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Keeping the gold farmers at bay: An interview with Fallen Earth's Colin Dwan

Shawn Schuster

Gold farming and gold spamming is a very real problem in our current MMOs. While some games are spending a good chunk of their resources to battle the farmers and save their game's economy, other games are enjoying a relatively spam-free existence. One such game is Fallen Earth.

So what's their secret? Have they designed an actual farm-proof game, or is it just that they're doing an amazing job of clean-up behind the scenes? We talked with Project Manager Colin Dwan for some insight into their proven methods. Follow along after the cut below for the complete interview.

Massively: Gold farmers and gold spammers are an epidemic in many MMOs these days, but seemingly non-existent in Fallen Earth. Is it just that they're steering clear of Fallen Earth, or is gold farming enforcement a real issue with the game behind the scenes?

Colin Dwan:
We're fortunate to have several things on our side in this battle. We built our engine with some great logging in place, which has helped us track down chip sellers and those they interact with. Every transaction is thoroughly logged, which makes it much easier to track not only point of sale but any laundering farmers might try as well. In addition, the tight community and active GM staff means that it is very difficult to have an open channel to spam without being reported or caught. The chip sites picked up surprisingly fast (which is a nice affirmation on a certain level) but we've been able to curtail their in-game activity as needed.

"I definitely enjoy the public humiliation but don't feel it has any impact on the farmers, just a positive boost to the legitimate players."

Was the game specifically designed to consciously stay away from that "easy farming spot" or "easy money grind" to deter exploit? If so, can you explain some of these designs?

We made an effort to avoid some of the easy farming practices. We randomize node locations and spawn times to make it more difficult for bots to farm materials. For NPC item farming, we use similar position and regen variance as well as a strong item progression to make it less appealing for over-leveled characters to farm early game material. But, as with everything else, our strong logging system is really the safety net. Players will always find the optimal way to gather materials, it's our job to continually monitor the economy's inputs and outputs, then adjust as needed.

If a gold farmer is caught, what's their punishment? Has that punishment proven to be enough?

When chip farmers are caught they are banned. The more difficult call is when it comes to purchasers. Many people who purchase chips are not out to break the economy -- they just want a quick boost to buy the next weapon or vehicle. We need to judge more carefully when to suspend and when to ban for gross infractions. If someone buys multi-millions of chips, there's no practical way to re-integrate them in the economy. For the smaller chip purchases, we can usually go back and detect what they've purchased with the illegal chips and reverse out those transactions. We took early and strong action which has set up a good environment as a whole. Chip farmers don't feel like they can run free and we hope any potential purchasers have a fear in the back of their mind that might deter them from stepping out of line.

Is monitoring the sales of chips on eBay a priority as well?

We've found that tracking individual points of sale online is less effective. It's very difficult and time consuming to track down each seller and their ebay account or web page. If we can shut off their game access, then we cut off any number of sites that they might use to hide their money.

Part of gold farming prevention is a balanced economy. How will the economy continue to stay balanced with the introduction of features such as gambling and future Sectors?

When we launched, we didn't have enough drains on the economy. While it wasn't an all-out inflationary environment, we've been looking to introduce new gameplay that will help bring a better balance. The introduction of gambling has definitely helped remove excess chips. New content like the camp system draws currency out as players cut corners by purchasing more materials from merchants and the auction house to be the first on the market. In addition, we are taking another look at how item and gear decay and tinkering should play a more significant role in the apocalypse. Stay tuned for more info on that soon. As a whole, we work hard to make sure any drains are built as appropriate risk-reward scenarios and not just a sloppy way to balance the economy.

Some MMO companies have been trying various methods of stopping gold farmers for good, including the introduction of their own RMT shops and public humiliation for the offenders in game. Do you have a Plan B ready to go if gold farming actually becomes a large problem in Fallen Earth?

While RMT has its place when properly implemented, we don't feel like it's an emergency parachute to pull if chip farming goes crazy. When deployed too quickly or without enough integration, it ends up exacerbating the problem rather than fixing it. I definitely enjoy the public humiliation but don't feel it has any impact on the farmers, just a positive boost to the legitimate players. Even when it feels like the battle is lost, through detailed logging and basic investigation, we can rapidly and effectively clean up the second hand market.

Thanks so much for your time!

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