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Sony Goes After MMO Spammers and Farmers

Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) has created a nine-member covert group called the Norathian Underground Gnome Investigation Team (NUGIT) to specifically tackle in-game spammers infiltrating EverQuest II, Free Realms and its other MMO games. To date, SOE has closed a whopping 295,000 accounts across all of its MMOs. Sony ultimate plan is to put a dent into the $2-billion-a-year industry that farms virtual items within its games, a practice that's banned by all game publishers.

According to Reuters, 3rd-party spam companies will hire players to build up characters and collect weapons, swords, and other valuable items. These items are then given to "mules" who in turn deliver the goods to "runners." Legit players are thus "bombarded" by unsolicited ads by the runners selling these items, usually with messages linking to 3rd-party websites. For players wanting a quick way to boost a character, these websites offer the ideal upgrade... for a price.

Initially the NUGIT team keeps an eye on spammers or farmers once they are reported by legit players. The group then tracks other accounts of the mules and runners associated with the organization stemming the original report. "Rather than closing down one account, we'll follow the individual and end up banning as many as 100 to 200 accounts based off one tip," said Brad Wilcox, director of customer support at SOE and manager of NUGIT.

SOE president John Smedley also added that it's difficult for the company to track 3rd-party farmers located offshore, especially those located in countries where the laws are "friendly to the United States."