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Role Playing (Games) The Almighty Buck

Mass Media on Gold Farming 60

Posted by Zonk
from the publicity-is-a-bad-thing-for-them-right dept.
The International Herald Tribune, of all places, has an in-depth look at gold farming in China. From the article: "The people working in this clandestine locale are called 'gold farmers,' for every day, in 12-hour shifts, they are killing monsters and harvesting 'gold coins' and other virtual goods they can then sell to other online gamers. From Seoul to San Francisco, gamers who lack the hours or patience to work their way up to the higher levels of gamedom are hiring young Chinese to play the early rounds for them."
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Mass Media on Gold Farming

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  • Online commerce, that's all it is. People pay for labor, and they do it where the labor is cheapest. This just makes it very easy, since there is zero distribution cost for the product.

    Why should the fact that the demand is driven by games make it anything different than it is in other industries?
    • I think the fascination is that this is a virtual economy with objects that have no real value outside of that which we assign to them.

      It's not quite right to say "the demand is driven by games". Xbox Live accounts are driven by games, demand for Xbox network cards were driven by games, etc.

      Or most people just don't understand why anyone would be so fascinated by a game that they'd spend $$ to purchase in game cash. It's only a matter of time till some game as addictive as Snood shows up that involves in-ga
      • "I think the fascination is that this is a virtual economy with objects that have no real value outside of that which we assign to them."

        Just like shares of stock. Or currency, for that matter.
        • Re:Yawn (Score:2, Insightful)

          by zoips (576749)
          The difference, of course, being that you own shares of stock in companies, and you own currency. In online games (that do not base their entire model around RMT, such as Project Entropia or Second Life), you own nothing. The company owns everything. Essentially, people who participate in RMT pay money for an item that is not only intangible, but is never even theirs; the company who runs the game can delete their account for violation of the ToS and they are out whatever actual real currency they paid with
          • Contrasted with shares in Google, Dow Jones, Ford, News Corp, Comcast, or any of the other companies that have a majority owner with supervoting shares. Google in particular you basically bought a whole lot of nothing--the founders retain full control of the company, it doesn't provide any real benefit to shareholder directly from google, and the real assets are probably worth a small fraction 1/20th or so of the share price. There's a ton of value in the ideas of Google, but there aren't many real assets
          • The difference, of course, being that you own shares of stock in companies, and you own currency. In online games (that do not base their entire model around RMT, such as Project Entropia or Second Life), you own nothing. Essentially, people who participate in RMT pay money for an item that is not only intangible, but is never even theirs; the company who runs the game can delete their account for violation of the ToS and they are out whatever actual real currency they paid with no real recourse.

            You own

          • Very true. However, I think most online game companies are very reluctant to ban people due to account sales. Although it's almost always against the rules, the company is usually more concerned with keeping the subscription going for that account.

            What is really risky is the constant changes to elements of these games. I remember playing Asheron's Call a few years ago and seeing a particular item go for $500+ because it could no longer be found. This item could be dropped if your character was killed

      • I think the fascination is that this is a virtual economy with objects that have no real value outside of that which we assign to them.

        You could make an even better argument for the even greater millions spent on artwork each year, particularly certain modern works that go for seven figures or more. Same for historical artifacts - witness Antiques Roadshow.

        It's really nothing new.

        • Art is mostly an example of supply = 1. I'm not going to go any further than that. Some of the "modern" stuff that gets put on display baffles me.

          Historical artifacts at least have a face value. If all else fails, I can sell a 17th century french chair as... a chair.

          If [Insert Game Company] decides to close your account, you have absolutely nothing. Not even a fake certificate saying you made x amount of fake gold.
        • You could make an even better argument for the even greater millions spent on artwork each year, particularly certain modern works that go for seven figures or more. Same for historical artifacts - witness Antiques Roadshow.

          You don't even have to single out art for a sufficiently abstract "virtual" economy. Old standards such as gold and diamonds have only agreed-to value to most people. Back a truck up to Ft. Knox [wikipedia.org] if you like, but what are you going to do with all that gold other than sell it to so

          • You know, both gold and diamonds did occur to me as something to give as an example, but that would be flawed because both have extreme intrinsic value.

