Disembodiment, Hypermobility, and Labor

Ge Jin, a PhD student from UCSD, is making a video documentary of the gold farming phenomenon (preview here). The documentary preview shows some of his interviews with Chinese workers in various gold farming workshops. In our conversations over email, he has brought up some interesting points based on his observations. He's also looking for feedback and suggestions for important research questions and different points of view.

One interesting observation he makes is on the general atmosphere in these workshops:

When I entered a gold farm for the first time (tietou's gaming workshop in the preview), I was shocked by the positive spirit there, the farmers are passionate about what they do, and there is indeed a comraderie between them ... I do see suffering and exploitation too, but in that place suffering is mixed with play and exploitation is embodied in a gang-like brotherhood and hierarchy. When I talked with the farmers, they rarely complained about their working condition, they only complained about their life in the game world.

Although they have to work/play for 12 hours a day, they take pride in what they achieve and they seem eager to escape into a virtual reality richer, brighter, and more exciting than their impoverished real world lives.

In watching the video, I am most struck by the intertwined empowerment/disempowerment that is occurring simultaneously for these Chinese workers. Their lives in these virtual worlds are brighter, but yet their interactions with American players (and associated slurs) are a constant reminder of their inferior socio-economic status. The disembodied hypermobility granted by these virtual worlds is, to a certain extent, dispelled when they are labeled as "Chinese gold farmers". For them, it is a double-edged sword.

Other issues that he's also thinking through are:

- the role of brokers in this system (auction houses, gold farm owners, etc.)
- is this a new kind of labor based on disembodiment and pleasure?
- how do these Chinese workers interact with American gamers?
- what does this all mean to the Chinese worker?

Ge Jin is currently looking for feedback, and suggestions for additional research questions. He is aware of this thread and will be happy to hear any comments you have.


Comments on Disembodiment, Hypermobility, and Labor:

Mike Rozak says:

Let me flip the problem around...

The reason the gold farmers farm, is because (a) they want to earn money, and (b) China has a low-enough wage that they can earn an OK living doing farming gold. (The same can probably be said for most of the world's population, including India.)

What if gold farmers weren't "employed" doing useless jobs like farming gold, but instead they were employed creating "content".

Ignoring language barriers and skill issues for now, some possible uses for gold farmers are...

0) Gold farming, as above.

1) Someone in a developing country could do product support, much as many product support calls (in Australia at least) are now routed to India.

2) A person in a developing country could act as a game master that customizes the experience for a group of players (not just a product support person).

3) Create geography (land and dungeons), placing monsters, NPCs, etc. to create quests.

4) Create art assets and programming.


Or, to put it another way, perhaps gold farming is the first step in outsourcing US-based VW production to China (and India?). As I have them listed, each entry requires a larger skillset, with art-assets and programming being the most skilled.

This is only a half-baked idea, because realistically you could export all MMORPG development to China/India, which is already happening. (The biggest weakness with Chinese MMORPGs is that they don't seem to go down well with western player.) Thus, I'm saying nothing new...

Except... What if a group of players could pay $2/hour(?) to have a personal GM that would make their game-play experience more fun. Maybe the GM would pull up special encounters, temporarily possess NPCs, etc. (Skotos-style stuff. In-world actors. Etc.) Ignoring the language barrier, I suspect that at least 10% of gold farmers would be capable of this. Including the language barrier, India would have a much higher percentage possible candidates.

Personal GMs and in-game actors aren't feasible under current economies. Are the possible at 1/10th (?) the price?

By the way, orcs can't speak very good Enlish either... In-game actors might be able to get away with poor English.

... Just a half baked thought.

Posted Mar 12, 2006 10:58:22 PM | link

Ge Jin says:

I really appreciate Nick's post. He articulated my ideas better than a newbie in the game world like me can. And I agree with Mike that gold farmers might be a transitional phenomenon--"the first step in outsourcing US-based VW production". But Chinese gold farmers don't just play for money, many of them said this job gives them pleasure and a sense of achievement too. In their work, productivity interwines with pleasure, and that pleasure partly comes from accumulating virtual wealth that dramatically contrasts their poverty in real lives. Maybe they can be do more "useful" jobs, but will those jobs be as "fulfilling" as gold farming?

So, I would love to hear what people think on the following questions:

Is the gold farmer phenomenon a step (probably not the first) in creating productivity out of pleasure? A parallel example is how the military uses immersive games to prepare soldiers for war.

