Poor Mine For Virtual Gold in Third World

Posted on September 9, 2008

Some data is startng to emerge about the massive size of the gold farming industry which is mostly based in China. Small firms use cheap labor to gather gold and to build-up characters for games like World of Warcraft and then resell them. Some gold farms will also take control of person's characer and build up the character's experience and gold - this is known as power levelling. A BBC article says the industry employs about 500,000 people.

Research by Manchester University shows that the practice, known as gold-farming, is growing rapidly.

The industry, about 80% based in China, employs about 400,000 people who earn £77 per month on average.

The practice is flourishing despite efforts by games companies to crack down on the trade in virtual goods.

Professor Richard Heeks, the author of the report, says it is hard to pinpoint the exact size of this rapidly developing industry.
Some gold-farming operations offer other services such as "power levelling" in which they assume control of a player's character and turn it into a high-powered hero far faster than the original owner could manage themselves.

Prof Heeks said very accurate figures for the size of the gold farming sector were hard to come by but his work suggested that in 2008 it employs 400,000 people who earn an average of $145 (£77) per month creating a global market worth about $500m.

But, he said, the true size of the sector was hard to estimate - it could easily be twice as big.

As long as there are popular online games there are going to be systems that let players cheat to quickly build up a character. Some people with money to burn simply don't have the patience to slowly build a character's experience. That is the reason these gold farms are able to exist.

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