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Third-World Sweatshops Producing Virtual Goods 348

Posted by timothy
from the what-the-market-will-bear dept.
prostoalex writes "MSNBC points to the court cases spawned by virtual worlds. Recently, Tom Loftus notes, a virtual island in one of the MMORPGs sold for $30,000, enough to attract commercial attention. Apparently, some businesses create third-world sweatshops, where low-wage laborers are being paid to play and accumulate enough virtual merchandise, so that an eBay sale of it makes the operation profitable. 'One such business, Blacksnow Interactive, actually sued a virtual world's creator in 2002 for attempting to crack down on the practice. The first of its kind to center on virtual goods, the case was eventually dropped,' MSNBC says." Update: 02/06 18:59 GMT by Z : We ran a story about the sale of the virtual island, and Terra Nova has a lot of commentary on the sale of virtual goods. For comparison, the economic impact of this phenomenon is roughly equal to that of Namibia or Macedonia.
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Third-World Sweatshops Producing Virtual Goods

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  • Sweatshop? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bigtallmofo (695287) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @09:13AM (#11589099)
    Considering relatively affluent people in the US pay money to play these games for hours on end, I don't think you could describe paying third-world citizens money to play the games as a "sweatshop" work environment.

    Where's the signup sheet for this "sweatshop"? I'm sure there's plenty of Slashdot readers that would gleefully sign up.
    • Re:Sweatshop? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by xami (740208) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @09:23AM (#11589127)
      maybe the work itself doesn't seem hard (to you), but the conditions they have to suffer are really sweatshop-like
      BBC had a report about it recently, a dozen workers stuffed into a small, dark room with computers and only a sleeping bag may sound LAN party style to us - but we can leave the party anytime, they can't
      • Re:Sweatshop? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by TheoMurpse (729043)
        Why can't they? Aren't they allowed to quit?

        From my memory, I don't recall 'sweatshop' meaning 'forced labor' and the employees were free to go at anytime.

        This makes it exactly like a LAN party, except those people get paid.
        • Re:Sweatshop? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by jburroug (45317) <slashdot.acerbic@org> on Sunday February 06, 2005 @01:47PM (#11590546) Homepage Journal
          Actually in many cases sweatshop workers can't leave, at least not until they've worked off exorbident debts owed to the sweatshop operator. Often the debts are accrued by the workers during the process of immigrating to the country they are working in. Think indentured servants here.

          Before you ask, no this isn't legal in most (if not all) of the countries where it happens, but it still happens. Often the sweatshop workers are illegal immigrants, may not speak the local language and sure as hell don't know local laws and customs that protect them from this kind of abuse. Since these shops are being run by criminals the penalty for quitting before your debt is paid tends to involve killing the worker and/or their family, not a lawsuit. These kinds of shops are flourishing all over Asia (along with their far more destructive cousins in the sex trade, which prey on the same type of desperation as the sweatshops) and can still be found in the US and Western Europe still.

          I'm guessing what you're thinking of as a sweat shop is really just your standard, legal, offshored manufactoring plant in developing countries. These places are for the most part above board and subject to government oversite and yes the workers can quit when they want. But that's why they aren't sweatshops.

          As far as these so-called MMPORG sweatshops are concerned, I suspect they more closely resemble offshored factories (or call centers) than actual sweatshops.
      • Re:Sweatshop? (Score:5, Informative)

        by digitalchinky (650880) <dtchky@gmail.com> on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:30AM (#11589329)
        I actually live in Asia, a lot of these 'sweatshops' are bloody nice work environments! Just as nice as anything you'd find in Australia - the difference is the workers are paid a little higher than average wages most times. If the company is foreign owned or 'bankrolled' - then conditions have to be compliant with all health and safety regs. The exact same pair of jeans sold in america for $100 will cost around $5-$10 here, on the street (shopping centers)

        Workers get breaks, medical, dental, nobody under 18, the law is enforced pretty well since failure to do so means big government fines.

        It all works out in the end.

        These offshore 'call centers' are staffed by college graduates mostly, just looking for a good income - problem is a few 'Americans' think they are 'stupid' in many instances, and hate talking to them. (I have a neice working in one, I hear the stories every day) Can really screw up ones day. These people are smart, they just don't speak english fluently.

        Just my 2 cents. (Excluding China, I don't know anything about that place - so previous poster might be right)
        • I Live in China... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ddewey (774337) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @03:24PM (#11591181) Homepage

          I work in Hangzhou on behalf of a small manufacturing outsourcing company [chinaforge.com]. Conditions for workers here in China are much better now than in the past, but there are still problems. Perhaps one of the biggest hardships for them is that most buildings in Hangzhou are not heated in winter, and it gets fairly cold here, dropping below freezing outside several times per month. Often even areas where the white collar workers are located have no heat, and sometimes I think they have it the worst, because at least the unskilled laborers are constantly moving instead of sitting motionless at a computer.