If we get rid of real money trade in the game world, the American gamers will have pure immersion and a level playing field. But many Chinese gamers will lose access to a place that compensate many things they don't have in real lives, because they depend on real money trade to afford gaming facilities. If we consider the virtual world a public space, can we take into account the issue of "access"?

Posted Mar 13, 2006 3:25:29 AM | link

niubi says:

what is ige.com's role in the game farming value chain?

Posted Mar 13, 2006 5:44:08 AM | link

illovich says:

Playing devil's advocate for a sec:

I wonder if the intersection of cheap offshore labor serving a largely Western pleasure isn't triggering a sort of misguided hand-wringing. After all, while it's fine to worry about the exploitation of workers for the western gamer's pleasure, is it particularly worse than the exploited labor that produced the electronic goods we play the games on, or the clothes we wear while we do it?

To stay with that thought for a moment, if Nick is seeing an "empowerment/disempowerment" in the footage of the workers, then he's seeing workers who have a better job by half than probably most of the so-called shit jobs of the world, since there's empowerment. I know for a fact that not one of the shit jobs I ever held had an ounce of empowerment at all, it was mostly just cheap (minimum wage) labor to wash dishes, stack widgets, kiss asses.

In other words, if we accept capitalism as our base economic system, gold farmers are just a part of the invisible hand and perhaps not even worth worry, since there seem to be so many much more exploited people.

And of course then I feel like I should try to have some perspective, but it's difficult. After all, out of all the possible jobs these people could have is gold farming really that bad? Many of the jobs available in China seem to be really awful, like body crushing life-ending-way-to-early drudge work, and gold farming seems relatively cushy to me (from the limited info i've seen on the industry--it also wouldn't surprise me to find out there were some fairly horrible operations at work too).

But additionally, let's consider these guys as entertainment industry workers for a sec. Again, there are tons of people that work in entertainment for very little money, sometimes none. I don't think I have to belabor the point, since the stories of the "little people" in Hollywood are fairly well understood-- gophers, assistants, stage hands, etc. etc. etc. My point? If the gold farmers are earning a livable salary in China, then they're doing much better than some of their counterparts in the United States who work in the entertainment industry.

Posted Mar 13, 2006 8:42:11 AM | link

bllius says:

What's to stop these gold farmers from revolting?

Posted Mar 13, 2006 8:45:42 AM | link

csven says:

A few issues I raised in a post elsewhere (Link) aren't addressed here but I think might be relevant:

a)The potential for these workers to learn valuable skills beyond those that apply to virtual worlds.

b)The possibility of workers being employed by someone in the West conducting real world business.

c)The dramatic impact of the above issues on a culture's social structure.

By the way, because I expect we'll see this question, I'll go ahead and ask it: How do we know gold pharmers are real? This movie may just be one big fiction!

Posted Mar 13, 2006 9:13:55 AM | link

magicback (Frank) says:

Ge Jin, here are some questions from someone who wants to dig deeper to the dynamics.

1) I would like to know more about the demographics and background of the pharmers.

2) I would like to know what other jobs they are qualified to fill and for how much (comparative)

3) How many of the them think or do sell physical stuff of auction houses? (correlation)

4) As this has been going for a few years, would like to hear myths and legends pass down by from pharmer to pharmer (social myths).

5) comparison of operation in 1st tier cities vs 2nd tier, 3rd tier cities.... if only we can do a big study....

6) given that some of my questions are hard to answer with a small sample, how to the phamers feel about their competiton elsewhere?

More to come later.

Posted Mar 13, 2006 9:48:05 AM | link

Ken Fox says:

Does the documentary cover Chinese attitudes towards gold farmers? (Contrasting gamer and non-gamer attitudes would be very interesting.)

Sometimes I think what is written about gold farming says more about the author than the phenomenon. It would be enlightening to remove the western culture bias and see gold farming as just another job.

Posted Mar 13, 2006 9:50:20 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Reading the above, an interesting symmetry struck me:

When I entered a [game development company] for the first time... I was shocked by the positive spirit there, the [developers] are passionate about what they do, and there is indeed a comraderie between them ... I do see suffering and exploitation too, but in that place suffering is mixed with play and exploitation is embodied in a gang-like brotherhood and hierarchy. When I talked with the [devs], they rarely complained about their working condition, they only complained about their life in the game world.

Although they have to work/play for 12 hours a day, they take pride in what they achieve and they seem eager to escape into a virtual reality richer, brighter, and more exciting than their impoverished real world lives.

