"Gold for cheap prices! 100% Handwork guaranteed!" It's a cry heard regularly in heavily populated areas of massively multiplayer online games, and it's a problem they all have to deal with sooner rather than later.
We're talking about gold spammers; player accounts that sign up to games to promote the services of gold-selling or power-levelling sites. This sort of practice, known as "Real Money Transactions" or "RMT" is a fundamental part of many free-to-play titles and as such is built in to the structure and mechanics of these games themselves rather than provided by third parties. But in premium-priced, subscription-based MMOs such as Final Fantasy XIV or The Elder Scrolls Online, in which there is no facility to top up your in-game wallet with your real-life credit card, RMT by third parties represents one of the biggest sins you can commit; generally speaking, for most premium MMOs, the discovery that you've been involved in RMT, whether as buyer or seller, is enough to attract an immediate ban, and often a permanent one.
The Elder Scrolls Online developer Zenimax Online Studios has taken the unusual step of asking players to ignore part of the game's community code of conduct -- the part that forbids players from publicly "naming and shaming" one another in forums -- in an attempt to crack down on the amount of spam being received by players. Zenimax is keen to address the problem as quickly as possible, because at present, the company claims gold spam is accounting for up to 85 per cent of customer service calls and emails, distracting the support team from other game issues.
The exact manner in which gold spammers hawk their wares varies from game to game; in Final Fantasy XIV, for example, they tend to either stand in a heavily populated area using the /shout chat channel, which broadcasts a message to all players in the area, or use the player-to-player /tell facility for private messages. In The Elder Scrolls Online, meanwhile, gold spam has spilled out of the game into the official forums, with spammers making use of the private message function to promote their services to individuals.
In response, Zenimax has taken down the private message facility, to be re-enabled when the problem has been dealt with or at least brought under control. In the meantime, the game's community staff is requesting that players who have received such messages should name and shame the accounts in question publicly, though the team has noted that each alleged spammer will be investigated individually to avoid false reports.
The game has also suffered a separate -- and probably unrelated -- setback in that its version 1.0.6 patch failed to be deployed, despite extended server downtime for maintenance.