Inside World of Warcraft Gold Farm, Future of Work

82 Comments

If you want a glimpse of the future of work in the broadband age, you can find it, of all places, on MTV’s website. To my knowledge, their recent gaming news segment, “Is Mining Virtual Gold Exploitative?” features the first video footage shot inside Chinese gold farms, those gray market companies which collect and sell virtual gold (primarily from World of Warcraft) to wealthier gamers in the developed world. (The New York Times filed a story on the phenomenon last year, but company managers were considerably more leery to speak on record with that reporter.)

Drawing from an fascinating upcoming documentary by UC San Diego grad student Ge Jin (YouTube clip from his film here), the MTV segment features interviews with workers and managers of several gold farms, which resemble a cross between a 24 hour LAN party and a very shabby college dorm. By the segment’s estimate, an astounding half million Chinese now make a living – about $100 a month – from the acquisition and sale of WoW gold to US and EU gamers.
Why is this is the future of work online? Consider the numbers, youth, and low wages of the gold farmers, and the growing interest in outsourcing tasks online. Amazon recently launched a non-game application for this, known as the Amazon Mechanical Turk.

In Second Life, a Hollywood production company is outsourcing its Second Life projects to its Vietnamese branch, where highly-skilled workers can create professional 3D environments for a fraction of the cost, were it done here. It’s easy to see how the Chinese farmers of Warcraft might evolve into the blue collar workers of the 3D Internet.

MTV producer Matt Sunbulli put us in touch with Ge Jin, and we asked him about this phenomenon, and sought his own thoughts on its relation to the future of work online.

How did you locate these gold farms?

Ge Jin: I have a friend who had been operating a gold farms in Shanghai since 2003. So his gold farm is the first one I visited. My friend’s gold farm closed in 2005, so did most gold farms in Shanghai. Many of them migrated to smaller cities with lower housing and human resource costs.

So I contacted other gold farms through my friend’s old network… I was lucky enough to find several gold farms that were open to me in Jinhua, Nanjin, Lishui and Hangzhou. Again I was lucky to win their trust. It’s probably because I’m from the same background as many gaming workers (many gold farm owners were former gaming workers.)

Were gold farmers afraid the Chinese government would shut them down?

GJ: The ones that allowed me to film there were not afraid because they are located in cities where local goverments are tolerant of this industry. There is no national policy regulating this new industry yet, so it’s up to the local governments to judge.

Most local governments have no motive to shut down these gold farms, as they reduce unemployment and even reduce the crime rate by reducing unemployed male youth on the street. Some gold farms refused my visit because they don’t want to pay tax and choose to operate underground, or they are worried that their labor practice is problematic…

What does WoW gold farming suggest about the future of work?

GJ: I think these gold farms indicate that the game platform has the potential to engage more people in Internet-driven economy. The gaming workers in China don’t have skills like English, software or graphic design to participate in other forms of Internet-driven work, but they can communicate and navigate in a 3D game world whose tools and routines they are familiar with… So if more social and economic activities happen in an accessible 3D game world, people who don’t have access to other culture capital but gaming knowledge will be more likely to be included in global interaction.

82 Comments

I play for Gold

This is sad. You losers need to get a life and quit feeding these people. Go play poker. Live poker. Face to face. Or chess. or something. No RPGs, no sad pathetic LARPs…

Bane WoWDojo Moron

“”This statement is so ridiculous, I can’t believe people are quoting it as fact: “By the segment’s estimate, an astounding half million Chinese now make a living – about $100 a month – from the acquisition and sale of WoW gold to US and EU gamers.”””

Well do you have any numbers to refute it…..well….I didn’t think so. The simple fact is as long as there is a market there will be farmers selling gold. Blizzard may work to try to stop it but in the end the black market will live on.

I do however agree that this activity and others like have been the beginning of some horrible changes in game by Blizzard to help eliminate the problem. Ruining some aspects of the game.

“”“By the segment’s estimate…” so we’re going on one grad students estimate based on some time he spent in gold farms? As I understand it and how it worked in Diablo 2, most gold is farmed from the exploit of duping items or gold, not from anyone working some insane amount of hours.””

Tell me smart one, have you spent anytime in a gold farm operation, again have you? It seems to me that you are so eager to discredit the author based off your assumption and no fact. That kinda leaves you and your little write up void of any meaning what so ever.