            Gold is the most malleable and ductile metal known. An ounce can be beaten into 300 square feet. It also doesn't corrode easily and conducts heat and electricity extremely well. It is required in many, many industrial applications.

            Diamonds are similarly of tremendous and unique industrial value. Their unsurpassed hardness and and unique thermal and electri

            • You know, both gold and diamonds did occur to me as something to give as an example, but that would be flawed because both have extreme intrinsic value.

              And yet your post in no way supports your contention.

              Gold is the most malleable and ductile metal known. An ounce can be beaten into 300 square feet. It also doesn't corrode easily and conducts heat and electricity extremely well. It is required in many, many industrial applications.

              None of which matter one whit when it come to valuation. If g

              • what are you going to do with all that gold other than sell it to someone else who is likely going to let it sit in a vault

                That is what you said, and that was an ignorant remark revealing your lack of understanding of material science.

                You are hereby instructed to log out of your sub-50k ID account and create a new one, never to log into droleary again.

    • Re:Yawn (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Eightyford (893696)
      Why should the fact that the demand is driven by games make it anything different than it is in other industries?

      Because it's a game! The exact same thing could be acomplished with a usergold+=50000 command... it's crazy! What a waste of man-power.
      • Re:Yawn (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Red Flayer (890720)
        Yeah, just devalue the game currency so fast you'll lose all your subscribers.

        It's entertainment. Just like so many industries we waste countless hours on, like literature, or movies.

        Why doesn't everyone spend every minute of their time producing hard goods, after all, everything else is a waste of manpower? Do you think, then, that all service industries are a waste of manpower?

        If I buy farmed gold in a game, I'm just trading my capital for their time. And since my capital is (unfortunately) deriv
      • Because it's a game! The exact same thing could be acomplished with a usergold+=50000 command...

        Yes, you could do this in a single-player game running on your own computer. However, in a multi-player game where you can't just go and patch your own character to have godlike powers, this is not a viable option.

        it's crazy! What a waste of man-power.

        Why so? If you actually consider the player's investment in time and money, it starts to make more sense.

        If I subscribe to a game and have to pay $10/mont
        • Why so? If you actually consider the player's investment in time and money, it starts to make more sense.

          I think the OP's point is that it is a waste because it is so easy for someone with "godlike powers" to flip the bits. It would make a hell of a lot more sense for the company running to game to have a public exchange rate for in-game currency and handle the transactions themselves. Of course, there is a handy insulation that having farmers provides.

          It would be much more reasonable to pay som

          • Yes, and the only question is who that "someone else" is going to be

            Once you start having real value involved (in this case, monthly fees), you suddenly have real-world economics being involved, whether or not the game manufacturer wants that or not. This could even be a dynamic in games without monthly fees, but in which much time and effort must be invested. Some companies are getting wise to this and actually offering additional in-game resources to be purchased for real-world currency. Some are even
            • Once you start having real value involved (in this case, monthly fees), you suddenly have real-world economics being involved, whether or not the game manufacturer wants that or not.

              The funny part is that it is not all that sudden (the world's oldest profession comes to mind :-), so you have to wonder why the companies are against it. It's the basic economics of exchanging goods and services, and it's no more "virtual" than the trade and currency exchange between countries.

              Some companies are gett

  • by Seumas (6865) on Thursday December 08, 2005 @03:40PM (#14212981)
    I'm sure I will have the support of my fellow tech industry slashdot brothers when I say how horrible this is. Why are we, gaming geeks that we are, tolerating the export of good old American jobs to China?! There are people in this country perfectly capable and willing to earn a living farming our gold, but we ship it overseas just for a few extra bucks worth of savings and avoidance of OSHA ordinances? This is a TRAVESTY!!!
  • by tansey (238786)
    My friend is an addicted WoW player and was friends with a gold farmer from a poor area of China. From what he has told me, the $20-$30 or so they make a day by gold farming is more than they could get working at a real job.
  • An Analogy... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sugar Moose (686011) on Thursday December 08, 2005 @03:55PM (#14213151) Journal
    Imagine for a moment that Blizzard ran an amusement park instead of an online game. While waiting in line for a ride, you notice when one guy gets to the front, he does not go on the ride. He sells his spot to someone else and that person goes on the ride instead.