          The point is, in a developing country some hardships can not be avoided. Unfortunately China's thirst for electricity is much more than can be supplied, thus it is not feasible to heat most buildings here in the south during winter. As it is, there are frequent scheduled blackouts in many areas to solve the problem that there is not enough electricity to go around. But they can't just all stop work and wait for spring. Sometimes I think people don't realize this when they get mad about working conditions in developing countries. Yes conditions are less than ideal in China, but they are improving, and it isn't possible for everyone to just quit working and wait for conditions to become like they are in the West. Change has to happen gradually and economic growth is the only way that it is going to happen at all.

    • Re:Sweatshop? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Photon Ghoul (14932) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @09:42AM (#11589189)
      Yeah so all the comments here are "oh wow being paid to play games is considered bad"?

      Slashdot or the submitter shouldn't have used the word "sweatshop" because it focuses attention on the working conditions away from the fact that there are companies who really game the system in MMO's for profit. It gets to the point that their actions ruin the in-game economy and playability.

      Consider Everquest2. There supposedly exists a group of people who work for one "Boss" (that's actually his in-game name). These people run teams of bot-driven characters who farm items, drive up prices, intrude in other's playing space etc. Supposedly a lot of their items end up being sold on online auctions.
      • if they really broke the ingame economy, they wouldn't be able to exist for years and years.

        the real problem is of course that they the mmorpg creators create environments where this is profitable(and then pretend that real world doesn't exist). they create worlds where there are precious items.. that can be sold through the real world.

    • Re:Sweatshop? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 88NoSoup4U88 (721233)
      "Where's the signup sheet for this "sweatshop"? I'm sure there's plenty of Slashdot readers that would gleefully sign up."

      Would they be willing to do it if they got paid 1 rupee an hour?
      I guess the willingness to play for money goes away very quickly when you have to reach a certain target each day , because otherwise you would be risking losing the money that goes towards feeding you/your family.

      Just because it's not physical work, doesn't mean you can't exploit people.

    • Not to mention that sweatshops are so named for their lack of suitable venhilation. Try that with computers, and you'll soon be paying more to fix overheated computers than you're saving on labor.
      • My system would comfortably run at 60C (140F) ambient air temperature. I don't.
    • I agree with you that using the term sweatshop is probably overstating how harsh the conditions are, but these guys aren't just playing the game. They're grinding and farming. It's more like being a QA tester than playing; it's boring, frustrating, repetative work, usually in games that are boring, frustrating, and repetative to begin with.
    • Re:Sweatshop? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @03:20PM (#11591153) Homepage
      Considering relatively affluent people in the US pay money to play these games for hours on end, I don't think you could describe paying third-world citizens money to play the games as a "sweatshop" work environment.

      Where's the signup sheet for this "sweatshop"? I'm sure there's plenty of Slashdot readers that would gleefully sign up

      Are you serious? Plenty of relatively affluent people tend their own gardens, too...how many do you think would want to work as farm laborers in some third-world country? Lots of people sew as a hobby...you think many of them want to head off to work in a clothing factory?

      When you play these games, you do fun things, like quests, and exploring the world, and figuring out how to take on tougher and tougher monsters (and players for PvP games).

      The people farming items and money for sale are not doing that. They are just sitting in one spot, killing easy things over and over and over. That's tedium, no fun.

      One of the biggest criticisms of Everquest, and one of the things that most games since EQ1 have tried to fix, was that sometimes you'd have to do just that when playing. For example, to get a rare high level monster to spawn, you might have to kill placeholdes, which were low level and no challenge, for hours or even days. or to get faction to go someplace, you might have to kill 2000 trivial monsters. People hated doing this.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 06, 2005 @09:16AM (#11589106)
    OMG, I can't believe that. People are spending real-world money for virtual merchandise?

    Video game addiction is becoming an epidemic. I swear my roommate's job is World of Warcraft... he plays it enough. I tell him that he should go eat or go to the bathroom, but he insists on leveling his wizard or something. I think its funny (perhaps because it's unfathomably pathetic).
    • by Odin's Raven (145278) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:37AM (#11589627)
      I tell him that he should go eat or go to the bathroom, but he insists on leveling his wizard or something.

      Is your roomie's entertainment score increasing, or is he still sitting at the computer even when he's maxed out? Do you see "bored" icons over his head? You may want to invest the simoleans to get some other entertainment options, such as a pinball machine or a hot tub, just so he has some variety to choose from.

      Also, make sure the problem isn't something simpler. Have you ever seen your roomie leave his computer room? If not, double-check the placement of doors, furniture, etc and make sure there's a clear path between his computer room and the kitchen/bathroom. (I nearly lost a guy to starvation before I discovered that I'd placed the new refrigerator in front of the only door to the kitchen.) Oh, and make sure you've trained him up at least one point for cooking so he doesn't keep setting the stove on fire.

