German MMO company Frogster, which has been embroiled in legal proceedings regarding alleged instances of gold-farming, has been embarrassed by the emergence of details linking parent company Gameforge to the very same activity.
Earlier this month, Frogster was reported to have attempted to close down the Runes of Magic section of the forum on Elitepvpers, an MMO site, after members were accused of selling in-game gold, accounts and cheat-bots.
Frogster denies having done this, instead pointing out that it merely wanted to prevent the sale of in-game gold, accounts and cheat bots via the site, as they affected players' experiences adversely.
"Frogster just wants to stop the distribution of in-game gold, user's accounts and the dissemination of cheat-and bot-programs for Runes of Magic in the forum or by Elitepvpers," read an official statement by Frogster's director of communications, Axel Schmidt.
In the beginning of 2005 it was unclear, if and how you can earn money with free-to-play games on the internet
Gunnar Lott, Gameforge.
However, Frogster's parent company, Gameforge, which bought Frogster last year, has been linked to gold-selling in the past, having entered into a partnership with gold-farming company InGameParadise back in 2005 a decision it quickly regretted.
"Having the incredibly fast development of the online gaming market of the last couple of years in mind, it is important to also monitor the history," said Gameforge PR director Gunnar Lott about the case.
"In the beginning of 2005 it was unclear, if and how you can earn money with free-to-play games on the internet. Gameforge was a small start-up with three games in its portfolio and earned a small amount of money with banner advertisement within the games.
"Because in-game advertisement is unpopular among gamers, Gameforge was looking for alternative revenue and invested in companies with innovative business models. One of those was InGameParadise."
Gameforge states that it did not receive any cash from the business relationship with InGameParadise.
"Gameforge had some banner advertisements for a few days in OGame to promote the services of InGameParadise. After users complained about this we stopped this, and the contract was allowed to lapse. Gameforge did not run any more ads; InGameParadise did not earn any money."
At the end of 2005 Gameforge gave back its shares in InGameParadise. "For us, the case was closed", says Lott. He is confident that the MMO-publishers, whose goods were offered by InGameParadise, can't sue Gameforge for damages. "There is no legal basis for that", says Lott.
However, that sort of legal action is precisely what Frogster is pursuing against Elitepvpers at the moment. As Axels Schmidt explains:
"Because the operator of the forum did not agree to the offer to settle out of court, Frogster Online Gaming found itself constrained to enforce its rights through a lawsuit.
"In the meantime, the operator has removed the subforums 'RoM Hacks, Bots, Cheats & Exploits' as well as 'Runes of Magic Trading' from Elitepvpers. Besides, he has extinguished a large number of contributions in relation to legal-abusive offers. In this respect we believe that the operator acknowledges his duties."
But it's not primarily an issue of profit, according to Schmidt. What concerns Frogster is the affect which cheating and gold-farming has on players.
"The economic damage does not come first for us. But the tolerated or even deliberately promoted methods on the forum of Elitepvpers affect the gameplay experience of all honest players of Runes of Magic - and this is what is important for us," Schmidt continued.
"One of the most frequent demands from our community are measures for the containment of unlawful sales and deception activities in the game. The far prevailing part of the players feels considerably bothered thereby.
Community management and responses to player's request are undoubtedly high on the list of Frogster's priorities at the moment, with another ongoing legal dispute also affecting Runes of Magic after a hacker threatened to reveal stolen account information publicly unless certain demands over levels of customer service were met by the company.