As illovich said, et's consider these guys as entertainment industry workers for a sec. Remember "EAspouse"? The paragraphs above could easily be written about game developers at many of today's larger corporate studios. These are people who make their living creating things as ephemeral as that which the "farmers" (and all other players) consume. And yet we celebrate one, turning them into micro-celebrities, and vilify the other.

So it may well be that the organized effort of consumption-turned-to-production (i.e., in-game object farming) may be the first rung on a massive outsourcing ladder. Or maybe it's just the next evolutionary step in user-created/constructed/mediated content. Some team will find a way to make farmers additive to others' experience rather than inimical to it -- and without requiring skill sets the farmers don't actually have. That will likely be a big win (financial and otherwise) all the way around.

Posted Mar 13, 2006 10:33:49 AM | link

Fearless says:

I don't see what the big deal is about farmers not speaking good English. Most US players are functionally illiterate anyway; witness "t3h d00dsp33k".
It's when they have level 1 gnomes named "Pangping" dancing naked in the Auction House that the Chinese expose themselves to ridicule...

Posted Mar 13, 2006 11:08:27 AM | link

hikaru says:

one thing this video does is provide visual evidence to squash the myth of the "gold farming sweat shop."

for everyone involved, it's a win-win situation, IMO.

A job where you get food, lodging, and wages to play your favorite MMOG? this would be the wet dream of a very large percentage of today's occidental MMOGer, i'd wager.

Posted Mar 13, 2006 1:25:25 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

I think the big challenge here for researchers--whether ethonographic, survey-based, experimental or whatever--is to tell us the extent of the phenomenon. Stories are immensely powerful and will stick in our minds, but they can also lead us to think something exists disproportionately. I bet this video will prove to people that this exists, and if there are compelling human stories to be told along the way, they'll stick with us.

But I'd love to also move from anecdote to generalizability: how common are the things that the video will eventually lay out? This is exciting work, Ge Jin, and I hope you keep pursuing it with some of these big picture ideas in mind.

Posted Mar 13, 2006 1:26:34 PM | link

csven says:

Mike Sellers said: "So it may well be that the organized effort of consumption-turned-to-production (i.e., in-game object farming) may be the first rung on a massive outsourcing ladder. Or maybe it's just the next evolutionary step in user-created/constructed/mediated content."

Or both?

Posted Mar 13, 2006 1:55:41 PM | link

Kolby says:

Just wanted to point out that the idea of the "Chinese" gold farmer and the "low" wages is very much a relative thing. China ($6,200 GDP per captia), on the world scale ($9,300 GDP per captia), is not the cheapest labor in the world by a long stretch. CIA GDP Info

It's just that, currently, it is the cheapest labor with the internet connections and computer skills to gold farm. Having spent a year in Mozambique ($1,300 GDP per capita) I can tell you for a fact there are a line of Mozambicans out the door WISHING they had the skills and computers to be gold farmers.

Just something to keep in mind as we talk about these "poor" gold farmers...

Posted Mar 13, 2006 1:58:53 PM | link

says:

Why is this painted as a American Gamer vs Chinese farmer? To someone who buys virtual currency in new zealand it appears your just riding on xenophobia. I'm sure theres a few ten thousand european, korean, australian and japanese customers (etc) who also find this weird.

Posted Mar 13, 2006 4:59:47 PM | link

Ge Jin says:

I'm very excited about this discussion. The questions and comments really point out the directions that my project should go. I have only done 3 months of field research in China and I was foreign to the game world before this project, so my knowledge is very limited. I'll just present some information I got from the interviews, but they need to be further verified, and they may not be generalizable.

One farm owner told me that there are more than 2000 gold farms in China and more than 200,000 gold farmers. I find it possible because in the forum of 1t1t.com (a large Chinese portal for gamers) I saw recruitment ads for gold farmers from gold farms all over China. Although I only visited 4 gold farms, everyone I interviewed told me that gold farms are everywhere in China. Many of the gold farmers have worked in different farms in different cities. Three of the four gold farm owners I interviewed used to be employees of other gold farms. The gold farmer who has the longest farming history started four years ago, in a gold farm that serves Japanese and Korean customers. One gold farmer owner told me that before 2003, there are only a small number of gold farms in China. But hundreds of gold farms emerged along with the launching of Lineage II on American servers. The size and organizational structures of gold farms vary, as you see in the preview, they can be like large corporation, underground gang or home business.