    From a legal standpoint, you know Blizzard made everyone sign agreements that they would not transfer their spot in line to anyone else. What's more, you know Blizzard does not allow customers to run any business of any kind within their park. When confronted, the "line-farmer" says that he isn't selling the ride, he's selling his time spent waiting in line. I'm not a lawyer, so I can't tell you who is legally right.

    From a moral standpoint, you might be thinking, only one person went before me, what do I care who it was? You see the line for one awesome ride is over eight hours long, and you think, I can certainly understand why someone would pay a line-farmer to go on that right away instead of waiting. Eight hours is a long time, a lot of people wouldn't even be able to go on that ride without paying.

    What you don't see is that there are hundreds of line-farmers waiting in every line in the park. Wait times for all rides have quadrupled because they are all bloated by line-farmers. Remember that awesome ride with the eight hour line? You could have gone on that after just an hour wait if not for the line-farmers. They aren't providing a nice service, they are screwing you out of a part of the experience you already paid for, and then charging you money to get that part back.

    Farmers in online games don't just "give people a chance to experience stuff they normally wouldn't be able to." They wreck the in-game economy and then charge you real money to be able to play the game like you should. Do you want to know why that sword hasn't dropped after 100 kills? It's because some jerk item farmer kills 10,000 every single week, and the developers have had to drastically reduce the droprate to prevent the item from being common. You know why you can't afford to buy that pair of boots? Because gold farmers have driven the price of all items way up past what a normal player can afford.

    People complain about $15 a month being too much, but they don't care that others out there are ruining that game experience to make a quick buck. That's just crazy.
    • What you don't see is that there are hundreds of line-farmers waiting in every line in the park. Wait times for all rides have quadrupled because they are all bloated by line-farmers. Remember that awesome ride with the eight hour line? You could have gone on that after just an hour wait if not for the line-farmers. They aren't providing a nice service, they are screwing you out of a part of the experience you already paid for, and then charging you money to get that part back.

      For those of you having a
    • I want to first of agree the idea of anyone farming for gold and selling it for real life $ is just dumb. I have been an avid MMORPG player since there was only BBS games, but enough of my history. I find that the $ farmers ruin the experience for others but from a legal stand point I am not sure if the selling of the $ is illegal for the person to do in the game, because as someone has already stated they can say they aren't selling the $ they are giving the $ to the purchaser but they purchased their ti
    • When I go to the amusement park, I shell out the extra 50 to get the front of the line pass, offered at just about every amusement park these days. Well worth it.
      • My former employer rents out amusement/theme parks for the annual company picnic. One year it was at Universal Studios (CA) where we were given wristbands and got to enjoy the park for the entire day. At 6PM, everyone without a wristband had to leave, giving employees of the company exclusive use of the park until Midnight.

        The following year it was held at Six Flags Magic Mountain with the same deal. Regular customers had to leave at 6PM. I wouldn't want to be one of those regular customers on a family tr

    • Re:An Analogy... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Wilson_6500 (896824)
      Though I can't prove it, I'd be willing to bet that someone who purchases their way to the front of the line in your analogy will also have missed the safety lecture. Not knowing to buckle his harness, the rider will fly out of the car and injure or at least seriously inconvenience other riders.

      It's hard for me to believe that someone who leaps over the early stages will be as competent a party member as someone who has ground their way to the top. What is there then for the level-99 newbie to do? With w
      • Why couldn't that person then hire a party? Spend some money and go out a create some mayhem with a goon squad of 99th level players making 35 cents an hour.
      • Frankly, I think a game should encourage a player to make do with what they have or can get their hands upon without Herculean effort--like the old D&D spirit of using role-playing and cleverness (_player_ characteristics) to overcome deficiencies in a _character's_ skills and attributes. MMOs that I've seen boil down to getting numbers up high in order to play the game the "right" way.