      Remember that you might have to intervene multiple times to break your roomie of the computer habit. Just keep clicking on him and assigning another task, and watch closely to make sure he doesn't wander straight back to the computer. You might have to put up with some stormcloud icons for a bit, but with any luck he'll learn a new routine and end up happier in the long run.

      If he's just impossible to retrain, you might have no choice but to stick him in the swimming pool and remove the ladder. It's a bit harsh, but in extreme cases it's sometimes better to just accept the loss and create a fresh roomie.

  • by Cryofan (194126) <cryofan&yahoo,com> on Sunday February 06, 2005 @09:16AM (#11589108) Homepage Journal
    first, paying for something like this is just strange, in my opinion.

    But then the whole thing of having 3rd world sweatshops to produce virtual real estate is like something out of a science fiction novel. But I doubt any SF novel has ever dealt with that subject. SF is really not all that original or truly predictive of our real world, in my opinion.

  • for creating a system where uneducated people in uncivilized countries can stop their endless cycle of backbreaking labor, to play video games, for 3. Profit!
  • ... what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tomstdenis (446163) <tomstdenis@SLACK ... com minus distro> on Sunday February 06, 2005 @09:25AM (#11589131) Homepage
    So let me get this right.

    1. Create virtual world
    2. Buy virtual island with REAL money
    3. Pay REAL people REAL money to play in virtual world ...

    4. Sell accumulated virtual wealth for REAL cash money on ebay... ... what? Who the fuck would buy with REAL money something in a video game that they could just sign up for and get themselves?

    I mean I bought minish cap for 40$ [cdn]. I wouldn't pay someone money for a savegame so I could beat the game quicker. That kinda defeats the purpose doesn't it?

    As a side note I see the REAL accumulation of things as kinda pointless as well. I mean I do have cool shit [e.g. 500W 5.1 stereo, 17" LCD, amd64, etc...] but you won't find a shirt in my room worth more than 10$ nor diamond encrusted watches, etc...e.g. I buy practical stuff I can actually use and benefit from...

    I hope they sell it for a lot of cash money and I hope whoever buys it gets exposed for the dork they are. ;-)

    Tom
    • Re:... what? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DreadCthulhu (772304) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @09:39AM (#11589182)
      Well, in a MMORPG, a good item (like say, the Sword of Pwning) might be really useful for your character, when your clan is fighting someone else. However, it might take a 10 hr quest to get the Sword of Pwning, and this busy first-worlder has a high paying job, so that can't skip that. So you buy the sword for real cash, because you get enjoyment out of the sword, just like you benefit from your 500Watt sterio that was probably built by some other third-worlder.
    • Re:... what? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by imsabbel (611519)
      You underestimate the "idiotic-stupid-levelup-factor" of many of those mmporg.

      Its nothing about finishing the game quicker, its about not having to spend 20$ per months for ages until after doutzends of wasted hours you charactar is finally strong enough to kill stuff other than rats or rabbits....
      • If that's how they work, I don't want to play them. Seriously the only reason an rpg was ever fun was because you could become sufficiently good to beat the game in a reasonable amount of time. I don't see the fun in massively multiplayer, where you just keep on getting better weapons and stronger characters for no other reason than bragging rights. And don't even get me started on those Final Fantasy games where every attack you send out goes into a 3 minute eye-candy fest where the Original FF1 guy step
    • It's all about bragging rights. Also known as "bigger penis" syndrome.

      Regardless of what is being bought in an open and free market, if both the seller and purchaser are pleased with the transaction and no ill effects come of it (such in the case with drugs), then I don't see the problem.

      And ya, people just love to 1up eachother to boost their own self esteem.
    • Do you ever buy ready made food? Why? You can make it yourself, can't you?

      Sometimes people don't have the skills, or the time, but would want the benefits of a product anyway, so they pay for it.

      I don't see how this is any different from buying any other product.

      People have been buying hint books and books with cheat codes for decades, so why are people surprised they now buy objects that will help them with their games just because the objects reside in the game itself?

    • I'm not a big believer in saving people from themselves, except occasionally as it relates to saving the taxpayer money by not making those people dependents of the state in a very real, monetary fashion. In other words, stuff like seatbelt and DUI laws. Some people just get horribly addicted to these games, though, and will spend all the time and attention on them, neglecting their family and obligations... So don't just assume they're all dorks, some of these people have real psychological problems that c
    • Who the fuck would buy with REAL money something in a video game that they could just sign up for and get themselves?

      Who would buy a $10 shirt with money they earned themselves when they could just make the shirt?
  • The only thing that's scarier to me than the existence of virtual sweatshops is the possibilty, remote though it may be, of the existence of a virtual Kathie Lee Gifford. Yikes!
  • Capitalism rules (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Dobber (576407) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @09:34AM (#11589165)

    Ya gotta love it, where there's a dollar to be had somebody will figure out a way.