The background of gold farmers varies too. Some are young peasants who came to cities with nothing (gold farms are in cities because they need Internet infrastructure), but some are urban unemployed youth from average family. The latter kind were often game fans before they found the job, and they would be living off their parents and paying to play games in Internet cafes. I speculate most gold farmers would be doing manual labor or stay unemployed without this job. At least, every farmer I interviewed loves the job and they are very uncertain what they can do if they lose this job.

The competition is so keen among gold farms that it's not easy for them to survive. I heard that there are few gold farms in Shanghai now because labor and infrastructure in Shanghai is more expensive than other cities in China. Every gold farm owner I interviewed told me that distribution and money transfer is the biggest challenge. Tietou, the farm owner you see in the preview, studied in the US and he used to sell Chinese antiques on ebay. So he used Ebay and Paypal to do the business, but now his account is limited and he can no longer do the business. Another farm owner is trying to build his own website, but he currently relies on IGE and other international brokers. I have done little research on the brokers of virtual goods thus far.

One farmer told me that his family does not understand his job, and he finds it painful that his family does not think he is seriously working or has any skills. But I haven't done any research on how Chinese view this profession. There have been newspaper articles in China on this phenomenon and they usually condemn it as another example of youth corrupted by bad hobby.

In order to prove that Chinese gold farms are not an urban legend and my documentary is not a fiction, I will upload some unedited footage soon. To me their existence is all too natural given the current global economic structure. So it might be interesting to discuss why this phenomenon seems surrealistic while it has every practical reason to exist.

I don't mean to condemn gold farms as another kind of sweatshop. I think it's indeed no worse if not better than most factories in China. I even used an upbeat sound track in the preview to emphasize the conjunction between pleasure and labor. I would also agree gold farmers are self assigned culture producers in the game industry. My point is not that gold farm is bad, but that it is special. And it tells us something about globalization and virtual economy which is not cliche yet. But I cannot fully grasp why exactly is it special, any thoughts on that?

I don't want it to be an American gamer vs Chinese farmer story. I'm aware that real money trade is a global phenomenon. I emphasize these two sides only because the Chinese gold farms I visited mainly serve American gamers and I'm studying in the US. A documentary can only tell a particular story. Hopefully my research paper will give a more comprehensive picture.

Currently I'm filming the American side of the story, interviewing American scholars, brokers and buyers of virtual goods, and gamers who interacted with Chinese gold farmers. So please let me know if you have a story to tell. I will go back to China in August for a one-year field research, what do you think are the important issues for me to investigate there?

Posted Mar 13, 2006 7:31:25 PM | link

randolfe_ says:

Another farm owner is trying to build his own website, but he currently relies on IGE and other international brokers. I have done little research on the brokers of virtual goods thus far.

I have done a good amount of primary research on how the virtual currencies market works from a financial engineering perspective and economic efficiency (or lack thereof) perspective. There is an enormous amount of inefficiency in the implied bid/ask mechanism which is why the existing brokerage operators can command markups/spreads approaching 300%. A lot of this comes down to transaction integrity/security problems. gameusd.com has good averaged data on bid prices, but not usefully segmented by game/server. They don't have public ask data that I'm aware of. The broker syndicates have established effective market power in a "frontier economy", and it is exceptionally difficult to break into without significant scale.

Additionally, the game currencies serviced by the farming-brokering chain primarily thrive on game titles which have reached a minimum demand threshold and which have quite substantial deficiencies in their internal game "economies", creating the externalization opportunity. It is quite possible (and hopefully likely) that game designers and publishers will begin to recognize the RMT phenomena for the economic reality it represents and incorporate more dynamic economic controls within their games and operations. This itself will narrow the profit opportunity for farmers and brokers.

Posted Mar 13, 2006 7:54:10 PM | link

Jhonus says:

". It is quite possible (and hopefully likely) that game designers and publishers will begin to recognize the RMT phenomena for the economic reality it represents and incorporate more dynamic economic controls within their games and operations."

That sounds quite interesting, can you elaborate on those controls or have any links i can browse?

Cheers

Posted Mar 13, 2006 11:42:51 PM | link

John Bilodeau says:

Ge Jin's comments have officially freaked me out. I'm only a gamer, not a designer or student of online/virtual economies, and so my experience with 'gold farming' comes purely from my personal encounters with gilfarmers in my gaming hours.

The idea of hundreds or thousands of gold farms, providing employment to people, is really creepy. I haven't read anything on this site yet that has given me the feeling the my 'gaming' hours were anything but escapism... my loathing of gilbuyers and -sellers based purely on a sense of fairplay that is would operate the same in monopoly or poker.

