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Gold farming is the practice of playing a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) to acquire in-game currency that other players purchase in exchange for real-world money. People in several developing nations have held full-time employment as gold farmers.
While most game operators expressly ban the practice of selling in-game currency for real-world cash, gold farming is lucrative because it takes advantage of economic inequality and the fact that much time is needed to earn in-game currency. Rich players from developed countries, wishing to save many hours of playing time, may be willing to pay substantial sums to gold farmers from developing countries.
- 1 History
- 2 Figures
- 3 Rules and enforcement
- 4 Ill effects on in-game economy
- 5 Law, regulation and taxation
- 6 Game sweatshop
- 7 Development potential
- 8 In the media
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
While in the past players used eBay and PayPal to sell each other items and gold from games like Ultima Online and Lineage, contemporary, commercialized gold farming may have its origins in South Korea. 2001 reports describe Korean cybercafes being converted into gold farming operations to serve domestic demand. This model, with full-time gold farmers working long hours in cybercafes, was outsourced to China and initially served demand from Korean and Western players. Gold farming in China was experiencing swift growth c. 2004. In 2011 The Guardian reported that prisoners in Chinese labor camps were forced to engage in gold farming for the benefit of prison authorities.
Academic studies of gold farming reveal that the social networks of gold farmers are similar to those of drug dealers.
In 2005 The New York Times estimated that there were over 100,000 full-time gold farmers in China alone. And in 2006 sales of such virtual goods were thought to amount to somewhere between 200 and 900 million USD.
Another estimate, drawn from 2005/2006 data, valued the market at not less than USD200 million per year and suggested that over 150,000 people were employed as gold farmers with average monthly earnings of USD145. This same report estimated that 80% of all gold farmers were from China a fact which has led to prejudice towards Chinese players. 2008 figures from China valued the Chinese trade in virtual currency at over several billion yuan, or nearly USD300 million.
Rules and enforcement
Ill effects on in-game economy
These ill effects can occur whether or not such practices are sanctioned by the game operator. Citing such concerns, Activision Blizzard shut down their real-money transaction system for Diablo III in 2014.
Law, regulation and taxation
Some governments, perhaps recognizing that current regulatory systems may be ill-suited to address activities such as gold farming, have made statements concerning the sale of virtual goods.
In response to increases in gold farming, in 2006 the Japanese Government urged the computer gaming industry to self-regulate as well as vowing to investigate this species of fraud.
A United States Congressional committee investigated taxation of virtual assets and incomes derived from them in 2006, and the IRS has, in its National Taxpayer Advocate's 2008 Annual Report to Congress, expressed concern that virtual worlds are a growing source of tax noncompliance.
Lawsuits by game companies
On February 1, 2008, Blizzard Entertainment, the makers of World of Warcraft, won a lawsuit against In Game Dollar, trading under the name Peons4Hire. The court ordered an injunction that immediately halted all business operations within said game.
A business producing avatars and in-game currency in MMORPGs is sometimes labelled a game sweatshop. Workers employed by these companies either collect in-game currency (known as gold farming) or generate high-level avatars (known as power leveling). Such organizations are referred to as sweatshops because the gold farmers are usually paid very low wages.
Gold farming has been discussed as a tool for socioeconomic development by the World Bank and University of Manchester professor Richard Heeks. The money involved is small enough to flow easily from many first-world players, and large enough to make a difference to the people doing the work. Gold farmers receive a higher percentage of sale revenue from their work than do farmers of fair trade coffee.
In the media
Neal Stephenson's 2011 novel Reamde has a plot centered on T'Rain, an online game that encourages gold farming, but whose players become vulnerable to losing control of their own data after being infected by the REAMDE "ransomware" virus, written by gold farmers who aspire to a higher-stakes income model.
Alan Harris's radio play The Gold Farmer was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 as part of The Wire series on February 6, 2010. It features a man who plays an online role-playing game and whose next door neighbour is a gold farmer.
Julian Dibbell's 2006 book Play Money: or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot chronicle's the author's efforts to earn enough virtual money playing online games that he could quit his day job.
- Gold farming in the People's Republic of China
- Virtual currency
- Virtual good
- Virtual Economy
- The business end of playing games bbc.com, Wednesday, 25 April 2007, 14:55 GMT
- Current Analysis and Future Research Agenda on "Gold Farming": Real-World Production in Developing Countries for the Virtual Economies of Online Games - Page 2 Richard Heeks, Development Informatics Group IDPM, SED, University of Manchester, UK - 2008
- For Chinese gold farmers, see Davis, Rowenna (March 5, 2009). "Welcome to the new gold mines". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 3, 2010.
