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Q&A/Essay: 'Smith Sam' Talks  Warcraft  Power Leveling History
Q&A/Essay: 'Smith Sam' Talks Warcraft Power Leveling History
December 26, 2007 | By Simon Carless

December 26, 2007 | By Simon Carless
More: Console/PC

Gamasutra recently received an article submission from a Chinese-headquartered gold-selling and power leveling company,

The piece was notable because it tried to present a history of the ever-controversial (and likely EULA-busting) third-party item-trading business, which has thrived through use of cheap labor in emerging markets.

So Gamasutra followed up with the writer, the Chinese-based 'Smith Sam', who appears to be one of the owners of USFine, and got a little background on the company he helps run. According to Sam, there are forty employees at the company, which offers power-leveling (having a third party level up your MMO character for you) and in-game gold in a pretty comprehensive set of games.

His company's Top 5 most popular games in terms of demand right now are World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XI ,Runescape, Maplestory, and Lord of The Rings Online. But they offer services almost 15 types of game, including Vanguard, Sword Of The New World, Gaia Online, and even 2Moons.

Although power leveling is also a major part of USFine's business, and the subject of the essay below, Sam notes that gold and/or in-game currency tends to be the best market for them overall. Interestingly, Sam also comments that Google and Yahoo! search engine results are one of the chief methods of advertising his company's services - showing how much the major generic search engines have penetrated these types of niche, potentially infringing markets.

What follows are some edited and English-improved highlights from 'Smith Sam''s on the ground impressions of how this power leveling market has evolved.

Of course, with major companies like the VC-funded Live Gamer trying to officially enter this arena by partnering with publishers for secure item trading - if not power leveling - it'll be intriguing to see how this controversial and oft-maligned submarket evolves.

The State Of Power Leveling For MMOs
by Smith Sam

At present, most companies are engaged in power leveling (generally for World Of Warcraft) mainly in China and some countries in Southeast Asia. The primitive North America power-leveling companies changed their role gradually, or faced bankruptcy thanks to inexpensive labor in Asia.

Chinese-based game service companies offering World Of Warcraft power-leveling numbered less then 30 in 2004, but service companies will surpass 2000 soon, and this number is growing continuously. Looking over the entire Southeast Asian market, many of these companies are concentrated in the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and other areas in India. North Korea is worth mentioning because the labor cost is currently the most inexpensive. [EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first we've heard of North Koreans playing World Of Warcraft professionally - can anyone point to further evidence of this?]

Since power-leveling services for World Of Warcraft started, competition has certainly caused the price to curve down. Also, thanks to the WoW expansion, it's now changed to Levels 1-70 from its original Levels 1-60. Therefore, Levels 1-60 was originally 350 dollars when such services started, dropping to about 129 dollars in today's market. For Levels 1-70, it started costing about 490 US dollars, and has now dropped to 250 US dollars.

The variety of services now offered include specific quest completions and PVP power-leveling. For leveling itself, according to the average price, each level started costing around 6 US dollars, and has dropped to less then 2.5 US dollars. The reasons for this are as follows:

1. The power-leveling companies increased, bringing huge competitive pressure.
2. The skill of leveling is more and more demanding.
3. The large-scale company's monopoly on cheap prices causes other companies to have insufficient funds. To compete, those companies have to reduce prices to survival.

There are risks in the services provided because Blizzard continuously attacks power-levels and massively power-leveling account can get suspended and banned. However, inexpensive labor force costs and relatively high profits allows these companies to weather more risk.

As for us here at, the company was established in August 2006. It was originally engaged in equipment resells, but when the WoW power-leveling market developed, its strategy for entering the market was to offer services "slightly lower price then the market value." In 2006, the average power-leveling price of Levels 1-60 stabilized at basically around 169 US dollars.

As a result, Usfine expanded quickly in early 2007. Usfine entered the second development phase by increasing the power-leveling service, and deliberately lowering the price for Levels 1-60 to 129 dollars - the lowest price on market; resulting in fierce price competitions from 2006 to the beginning of 2007. However, the company also encountered many problems regarding low risk control in this initial period. Therefore, some customer accounts got banned - but during 2007 Usfine has come a long ways regarding the risks involved.

Overall, the battle between leveling companies and game producers will be long-lasting. At present, there is no explicit legal rule to claim whether the service is allowed or not regarding - therefore, WoW power-leveling needs a long period to be completely mature. Everyone is waiting to see what happens.

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Looks like that Chinese guy isn't the only one whose English skills are lacking.

Shannon Buys
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"Overall, the battle between leveling companies and game producers will be long-lasting. At present, there is no explicit legal rule to claim whether the service is allowed or not regarding - therefore, WoW power-leveling needs a long period to be completely mature. Everyone is waiting to see what happens."