I think i need to rethink my perspective on what I'm actually doing playing a MMO, and what the real boundaries are between this game the rest of life. The idea that a chinese peasant would come to a city to labor as a gil farmer blows my mind...

(p.s I tried to explain this phenomenon to my father - a retired banker, who left his childhood farm to work in the city ... his reply to my initial description was: "Do you mean a gold mine?" ... "No, Dad, they left the farm to work in a gold farm, no real gold, gaming currency, well... they make real money..." *boggle*)

Posted Mar 14, 2006 9:41:02 AM | link

Eric says:

Ge Jin -

In addition to all that's been posted, I'm fascinated by the last short sequence of your video where it appeared that four colleagues had banded together to start what could only be termed a "small business". I'm sure that there are some distinctions between our Western assumptions about small business entrepreneurs and the experience of the Chinese farmers you profiled, but it's intriguing to think that the virtual economies surrounding MMOs can generate some of the real world behavior that some Western politicians have wanted to export in years past. I'm not sure I'm looking for value judgements in what you're doing, I'm just curious to know whether four friends with a couple of computers, a DSL line and a couple of WoW accounts can establish a standard of living that satisfies their personal ambitions.

In a way, the question mirrors a discussion we've had for a number of years in the rural U.S. (I live in eastern Oregon in agricultural area) where we debate the relative merits of small farms versus corporate farming operations. There's a loving mythology of the small farm providing a living for a family, raising children and being the fabric of small town communities, while there's an equal suspicion of the larger corporate-owned farms. It's inaccurate, but there's the perception that no one lives on a corporate-owned farm, they just "work" there, and there's an extractive nature to their role in the community.

My picture of the gold farming practices prior to viewing your video was of the corporate sweatshop, and that plays into a concern for the exploitation of workers. The other model your video suggests, however, is that there are perhaps multiple models that could function within the servicing of virtual economies, and that's a fascinating idea to consider. Good luck with your research - I'll be watching it to see how it evolves!

Posted Mar 14, 2006 10:04:03 AM | link

randolfe_ says:

That sounds quite interesting, can you elaborate on those controls or have any links i can browse?

It is exactly this that I have been working on helping a startup explore, analyze, test and refine. Depending upon the status of this venture, I hope to provide more of our conclusions (which are admittedly very non-academic, but more opportunisticly entrepreneurial in nature) in the future. Even if they can not get funded or chose not to go forward, I wish to see what I believe is an otherwise sound notion, explored and potentially adopted by designers and publishers.

Posted Mar 14, 2006 12:37:04 PM | link

James says:

Ge Jin,
The preview of your video is very intriguing and makes me think of how online worlds are increasingly developing into new forms of nations/communities with even real world Gross National Product (GNP). Your topic is unavoidably controversial and perhaps showing interviews from both sides (WoW famers and non famers) will help show the complexities of your topic. I liked that you revealed the humanity past the computer screen and for me that was the most engaging aspect of your work so far… don’t lose it =)

I look forward to seeing your completed piece. Good Luck!

Posted Mar 15, 2006 3:52:17 AM | link

Bart Stewart says:

Like James, I also feel that an effort to document gold farming would not be complete without also considering the effects of farming on players who don't buy in-game currency.

What about the people whose gameplay is affected by other players who buy in-game advancement with out-of-game money? Is using a product in the way it's intended to be used (as entertainment) more defensible than using that product to produce an unintended (economic) effect? Or are economic interests always morally weightier than entertainment goals?

To put it another way: Are there conditions in which one person's desire to use a product purely for his own entertainment can and should be defended against another person's desire to use that product for economic gain? And do virtual worlds usually meet those conditions?

I don't think a documentary intended to be a fair look at gold farming needs to offer a conclusion about these questions. But I do think such questions deserve to be addressed by any such documentary.

A glance at the RMT-focused threads on this site (as well as other threads into which RMT debates have leaked) will point out several individuals with respectable academic credentials who can offer a critical appraisal of RMT's effects. I'd be a lot more convinced of the completeness and fair-mindedness of any review of farming if some of these folks were interviewed.

--Bart

Posted Mar 15, 2006 10:00:33 AM | link

KJ says:

I look forward to seeing this documentary when it is complete as well. What struck me was when the fellow said that the americans call them "Farmers" and how it is disparaging and they know it. From my experience, there is a lot of hate for Chinese players from the rest of the game population. It's one thing when cheap labor produces the computers you play on or the clothes you wear while playing, but to have them a part of your community is something else.

