OK, a little cross-promotion here, since the first feature I've written for Gamasutra since returning from China is up. It's called 'IGE: Inside The MMO Trading Machine', and it talks to the COO of the world's largest MMO item/gold trading company. I actually chatted to him while I was in Shanghai, but it's taken a while to get the piece (which is a rare on-the-record statement from the often shadowy company) properly written up.

I've previously written on GSW about the wackiness that is power leveling (go give your WoW character to a 'babysitter' who levels it up for you!), and IGE clearly have their eye on this market: "[IGE COO James] Clarke also noted that, in pure economic terms, paying people to level your character is "a market which tends toward commoditization." Of course, those handing over their character have "a high degree of sensitivity" to what's happening to their virtual avatar - the COO quipped: "It's almost like day care... you'd be amazed how much they check in.""

The controversy over who own in-game items also continues to rage - Blizzard claims: "The World of Warcraft Terms of Use clearly states that all of the content in World of Warcraft is the property of Blizzard, and Blizzard does not allow "in game" items to be sold for real money." However, IGE claims: "We very much stand behind the concept of in-game property being owned by the players" - meaning, of course, it can be sold and traded to others.

Of course, in-game gold farmers are arguably ruining the fun for many by camping, and they sell things on to IGE, no matter whether they're 'officially' allowed to pass on items or not. But people pay for these items, and to level up easily, and so the cycle continues, at least until there are definitive legal challenges to item selling in or outside the U.S. But these are challenges that, even if there are possible, will be confusing enough that they might go against the MMO firms? Fun all round!