It's pretty common for people here to act like the level of RMT in classic is totally unprecedented. So I did some research, and the conclusion I came to was rather the opposite.
There was an infamous company which helps us understand what RMT looked like in the mid 00's. That company was Internet Gaming Entertainment, and from the early-mid 2000s it tried to position itself as a wholly legitimate company in the public eye, and even received investment money from Goldman Sachs on the promise of their services.
IGE started out doing trading for other games, but after the success of WoW, they moved primarily to gold trading for WoW. Now here's the kicker: according to articles written about this company, circa 2006-2007, IGE "was doing more than a quarter of a billion dollars in sales a year."
That's right.. over 250 million dollars a year in RMT circa 2006. And from other sources the vast majority of this was from selling WoW gold. The question which follows from this is "how much gold does that correspond to?" That's answerable as well, as IGE's website was recorded in web archives so you can browse gold costs. In late 2006, prices ranged from about $150/1000g to about $250/1000g at their highest. If we assume the average cost over all servers was $200/1000g, and assume only 225 million of the company's 250 million came from WoW gold, then that gives us:
225,000,000/200 = 1,125,000 times someone purchased 1,000 gold
1,125,000*1,000g = 1,125,000,000 gold
So.. players in 2006 probably bought over a billion gold from one company, and on US realms only. And this is also probably an underestimate. I took those prices from late 2006, after Blizzard started cracking down on gold sellers. In two ban waves Blizzard banned almost a hundred thousand accounts deleting over 50 million gold from circulation. If you use the wayback machine to go even further back to early 2006, IGE was selling gold for less than $100/1000g on many servers, so likely the gold sold values are much, much higher.
And this is just IGE, there were other companies and sellers active at the time. Some articles estimate ~1 billion in RMT for all games, with a significant proportion of that billion going to WoW RMT due to its insane popularity. We will never know exactly how much gold was sold in 2006, but the number is at least in the billions.
Gold farmers were despised by people and constantly decried as a problem. People would post videos of
as a joke. In the Warcraft Radio interview with Nihilum, they talk about a design flaw of Naxx being how it pushed many guilds they know to RMT to continue. The RMT situation was so bad one player went even so far as to sue IGE for damage they did to the game:
Blizzard even made a post pleading players not to use these services, and I shit you not, part of what they said was:
The companies essentially take time away from our development and in-game support efforts as we work to stop their exploits and assist players who have become their victims in recovering characters and items. They spam advertisements, use bots that make it hard for players to find the resources they need, and raise the cost of items through inflation.
And inflation there indeed was. According to one website which tracked gold seller values over a period, the cost of gold was quartered from just 2005 to 2006, going from $400/1000g to $120/1000g. Seems all of the botting and chinese farmers had a significant impact on server inflation by then, if Blizzard was speaking about it in their public announcement.
The reality is, as much as it sucks, nothing we're seeing in classic is particularly new. Bots, Chinese gold farmers, and RMT has always been here. Even though you may not have personally bought gold back then, tons of players did, and it had serious effects on the game.
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