They tend to make up their own subculture within the community, and don't often interact directly with the average player. The first time I really saw chinese players for myself (in World of Warcraft) was when I was out one day collecting herbs in Azshara (a zone that tended to have a lot of chinese players). It was a groub of about ten of them, and they weren't farming gold but were taking part in PvP... 5 alliance rogues and 4 horde rogues fighting each other. In broken english, one of them explained to me they were outnumbered and wanted me to help. "Chinese farmers!" I realized, once in their group and reading them typing in chinese. All of them the same class, rogues, the "melee damage dealer." Why do they tend to play the same class? I fought out there with them around an hour and a half, and it was a more positive experience than most people on my server. All stealth battle, never had anything quite like it ever again. My side won, because the other side had nothing but rogues, and while we had a druid now (me), which meant they had someone who could actually heal, hehe. After it was over I told my team one of them should role a druid or priest.

I was convinced they weren't chinese farmers. If they were working in some distant sweatshop, how could they PvP? There was no profit in that activity, it was all only for fun and nothing else (at that time, before an honor system which gave rewards). I realize now they likely were a group of farmers, just on their break. I posted about my experience in our realm forums, and the reaction from the rest of the server was very negative for these people. I argued that since they couldn't quest and play the ame like we could (unable to read the descriptions) the way the played the game was by gathering wealth, and all of them did so isolated from the rest of us out in the azshara zone.

Other people responded with negative experiences around chinese players. a common example, someone was trying to use the mining skill on a node, and having a chinese player drag a group of monsters over then using the vanish skill... which would make the chinese player invisible and causing the monsters to attack the player mining the node. Then the person dies and the chinese player can take the node for themselves. The problem with that, is the game mechanics don't allow it, it won't actually work (unless you are fighting a similar monster already, the monsters would simply run back to where they were once the rogue used vanish). I think there are myths people repeat about item farmers.

Some time later I got to know another chinese farmer a little better. I was working the honor system, which meant playing all day long (every day) in PvP battlegrounds, trying to get "honor" which would eventually translate into item rewards. This one fellow would group with us for hours at a time, and he rarely said anything in chat. This lead a lot of people to believe he didn't understand any english at all. The thing was, he did understand some english... and so he did understand the racist remarks that would often pop up in our chat. People would openly mock him. Once he quit the group after some people did this, and I was proud of him. We needed him in our group, sure, but that didn't stop the hate. I know he was a farmer and not just a chinese player, because I'd often ask him to come help with the honor-grind, and he'd explain he had to be out farming until a certain time, then his shift (or whatever you'd call it) would be over and he could go out and do things for personal gain. I have no love for item farming, just knew the guy was good at playing his class, so wanted him in my group.

Another thing to remember: "Farming" is actually against the rules in World of Warcraft. Players are encouraged to report suspected players to the Game Masters, like we are also encouraged to do with hackers or game exploiters. I never played the Lineages, but someone told me it is good that they are "illegal" in World of Warcraft, because he said Lineage had more item farmers than normal players. Not sure if that's another myth or not.

Posted Mar 15, 2006 10:19:54 AM | link

Peder Holdgaard Pedersen says:

One thing I'd really to see would be an indepth look at the brokers, middle-men, farm operators etc In essence the supply chain of the RMT business.

The existence of gold farms is verified fact by now. The area I feel isn't really well-described are the channels and moneymen who run this business.

As player and a developer, I harbor no ill feelings against the gold farmers in China - quite the opposite. They are usually friendly people trying to make a living. The people I have beef with are the people who run this business, the IGEs of the industry, who to me are parasites who live off the intellectual property of MMORPG operators and cheap labor from China. As long the chinese labor is treated well and it seems they are in a lot places, there is little ethical or moral grounds to condemn the goldsellers for their use of gold farms. It's the other thing, the parasitical infestation of a leisure activity. They are like the black market for sports tickets translated to a MMORPG world.

Posted Mar 15, 2006 10:29:45 AM | link

TK says:

This is an interesting video, which does try to show the gold farmer side of MMPORGs and brings up the issue of cheap labor.

I as a player of WoW, do not approve of gold farming to sell. To me it cheapens the experience, it is comparable to Kobe Bryant selling his position and game time at the Finals to some regular joe to play for a few hundred million.