        All computer RPGs have this problem. The reason is simple: the computer has no idea of what's going on. It simply

        • It seems to me that besides the practical limit of the computer side of things, designers don't do much to try and "clever up" their system. But in a sense it really comes down to a problem with the players. The MMO player collective consciousness ferrets out the most efficient ways of doing things, and then the world sees a new expectation that everyone rise up to that standard. It's not a measure of the system reacting intelligently to the player, as if a real DM were playing--that's not even possible in
      • It's hard for me to believe that someone who leaps over the early stages will be as competent a party member as someone who has ground their way to the top. What is there then for the level-99 newbie to do?

        This makes sense the very first time you play. But once you have worked a character up from the cradle to superhero via months of painstaking play, and you decide to create a new character, should you be required to have to go through all that painful process again?

        I used to painstakingly watch every
        • Honestly, you make a pretty good point. I never thought any MMO stuck around long enough for people to be _so_ into it that they'd pay real money to effectively change classes. But that makes sense. Still, though--and I KNOW this is a truism--but getting rid of the grind would make leveling up fun again.

          Hey, I guess FFXI did one thing right: job change! I always did like that about FFXI, even though all your levels besides your current first and second jobs meant nothing--no paralytic fear of spending fo
          • And, uh, no offense at all intended, but how does a guy take pains to watch someone pull a safety belt snug and breathe into a plastic mask?

            Well, reading the same safety sheet dozens of times, and watching the flight attendants demonstrate how to fasten a seat belt dozens of times, etc. etc. does seem to be a waste of time after a while.

            I also used to find this very annoying about arcade video games - you always had to start at level one, and play the same ridiculously easy and boring levels over and
    • The nice thing about WoW is that the gold farmers can only camp lines for the crappy rides. All the best things in the game require skill to acquire, as well as cohesive teamwork. If you haven't bothered to learn how to play, or pay money to "get stuff," you will *not* have the best gear, nor is it likely that people will want play alongside of you.
    • by Shivetya (243324) on Thursday December 08, 2005 @04:47PM (#14213605) Homepage Journal
      Let them farm gold, let those who want to buy gold do so. Farmers don't ruin games. Games are ruined by poor design and implementation.

      Face it, the one commodity these developers refuse to code around is time. Those who can invest a large amount of time come out of ahead. The problem in these environments is the way things are implemented in most MMORPGs money is a driving force in the game. It only stands to reason that if you have more time to invest in the game the more money you can have. As such the ability of some people to play the game for long hours tips the balance of the game. Since the developers love to create money sinks and tweak them to keep the supply and demand where they want them they will invariably harm those with the least means. The in game economy is wrecked far before any farmer sets foot in the game. The farmer exists because people are trying to exist in this artificial economy and they don't have the one resource needed for it, time.

      Gold Farmers merely point out the flaw of the game. If it so damn important that someone can make real world cash off of it the developers should instead find methods to reduce the importance instead of wasting time trying stop the actual sale. My analogy, stopping gold sales by going after the farmers is like closing plants to reduce the number of cars you build so you don't get stuck with too many unsold. The gold farmers exist because you failed to create a system where people with inordinate amounts of game time cannot dictate the economy. The cars remain unsold on the lot not because you make to many but because your goal wasn't to make them more popular and thereby sell more. Both ignore the hard issues. The gold farmer can be defeated by finding ways to remove the exaggerated affect "lifers" have on game economies and you can sell cars once you realize that that is the real goal.
      • The sentiment of your post steps on two of my pet peeves.

        First, the attitude of the "entitlement" generation. Most people of my generation seem to think that a job is something employers owe them, and their pay is something employers have no right to withold from them. The don't care if they help the business or not, if it fourishes or fails, and they certainly aren't putting in any effort they don't absolutely have to. When raise time comes around, they expect to be given more than someone that has been
        • I don't think anyone is entitled to anything. Certainly not success in a game.

          The key difference in my view and others is I do not think it is wrong to prevent people from buying their way through an online game by trading their money for the time they do not have. This has nothing to do with entitlement. Games are recreational. By default many recreational activities cost money. Some cost a large amount. Spending money on a game does not need to stop at the box or monthly subscription. It should tot
      • "Face it, the one commodity these developers refuse to code around is time. "

        And those who rely on monthly subscription fees (I believe everybody except AO and Guild Wars at this point) never will. Because the longer it takes to get to the top, the longer someone will keep paying their monthly subscription fee.

