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The Almighty Buck Entertainment Games

The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer 553

Posted by Zonk
from the no-glam-no-fun dept.
An anonymous reader writes "This weekend's New York Times Magazine puts a human face to the 'gold farming' profession. Virtual world economist Julian Dibbell travels to Nanjing, China, for a look at the working conditions and first-hand experience of farming gold from virtual monsters as a way to make a living. From the article: 'At the end of each shift, Li reports the night's haul to his supervisor, and at the end of the week, he, like his nine co-workers, will be paid in full. For every 100 gold coins he gathers, Li makes 10 yuan, or about $1.25, earning an effective wage of 30 cents an hour, more or less. The boss, in turn, receives $3 or more when he sells those same coins to an online retailer, who will sell them to the final customer (an American or European player) for as much as $20. The small commercial space Li and his colleagues work in -- two rooms, one for the workers and another for the supervisor -- along with a rudimentary workers' dorm, a half-hour's bus ride away, are the entire physical plant of this modest $80,000-a-year business.'"
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The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer

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  • what is bad about gold farming? well, it allows some rich asshole to buy his way into a game he should have worked hard at. it destroys the concept of a meritocracy, and replaces it with aristocracy. hwever, there is no financial replacement for real skill. and so any such bad player behind a high level avatar will rapidly become apparent: a joke

    furthermore, what is good about gold farming? well, some guy in china is actually feeding himself on the effort. this matters a whole hell of a lot more than some stupid game and the feelings of the players of that game in my book. real life survival is a whole hell of a lot more important than the romance of a MMORPG

    so i vote: gold farming is fine by me

  • by Palmyst (1065142) on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:14PM (#19554015)
    I have no problem with some Chinese people making money off of selling "farmed gold" to rich gamers in the West, but the fact that more than 90% of what the customer pays goes to middlemen, rather than the "farmer", in a set of transactions conducted entirely on the internet is rather rankling.
  • by realmolo (574068) on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:15PM (#19554035)
    I completely agree. Seriously.

    Who, really, is getting hurt by gold-farming? I mean, we're talking about a game, after all. And it's not even a game with PRIZES. It's not even a game you can WIN. What could the gold farmers possibly be taking away from other players, besides time? Time which they are spending on a GAME that they aren't obligated to play.

  • Well in the case of something non-trivial, like the military, the reason why it's a Bad Thing is because then you end up with some rich incompetent running something that they have no business running. Which is not to say that the military is anything like a meritocracy in its current form, but it's a little better than cash-on-the-barrel-head.

    That general point is true of more trivial activities, like games; if you destroy the meritocratic aspects in favor of pay-to-play (really, pay-to-advance; you already have to pay to play!) then you'll end up with a worse result, in most cases, overall. The difference due to putting people with either less skill, or less interest, in higher positions than they would otherwise occupy.
  • 100 gold coins takes this guy Li 4 hours to come across. He gets paid $0.30 for it. I pay the end seller $5 for the same 1 hour of coins (25 gold coins). So I'm basically saving myself 1 hour (or more, if Li is extra-efficient) for the low cost of $5. Sounds like a winning situation for me.

    As for Li, it sounds like a good place to start also. It's a new market, and in all new markets people have to work for peas (or less) to until the market breaks open. We might see Li running his own show in 5 years (or we may not).

    Until then, he gets to work indoors, on a computer, smoke as much as he wants (try that in the US!), and learn a skill that some may consider mundane, but shows a helluva lot of marketability with a longterm and bright future. Now it sounds like a win-win situation.
  • by Shambly (1075137) on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:19PM (#19554093)
    I really like the part where he was saying that he was making less money as a vehicle repairman. It really brings the discrepency of money accross the world to light. Although the shifts seems fairly excessive they seem to be able to live off of it decently. I really have a problem seing the downside to it. Besides the fear of taxation and policing by the providers of the game. They are providing a service for a fee. If people weren't willing to pay for it they wouldn't exist. Inflation works both ways. If people with more money buy the best gear its easy for the people not willing to pay up for their gold to make a lot of money selling the gear they get for profit. Really isn't it about finding what makes the game fun for you and doing that part of it?
  • No problems here (Score:4, Insightful)

    by OrangeTide (124937) on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:19PM (#19554097) Homepage Journal
    If it were my game I would not mind that people were gold farming. But I don't own it, Blizzard does, so they get to define what the rules are. Although I think it's pointless to fight things like gold farming, it would seem more practical to embrace it and have some control over it. (like set up a currency exchange rate for it).

