Sony is banning the real-world auctions of virtual-world characters and goods from its popular online game EverQuest, a fantasy world where tens of thousands of players don alter egos and interact with one another. The auctions promote cheating and create animosity among players, the company said.
But rebels are defying Sony's decree, and sales of virtual weapons and magic amulets were booming on eBay today. More than 1,000 sellers were listing such otherworldly goods as fishbone earrings and magic capes for prices up to $1,400. On Friday, a "killer Wizard," received a top bid of $1,375, and bidders had driven up the price of a "Cloak of Flames" to $1,125.
"The cloak of flames is the best melee cloak in the game," read the seller's description line. "It's a rare drop-off by Lord Nagafen and is a highly wanted item. I accept payment by postal mail order, personal check and Paypal."
The auctions--and the amount of real money spent on virtual goods--illustrate how the Internet can blur the line between the real world and the virtual worlds of EverQuest, Microsoft's Asheron's Call and Ultima Online.
"EverQuest possesses that mystery magic that draws people to it," said John Smedley, chief executive of the game's developers, Verant Interactive. "A lot of people have begun calling it EverCrack. It is very addicting."
Amid EverQuest's highly sophisticated three-dimensional graphics, players create characters that must cut down monsters and overcome challenges to earn greater powers and garner superior weapons and equipment.
Because players need goods to move up the game's 50 levels, they are frequently willing to pay cash to speed the process. And some players have turned the game into a cottage industry by building up characters or searching out sought-after equipment, a practice known as farming, and then selling them at auction.
After the auction, the virtual characters can meet online and exchange the virtual goods--one character can hand over a battleaxe or magic cloak and the other character will be right there to pick it up.
"Some people had set their characters up to take Mastercard and Visa," Smedley said. "We had to kick them off."
Smedley said only a small percentage of the more than 206,500 registered EverQuest members take part in the sales. On the site's chat board, most players cheered the sales ban.
"The farming is way out of hand, and I agree to that all the way," said a player whose nom de guerre is Talonstromgard. "I can't get a fishbone earring because the same guy has been camping (waiting for a special item to be dropped into the game) Hadden for two weeks."
Players can bypass hundreds of playing hours by plunking down thousands of dollars on a more powerful character or heavier body armor.
"It takes a long time to build one of these puppies up," said Jupiter Communications analyst Billy Pidgeon, referring to the game's characters. "Succeeding at this game is vital to a lot of these people, and the temptation to cheat is very real."
That's one reason for the ban, Smedley said. Sony and Verant want to create a level playing field. Another is that buyers paying big money for a character or weapon that doesn't live up to the seller's description usually go to Verant for justice, Smedley said, and the company doesn't want to be involved in that.
Smedley said that the sales are hotbeds for hucksters. Earlier this year, one player sold a top character to three others and is now being prosecuted.
Last year, an employee at a gaming site started creating highly sought after game items and was selling them on eBay until the company found out and fired him, Pidgeon said.
In addition to the rewritten user agreement that bans the sale of "characters, items, coin or copyrighted material" on eBay or anywhere else outside the game, the company is also going to the auction houses.
Smedley said that he plans to ask eBay to pull the game items off its site. eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said eBay would likely agree to do so. eBay has a policy of removing items for sale that are identified as intellectual property that is being unlawfully sold.