I understand this is a service... but from this video it looks like cheap slave labor that bypasses taxation from country it's being sold (U.S.). I very much doubt they were paying any income taxes and such. That is probably why he said when he needed a social security number for PayPal (taxation tracking reasons) thus his business went kaput.

The so-called "Chinese farmers" being offended by that derrogatory term is a moot point. History has proven time and time again when you have a group of people "willing" to provide cheap labor there will be always be derogatory name calling upon that group of people.

The irony of this is that you have people that are willing to degrade themselves to this cheap slave labor willingly (in the eyes of players) and expect respect from that community. They have yet to learn respect is earned not sold/bought.

Posted Mar 15, 2006 11:21:43 AM | link

Yoshua says:

For the business gold farming is a form of theft of service. You are taking something the company provides you for a fee and reselling it without permission. This is in fact illegal unless you have permission. You and I who play a MMO do not own anything in the game, it's all the property of the company running the game. Why don't the companies enforce this ? Because it would take a lot of time and a lot more money. I imagine also it's difficult to impossible to quantify just how much gold farmers cost them when said farmers probably do not report incomes to any government, or at least any government willing to cooperate with our companies and the justice system.

The problem to the community varies from game to game. It can range from being a nuisance to effectively making much of the game unplayable (see some above examples). My experience with it in WoW has been that it has devalued gold to some degree since they spend all day, every day collecting it and feeding it into the system. Instancing areas at least has meant they can't keep me from playing and advancing. In other games without instanced areas it can become a pretty serious bottleneck for players. When NPC's you need to kill in order to advance are monopolized by a particular group or individual it hurts the game. Even with alternatives, you have so many people playing and now being forced to fight over an ever dwindling supply of NPC's to advance.

Buying the gold is wrong for many reasons. The simplest being that it keeps the farmers in business and encourages new ones to start up to take advantage of the market. The buyers are as responsible for the problem as the sellers. The buyers don't even make up a majority of the player base, they just repersent a market large enough to support a business model. A business model that relies on theft and fraud to continue (many gold farmer companies will also run in game scams to steal items or even characters from players to sell).

Frankly, gold farmers deserve all the abuse they get. If they hate it so much, they could, you know, get a differant fucking job instead of getting some whiney crybaby liberals to film a documentary about how much it sucks to be them.

Posted Mar 15, 2006 1:24:50 PM | link

Jan van der Crabben says:

Ge Jin,

as a student who will be starting his PhD on Virtual Worlds very soon, I am highly excited about your research. Most of my thoughts have already been expressed by previous posters, but here's something to consider (something that I am also considering for my PhD):

Why is it that people are willing to pay real money for, well, basically nothing? MMOGs are the first place where items have been stripped of their material value and their use value, but have pure Marxian "fetish value" or Baudrillardian "sign value." A virtual object, like a sword, is hyper-real AND it is available in nearly infinite quantities (as it's just a random loot drop). Still, some of these are sold for high prices. It's basically destroying the Marxian understanding of the economy.

Hmm... sorry for the rant.

Posted Mar 15, 2006 2:16:02 PM | link

randolfe_ says:

The value people pay for in MMOGs/VWs is real. They are paying for economic utility they receive as a benefit in terms of their entertainment experience. Without getting into the ethics of this, RMT is not unique in this fashion. People pay for short-lived consumables -- even virtual ones -- all the time. Many of wireless carrier depend upon this for frivolous services provisioning revenues.

Although some call the RMT market a "virtual asset" market, it really has more in common with a commodity market where the commodity is a consumption commodity. The asset part comes in because customers/players feel they have an ownership interest in the good. In fact, they may. Some have fallen back on the old EULA/TOS arguments that the game publishers explicitly deny property rights to players. This is largely untested by courts at present. It may well be that players do have at least some limited interest in their virtual property. EULAs are notoriously difficult to enforce, and many of software company outside of the games industry has had EULAs collapse when tested by courts. Games may be even that much harder to prevail on purely legal contract grounds.

Keep in mind that mass-market MMOGs are a form of entertainment. What defines economic utility for the buyer in this market is as much driven by style and psychology as by rational decision making (in fact, probably much more so). I don't think RMT contradicts Marxian principles at all; quite the contrary. This is altogether a different question than pricing efficiency. Because RMT is a "black" or "frontier" market, lack of transactional integrity and other frictions are of primary relevance in the pricing function.