    One thing gold farming does is exploit a weakness in a games economic system. Which can introduce imbalance through inflation. But this is countered somewhat because NPCs don't participate in the free market and have (generally) fixed pricing. But the price for things you can't buy from an NPC just sky rockets as the gold farming persists. the buying power of your gold will just keep going down as long as it is easy to get. just shell out the price of two months subscription and you are set for a good deal of time on gold, at least for normal in-game purchases.
  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:20PM (#19554121)

    You need to hire your own Chinese guys to farm gold for you! There's a 1600% markup on Chinese gold, if you go through the retailer.

  • by Speare (84249) on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:24PM (#19554191) Homepage Journal

    well, it allows some rich asshole to buy his way into a game he should have worked hard at. it destroys the concept of a meritocracy, and replaces it with aristocracy. hwever, there is no financial replacement for real skill. and so any such bad player behind a high level avatar will rapidly become apparent: a joke

    I think of it this way: a rich guy buys a top-of-the-line $5000 Digital SLR camera, and then he takes fifteen snapshots of his beagle, and doesn't really scream when his silver-spoon daughter drops it down the country club's marble terrace staircase a couple months later. The guy was a boor when he showed off this camera to his friend, who busted his ass to get through photojournalism school with a $500 camera. The guy was a boor when he recounted the complete "horror" story of how the insurance company denied his claim for full replacement. But you know he'll buy another $5000 camera when that beagle has her pups.

    How has this honestly changed the profession of photography? His friend probably felt uncomfortable with the rich man's effortless and pointless consumerism, but his friend wasn't actually denied other opportunities when it came right down to it.

    The MMORPG is a smaller economy but it works the same way. The real issue is the design of that game, and whether it can withstand such tilted gamesmanship. If the gold farmers or the insta-knighthood characters are really clogging up the playground by camping at all the spawn points and inflating the price of dragon eyeballs, then I would point to the playground designers, not the farmers and not the insta-knights.

  • by Winckle (870180) <mark.winckle@co@uk> on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:26PM (#19554227) Homepage
    is to not play.
  • My two copper. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:29PM (#19554269) Homepage
    I both love and loathe gold/item farmers. First, the reasons why I loathe them (most of these should be obvious to anyone that plays any MMO...I will stick to WoW since that is what most people play) For one, it helps to drive low-level blue prices to completely INSANE levels. Yes, I am aware that this is also because of twinks, but I am quite sure many people twink their toons out with gold that they have purchased. A general increase in the cost of everything (due to more players having gold in hand) also occurs...thus you have speed potions which sell for as high as 10 gold per stack of 5 on some servers, etc. Farmers also inevitably make it harder for a player to farm for him/herself; I like farming the same places they do for the same reasons that they do! Now, for why I love them. As previously stated, someone on the other end is indeed being fed and kept warm because of gold farming...Blizzard makes even more money due to the multiple account purchases meaning they have more money to invest back into the game. Gold farmers also help increase the supply of items on the AH (unfortunately, they are generally overpriced though...) All in all, the biggest issue I have with it are people standing in the cities with an incomprehensible name spamming of /say adverts for various gold-selling sites. If it weren't for the in-game economic impact (which isn't as drastic as people think it is) and the /say spam, I frankly wouldn't have a problem with WoW farmers at ALL. Besides. It makes it easy to tell if someone actually PLAYS the game or not (Hint: if they are decked out in BoE blues/purples, they don't play the game.)
  • by metrometro (1092237) on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:34PM (#19554369)
    Here's a challenge to all of Slashdot: Cut out the middlemen.

