Plausible Solutions to Botting/Gold-Selling in World of Warcraft
Recently, a large wave of bans went out for Archaeology botters, and there was a lot of anger in the community because people felt Blizzard was taking account action on an exploit that does not affect other players' game experience while gathering botters have been rampant.
Blizzard's line on this subject is that it is monitoring this exploitation carefully, and trying to trace the activity to its source, since the characters doing the gathering and the AH selling are often stolen accounts. I can certainly understand and respect the complexity of solving this problem, however, gold-selling and commercial farming have been around in one form or another for the entire life of the game, and it's time to discuss other solutions.
First of all, there are several measures Blizzard could take to alleviate the impact of botting on the player economy:
1. Increase gold rewards for daily quests and boss kills: Getting gold in game is basically a function of time spent playing. Some players don't want to spend time getting gold, and that leads to illicit gold selling. Account action for gold-buying is the stick; better rewards for other activities are the carrot. Increasing the time-to-reward ratio for other things relative to gathering gives players who don't want to farm a better way to get the gold they need, and devalues the time spent gathering.
Also, it might be worthwhile to consider implementing gold rewards for battleground or arena wins, possibly taking the place of daily quests for players who only do PvP.
2. Put escape valves on the gathering markets to relieve the flood of bot-gathered materials Botting ruins the game economy by creating an excess supply of gathering materials. However, Blizzard is in control of the demand lever. It would be pretty simple to create a mechanism to suction the excess herbs and ore created by botters out of the market.
This could be as simple as raising vendor prices to create a price floor. It could involve new material-intensive crafting recipes (darkmoon cards propped up the herb market through the whiptail spawn bug, for example). It probably would not be difficult to implement a vendor taking ore and herbs and dispensing honor points; there's already a vendor who sells materials for points, so it kind of makes sense that this could also work the other way.
3. Implement fun gold-sinks. A big part of the gold-sellers' business is stealing accounts from players and stealing whatever stockpiles of gold they find. Therefore, Blizzard can hurt gold-sellers by encouraging players to spend their gold, so it won't be sitting in bags waiting for hackers to steal it.
There are a few of these every expansion, such as the Traveler's Tundra Mammoth, the motorcycles and the Sandstone Drake. There should be more. There are already plenty of mounts and toys and other vanity or luxury items available for the card game and the RMT store; it makes sense to deploy a few of them in the interest of propping up the player-economy.
4. A big account-security campaign. Fewer stolen accounts means gold-selling is a less lucrative business, and players will see fewer botters. Authenticators are great and more people should have them. They should be offered them for free to people who buy high-margin Blizzard store pets and mounts. They should be offered for free to GMs of large guilds, to prevent gold-sellers from getting big scores on guild banks; that kind of stuff keeps them in business. The cost of the devices would probably be offset by a reduction in investigations.
There should also be NPCs in-game to tell casual players about authenticators and especially the free mobile authenticator apps, and we should see more notifications in the launcher and the log-in screen. This is an issue that is worth getting in people's faces about.
5. Account actions against botters, even if they're stolen accounts When hackers get access to a stolen or disused account, sometimes they use it to farm/bot for very long periods of time, dumping huge amounts of resources into the player economy. I appreciate Blizzard's prerogative in monitoring these activities and tracing them back to the source, but there must be a way to chase these people that doesn't involve letting them use stolen accounts to run gathering bots 24-7 for weeks on end.
It's also very discouraging to for players to report bots, and see the activity continue for weeks, regardless.
6. Nerf gathering. There are a number of ways to go about this. There's already a guild perk in the game that gives members of high-level guilds bonus herbs and ore when gathering. It might be worthwhile to buff the perk and nerf the base amount for people gathering without the perk. This would hurt real players who aren't in high-level guilds, but it would also place gold-sellers and botters at a significant disadvantage.
It might also be useful to nerf spawn-rates or yield-per-node in general, possibly in conjunction with an adjustment to crafting professions. Gold sellers utilize a labor pool that isn't very sophisticated about the game and the community, so de-emphasizing gathering as a money-maker could really help, though it might require a significant overhaul to professions.
Druid flight form also really needs to be looked at. Druids can hit nodes so fast, there's really no PvP solution to them, and botters are heavily exploiting flight form. In general, it might be a good idea to adjust the casting time for gathering, so we see more pvp around nodes, which hurts the return on botting.
It might also be a good idea to implement a daily or weekly cap on gathering per-account or per-character. It could be high enough that few legitimate players would be affected, while still putting a lid on botters, and it would also protect the game economy against future events like the whiptail spawn bug.