Hmmmmm. Diablo 2…WOW Diablo 2…WOW Diablo 2…WOW Diablo 2…WOW. Oh ya this is WOW not Diablo 2. The two games are so dissimilar in nature and time that this comparison is INVALID. If there were a major exploit in WoW to make gold…I have a feeling that a lot more folks would be doing it and Blizzard would be on top of it like a fat boy on a cupcake. Blizzard had very little reason to fix problems like that in Diablo 2, however they have every reason to protect their monthly income from WoW.

“”What seems more feasible to you? The fact that a skilled exploiter can find a way to dupe items and as such make tons of gold to sell, or a HALF A MILLION people are playing WoW as a job. Please.””

It seems feasible to me that half a million starving Chinese people are busting there ass to make gold to sell for hardly nothing by our standards, while the leader/owner of such operation is making an ass load of money off of it. It seams that hungry people will do just about anything to make money to feed themselves and their families.

So please the next time you post please engage what little bit of brain matter you have before typing.

THIS HAS BEEN A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT OF NO MORONS ON THE INTERNET.

Bane WoWDojo Webmaster

This statement is so ridiculous, I can’t believe people are quoting it as fact: “By the segment’s estimate, an astounding half million Chinese now make a living – about $100 a month – from the acquisition and sale of WoW gold to US and EU gamers.”

“By the segment’s estimate…” so we’re going on one grad students estimate based on some time he spent in gold farms? As I understand it and how it worked in Diablo 2, most gold is farmed from the exploit of duping items or gold, not from anyone working some insane amount of hours.

What seems more feasible to you? The fact that a skilled exploiter can find a way to dupe items and as such make tons of gold to sell, or a HALF A MILLION people are playing WoW as a job. Please.

Andy T

Check out this gold secrets site for WOW craft, i found it really usefull well worth membership! Its one of the only sites ive been on where the sale gargon is right.

WoW Miner

Wow this is an excellent post! One of the few real writeups on what the chinese farming industry really is like.

If anyone has a link to that documentary you are talking about, please post it! I wouldnt be surprised to see something about this on CNBC or something like that talking about business and outsourcing etc..

Warcraft Leveling Hero

Very interesting topic. I actually saw a documentary about Chinese gold farmers a couple of days ago and was fascinated. I’ll try and find a link to the doco so you guys can check it out.

Andrew

STOP BUYING WOW GOLD!!

Unless you’re lvl 70 and using it to buff your gear for PVP, you’re ruining the game for legit gamers.

It is a major threat to the enjoyment (and reputation) of the game which Blizzard will not tolerate for much longer.

If legit players lose interest because they always get done (in every aspect of game play) by suped up Gold buyers, they will stop playing and Blizzard will lose their $127.5 million per month paycheck. 8.5 million subscribers all paying $15/month is an investment worth protecting I’d be guessing.

Think about it…

o0oo

Well then… So let me get this straight, everyone is happy about this? For those who have neevr played the game, refrain from comment in the future, you’re clueless to society, and would serve a better purpose as a coffee stand.

This is like applauding someone with Down-Syndrome for clubbing a baby seal. Everyone seems to find it amazing that someone has built a business on profitting from a private company (which is against many laws), so they tend to ignore the bad parts. ‘It’s a kid with down-syndrome!’ instead of ‘Oh no, the baby seal!’.

Has anyone checked into buying and selling gold, and the scams attached? While you hail praise to the genious in charge, why not ask him how come too many accounts get hacked shortly after the sale, stripped of everything they had worked hard for just to have those articles sold for virtual gold, then re-sold for actual cash. Nearly 95% of all hackings (up until recently) were from buying accounts, power leveling (another service offered), and these ‘underground gold farms’. Recently, due to the lowering of interest in purchasing gold, etc, these people can’t get their income fix. So they have started cracking accounts constantly.

No one realizes there is an in-game economy to be respected as well. It may not impact one’s wallet on the outside, but it does impact the players who pay for the game. This is nothing more than the national mint producing $1 million for everyone. It doesn’t help, it’s, as mentioned above, a plague.

Searinox

They should simply work some more on the social options, and make it possible for ppl to ignore by defalut all /w from people not in their guild which include the phrases “www.” “cheap” “gold” and so on.

Scott

You can check out the prices of gold on sites like http://www.rpgSE.com (not a sell site) They track prices daily from a host of different games including World of Warcraft.