  • Virtual Goods? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ceeam (39911) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @09:34AM (#11589166)
    Let's think about it. What makes these goods more "virtual" (ie not-real) than MP3 music or videos? No, really?
    • Re:Virtual Goods? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by inturnaround (856837)
      They can't be taken anywhere else but the game. Because it cannot exist in the real world. You can actually burn MP3s to a CD and virtual becomes "real".
      • Re:Virtual Goods? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by moonbender (547943)
        No, the CD is real, the data still isn't any more real than before. You can also print a screenshot of the item and take it with you, or even install the game on your laptop and take it with you.
    • Re:Virtual Goods? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by devillion (831115)
      Work done is also virtual. Music requires real skill s to create. MMRPG admins could create unlimited number of items if they wanted.
      • Re:Virtual Goods? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        heck if you really think about it. PAPER MONEY is virtual.
    • Re:Virtual Goods? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dragoon412 (648209)
      These goods exist in a virtual world of sorts.

      If I download an MP3, and the company that sold it for me tanks, I can still listen to it (in theory, anyways, DRM tries to prevent that), I can burn it to CD, etc.

      With these goods, they exists solely as data on a server owned by another company. You can't take them with you, you can't make any use of said items outside their virtual world. If they pull the plug on the server, you're SoL - no more items.
    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @05:54PM (#11592185)
      Normal IP, as it's defined under the law (at least as it is supposed to be defined, these days it seems anything goes) has to do with a creative process. Wether it's music or a book, or a brilliant new manufacturing process, someone expends effort to create something new. Doesn't mean it's 100%, from nowhere with no insparation from prior works, but it's still creative.

      That's not the case with money in MMORPGs. All you are doing is incrimenting a value in a database. If the company that ran it wanted, they could change that value arbitrarly. There's no creative process, and there's no new creation as a result. The number just goes up.

      I'll pay for a video game or for music or for a book because of the creative value. Someone has a talent and used that talent to create something I like. Even though it's non-tangible, they still deserve compensation, so they'll hopefully keep doing it.

      Money in a game lacks that, a person sat there going through the process the game has to incriment a number in the database. No creativity. The other thing is the whole reason I play these games is to have fun. It's an enjoyable way to spend my free time. Paying someone else to play, therefore, seems really stupid. If the game isn't fun, I shouldn't be playing it in the first place.

      That's all aside from how this can screw up a game's economy. Final Fantasy 11 apparantly really suffers form this. You cannot get some of the best items in the game by playing it. They are continously camped by these "sweatshops". The only way to get them is to pay real money for them, a lot of it. Well talk about a way to screw up the game for those that play it for fun. What if you happen to LIKE the really hard quests and battles that take a long time? Maybe that is fun to you, I know a lot of people for who it is. However oh, no, can't do that, because there are people locking you out to attempt to get money out of you.

      Basically, I don't mind paying the company who made and runs the game a fee to play. As far as I'm concerned, it's a service fee for entertianment, just like my cable bill. I give them money, they give me entertainment. It's also necessary, because there's real costs associated with running these games (bandwidth, support, hardware, etc). I am not willing to pay to have someone else play the game for me, or for their permission to do something I want to, and should be able to, do in the game.
  • by Dark Paladin (116525) * <jhummelNO@SPAMjohnhummel.net> on Sunday February 06, 2005 @09:35AM (#11589168) Homepage
    Here's a link (think there might be a commercial to go through, but there it is:)

    http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2004/11/15/andas _game/index.html [salon.com]

    A story about what MMRPG's might be like in the future, and the repercussions of that in our lives, including the "sweat shop" idea. The first half made me go "Eh, another story about MMRPG's and the evils of playing all the time", but then when the meat of the story came in it had me thinking.

    Seems the future is now.
  • BTW (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ceeam (39911) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @09:49AM (#11589208)
    Anybody around here selling mod-points? Karma? 4-digit accounts? What is the going price? : )
  • by nysus (162232) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @09:52AM (#11589220)
    My bank account is represented by a bunch of 1s and 0s in some database in the sky. There's no real paper behind it. It's virtual. Now, if someone wiped out the 1s to 0s, I'd have grounds to sue.

    Value and money doesn't exist in the physical world. It's a contrived social concept that we humans have created. It's an illusion. So if it's "virtual" in the real world, seems perfectly logical that it can be virtual in the virtual world, too.
    • The difference is that, as you point out, there are laws that control these 1s and 0s in the real world. There are not laws that control the distribution of virtual property. The player pays for a service, and access to the service; all that virtual stuff is just part of the service. If the service folds tomorrow, and the company refunds a pro-rated portion of the subscription fee to its customers, then it has fulfilled every moral obligation and more than fulfilled every legal obligation to them.

      In other

    • My bank account is represented by a bunch of 1s and 0s in some database in the sky. There's no real paper behind it. It's virtual. Now, if someone wiped out the 1s to 0s, I'd have grounds to sue.

      Your bank account is backed by the FDIC and, therefore, the US Govt. Your RPG profile is backed by nothing at all. If it gets wiped out, they may restore it, but don't hold your breath.

