In-game spam - All your gold are belong to us

Filed Under: Malware, SophosLabs

Sophos protects against a huge amount of malware which attempts to steal World of Warcraft account details, malware which raises questions about the nature of virtual property.

Why would you want to steal someone's Warcraft account details? Aside from potentially getting access to the credit card details you need to register to play, players work hard in-game to earn virtual gold to buy virtual items, and both gold and items can be sold for cold hard cash in the real world. In addition to this you have players putting in huge amounts of time and effort to level up their characters, virtual beings which can also be sold for 'real' money.

The question is if your online character has earned 1,000 gold in-game who does that gold actually belong to? You've worked hard to get it, and if you can argue that it's yours, then can you also argue that it's yours to sell?

In Blizzard's case it's a clear cut answer - anything and everything in-game belongs to them, and to buy or sell items outside of their world is a clear violation of their terms and conditions. Other online games such as SecondLife actively encourage players to spend real cash on their virtual lives, the more you spend the more you enrich your online experience.

If your PC is protected by Sophos you don't have to worry about the malware aimed at WoW, but there's another issue which Sophos has no control over: WoW Spammers. They're in-game, they're insanely irritating, and they don't quit.

As mentioned above game gold can be bought and sold externally, players can 'farm' gold for companies who then sell it via their websites. Each time you visit a City in-game, the trade channel is periodically flooded with messages advertising these websites.

wowspam1.JPG

The spammers use Blizzard's free trial accounts to advertise. You can download and play the game free for 10 days on a these accounts, and although Blizzard has placed limits on them aimed at stopping gold farming (limits to how much gold you can amass and what level you can reach) there's apparently still nothing stopping people from flooding the public channels with spam messages.

Blizzard has, however, introduced a feature which makes it easy for players to report this spam with a single click:

wowspam2.JPG

Given that these guys can just open up another account for free and start again, this feels like a pretty futile gesture. Plus from my personal point of view having to take time out to report spammers is just a bit too much like being at work :( I'd imagine it's a feature which gets more abuse than actual legitimate use, someone's winding you up? report them. It's definitely a step in the right direction though.

The biggest and most promising step in the right direction is that just last month Blizzard won an injunction against one of the most notorious in-game spammers. 'Peons4Hire' is now "permanently enjoined" from "making any use of the World of Warcraft in-game communication or chat system to advertise any website, business, or commercial endeavor."

This is great news for players, and I'd expected it to set a legal precedent now against these companies using the WoW channels to advertise services which clearly violate the rules of the game.

For the moment though the spam I see each time I play shows no sign of stopping or even slowing down. Is it irritating enough to stop me playing? Well....no..we all grumble about it but grudgingly accept it as part of the game for now.

Whether you play Horde or Alliance, the "please purchase heartily!" spammers are part of your virtual world.

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