Real-world trading (RWT), also called real-world item trading (RWIT), is the act of trading anything outside of RuneScape (usually real-world money) for RuneScape items or services, or vice versa. It is illegal activity in RuneScape subjected to severe consequences. It involves paying real-world money to get gold, items, or skill levels in-game, and vice versa. Legally, every item in RuneScape is the property of Jagex and therefore cannot be considered as personal property of the player. Players who conduct RWT violate the rules and may risk being permanently banned without warning.
There are two general kinds of real-world traders: personal sellers and companies. Personal sellers are people who exchange virtual items and real money between friends and do it on a more casual basis while larger groups and companies engaged in this practice via websites and on a more public and formal basis. Both kinds of RWT are considered violations of the rules and are treated identically by Jagex if evidence is presented or found to suggest a RWT action has occurred or is being arranged.
Real-world item traders often get money and items in-game through devious means; they use bots to gold-farm money and items, exploit bugs in the game, and scam players of their items and accounts, thus making them the cause of the majority of rulebreaking in-game.
Because real-world trading is against RuneScape's rules, some players have tried to find legal loopholes, such as claiming that the real money is paid for the time spent, that the transfers of real and virtual items are independent, or even that they were selling a joke and it came with an account or money. However, Jagex still says that these methods are against rules.
Over time, Jagex has banned many players for this behaviour and has implemented some updates in-game to stop this, but it has not been without controversy.
Rationale for being against RWT
Some MMORPGs have been known to encourage RWT and have even provided legal means to engage in trading items for real-world money. For some of these games, there are even stores that allow you to buy in-game currency or to be able to unlock special features of the game.
Andrew Gower, one of the co-founders of Jagex and the original developer who created RuneScape, pointed out that introducing the ability to engage in real-world item trading significantly modifies player behaviour and puts players with access to significant "real-life" financial resources on an unfair footing with other players distorting many aspects of game play and changing the relationship between the company and players. As a long-time multi-player game player himself, Mr. Gower saw the impact of real-world item trades and how it changed the behaviour of players who obtained these items in other games. Mr. Gower left the company before the main game's micro-transactions, such as the Squeal of Fortune, Treasure Hunter, and Solomon's General Store, were placed into the game. This is one rule that was established at the very beginning when RuneScape was still being designed and before any players even started to play this game.
An example of how this distorts the game play is in particular with "gold farmers", or resource gatherers that work for the RWT companies. While "macros" or "bots" are sometimes used for automating boring tasks, there are sometimes employees of the RWT companies who also are "playing" RuneScape with other more normal players. However, their purpose in being in the game is not necessarily to have fun or to try different things out; they are actually getting paid to perform menial tasks like chopping logs, mining ore, or engaging in other resource gathering. Some of these accounts are shared between multiple employees, so it isn't unusual for an account to be used 24 hours per day. Usually for some tasks where a player would eventually get bored with doing the same repetitive actions over and over again, the gold farmers "camp" out in resource gathering areas for more efficient collecting. As these are not programs, but actual live people, anti-macro measures such as the Random events cannot prevent this.
By facilitating some sort of exchange to take place between the virtual currencies and real-world currencies, it may open up legal liabilities issues for Jagex and the player community for real-world taxation laws, including income taxes, violations of gambling laws in many countries or political jurisdictions, and regulatory oversight by banking institutions and the financial ministries (or executive departments like the U.S. I.R.S.) over in-game content. This sort of complex government regulation is something companies like Jagex often try to avoid. By not facilitating RWT or even permitting it at all, Jagex is able to avoid having to report to these government regulatory agencies or be licensed as a banking organisation.
RWT criminal behaviour
Upon review of the kinds of individuals involved with RWT and, in particular, the corporate entities involved with this trade, discoveries of other sorts of real-life criminal activity has also taken place by these organisations.
Other criminal activities also occur, including money laundering where financial transactions from other criminal activity is included with income from RWT activities to "legitimize" the income and to help provide capital resources for funding other criminal enterprises. There is even a chance to get robbed.
Perhaps, the most significant issue that Jagex had to directly face was the use of stolen credit cards being used to pay for membership fees by RWT organisations. Credit card information was obtained from other criminal activities and then used to help pay for the gold farmer accounts on member worlds where after a certain period of time it would be reported that the card was stolen. When this happens, the "vendor" (in this case Jagex) is required by the credit card agreements to refund the unauthorized spending. This issue very directly impacted Jagex from a fiscal standpoint and represented a significant loss of income for Jagex as a company although, of course, these amounts did not represent part of the legitimate player base. It is usually up to the vendor (Jagex) to recover the money, but issues of jurisdiction evidence and the individually small sums involved make this difficult.
