Anyone associated with online games and MMOs in particular will likely know of dominant in-game item trading firm IGE, which was founded in 2001 by Brock Pierce and Alan Debonneville. The two principals were, according to the company, "keen to identify the need for a safe, reliable trading platform to support the then 'gray market' RMT of virtual items between MMO game players."
But, of course, the concept of trading virtual items and currency has also been a controversial one at times, with the item trading and 'gold farming' phenomenon much remarked upon in the media and gaming world. The situation was brought to a head earlier this year, when U.S. magazine PC Gamer announced that it would no longer carry print ads from MMO item-selling companies.
At the time, PC Gamer EIC Greg Vederman commented: "Lately, 'gold farming' companies such as IGE and Power Leveling — companies whose business is the accumulation and (potentially illicit) real-world sale of virtual MMO property, including gold, in-game items, and characters — have begun running ads in magazines like ours. For the record, PC Gamer’s official stance on these types of companies is that they are despicable: not only do they brazenly break many MMOs’ End-User License Agreements, but they all-too-often ruin legitimate players’ fun."
In addition, a number of those in the MMO community have been concerned with the way that IGE has been serially acquiring major MMO content websites in a low-profile fashion, including major item listing sites Allakhazam and Thottbot and major MMO portal OGaming - none of which explicitly list IGE or its parent company as the owner on their 'About' pages. This has led to speculation regarding further item-selling and website integration in the future.
In fact, IGE has been relatively low-profile in terms of press coverage throughout its time rising to the top of the MMO item trading industry. One of its few recent public announcements has been a partnership with Chinese auction website Alibaba announced earlier this year to offer items on Alibaba's Taobao online trading platform, important because major competitor Ebay has been restricting auctions posted on its commercial service, citing EULA issues.
However, Gamasutra managed to gain the opportunity to sit down and speak with James Clarke, IGE's chief operating officer in Asia, during our time in Shanghai (where Clarke is largely based) last month. We had a chance to find out more about not only his role at the company, but also IGE's plans itself, giving a rare insight behind the curtain into the workings of the MMO trading titan.