    Gold-farming isn't going away, but at least it could be a positive social force, fighting global inequality while building IT capacity in the developing world. As it is, most of the money is going to middlemen. But the product is virtual, and we can bring farmers to markets at potentially no cost. If 100 gold (or whatever the unit) retails for $20 in the west, then let's transfer that money into technology cooperatives in developing countries, who use their non-gaming hours to provide email, web access and other vital resources to their communities. Wouldn't you rather buy 'gold' from a fair trade source? Given the enormous markup, it might even lower prices. And here's the kicker: A community center could have kids playing for free in exchange for donating "gold" to pay the bills. Along the way, maybe they take attend a class on HTML programming, and start thinking more like IT professionals than farmers. Suddenly buying "gold" starts feeling a lot less exploitive.

    So have at it:
    1) We need a web portal to connect buyers and sellers directly. Can ebay do it? If not, how?
    2) We need to explore a certification model, such as TransFair USA's fair trade certified produce.
    3) We need a start-up information kit with instruction on how to open a community technology center (such as Room to Read's), but financed by gold farming.
    4) We need a micro-credit source to pay for hardware and software.
    5) We need a marketing movement within the gaming community.

     
  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:37PM (#19554421) Journal
    If the game is so badly designed that it's more fun to pay someone else to do 90% of the playing for you, then I can't help but wonder why people play it at all.
  • by dc29A (636871) * on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:45PM (#19554587)
    I completely agree. Seriously.

    Who, really, is getting hurt by gold-farming? I mean, we're talking about a game, after all. And it's not even a game with PRIZES. It's not even a game you can WIN. What could the gold farmers possibly be taking away from other players, besides time? Time which they are spending on a GAME that they aren't obligated to play.


    There is much more than meets the eye about the negative effects of gold farming.

    In MMO games there is a lot of space shared by players. If player X is killing mobs in the same area as me, we'll have to share or fight for spawns, that's fine if we both use ingame tools. Now enter gold farmer with bots, insane knowledge of spawn patterns and times, and you won't find mobs to kill. In WoW for example, you can go around in zones and mine ore for your weapon that you want to craft as a blacksmith. Good luck, gold farmers are on ore veins the moment they appear. Gold farmers make it nearly impossible in many cases for legitimate players to collect items/resources/gold for themselves because gold farmers can (and do) monopolize entire regions of the game. People who played WoW can surely remember zones like Tyr's Hand being perma camped 24h a day by gold farmers.

    Also, every time an exploit or bug is found, gold farmers exploit it massively and force the game company to bring down servers and fix them causing downtime for players. Not to mention you can kiss the game economy good bye. How many games have had their economy ruined because of gold farmers. Gold farmers abusing bugs/exploits not just flood the economy, they have no problems in griefing players (Final Fantasy Online) and monopolizing game content (WoW). Even if they get banned, they are back operating within hours. To them a ban from game is the cost of doing business, just like Microsoft and lawsuits against it.

    And finally, in game currency can be used to gain advantage in PvP (buying gear, potions, consumables). PvP is competitive, maybe you don't care because it's a "game" but some people care because they want a leveled playing field. You know, having a game that's fair and fun ...

    Gold farmers are a cancer to MMO games. Some people might not care, but these people negatively impact everyone's enjoyment of the game, be it because they destroy economies or hack or monopolize content. It's not healthy for games.
  • Inaccurate (Score:2, Insightful)

    by WapoStyle (639758) on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:46PM (#19554597)
    I stopped reading at "Night-Elf Wizards" Anyone who plays knows that Night Elves cannot be wizards. I don't care of the focus of the article is somewhere else, if they over looked that detail, how many other details did the reporter overlook? I despise inaccurate information.
  • by traycerb (728174) on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:51PM (#19554693)
    ...that people pay to avoid it? It's interesting; skill in other games in non-transferable. You can't sell people your muscle memory from playing an FPS or fighting game. I don't see anything wrong w/ gold farming, and I don't see it subverting a 'meritocracy.' It's just circumventing time spent, to which we should be asking: why are we making/playing such laborious games?
  • and... (Score:3, Insightful)

    some guy is putting food on his plate for all of that

    increase the spam 100%, decrease the game experience 100% for regular players, etc.