  • On late night TV with Sally Struthers: "This is Juan. He's 14. He works in sweatshop in Thirdo Worlda producing Evercrack virtual goods. For just $2 a day, your contribution could ensure that Juan no longer has to do this to survive. Won't you please help?" (Contribute now and receive a Juan screen saver with RSS feed from Juan's blog. You can make a difference.)
  • I know this is going to come off as flame-bait; so I'll apologize in advance. But given the cheating, the internet fucktard factor and every other shitty factor (people who are working irl will take over your area according to one post here [slashdot.org]? wtf is that all about?) ... why bother playing online?

    Between that, and the people who are out in the FPS games who deliberately spoil people's games ... there are not anywhere close to enough measures in place to be able to insure a fair and pleasent gaming experience
    • by BenjyD (316700) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:35AM (#11589347)
      I really just can't understand the morons in online FPSs who go around TKing etc. I've tried talking to them sometimes, asking "why do you do this?" in as nice a way as possible, but of course never got an answer. The idea of playing an MMORPG, where the potential number of morons available to piss me off is so much higher, doesn't appeal to me much.

      I have sat and watched someone spend half an hour stacking planes on an aircraft carrier deck so no one could take off (Coral sea,BF1942) before an admin joined and kicked him. What kind of mentality must a person have to waste half an hour doing something incredibly dull and repetitive (enter plane, taxi forwards, exit plane, wait for new plane to spawn, repeat) purely to piss off people he doesn't know who are trying to have fun?

      It basically means only servers with admins are worth playing on. I have about five servers in my favourites list that I know have good admins and decent auto-kick settings. I occasionally play on other servers, but I always regret it.
      • All you have to know is that there are bullies in the real world too. The answer? These people are ultimately insecure at some level and exerting this power over other people - making them frustrated - makes them feel in control of their lives, and thus better about themselves. Why would a kid, for example, put gum in another kid's hair? Same answer.
  • from an mmo player (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I play the mmo's...

    We call them chinese farmers. They will get on and create macros that will let their characters run around and kill all day long. This farms gold for them to sell on ebay. It ruins the game economy which takes away from the overall experience that we pay for.

    The best example of how it ruins the game is Lineage 2. Everyone quit the game due to the farming. It was also a player vs player game and the farmers would swarm you if you came into their area. They would open up trade windo
    • It ruins the game economy which

      Ruins the game's economy? Sorry, it's already broken.

      Monsters spawn continuously from an undepleteable source, and they carry gold (currency). This means new currency is being continually minted.

      What happens when a government mints new money continuously? Ridiculous inflation and economic collapse.

      That is exactly what happens in all of these games. The amount of currency available in-game is always increasing. These games are starting with a broken economy, and that
  • Getting dangerously close to some trademarks there, boyo. you don't want to end up like Lindows, do you?
  • by erroneus (253617) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:15AM (#11589303) Homepage
    I think it depends on a variety of factors. While it might seem like a dream come true to work at such a place doing such a thing, I can only imagine what it would be like for it to become an occupation. And that factor alone does not make it a dream job.

    For example, if for some reason, you were 'forced' to do this for less pay than is needed to survive -- it's no less slavery than if they were out picking cotton as a sharecropper. The situations exist and while this might certainly be a preferable occupation to one that might require bending one's back, I can see where even this could cause hazzards if, for example, they were forced (required) to do this for far too many hours under uncomfortable conditions. Hasn't any of you gamers ever played ridiculously long hours and then paid for it in fatigue the next day? Consider if it were required of you to do that EVERY day.

    Now I'm merely stretching my imagination here and not assuming these ideas are facts, but when someone says "sweatshop labor" and attempts to tie it in with game play, I don't automatically call bullshit and I don't think anyone else should simply because they think it might be fun to earn a living this way.

    Now on to the poor bastards who would actually PAY all this money for virtual crap... those people need some serious psychological assistance. I mean really. All that to gain dominance in a virtual world? It seems very ridiculous to me.

    I think the game company supporting games that this could potentially should include a license agreement that says "your account can be erased for any reason including suspicion that you are not the original owner of a given character." When they spend an assload of money only to have their character erased, I think a LOT of that market would suddenly disappear.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:31AM (#11589332) Homepage Journal
    It's a "sweatshop" because the working conditions are really bad, and the pay is really low. The work itself is not as arduous as, say, sewing raincoats for 30 hours at a stretch, or soldering 5 thousand LEDs into Christmas light cables before being allowed to clock out. And they can quit, with many people dying to take their jobs when they do. But the physically demanding nature of traditional sweatshops isn't their defining characteristic, or steelmills would all be sweatshops in more than just a colorful description of their atmosphere.

