28 June 2010

Virtual Gold Farming

Excerpt from New Scientist, 29 May 2010

The world has truly lost it, when this is where human attention and ingenuity is being directed...article on technology activist Cory Doctorow's novel For the Win:

'Many people will have never heard about the "gold farming" of your novel. What is it?

Gold farming describes a real-world activity: it's all the things people, mostly in poor countries, do to amass things of worth in the online gaming world. These range from amassing gold to collecting rare, expensive items like weapons or ingredients for a magic spell or stuff that a player can use to get up to the next level in the game. These things are sold to rich players who don't want to have to do the work themselves. Gold farmers are seen as akin to hackers.

When did gold farming start?

First reports were in Central America and Mexico in about 2003. Most of the trade has now moved to China, or at least into the Chinese language. In China, the get-rich-quick story runs like this: find 10 boys who just want to play video games around the clock, stick them in a room with 10 computers and then watch the money roll in.

How is the "gold" in the gamers' world exchanged for hard cash?

One player will meet another and do the exchange, or drop gold at a preassigned location on a server where another player will pick it up. The money exits the game and enters the real world via brokers. One reason for this is linguistic. If you are a kid from Sichuan province who only speaks five words of English it's going to be hard to sell gold to a kid from Los Angeles.

What do gold farmers think about their lot?

The gold farmers are a lot less worried about being exploited in real life than they are about being hunted mercilessly in the game. They encounter an awful lot of racism when they move around in games. Anyone with a Chinese name or talking in Chinese is immediately accused of being a gold farmer. If you are on a server where players can attack each other, people will try to kill you. They did have stories about being exploited, too, but a lot of them are 17 and still can't believe they're being paid to play video games all day....'

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