    i am completely unmoved

    why?

    just one, just ONE guy who is FEEDING himself on a gold farming effort is a whole HELL of a lot more important to me than 100,000 rich kids leading idle pointless lives playing a stupid computer game

    and you ARE rich, by ANY world standard if you have ANY time to play WoW for leisure

    so frankly, i couldn't care one fucking tiny bit out of any of the concerns outlined above, if the cost of in-game frustration and lack of a quality experience is framed against a poor guy feeding himself

    in. the. REAL. WORLD

    you realize the real world is way more important than any MMORPG according to ANY measure, right?

  • by stevenhebert (604012) on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:56PM (#19554775)
    Simply because the simple fact that you can get away with something doesn't give you the right to do.
    We are all capable to kill, does that give us the right to do so?
  • Blame the game! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by badboy_tw2002 (524611) on Monday June 18, 2007 @01:58PM (#19554815)
    The problem with these types of games is that in their effort to be "massive" they link everyone together in the same type of game with the same type of players. Associating "worth" with your character's stats and fake digital possesions has been the bane of these types of games (and even going back to some MUDs, Telearena, BBS, etc). You will get a good crop of obsessive "gotta have it all" type players, but it really alienates the casual type of player who might like to have access to the high-level content but doesn't have the same amount of time as everyone else. Now, you're saying, "well, that's fine, he'll just take longer to get there", but in a PvP world, you're behind the curve if you're not on all the time raiding with your guild. Really what they need to do is set up "weight classes" for players. Let some servers have time limits on the amount of stuff you can do per day - BBSs used to have thsi stuff out of necessity, but I think actually only allowing an hour or two online on a server would keep things fair and more interesting to casual players. People who want a more "immersive" experience can play on the "heavyweight" servers and spend as much time online as they want. Other things that could help would be adopting a more Eve like approach to skills where you earn them per day, but maybe tweaking it a bit so the power players can still level up by doing tasks, etc. I just think MMORPG makers need to think a bit more about the casual gamer who really doesn't want to spend all day online - 5-10 hours a week for busy people with jobs, families, other hobbies, etc. There's a lot of money to be made from subscriptions outside of the hardcore, powergamer scene.
  • by Rakishi (759894) on Monday June 18, 2007 @02:11PM (#19555059)
    Except thats NOT what is happening. The proper analogy is your friend spending $50 on a really nice bowling ball while you use the one from the bowling alley.
  • yeah... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by biscon (942763) on Monday June 18, 2007 @02:17PM (#19555155)
    as long as you're not Li
  • by _Sprocket_ (42527) on Monday June 18, 2007 @02:38PM (#19555511)

    How has this honestly changed the profession of photography? His friend probably felt uncomfortable with the rich man's effortless and pointless consumerism, but his friend wasn't actually denied other opportunities when it came right down to it.


    The boor with the $5000 camera is in no way competing with the up-and-coming professional with his $500 camera. So sure - there's no impact to the profession. Moot point.


    The MMORPG is a smaller economy but it works the same way. The real issue is the design of that game, and whether it can withstand such tilted gamesmanship. If the gold farmers or the insta-knighthood characters are really clogging up the playground by camping at all the spawn points and inflating the price of dragon eyeballs, then I would point to the playground designers, not the farmers and not the insta-knights.