    Sweatshop labor is more of a commentary on the rest of the local economy. People don't quit, though they are "free" to, because there's no alternative labor available. That's almost always because there's no capital available to entrepreneurs, no competition among labor buyers, no real value applied to their labor. All of which is usually due to some political repression, a command economy, company towns - all the conditions we had in the US before labor organized in the 20th Century do protect our rights to work in human conditions. Which is why it sounds familiar to Slashdotters slaving away in cubefarms, wishing we could get paid to play games instead of write Java DB reporting systems.
  • by BrianGa (536442) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:34AM (#11589342)
    Just wait until all the sweatshop MMORPG labor jobs are shipped to India...
  • Time has a value (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ThousandStars (556222) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:50AM (#11589381) Homepage
    To those of you who have posted "OMGWTFBBQ why would people pay for virtual goods?", I can only say that time has a value that varies from person to person. So a network admin, for example, who makes $50 per hour, and wants an item that would take him four hours to pop, might put a $200 value on that item. Even $200 seems a bit excessive, but that admin might say "fuck it" and spring for the $20, especially if that item allows him to access content that he would rather spend his time enjoying. In the same way, people who like MMORPGs but have limited time to play them might pay real money for in-game money because that money will help them get through the "clear the rat den levels." If their time is worth $50 per hour, and they spend $30 on gold that saves them 10 in-game hours of leveling boredom, that's a cost effective purchase. As long as this remains true, a market for MMORPG items will exist.

    Let me also pre-empt the replies that will say playing a game should be about enjoying the experience and the ride, not a power-trip toward getting an uber character and the ultimate foozle power: I agree. I'd never buy something in an MMORPG. That doesn't mean time doesn't have value and that buyers are necessarily evil.

    Some MMORPGs recognize that this is bad for their game and take steps to prevent it. World of Warcraft, as far as I know, will "bind" some items to whoever picks them up. Technical solutions do exist, but as long as the economic conditions described in my first paragraph exist, I expect people will have a power incentive to get around the restrictions.

    • spend $30 on gold that saves them 10 in-game hours of leveling boredom

      I guess people outside the MMORPG world just have trouble understanding why people bother playing games that aren't fun. I mean, if levelling is such a grind that people will spend money to avoid it, why do people do it? Is grinding from level 1-10 really any different from level 10-20, beyond the bigger numbers and fancier spell-effects graphics?

  • After all, one Fippy Darkpaw (who drops a PGT) can feed a family of 4 for a week.

    And Jboots? now you're talking about opening your own hotel.

  • by rollingcalf (605357) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:22AM (#11589537)
    Some people think that as dreadful as the conditions may be, the sweatshops are still good for the workers because the alternatives are worse.

    However, they fail to consider that a big part of the reason why the alternatives are worse or nonexistent is because of what the sweatshop owners and big corporations have done to the environment and economy.

    For example, corporations pollute a river and kill the fish and the fishermen go out of business, so some of the former fishermen end up working in a sweatshop. Or they use their money to cut off or otherwise influence the distribution channels of the small farmer, and the farmer can't find anybody to truck his tomatoes to market. Or they buy up lots of land and drive up the land values so the young adult can't start his/her own small farm with a couple of cows and chicken coops.

    Other tactics involve blackballing any employee who quits so no one else will hire them. The sweatshops also deceive prospective employees about how terrible the conditions are. They train every current employee to speak wonderful things about the company, then when a new worker is hired they have to work so much that they don't even have time or energy to look for another job. They also can't outright quit because their pay is so low that a week without pay could lead to starvation.

    Similar trends are emerging in the US; the big corporations are progressively taking away the ability of the small business to succeed. For example, it is practically impossible for the 2-person software shop to sell any game for any of the popular game consoles, because they have to pay licensing fees just to make a game that will work with a console without the owner having to hack it. If "trusted computing"/Palladium gets a stronghold, it will also become infeasible for new and small software companies to sell anything that will run on an unhacked computer, so developers who want to stay in the industry will have no choice but to work for a big corporation, probably with EA-sweatshop conditions.

    Sweatshops aren't doing the workers a favor. The alternatives are worse only because the sweatshops helped to take away the better opportunities.
  • by Stormwatch (703920) <rodrigogirao@@@hotmail...com> on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:24AM (#11589546) Homepage
    On Phantasy Star Online, Sega got it right - better than everyone else, actually. Money abounds and item storage is limited. What do players do then? After getting more powerful weapons, they give away their older, less powerful ones to newbies, who put them to good use. And everyone has fun together doing what is actually fun: killing monsters.

    No, it is not a MMORPG; it is a multiplayer (not massive) online action RPG. It actually demands skill, not just tons of levels and clicking on the monsters. And it is actually fun to play solo. It is not a virtual fantasy world; it is just a damn good game - and it is good for not trying to be anything else.
  • by LullySing (164221) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @12:31PM (#11590022) Homepage
    The main problem with those "sweatshops" is that over time, they eventually increase the chance for the in-game economy to go comepletely FUBAR.

    By flooding the market for certain items, or controling drops on certain monsters , a small group of Farmers like these can effectively deny the rest of the online world's population of something that they need ( for they character's job) or simply monopolise the market on some items ( after all, they can organise shifts easely so they can camp for 24 hours at a time).