I'm trying really hard to understand the logic here... How is it not explicit that 3rd parties leveling your account and selling you gold is not legal?

Has this guy actually read Blizzard's EULA? I'd think the additional fact that they regularly BAN people for botting, buying/selling gold and sharing account information is pretty strong evidence that THEY DON'T WANT YOU TO DO IT.

Best case of 'selective understanding' I've seen in a long time.

Sam Kite
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What an irrelevant comment. He doesn't need to read or care about the EULA. There is money to be made. The reason there is money to be made is because Blizzard requires a user to spend, at minimum, something like 30 hours to reach level cap, at which point the social options which make the game attractive finally become possible. If this experience were enjoyable, the user would happily do it themselves for the sake of the replay value. However, it is tedious, frustrating, and typically frought with setbacks which cost additional time. WoW takes far more from its players than a monthly fee--it takes hours of their lives away in exchange for new content. The 'fee' is disproportionate to the ultimate benefit.

I would *rather* work the time necessary to earn the money to pay someone to power level a wow character for me, because, ultimately, I would spend *less* time doing that, then I would working through process myself.

The real question to be asking, here, is, what kind of sick experience drives people to pay someone else, or use an automated program to *avoid* personally being present while playing a game? This has nothing to do with cheating, and everything to do with the latest incarnation of the gambling addiction as manifested in the one-armed bandit of the modern era.

Sam Kite
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did I say 30 hours? I meant 100. God. I keep forgetting how much of my time they wasted...

Shannon Buys
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Absolutely, Blizzard should be sued for forcing it's customers at gunpoint to sit in front of their PCs for hours on end with no thought for their mental, physical and emotional welfare. How can they do that to people?! Oh the humanity!

Here's a novel idea for today's bunch of spoiled whiny, gimme gimme now 12 year olds... if you don't enjoy the game... DON'T PLAY IT.

I had fun leveling my character up. I hung out with my friends, we talked, we hit the odd instance, it was a blast. When we didn't feel like playing.. we didn't. We did something else. It's that simple.

The times that were annoying however where when I had to put up with some gold farmer, loot ninja or bot either spamming me or taking up mobs in the game that people that can actually be bothered to sit in front of their PCs could fight.

Other things that annoyed me would be when some idiot bought his character and then got into the game not knowing anything about the character or how to play it. Usually screwing up an instance run for the other 4 players in his party. Or inflated the economy with gold he didn't value because somebody else had bought it...

Ultimately though, it's simple. The game belongs to Blizzard. They say don't sell gold, or characters, if you do, we ban you. There is nothing unclear about it. So why is there all this talk of "there is no explicit legal rule to claim whether the service is allowed or not regarding"

If you're going to break the rules, at least have the spine to admit it.

Graham Sharp
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I think you guys are missing the overall point. He said "no explicit LEGAL rule". Yeah yeah, fine, Blizzard's EULA says you can't do that. That just means that they can ban the account. It doesn't have to have legality to it because the ban is from their own product. The danger would be, if there was something, not in the EULA, but in the law itself, which made breaking a software EULA in that fashion actually ILLEGAL. If that were the case, the power-leveling company's risk would be not getting one account banned, but rather, multi-million dollar lawsuits. I think that is what the writer was refering to in the original article.

Shannon Buys
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Aah ok. My bad. That does make more sense. (guess I let my utter hatred of gold farmers/botters/levelers get in the way)

Personally I can just hope they find a legal method to pursue these guys outside of the game and banning accounts.

Sam Kite
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makes sense to me. You can spend the rest of the time going after makers of nicotine gum for hurting the tobacco industry and the experience of smokers everywhere.

Shannon Buys
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Ok dude, whatever, you win the argument. Congratulations. There you go. Have a cookie.

Allen Smith
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I would like to buy power leveling service,cuz i don't have much time to play . i had tried out lots of power leveling company,such as THSALE, IGXE,powerleveling-wow..., Most of them were fucking cheaters ,they all used the bots to level your charater,they got all of my accounts banned.But recently, I bought a service on WWW.IGSET.COM. It turns out good,just as they say on their website, a real guy would leveling for you ,and they would only work for about 8-10 hours a day instead of 24 hours ,but the player was excellent,He trained my char jewelcrafting 1-375 within 6 days and only used me no more 300G .and it only costed me $99.99,he kept me informed and

instead of saying he couldn't do something,he gave me

a chance to assist him so that he could complete the order faster. That company is the best one i have ever met ! lol ! I would like to order 40000 honor point for my 70 warlock!