    I agree to a large extent. Good game design goes a long way. However, ultimately you have to deal with the very nature of the game. At some point you have to allow for rewarding luck and (to a larger extent) time with some sort of gains. If you want to maintain a social structure... you have to allow for trading of some form of token. As soon as you do these two things, you'll have individuals looking for a short-cut and a market willing to supply them with one. Once that shortcut involves influences outside the game, then are you really playing the game any more? Or are you simply cheating?
  • by manifoldronin (827401) on Monday June 18, 2007 @02:51PM (#19555703)

    Persons of wealth buying the positions (in the Church and in the Armed Services) isn't something that happened (or happens) in tribal societies - nor (in the Western) world does it happen today. (It was largely wiped out in the late 1800's to early 1900's.) It was rare in feudal Japan and virtually nonexistent in classical China.
    Please define "classical". There are historical records going back to as far as the Han Dynasty of emperors or powerful ministers literally selling government positions. The same happened repeatedly in almost all the following dynasties as they drew to their respective end.
  • by vux984 (928602) on Monday June 18, 2007 @03:17PM (#19556131)
    It's the way of the world and always has been.

    Thing is, see, this isn't the world. Its a game. Games have always been distorted to an extent by financial interests, but games always *resist* this distortion. In theory the fastest man wins the 100 yard dash, not the richest, the best chess player wins the tournament, not the richest, etc.

    Sure these players use their wealth to their advantage. They don't have to work other jobs, they can hire coaches, and personal trainers etc... but on the PLAYING FIELD, its just them. That is part of the appeal of games.

    Nobody wants to play a game that simply rolls over to rich folks paying for *in-game* advantages. Its one thing to buy books about the game, hire someone to learn to be a better player, buy a faster computer, or to have enough money not to need to work so you can spend more time playing the game. Its something else to just buy advantages INSIDE the game.

    In chess for example, no matter how much wealth you've expended in honing your ability to play the game itself you still can't drop a thousand bucks in someones pocket and add another queen to your side. Its simply against the rules. And that's all a game is -- a set of arbitrary rules. If you disregard the rules there is no point to playing the game.

    If you want to disregard some of the rules, that's a different game. And its ok to play different games under any rules you want, but if you are playing the game with someone else, you can't just decide to which rules you want to ignore mid-stream whether they want to or not.

    In other words, if you want to play games that let you buy your in game items, fine, find or start a game that allows it and play it. But don't play games that don't allow it and then break the rules.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 18, 2007 @03:18PM (#19556149)
    That's part of the problem but there are two more. Let's examine this by seeing what happens if Blizzard were to sell gold or endorse gold farmers.

    The first is the legal system: A player now has a reasonable expectation to the gold on their account. This has two meanings. The first is that if the server were to ever go down or be banned then Blizzard is denying you your property and access to it. In other words, Blizzard has just "stolen" from the player. The other is Blizzard would have to start protecting that gold as an asset against theft and fraud and all that entails. Recently in EVE, a player ran a scam to take money from other players. If that money was tied to 'real' money then that player could be charged with fraud and theft.

    The second is the banking system: Banks have to go through a lot of hoops because they hold people's assets. By tying real money to their money, Blizzard could be expected to start acting like a bank. This can include everything from data retention, transaction monitoring, international banking laws, fraud protection, personal security screening, redundant servers, near 100% access, etc.

    Ultimately there is one major reason why Blizzard will not sell or support selling of virtual gold: Control. Currently, Blizzard can do anything they want, including banning players for little to no reason, and the player truly has no recourse. Especially if the account is worth nothing (After all it's a service and NOT an asset). Transversely, if it was worth USD 1,000 then a person can take Blizzard to small claims court and expect a judgment. Current court argument, "We can stop, suspend, alter or modify service at anytime since it is a pay per play services. The account is not an object of value and is the property of Blizzard." If money was tied to the account, "The account is an object of value owned by the player who cannot be denied access to it without due process. Blizzard is expected due diligence in maintaining and protecting the object and ensuring all applicable laws are adhered to."
  • by iceperson (582205) on Monday June 18, 2007 @03:54PM (#19556675)
    Whether your giving someone $$$ or farming yourself you're "paying" for the gold.

