A Close-Up on Chinese Gold Farming

A reader named Patrick Bateman told us about a work-in-progress documentary on the subject of “Chinese gold farming,” or the practice of harvesting virtual assets in computer games in order to sell them for real money. Produced and directed by Ge Jin, a communications PhD. candidate at U.C. San Diego, the film explores the inner workings of these farms, most of which hire professional gamers to spend up to twelve hours a day accumulating points and avatars which are then auctioned off to other players worldwide.

The New York Times covered the phenomenon back in 2005, estimating that more than 100,000 Chinese youths were employed as full-time gamers, some of them earning as little as $.25 an hour. Based on the fierce competition that Jin describes, it doesn’t sound like the farms have slowed much since then, despite the considerable hurdles to survival: intervention by government officials, crackdowns from game creators and confusion over multi-lingual auction brokers. Still, given the job’s high risk of Internet Addiction (which we’ve blogged about before), these gamers may have all the incentive they need to keep farming.


lpapworth

Julian Dibbell's book "Play Money" about every aspect of virtual money (I think he even tried to submit a tax return to the US IRS) was a groovilicious book. Much like Freakonomics is. :)

frankenduf

shame on those who exploit
ps- anyone know where I can buy a level 10 unicorn?- I've got a pesky dragon to get by...

snubgodtoh

I wonder what the virtual central bank's policy is in such scenarios. Can virtual inflation effect virtual wages which effects real wages in the virtual Chinese gold mining labor market? Surreal.

Paddyboy

The name Patrick Bateman is likely a pseudonym. This is the name of the murderous title character in the film and novel 'American Psycho'.

Lephemera

Cory Doctorow (author and BoingBoing.net founder) wrote a short story called "Anda's Game" on this very topic. You can read it here - http://dir.salon.com/story/tech/feature/2004/11/15/andas_game/index.html

csven

For anyone interested, one of the first places (to my knowledge) Ge Jin announced his documentary was in the comments over on the well-regarded Terra Nova blog (but don't think he used his name to post so can't find the thread that got him to post about it).

There was, however, a subsequent post on Terra Nova with some worthwhile discussion that might be of interest:

http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2006/03/disembodiment_h.html

csven

Guess I should also post a link to something I wrote for another blog about my experience with Chinese "gold farmers" in Second Life (which *has* no gold).

http://slfuturesalon.blogs.com/second_life_future_salon/2005/04/the_flat_earths.html

The same "virtual" individual was also covered over on the New World Notes blog: http://secondlife.blogs.com/nwn/2005/04/china_dancers.html

(NWN also had a few follow-ups about the real person and where she eventually wound up.)

SBGamesCone

Gold farming is a very lucrative business. Selling in game gold to a broker, if done properly, can net you a 6 figure income in the states. I, however, would prefer to be in a little more control of my revenue stream and not have it left up to the company running the game.

Pat Bateman

@ #4 Paddyboy

Actually, Pat Bateman truly is my name. I hadn't seen the film American Psycho (or read the book it was based upon) until I finally rented it a year ago or so, which is kind of ironic as I am a big Christian Bale fan.

Anyways, the usage of my name in the film caused me to laugh so much.

When I have show my ID for whatever reason, I sometimes get cult fans of the movie/book who ask me If I have seen it.

I feel like the character "Michael Bolton" from Office Space sometimes.

steelndirt

Well, one of the problems with gold farming is that it fundamentally changes how all people play the game, not just those involved in the transaction. It encourages players to choose professions that are more of a grind than others for economic gain. It also changes the dynamic of the game by pushing most of the accomplishments closer to when a character levels so that there can be a major gap between rewards. The grind between rewards becomes longer. Because of this, the game becomes boring as time passes. Since Blizzard gets paid per month per person, a less enjoyable game hurts their bottom line.

Bruce Hayden

It is a rather humorous comment on both the gaming world and the globalization of the labor market. And it makes perfect sense for someone to pay someone in China $.25 and hor, or maybe even give him a raise to $.30 an hour to do the grunt work of getting those rewards. Both win. The person in China makes more than he would otherwise have made, and the player from the rich country gets the benefit of more rewards.

jdshipley

Um, tulips?

rabbittime

That Cory Doctorow story is terrible. Just FYI, don't go read it. It reads at the level of a 'young adult' 100 pg paperback. I was just trying to see where he was going with it, but ech. And I like boing boing and the stuff he writes there, its just like the most hackneyed inaccurate crap. As a girl (admittedly older than the protagonist) who's a big nerd and quit playing MMOs because I gained too much weight...I don't recognise anything in that story as true or relevent. Except maybe that voicechat is convenient. That's true.

lpapworth

Julian Dibbell's book "Play Money" about every aspect of virtual money (I think he even tried to submit a tax return to the US IRS) was a groovilicious book. Much like Freakonomics is. :)

frankenduf

shame on those who exploit
ps- anyone know where I can buy a level 10 unicorn?- I've got a pesky dragon to get by...

snubgodtoh

I wonder what the virtual central bank's policy is in such scenarios. Can virtual inflation effect virtual wages which effects real wages in the virtual Chinese gold mining labor market? Surreal.

Paddyboy

The name Patrick Bateman is likely a pseudonym. This is the name of the murderous title character in the film and novel 'American Psycho'.

Lephemera

Cory Doctorow (author and BoingBoing.net founder) wrote a short story called "Anda's Game" on this very topic. You can read it here - http://dir.salon.com/story/tech/feature/2004/11/15/andas_game/index.html

csven

For anyone interested, one of the first places (to my knowledge) Ge Jin announced his documentary was in the comments over on the well-regarded Terra Nova blog (but don't think he used his name to post so can't find the thread that got him to post about it).

There was, however, a subsequent post on Terra Nova with some worthwhile discussion that might be of interest:

http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2006/03/disembodiment_h.html

csven

Guess I should also post a link to something I wrote for another blog about my experience with Chinese "gold farmers" in Second Life (which *has* no gold).

http://slfuturesalon.blogs.com/second_life_future_salon/2005/04/the_flat_earths.html

The same "virtual" individual was also covered over on the New World Notes blog: http://secondlife.blogs.com/nwn/2005/04/china_dancers.html

(NWN also had a few follow-ups about the real person and where she eventually wound up.)