    Add to the mix the fact that there is a good percentage of these people botting ( aka, having automated scripting tools that will autoattack/target rare monsters, or farm items without human action) and Eventually over time you get to the point that MONEY BECOMES WORTHLESS in the online game.

    And the problem is that it keeps on getting worse and worse. The Final Fantasy XI Online economy was showing the signs of this about 5-6 months ago, and now, since then there has been about a 100% inflation on all costs in-game ( for player-sold items). It's getting so bad, the developpers are putting a tax on ALL ITEMS being bought ( so they could reduce the crazy amonts of money lying around).

    Developpers don't realise how badly their economy might go down unless they start to actually monitor the online world's economy. Usually by the time they start doing that, they are already getting to the point that things are getting too crazy to be fixed.
  • by GearheadX (414240) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @01:02PM (#11590213)
    This is more than JUST a Chinese thing, there are people in the States who do this sort of thing... and it spreads across far, far more than just one or two games. Companies like IGE have been trying to set up systems across all MMOs to generate currency they can sell.

    The end result of all this is inflation.

    On most FF11 servers, for example, the Archer Ring is dropped by a single monster in the game, and there are people who work shifts camping that thing. To sell at an inflated rate to generate income. To sell by their company. To players. The result is a feedback loop that creates out of control inflation.

    Some games make it harder for botters to play. Others become a bit more up front. World of Warcraft PvP server players have started compiling lists of known farmers working in shifts and are going around pounding them flat whenever they can (more power to em).

    Meanwhile, IGE's mouthpiece can sit back in an interview and smugly say that his business is the wave of the future and has no ill effect on any game it's involved in, all the while watching his bank account climb.

    Certainly, mashing farmers is cathartic... but the real solution is to NOT patronize these people.
  • by Grimster (127581) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @03:18PM (#11591140) Homepage
    I like to play games, I have a group of friends I've played online games with since the infancy of online MMORPGS (DarkSun Online nearly 10 years ago now) and unlike the olden days, I can no longer play as many hours as I used to. I have a kid, wife, a company to run, etc, so my play time isn't that "much".

    So I'm left with staying a "newbie" forever, for example in WoW it takes "roughly" 300+ hours of real play time to get a character "maxxed" out, playing 3 maybe 4 hours a day, I'm looking at 3-4 months to get maxxed out so I can join in the "high level" fun stuff. By then most of my friends will be on their 3rd or 4th maxxed char and hell by then most of them will be quitting for the next game and I'm sitting there going "damnit".

    So what do I do? $300 for a maxxed char off Ebay, $300 for enough gold from one of those gold selling services that I can afford to buy enough "good stuff" to be able to join in those high level shenanigans, and I'm set. Obviously if I were working for $8 an hour this would be stupid, but $600 is maybe 2 days income for me, call it 15 hours of work to make that cash, 15 hours of "real world labor" to save myslef 300+ hours of "game time grinding"? I'll pay it. Now I'm able to join in all the reindeer games.

    As for the "sweatshops" are these people supposedly being forced to work for these companies? What is these peoples' alternatives? Where would they be working if they weren't doing this? As I understand it there isn't just a glut of "good jobs" in many of these locales so is playing an online game all day for a boss 'that' bad of a job or is it a pretty decent setup for these folks? I think fast food restaurants are HORRIBLE sweat shops and any time I see some teenager being browbeaten by a 20 something manager I just thank the gods I no longer work in fast food (I did during high school and some of my college times).
  • by tod_miller (792541) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @03:18PM (#11591143) Journal
    If you try and sell an island, it will first become infected with rabbid biting moneys, and then sink into the sea, not with a amagnficent effect or fanfare, but that annotin "gwpfffit" noise that comes with windows.

    Then your nickname will be "I was pwned, and all I got was this t-shirt" at which point your character will be wearing a T-shirt with "Pwn3d!" written on it.

    Take care of your island, and it will be nice to you.
  • Economic Impact of ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gordguide (307383) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @06:18PM (#11592305)
    " ... For comparison, the economic impact of this phenomenon is roughly equal to that of Namibia or Macedonia. ..."

    Okay, I'll bite (didn't see anyone else post it yet).

    These are virtual goods that, in about two years, have transformed themselves into a real economy (the things sell for hard currency) already as big as whole countries?

    Sure, they're small countries. But, they have lots of real people eating, working, making stuff. Probably a few rich ones, fattening the offshore bank account in the usual ways. Trust me, my own personal economy isn't that big, by a long shot.

    Put another way, are we seeing a phenomena that would have doubled these economies, while making "goods" that didn't even exist a couple of years ago?

    If I were the "Benign Dictator" of Nambia, I'd be getting right on it. Pronto.
  • Not Exactly Fun (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chimp_On_Stilts (805726) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:43AM (#11594051)
    A lot of people in this topic seem to be thinking that these people are being paid to have fun in a videogame like so many Americans do on a nightly basis.

