Tuesday, April 14, 2009

World Of Warcraft - Cyber Criminal Paradise -Pt. 1

(In order to not bore the reader, I have broken this report into 3 parts. Pt. 1 tries to give a small over view of the game, while parts 2 and 3 will delve in depth into the many many scams that run unchecked and unstopped in the WoW universe.)

Snow swirling through the howling winds enveloped the lone figure standing in the shadows of one of the many balconies jutting out from Ice Crown Citadel. His massive form enough to intimidate the most seasoned MMORPG player, the prized Ashbringer sword hung with great weight by his side. Most sought after but as yet unattainable, the Lich King seemed to smirk as he moved back inside the castle, leaving his Scourge armies to lay waste to the world of Azeroth and beyond.

Entering the game called World of Warcraft can be an unsettling experience for the uninitiated, henceforth called 'noobs', the name given to new players by those who have been playing the online game for years. After configuring your character, or 'toon', a mini movie begins, taking the player into the matrix like world while a voice tells of the dire need for fighters to protect whichever kingdom and faction you have chosen to represent.

Visually stunning and breath-taking in scope, WoW takes the illusion of game play to another level altogether. Detailed terrain reveals monsters and enemies galore. Roads lead one into the various small towns and hamlets, eventually leading into the fortress capital cities. These cities are humongous in their own right, allowing one to immerse into the social aspect of the game, meeting places if you will. Filled with shops of every type, from weapons and armor to food, to unusual items and mounts, the cities also boast portals into battlegrounds where you can fight against players from either of the two opposite sides, the Alliance or the Horde. Banks for storage of precious materials and resources gathered, guild banks for those inclined to delve further into social bantering, and an auction house for the buying and selling of everything one could ever think of ingame.

Although Blizzard Entertainment has not updated their player estimates for some time, it is believed that there are upwards of 20 million subscribers worldwide, 12 million in the United States alone. Almost all of the remaining players come from Asia, specifically China, and as we travel along into this story, you, dear reader, will see how an innocent game became the playground for every type of scam, ripoff, identity theft, hacked accounts, and a billion dollar a year business selling 'gold', the lifeblood of the WoW economy. This writing comes after 4 months of investigating the phenomenal rise of WoW to pre-eminence in the gaming industry, and why just like the U.S. economy, it is headed down the road to collapse and ruin.

But, let us return to the beginning of the game, just to give you a feel for how one can easily succumb to the charms and the wit and the majesty that WoW has to offer.

If one chooses to play the Alliance side, you must pick your 'toon'. Choices are human, night elf, dwarf, gnome, and draneii, ( an alien race that crashed landed on Azeroth) Horde players may pick between orcs, trolls, blood elves, undead, and taurens. Intertwining stories of one faction helping another and giving them shelter and protection abound such as the dwarves of Ironforge taking in the gnome survivors from the war that saw their home city of Gnomergan fall to the Scourge.

For purposes of expediency, we'll go ingame as a human warrior. Dropped into the game at the training grounds of Northshire Abbey, you seek out those who have a bold exclamation point above their heads for instructions on how to get started. These are the easy 'quests', of which you'll do thousands in order to gain reputation status with the various factions. With no fear of being attacked by these starter quests, the new player is able to feel his/her way around the killing fields, slashing, burning, mauling, and destroying 'enemies' at will. With the low thresholds to reach a higher level with minimal effort. one is drawn deeper into the maw of Warcraft, thinking to reach lofty levels fairly quickly.

Running the forests of Elwynn, level 7 can be accomplished in a relatively short time, before you are instructed to find someone outside the safety of the training area, down the road in a hamlet named Goldshire. Experience points are awarded for not only quests completed, but also for each new area discovered by the player, which in turn reveals that area on a mini map for future reference purposes. Upon reaching Goldshire, the human player begins to have choices as to which path they will follow. There are several NPC's there that wish you to complete different missions, most of which will get you killed. Not to worry though, death holds but a fleeting embrace in WoW, as your spirit is taken to a graveyard where you may run back to the spot where you died and come back to life. You may also 'rez' at the graveyard itself by allowing the 'spirit healer' there to bring you back to life, but that option will cause a 25 per cent loss to the items you hold and give you 'rez sickness', a 10 minute period in which you are basically easy prey. It costs gold to repair the damaged items, so this is usually an option of last resort.

