It's truly bizarre to see how much virtual MMO economies are having an effect on the real world, many players willing to pay out real money for in-game weapons, cash, and pre-leveled characters. In fact many people have made the practice of farming these digital goods into an actual business, the majority of these vendors resorting to the use of "bots," programs which will automatically play the game without much input from an actual human player.
You know you've got a problem when even North Korea is gold farming.
These gold farming bots obviously violate each game's terms of service, and are actually damaging virtual economies by collecting up items and gold meant only to be collected through hard work, leading to an oversaturated marketplace (as well as chat rooms flooded with bot messages advertising their wares). But today, a Boston court ruled that these programs are not just a nuisance, they're also illegal.
Jagex Games Studio, makers of free-to-play MMO RuneScape, have just announced the trial judgment they've obtained against the two Boston brothers who operate bot-maker Impulse Software. Jagex has been awarded six figures in damages, as well as the rights to all of Impulse's domains, customer records and source code.
This is a huge victory not just for Jagex (who spent upwards of a million dollars in court fees), but for all MMOs, who now have some legal precedent by which to tackle other bot-manufacturers. Of course, with the majority of gold farming taking place overseas, this legal victory may not be enough to defeat the pesky problem, though it's definitely a start.