    I'm curious though, do you wonder why the guy who takes his Ferrari to someone else to get it detailed bought it in the first place?
    What about the person who has someone else do all of their pool maintenance?
    For many gold farming is one aspect of a game they don't consider "fun" but other aspects are enjoyable enough that they are willing to part with $$$ so that when they log in they can focus on the things they like to do.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday June 18, 2007 @03:56PM (#19556719) Homepage Journal
    I'm fascinated by how racist right-wingers denigrate the very word "folks" by using it to describe peoples they don't like (ie not their own). And how it's "leftists" who make the welfare state, not rightwingers who keep people down by offering them addictive welfare instead of funding education, healthcare, childcare, proper credit, crime prevention... Do you have as much to say about rightwingers pumping $billions into corporate welfare (greater than individual welfare) and other wealth redistribution primarily to Republican states and their crony corporations?

    And how they know welfare recipients won't work for extra money if they can get away with it, like by recycling cans, hauling trash, babysitting, and maybe gold farming.

    Do you actually know the finances of these "cat people" you claim you know?
  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Monday June 18, 2007 @04:32PM (#19557123)
    The problem is that these games have taken a leisure activity and then stretched out the time to play them artificially to where there is not much fun for some activities.

    The 22 hours I put into getting my "jboots" was just a pointless and artificial limit to slow the rate jboots entered the game. People who could play 12 hours at a stretch got jboots in about 11 hours-- those of us who played shorter periods often took longer to get the same rewards.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 18, 2007 @04:40PM (#19557207)
    Unfortunately, people farming gold leads to gold-selling operations, and that leads to people buying gold, and that leads to competition, which leads to a pressure to bring the price down.

    Let's put that in cold perspective.

    "For every 100 gold coins he gathers, Li makes 10 yuan, or about $1.25, earning an effective wage of 30 cents an hour, more or less. The boss, in turn, receives $3 or more when he sells those same coins to an online retailer, who will sell them to the final customer (an American or European player) for as much as $20."
    $20 for 100 gold? Which planet are you living on? IGE is the biggest and arguably the most expensive, because they tend to shy away from affiliates which use excessive numbers of bots and account hacking. Even there, however, $20 would get you about 200 gold. Go to the shadier sites, however, and you'll find $20 would get you almost 400 gold; in one case, nearly 1000 gold.

    Odd, that, isn't it? You couldn't possibly hire even a Chinese gold farmer for that kind of wage. So what's going on?

    Simple. Someone used a handier and much cheaper way of obtaining gold than by hiring Chinese people; steal it from another player.

    All those keyloggers on the WoW forums and buried in advertisements to some sites, with web browser exploits attached? Yup, that's right.

    To a black-hat, right now, a stolen login and password to a World of Warcraft account is worth more than a stolen credit card number, and it's a lot easier to sell on to an affiliate.

    That's where we're at now - people buying gold are directly funding the creation of malware... Still feeling good about it? Thought not.
  • by CharAznable (702598) on Monday June 18, 2007 @05:58PM (#19558077)
    I support any consensual transaction between two people, as long as it doesn't hurt any third party. Some dude in China is making a living and allowing some lazy rich dude in the USA save himself some boring grinding. I don't see anything wrong with that. If anything, it only means that the game is so poorly made that in order to succeed you need to waste your time doing mindnumbing, soulcrushing repetitive tasks that people are willing to pay not to do. And if you are a MMO player and you think that your enjoyment of a broken, poorly designed game is so important that you want to deny someone the chance to earn a living, then you need to blame the designers for making such a system possible, and yourself for totally buying into it. Myself, I made the choice to not play anymore.
  • by PMBjornerud (947233) on Monday June 18, 2007 @07:00PM (#19558755)

    Paying someone else to perform what is supposed to be a leisure activity, because one finds a large portion of the game to be tedious seems like the height of stupidity.
    Or the height of bad game design.

    No matter how you look at this, subscribers are paying money to avoid playing parts of the game. How much sense does that make?!?
  • by nixkuroi (569546) on Monday June 18, 2007 @10:31PM (#19560545)
    That's just ONE shop. There are probably a hundred of them that all sell to the retailer. 80k for one shop might not be that far from the truth.

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