At this point in the game, player vs. player fighting will not be much on your mind. It's the higher levels that worry about that, in order to gain 'honor points', used to purchase 'epic' gear. And so, the new human player should accept the mission to bring a package up the road to the human capitol city of Stormwind. Upon entering Stormwind, many a newbie will become disoriented and confused, due to it's labyrinth of twisting streets and various districts that cater to the different factions. Every version of every toon runs and rides wildly through the city streets, most intent on getting their wares to the auction house. And it is here that some will encounter the low level scam artists, who want to part you with any gold you may have obtained. From the 'bots' that run up to you begging for 1 piece of silver or gold, to the con men who offer to help you get to the next level for a certain amount only to run off after you pay them, to the 'casino' conmen who get you to deposit gold in order to roll imaginary dice, their sidekick extolling how much he's 'won' from the person. But no one ever wins, because there are no dice, and the 'roll' is whatever the ingame three card monte dealer says it is. Thanks sucker, now move along.

After dropping off the package at the store you were supposed to, you'll be given new orders for a new quest. Go see this or that person, receive new instructions, go kill what you're told and collect this or that item, and bring it back to the quest giver. You'll generally receive either an item you may be able to use, gold, silver, or a combination of both. It is also at this point that you should consider which profession in the game you'd like to do. From mining and blacksmithing to engineering, leatherworking, enchanting items to give them more power, tailoring, inscription, and on and on, there is something that should be of interest to anyone. These professions are supposed to allow you to make items that others would like to buy, but in the end, the Asian gold farmers who have websites galore selling Wow gold, have taken over that aspect of the game, and so, many players find they can max out their skill level at a profession only to find there are no buyers for their wares.

It would seem that the best route for new players to take in this game would be to become strictly gatherers of materials, which, although hard because of the gold farmers, can still be made somewhat profitable. Such as mining/skinning, because one gives materials to blacksmiths, jewelers, and engineers, while the other provides leatherworkers with fur.
Going into the Dwarven District of Stormwind, a level 7 or 8 player can now begin going through 'instances', a gateway of sorts to reaching another place. In the Dwarven District is one such instance, leading to a subway called the Deeprun Tram. This train will take the player to Ironforge free of charge, the capitol city of the Dwarven race. When disembarking the train on the Ironforge side, there is a quest on the platform where you must gather up rats like the pied piper, bring them back to the quest giver, who then kills them, boxes them up, and exhorts you to bring them to his brother back at the Stormwind side. Back and forth you go, delivering dead rats, and receiving in turn 'rat kabobs', which you eat to regain health after a battle.

Back at Ironforge, a new player must beware the quests they accept right away, as some quest givers will attempt to sucker you into taking quests that are impossible for you to complete at your low level strength, getting you killed 100 times before you give up and seek out easier things to do. Ironforge is also home to yet another set of scam artists, beggars, and 3 card monte dealers, so proceed cautiously. Best to just leave Ironforge via the front gates, and proceed down the road to Steelgrill Depot, where they will give you low level quests to complete, as well as the town of Kharanos, just around the corner from Steelgrill. One can swiftly move up to level 10 or 12 doing these quests, at which time you can either go back to Stormwind and do the level 12 quests there, or follow the dwarven instructions, trudging through snow covered plains to reach the smaller encampments dotting the countryside and completing their low level quests. By now, the player will be at around level 15, ready to take on more challenging quests, and at this point, should start working on their secondary skills such as fishing, cooking, and first aid. After every 2 levels acquired, the player should also seek out trainers for their class, (warrior, hunter, paladin, priest, mage, warlock, druild) in order to pay for training for more powerful actions to be used.

This small glimpse into the World of Warcraft will hopefully give some idea of the majesty and the incredible complexity of a game that has all of the ingredients for an epic gaming experience, but has somehow degenerated into a criminal paradise where untrained Game Masters allow the con men to run roughshod over the uninitiated, where customer service is almost non-existent, with some waiting 2 or more days to even chat with anyone. No phone calls here. Strictly in game communication with someone who can not resolve your issue, and an overwhelmed escalation team who do not have time to check the facts on disputes, therefore making decisions based on their gut, more often than not allowing scam artists to run off with someone else's hard earned gold or property. Bots farming the same metal veins over and over, frustrating actual players efforts to rise above, and a spinnoff gold selling business that charge hundreds of dollars for gold to purchase ingame items due to their cornering of the materials market ingame, all spell an upcoming economic collapse for the WoW economy.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the many many scams, how they work, who perpetrates them, and how you can avoid being ripped off not only on World of Warcraft, but in many of the other MMORPG games played by countless millions, many of them little children.