According to Jagex:
|“||What ultimately proved to be the final breaking point for Jagex was when several of the banks that provided the credit card processing services for Jagex started to charge a much higher processing fee due to the excessive number of charge-backs that were happening compared to other internet-based companies. It should be noted that Jagex wasn't necessarily singled out individually, as nearly all on-line gaming companies have had to address this issue to one extent or another. In addition, these banks threatened to completely cut off these financial services, report Jagex to various credit bureaus as a fraudulent enterprise, and issued an ultimatum that Jagex had to get the RWT issue under control. Quite literally, the very existence of Jagex as a company was threatened and had anti-RWT policies and game changes not been enacted, RuneScape as a game would no longer exist either.||”|
The removal of real-world-traders
Jagex's initial response
|“||On a more serious note, many of you will be aware of our efforts to stop real-world trading and how some of our recent updates have been part of that. You may have questions about it: What does it mean? How does it affect the game? How big a problem is it? What are the ways of dealing with it? To answer these questions and more, we'll be releasing a very important Development Diary on the subject.||”|
On 10 December 2007, Jagex created a Development Diary to explain what they've done with Real-World Trading. They found nearly every way possible to keep it from happening, including removing unbalanced trading and making a limit on how much people can stake in the Duel Arena, changing the way dropped items act, modifying the Party Room and getting rid of player killing in the Wilderness, which was a favourite activity of some players.
To replace PKing, Jagex added a new an activity called Bounty Hunter. In this, you are assigned a single player in the arena to kill although you are still free to attack (or be attacked by) anyone albeit with some penalties. They also released Clan Wars, a game where you and your clan go up against another clan in a war of up to two-hundred fighters. To compensate for the loss of player-killers, Jagex also added very dangerous and powerful monsters called Revenants in the Wilderness, in order to make the Wilderness dangerous even without actual players to attack you. Much later, Jagex also made PvP worlds where players can attack each other anywhere in the world except in some banks and guilds.
Due to these updates, riots broke out all across RuneScape most notably in the "Pay to PK" riot at Falador on World 66. There were also many smaller riots going on around, and thousands of players reportedly quit the game. There was a common misconception that players that quit the game would cost Jagex money; however, the loss of tens of thousands of member RWT's far outweighed the loss of a few thousand quitting players.
Jagex claimed that Real-World Trading had been much more devastating to RuneScape. Not only had there been illegal trades of money for items and gold, but it caused many larger problems. Jagex stated that many RWTs committed credit card fraud by using stolen credit card numbers to pay for their P2P gold-farming accounts and costing Jagex a large amount of money. However, normally credit card companies normally pay for any credit card fraud, so it is unclear how Jagex believes this to cost them money, especially as they increase the total number of payments by doing so. It is unclear why Jagex believes they would pay directly with credit cards to Jagex rather than emptying bank accounts.
Real-world traders' reactions
Since the updates, most of the various real-world trading companies began requesting the customer's account, password, and bank PIN, and then farm the gold on the customer's account, similar to power-levelling, as this is one of the only options left for real-world trading. Another method was transferring the items between accounts via Bounty Hunter; however, Bounty Hunter was later removed making this no longer possible. As Bounty Hunter has returned, however, it currently remains a possible option. Today, due to the free trade and Wilderness update, most companies do not require your password for gold orders and will meet face to face at a certain time to transfer your gold.
On 28 April 2010, Jagex added a new option to the in-game NPC Diango allowing players who had purchased a ticket for RuneFest 2010 to exchange a code to receive a unique in-game item, the Flagstaff of Festivities. Those who had bought tickets for the RuneFest 2010 event were emailed item codes for each ticket which they had purchased. A great deal of controversy was therefore sparked on the RuneScape Official Forums as players felt that due to the requirement of purchasing a ticket to obtain the item, Jagex were participating in 'real-world trading' or micro-transactions, therefore going against Jagex's apparent stance on real-world trading and their initial statement of it not being "in the spirit of the game." The defence Jagex used was questionable, arguing that the players were not buying the Flagstaff, but tickets to an event, which is exactly the logic that Jagex refuted when raised as a defence in certain RWT activities.