    That is not true.

    These people are being paid to, in videogame speek, "pharm" items and money. To "pharm" something is to mindlessly acquire the item(s) at the expense of any other activity (IE: fun). For example, in World of Warcraft to "pharm" gold (currency) at level 60 for most of these workers means staying in one zone and killing the same type of enemy ("mob") for hours upon hours. Imagine killing the exact same bird in a game for literally 8 hours.

    Find bird.
    Kill bird.
    Loot bird.
    Repeat for six hours.

    These people are not grouping, questing, raiding, interacting with other players, or doing any of the other activities that make these games fun. They are doing the digital equivalent of screwing bolt #3572 into a car chassis on an assembly line.

    Also, beyond that, I have so far seen no mention of the damage these currency sellers do to in-game economies. These companies obliterate game economies with their actions.

    For example, Bob wants Super-Item-of-Monster-Slaying, but Super-Item-of-Monster-Slaying costs 5000 gold, and Bob only has 10 gold. So, Bob buys 10,000 gold online. Now Bob is super-rich by in-game standards and decides that he wants Super-Item-of-Monster-Slaying *right now*. So, what does bob do? He offers 10,000 gold to the first person he sees with the item just because he can. The seller, along with every else, realizes he can start selling Super-Item-of-Monster-Slaying for twice the previous price and people will still pay for it.

    This begins a downward spiral for the server's economy. People cannot pay the newly doubled price, so some of them pay real money for game money and pay even MORE. The price for goods rapidly increases, and the value of the currency plummets. In the end, players who want to buy anything in-game are forced to pay for fake cash or spend their own hours pharming the money for the horrifically overpriced goods.

    Think this is too extreme and won't happen? Check out the Bazaar in Everquest 1; it already has happened.
  • by samdu (114873) <samdu@NosPaM.ronintech.com> on Monday February 07, 2005 @02:45AM (#11594518) Homepage
    effects.

    I played Final Fantasy XI for a total of 79 RL days. I recently quit the game because it was taking up too much mindshare and RL time. The Chinese "sweat shops" were also a factor in my quitting.

    The selling of accounts in and of itself causes certain issues in-game. While other posts have noted that it's a time-saving measure for some, that is a problem. Those of us who managed to build up a character to a high level through the tedious level grind and crafting learned the nuances of our jobs. Someone that buys a level 50 character, on the other hand, has saved all that time but doesn't know those finer points of playing the job. Thus, you get parties with schmucks that don't know what the hell they're doing. No one gains from this. The new player gets embarassed, the seasoned players get killed and lose experience, causing them to spend even MORE time in game.

    There's also the problem of the sellers that rush through levels trying to build up a saleable character. They also don't know their jobs and really don't care that they don't know how to play. So, yet again, you get seasoned players that get killed due to the ineptness of the sellers.

    Even more of a problem were the Chinese gil sellers. These people would lock down an area and "steal" as many mobs as they could that dropped certain, high gil items. They would corner the market on these items and raise the prices to astronomical levels. One example for a piece of equipment that was highly prized for my main class (Monk) was the Ochiudo's Kote. They went for nearly a million gil on the auction house. Try selling them to an NPC and the going rate was three thousand gil. Sure, they would be more than the NPC price naturally, but they wouldn't have been nearly as much if it weren't for the gil sellers. The gil sellers, and most players eventually came to know who they were, they used similar names and were on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, became a serious problem and contributed to my quitting the game.

    Another side effect of the gil sellers were the steps taken by Squenix to try to thwart them. They instituted game changes like the likelihood of catching certain fish going down considerably after being in a particular zone for a certain length of time. Sure, this had an effect on the fish botting players and gil sellers, but it also became a pain in the ass for the honest players. And after the fishing nerf, they did the same thing to logging, mining, and excavating. I can't blame Squenix for trying to slow down the gil sellers, but the steps they took ended up screwing everyone, not just the people they were going after.

    Of course, there are soultions to a lot of these problems. But Squenix was never all that receptive to the obvious solutions.

    Near the end of my play time I tried to organize some things to cause the gil sellers some grief. I could never get enough people together to make an impact. Partly because a lot of the people that I recruited considered what I proposed griefing, which would have put their accounts in jeopardy. I didn't think it was, but that was the perception. In essence, the people that I was playing with were FAR more moral and decent than the gil sellers and that was a stumbling block in getting the players involved in an effort to take a stand against the gil sellers.

    At any rate, this IS a problem and it's one that won't go away until people quit supplying the gil selling companies with cash by buying accounts or in-game money. And just for shits and grins, I decided to see what my account would bring in when I decided to quit the game. Based on other accounts with similar or lower stats/equipment, one could expect to spend a couple of hundred dollars for my account. The amount I was offered was a whopping $47.00. So, when you're thinking of how much these guys must be paying the "sweat shop" workers, take that huge profit margin into account.

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