        There's a reason it takes almost no time to max a character in Guild Wars compared to WoW.


    • Farmers in online games don't just "give people a chance to experience stuff they normally wouldn't be able to." They wreck the in-game economy and then charge you real money to be able to play the game like you should.

      IMO most game economies are "wrecked" in their fundamental design.
      WoW, for example, forces players to create items to skill up.
      Players want to skill up quickly, so they are willing to pay for the privilege of making stuff.
      Thus, two effects; the price of raw materials becomes higher than the

      • To use the line analogy, since farmers are only 10% of the people in the park, they can't make the lines more than 10% longer.

        unfortunately, the theme park line analogy doesn't hold up here. although they may only make up a tiny percentage of the population, the farmers (could potentially) create a large percentage of the gold in existence in the game world, thus contributing to the destruction of the game economy. firstly, the farmers are not constrained by trying to enjoy their experience. they will em
    • They wreck the in-game economy and then charge you real money to be able to play the game like you should. Do you want to know why that sword hasn't dropped after 100 kills? It's because some jerk item farmer kills 10,000 every single week, and the developers have had to drastically reduce the droprate to prevent the item from being common. You know why you can't afford to buy that pair of boots? Because gold farmers have driven the price of all items way up past what a normal player can afford.

      The game eco
  • by Anonymous Coward
    MMORPGs, for the most part, revolve around fetching items. The reason items and gold are so rare is because time spend farming = money for Blizzard. This keeps people playing for months at a time, and gives Blizzard millions of dollars.

    The main reason people play MMOs for any length of time is low drop rates. The games themselves are not that fun; for example, if a dungeon didnt drop anything no one would go. If you can advance your character you'll keep playing.

    In reality players are "working" to have
    • My question is, once you've equipped your great new item, what are you going to do with it? Take a screenshot?

      Getting the items IS the game, and buying them online is just fast forwarding to the credits. You obviously hate playing the game, why don't you quit? The better way to "stick it to Blizzard" might be to stop giving them your money.

      I think it's just crazy enough to work.
      • My question is, once you've equipped your great new item, what are you going to do with it? Take a screenshot?

        WoW has a PvP part - they'll use it to gain some small advantage in PvP. Or maybe some small advantage in PvE.

        The items make your character more powerful, and in the end, that's really all there is to do in most MMORPGs. So people are willing to spend money to skip the "boring" time parts and just get the item so they can have more fun in some other section of the game.

        Think of it this way:

      • Some people perceive that PVP is the game, and getting the items is just an obstacle to their fun.

        I distinctly remember that a long while back, populations were insanely high on PVP servers. in fact, 14 out of the top 15 most-highly-populated servers were PVP servers.

        So evidently the "bump & grind" isn't for everyone.

        Speaking as an economics student, I can only say that it looks more like there's an unsatisfied demand, and these "gold farmers" are providing it. The only "solution" is to make it easier
  • by Chemisor (97276) on Thursday December 08, 2005 @05:07PM (#14213757)
    To my programmer's mind the problem seems to be in the game rather than in the politics. If people don't want to wade through hundreds of boring hours of leveling up before they are allowed to do anything interesting, the logical solution is to fix the game so that they wouldn't have to. When will MMOG writers figure out that nobody wants to kill rats for a living?
    • Well, Guild Wars did a pretty good job on this side. lv 20 max, and fast to gain. And you can even begin a pvp char that begin at lv20. You still have to find many special item to unlock with a real char if you want to equip those on your PVP char, but there is also regular equipment.
    • If people don't want to wade through hundreds of boring hours of leveling up before they are allowed to do anything interesting, the logical solution is to fix the game so that they wouldn't have to. When will MMOG writers figure out that nobody wants to kill rats for a living?

      My thoughts were to copy what Ultima Online had going for its test servers for a while back in 2000. Players go through a gate and it allocates points for a template. No worrying about trying to gain stats... You just grabbed a weapon
  • The International Herald Tribune, of all places, has an in-depth look at gold farming in China.


    Really? I'd like to read that, instead of the fluff piece linked to in this article.

Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth. -- Nero Wolfe

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