"Exclusive Item" membership card promotion
On 14 June 2011, Jagex started a promotion in which American customers buying membership cards would also receive the exclusive in-game Ornate katana. The only way to obtain the katana is by purchasing a 90-day membership card at a GameStop location within the United States between 20 June and 10 July. People who subscribe from other countries, use other methods, buy membership cards from other stores or for different durations, or purchase membership on other days cannot obtain the katana. The controversy was not just because of the selling of an in-game item, but also because the promotion is exclusive to the point that most members either could not obtain the item without great inconvenience an expense. This offer was advertised on the main page but not within an article. Some people in the RuneScape Community felt that Jagex was actually performing RWT themselves in this update.
The RuneFest website was updated to announce that yet another item would be given to those who purchase tickets for RuneFest 2011. In the FAQ, it was announced "Flagstaffs are so last year! But don’t worry this year attendees will still get something awesome to show off in-game." Similar to the RuneFest controversy the previous year, many players see this as Jagex participating in real-world trading.
Banned Account Reinstatement
Banned Account Reinstatements allow banned players to pay Jagex real-world money to get their accounts unbanned, however with a severe rollback to both stats and items on the account. Many players consider it controversial as some players see it as real-world trading. Whether an account can receive a banned account reinstatement or not is completely at Jagex's discretion. Not every banned account may participate in this.
Refer a Friend programme
This update grants members who refer a prospective user an experience boost of 10% to all their skills for one week. This will only apply should the new player also purchase RuneScape membership, and following this, they too will receive an XP boost in any skill under level 30. The programme sparked much outrage amongst players all across RuneScape, who staged a large "Refer a Friend" riot on World 66, the most common server for demonstrations and riots. The players accused Jagex of real-world trading due to the fact that by paying real-world money, new members could be given a free experience boost along with the player that referred them. Many players also felt that granting these boosts would greatly encourage and profit macro accounts, which is an offence that can result in a permanent ban. Hundreds of players took part in a riot in Falador Square, shouting such things as "Ban the Bots!", "We pay we say!", and "Welcome to BotScape!".
|“|| Our belief is that 25 million XP out of 250 million XP is not a lot. If someone is committed enough to get that amount of XP, the 10% extra is not going to make any difference to them. As for the difference between Jagex RWTing and RWT companies doing it is that we do it without negatively impacting on Runescape and use the revenue generated to make Runescape better.
RWT companies create the bots, bot the game at the expense of players and keep the cash. Everytime we sell membership we are real-world trading. RuneScape wouldn't exist if we didn't do it.
— Mod Mat K
Go Green For Halloween (Green Skin)
This update allowed players to change their skin green but to make this option available for good you had to buy and redeem a 30 or 35 day membership card between 20 October 2011 - 4 November 2011.
This item was given only to 25 select players who attended RuneFest 2011, and as this event had an entry fee, real money was used to get a chance at winning the item.
Squeal of Fortune
On 2 April 2012, Jagex introduced the ability to purchase spins on the Squeal of Fortune. Possible rewards from the Squeal of Fortune include money and experience. This meant that players could buy experience, rare items, and gold in much the same way as they could from real-world trading companies.
Removal of real-life ability paragraph in rule
|“||We don't want players to be able to buy their way to success in RuneScape. If we let players start doing this, it devalues RuneScape for others. We feel your status in real-life shouldn't affect your ability to be successful in RuneScape.||”|
Many players demanded an explanation from Jagex about the removal of the paragraph from the rules because it was previously used as reasoning when other controversial updates were implemented.
Some players believe the paragraph was removed because of Jagex's recent stance on marketing, with the implementation of updates such as the Squeal of Fortune and Refer a Friend Programme. According to Mod Moltare, the Squeal of Fortune and Refer a Friend Programme are not real-world trading because real-world trading is a third party-to-third party situation.
Subsequently, in October 2013, bonds were introduced, which effectively allow players to purchase in-game wealth from other players via a form of credit bought from Jagex.
- Trading between RuneScape and RuneScape Classic was considered RWT because Jagex treats them as two separate games. However, following the release of Old School RuneScape, Mod Mark has said there is no rule against trading between games.
- Selling forum signatures is against the rules. This was a common practice until Jagex clarified the rules.
- Some players have been known to sell codes for RuneFest items for GP or real money. It is debatable whether this is considered as RWT as the items could be considered to exist both in real-life and in-game (the scratch-off card containing the code is a real item that could be used to obtain the item in the game).
- Jagex has said that returning a real-life gift with an in-game gift (or vice versa) is technically RWT although this would normally be unpunished provided that it's done in the spirit of friendship.
- Buying membership for another player in exchange of RuneScape items was not allowed. This was also a common practice in the early days when the rules were not clarified. Now, it is technically possible through the exchange of bonds between players and the forthcoming consumption of the bond for membership services.