Our recent survey of readers showed that a surprisingly large percentage of you have bought gold or are considering doing so. Especially for the casual player, without spare hours every day to dedicate to endgame raids or grinding for mount money, buying other people's hard-farmed gold may seem like an easy option which enables you to keep up with your guildmates and friends. The benefits for your character are immediate: you can shop in the AH to your heart's content, buy that epic mount, and have some cash to flash when twinking an alt.
However, let's look outside your own personal gain for a moment. Gold buying can have a seriously negative impact on the server economy and on the game in general. A fairly stable auction house can be destabilised by the introduction of people with a lot of money to burn, leading to a form of hyper-inflation where prices rise and rise because money is, quite literally, cheap. People start listing items at incredibly high prices because they know the gold buyers won't think twice about buying them, and those who cannot afford to buy gold -- or who choose not to -- have to work twice as hard for their loot. Additionally, the gold farmers supplying the industry don't buy items, but hoard their cash--breaking the game economy which is designed for gold to be spent as much as it's obtained.
Beyond the AH, gold buying has other knock-on effects in PvP and similar situations. Players with top-end (bought) gear for their level can best others in combat -- provided they have the skills to match their items -- purely because they have more money outside the game. This destroys the equalising ability of the virtual world, defeating the point for many players.
Additionally, probably the most important thing to consider is Blizzard's Terms of Service, which state:
"No one has the right to "sell" Blizzard Entertainment's content, except Blizzard Entertainment! So Blizzard Entertainment does not recognize any property claims outside of World of Warcraft or the purported sale, gift or trade in the "real world" of anything related to World of Warcraft. Accordingly, you may not sell items for "real" money or exchange items outside of World of Warcraft."
Several accounts have purportedly been suspended for buying gold, so Blizzard take the issue seriously, although not seriously enough to clamp down on the entire secondary market.
Finally, we'll not go into this in much depth, but supporting the gold farmer industry is seen as a bad thing by many players and individuals, thanks to its dubious practices which include sweatshop-like working conditions out of game -- and rare item camping in-game -- amongst many other things.
While we don't wish to dictate how players choose to use their own cash and how they play their own characters, it's interesting comparing gold buyers to other players. I recently spoke to a player who proudly showed off her epic mount and armour set, and I openly admired her dedication and skill. She promptly admitted she'd bought gold and had never run a single endgame instance -- wanting to appear "the best" without putting in the effort herself, she merely laid on a facade of appearing experienced. A casual inspection ingame would mark her up as a player who clearly knows her stuff, and if she ever gets invited to an instance she will immediately stand out as a gold buyer and be shunned by the party once her lack of knowledge becomes clear, so she has achieved her goal at a price. Also, it seems that the level of satisfaction you can get from admiring your epic items is much greater if you worked for them for weeks ingame.
Ultimately, there's no major harm in buying 100g at level 40 to pay for your mount rather than spending ten hours grinding mobs or playing the AH, but be very careful if you choose to buy gold, and bear in mind that selfish use of huge amounts of gold does affect other players and may damage your reputation in the long run. If you want to buy gold, you'll find plenty of sites online that sell it; if you want to help the campaign against gold selling, watch out for players that seem too well kitted out for their apparent skill level, and support sites like nogold.org. There are other ways to make money in-game and various websites offer guides to how to make anything from 10 to 100 gold an hour legitimately, if you're the farming type.