- For non-Chinese gold farmers, see Gamers load for virtual asset swap vietnamnet.vn, 12:30' 10/07/2006 (GMT+7)
- China's full-time computer gamers bbc.com, Friday, 13 October 2006, 19:20 GMT
- Ogre to Slay? Outsource It to Chinese nytimes.com, December 9, 2005
- Gold Trading Exposed: Introduction eurogamer.net, 19 March 2009
- Current Analysis and Future Research Agenda on "Gold Farming": Real-World Production in Developing Countries for the Virtual Economies of Online Games - Page 4 Richard Heeks, Development Informatics Group IDPM, SED, University of Manchester, UK - 2008
- Current Analysis and Future Research Agenda on "Gold Farming": Real-World Production in Developing Countries for the Virtual Economies of Online Games - Page 5 Richard Heeks, Development Informatics Group IDPM, SED, University of Manchester, UK - 2008
- Vincent, Danny (25 May 2011). "China used prisoners in lucrative internet gaming work". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 May 2011.
- "Gold Farming Research Digs Up Similarities With Drug Dealers". Kotaku Daily. Retrieved July 23, 2010.
- LeJacq, Yannick (July 22, 2015). "League Of Legends Pro Suspended For Allegedly Leveling Accounts For Cash". Kotaku. Retrieved October 29, 2015.
- Poor earning virtual gaming gold bbc.com, 01:36 GMT, Friday, 22 August 2008
- "The Decline and Fall of an Ultra Rich Online Gaming Empire". Wired. 2008-11-24.
- The high cost of playing Warcraft bbc.com, Monday, 24 September 2007, 07:58 GMT
- Current Analysis and Future Research Agenda on "Gold Farming": Real-World Production in Developing Countries for the Virtual Economies of Online Games - Page 10 Richard Heeks, Development Informatics Group IDPM, SED, University of Manchester, UK - 2008
- Chinese WOW players speak out eurogamer.net, 17 January 2006
- China Limits Use Of Virtual Currency informationweek.com, June 29, 2009
- Gold Trading Exposed: The Developers eurogamer.net, 9 April 2009
- Auction House Services Diablo III us.battle.net 12 June 2012
- Mike O'Brien on Microtransactions in Guild Wars 2 arena.net, 3 March 2012
- Jin, Ge (May 2006). "Chinese Gold Farmers in the Game World". Consumers, Commodities & Consumption (Consumers Studies Research Network) 7 (2). Retrieved March 10, 2012.
- Chalk, Andy (1 June 2007). "IGE Sued By World Of Warcraft Player". The Escapis (Themis Media). Retrieved March 10, 2012.
- Kelion, Leo (18 September 2013). "Diablo 3 auction houses are doomed by developer Blizzard". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
- Virtual world: tax man cometh theage.com.au, October 31, 2006
- China bars use of virtual money for trading in real goods PRC Ministry of Commerce, Monday,June 29, 2009 2100 GMT
- Japanese gov't looks into gold farming gamespot.com, Jul 19, 2006 5:48 am AEST
- Play money is real money, says high court moremoney.blogs.money.cnn.com, January 22, 2010
- US Congress launches probe into virtual economies secondlife.reuters.com, Sun Oct 15, 2006 10:43pm PDT
- IRS taxation of online game virtual assets inevitable news.com.com, December 3, 2006 9:45 AM PST
- IRS Getting Closer to a Virtual Goods Tax insidesocialgames.com, January 20th, 2009
- Bot-Busting Update: Legal Proceedings Runescape.com, November 9, 2011
-  Virtuallyblind.com, February 1, 2008
- Thompson, Tony (2005-03-13). "They play games for 10 hours - and earn £2.80 in a 'virtual sweatshop'". The Observer. Retrieved 2007-06-29.
- Fair Trade Gold arstechnica.com
- Doctorow, Cory (2004-11-16). "Anda's Game". Salon. Retrieved 2014-04-01.
- Cory Doctorow’s “For The Win” creativecommons.org, May 11th, 2010
- The Gold Farmer bbc.co.uk
- Space Invaders artists and works Netherlands Media Art Institute
- Current Analysis and Future Research Agenda on "Gold Farming": Real-World Production in Developing Countries for the Virtual Economies of Online Games Richard Heeks, Development Informatics Group IDPM, SED, University of Manchester, UK - 2008
- Gold Farmers - Website of Ge Jin, a PhD student from UCSD who made a video documentary of gold farming in rural and suburban China.