold farmer” in World of Warcraft spending their work shift farming Gold and selling it in bundles, except that instead of grinding the resources in-game, the grind is external. Earn enough Google Play store credit, and you can convert that credit into real money by selling to players of games with in-app purchases at a discount substantial enough to get their attention while still turning a profit.
And it’s all perfectly legitimate, in terms of criminality and worries over stolen credit cards or refund abuse (which is still a thing, mind). Sure it almost certainly is in violation of a game’s TOS, but that’s arguably more an issue of ethics than morality.
I personally will continue to support the maker of the game directly. Of course, I’m the kind of person who would much rather financially support an artist I like rather than pirating copies of their latest album. But given our objections to Gold buying have been undermined on the basis we provided, it certainly will require us to reassess our position.
I’m not taking a position on this one way or the other outside of the personal position above, and I don’t intend for this article to be misconstrued as endorsement. Rather, I’m sharing what I found when I looked into an issue around the game. As always, your mileage may vary.
Oh, and caveat emptor.