You can really tell when a bunch of the overseas farmers get banned by the huge price spike the next day!

derichemont

congratulations to all the members and addicts of the world of warcraft, anyway this is life because chinese people like gambling

klancy kennedy

Half a million does seem high. I’ve been looking for a WOW farm for over a year now. I’m one of the top ten sellers at playerauctions.com and finding suppliers is one of the hardest thing for an American to do. Most of my gold farmers are college students right here in the USA. They’re all I can find!

Glaive

I was just looking arround the net for a way to sell my trial account and ran into this article. It seems to be a legit business to me though. Because you have to pay a monthly subsciption right? Why not sell gold to pay for the subscription. People have been doin this for years. Remember Diablo, II thats when i remember gold being sold for real money. I also ran into a BOT today on the warcraft server i play on. I asked for a job. But i did’nt get a response just a web addrees. I wanted to duel it. But poof! just like that it was gone. Getting paid to play games like this would freakin RULE. Can’t wait for the revolution.

Anonymous

World of Warcraft features:Adventure together with thousands of other players online all together, hunting never needs to be done alone. Enjoy hundreds of hours of gameplay with new quests, items, and adventures updated regularly.Explore sell wow gold breath taking world with miles of forests, deserts, snow-blown mountains, and other exotic places.

True Gamer

It sickens me that industrialized violations of a game’s Terms Of Service, blatant cheating, and widespread activities best described as organized crime can be called “a need with a business to fill it”.

It undermines everything that true gamers, who do not cheat, exploit, or bribe their way spend countless hours working to achieve.

It reduces game enjoyment, unbalances game economy, causes extensive violations of rules, and industrialized, automated farming of in-game resources, frequently causing problems for real gamers who need these resources for quests or the in-game economy.

For players who want to play the game as it is intended, gold farmers are a scourge.

In World of Warcraft, there is a plague of automated bots abusing trial accounts to spam ads for gold selling and powerlevelling “services”.

No matter how you twist it, buying gold in an online game whose TOS explicitly forbits it is blatant cheating and exploiting.

That several publications seem to be fascinated by “new markets”, completely oblivious to the problems these cause, just attract more people to these “services” thinking they are legitimate services.

The first probable effect of this widespread abuse will be removal of free trial accounts, in order to ban these criminals more effectively.

Postal

This also seems to lead to crime.

Many players of World of Warcraft have their accounts stolen by these Farmers.

This includes payments made from the players credit card and their in game “Toon” being used and abused.

The genuine player is left both out of pocket (Real money) and loose several items ingame that they have spent many days, months and some times years to obtain.

ChiefAsiaInspector

Just a great exemple of the Chinese sense of business (even though I think I recall hearing similar stories in Eastern Europe – can someone confirm ?).

Pramit Singh

This future has been with us for quite a while. In India, and other developing nations, young people have been doing low-level jobs for the west since 10 years now. Only the nature has turned fanciful – Gold Farming, 3 D environment building and all that – it is still grunt work.

Steve Low

$100 is almost 800 china rmb. 800 might not sound a lot to most people here, but university graduates in china only earns around 1500rmb (if they can get any job, and the living cost in the city is pretty high).

Joe Grossberg

“By the segment’s estimate, an astounding half million Chinese now make a living – about $100 a month – from the acquisition and sale of WoW gold to US and EU gamers. “

Have you ever heard of the “smell test”? That claim fails miserably.

Brian Paul

For some reason this hearkens me to Tad Williams’ “Otherland” series of novels. Could I pay someone $100.00/week (part-time wages) to take over the role of an NPC in an MMORPG? Would that less robotic interaction add enough to in-game immersion to make it worthwhile? Which is to say, would having live actors give you a competitive advantage over competitors? Obviously (and I’m dating myself) the world of text-based RPG MUSH/MUD/MOO games proves that you can find able enough actors online.

I understand there is quite a bit of risk around having live actors but managing people is managing people and if it wasn’t challenging it wouldn’t provide nearly as much advantage.

Webomatica

Pretty fascinating. Just goes to show how in capitalism, wherever there is a need someone will set up a business to fill it.

bdeseattle

wow. this is kind of scary. seems like a breeding ground for exploitation abroad. certainly see the genius of mechanical turk, and actually gave it try about 6 months ago just to see how it works. Still hasn’t caught on yet in mainstream, but I think you’re right — it is the future in how some types of work will get done. The exploitative nature of the model is a bit concerning though.

Marshall Kirkpatrick

Great post. Fascinating topic that I’ve been wanting to learn more about for some time. Moral issues probably too complicated to judge (and who’s in a position to any way?) but great coverage here in the spirit of better knowing how the world is working these days.

Comments are closed.