Posted Mar 15, 2006 7:03:39 PM | link

Kaziel says:

To add to what Yoshua is saying, I will relate my experiences, having played both WoW and FFXI extensively (each for over a year).
As both Yoshua and Peder Holdgaard Pedersen said, in WoW, it is a minor thing, due to not only instanced zones, but many of the high quality items being Bind On Pickup. At worst certain item's prices skyrocket during times of need for them (like holidays or world events). But due to the easy availability of high value items through instances or quests, rare drop, or a high value crafted items are not as nessecary for further advancement, but they can make things easier.
FFXI is probably one of the better, if not the best example of a system that is horribly exploited by Gold Farmers. Most high level gear involves crafting to a degree, and until recently the vast majority of high quality gear dropped from non-instanced NMs. Also, a majority of the crafted high quality gear required drops from NMs. These two facets led to the game virtually being controlled by gil-sellers. Square has started to take steps to fix this, but they are few and far inbetween.

Posted Mar 15, 2006 8:49:11 PM | link

csven says:

Jan said: "Why is it that people are willing to pay real money for, well, basically nothing?"

Why are people willing to pay real money for
1) tickets to a sporting event where they sit and watch others?
2) tickets to a movie where they sit and watch light on a screen?
3) tickets to a concert where they just hear stuff?
4) tickets to the opera where they hear stuff and watch people acting?
5) the atmosphere of an expensive restaurant when they can get food from a vending machine?

We already pay real money for many, many things which are "basically nothing". At least I can take that virtual sword and have it made into something real. That's more than someone can do with mere memories of some experience watching something they can't touch.

Posted Mar 15, 2006 10:24:57 PM | link

Ge Jin says:

As a documentarian, I will try to contrast the different experiences of different people involved in the same game world including gold farmers, farm operators, brokers, game developers, gamers who buy virtual goods, gamers who hate RMT, gamers who don't care...it should be a parable for globalization--we are all connected in some way but we are still seperated by our social, cultural and economic positions and can hardly see other people's lives. I will try to include all kinds of views on RMT and gold farmers, negative or positive, including the following kind:
"Frankly, gold farmers deserve all the abuse they get. If they hate it so much, they could, you know, get a differant fucking job instead of getting some whiney crybaby liberals to film a documentary about how much it sucks to be them."--Yoshua
I guess showing different points of view makes me a liberal.

"It's basically destroying the Marxian understanding of the economy."--Jan
What an interesting thought. Maybe Marx has too dualistic a way to seperate use value and exchange value. But I tend to agree with randolfe and csven that virtual goods have real use value, and they are not that different from other commodities we consume. And I think "commodity fetish" applies well to RMT, commodity mediates social relations no matter in the real world, in the virtual world or in the intersection of the two.

Posted Mar 16, 2006 6:15:28 AM | link

says:

@csven & @randolfe_:

Of course, I agree that what you are buying in the virtual world is entertainment. If you think about events, as csven mentioned, you are paying for feelings and memories. When you buy a DVD, you pay for the movie -- the cost of the DVD-object itself is negligible.

But, actually, you are not only paying for entertainment. At least not entirely. Let me illustrate this with two examples:

- Opera / Sporting Event:
You are paying for the venue. The opera house has to pay electricity bills, tax, cleaning, rent, and the occasional renovation. You are paying the people who do this work, and you are indirectly paying for work that has been done in the past, and work that will be done in the future. Also, you are paying for the actors, and the whole process that went into making this play possible. In Marxian terms, you are paying for production value.

- DVD
You are paying for the material object (maybe $0.10), and the remaining $15 or whatever it costs are marketing costs. You are paying for the fact that this DVD is being marketed to you. You are, of course, also paying a share to the retailer, who has to pay employees, taxes, refurbishments, etc..., and you are indirectly paying the studio for the filming, the actors, the director. Again, you are paying for something that was produced by people. Marxian.

- MMOG Object
You are paying a monthly fee (except a few cases like Guild Wars), as well as the box price in the store. That is what you pay for the production of your entertainment, which, as above, trickles down to all those involved in the production process.
The VIRTUAL OBJECT (let's take a sword for example) that you buy on eBay is produced by the computer, on a random basis. Every time you kill that black dragon, there is a 0.5% chance that the superduper sword of instant killing drops, which then is sold on eBay for $500. The "production" of this object involves no humans, and is therefore free.

Now, you could argue that finding this object required time of an individual who went around looking for it. True, of course. But the difference between the actual and the virtual world is that finding this object is a completely random event, and usually the finder does not go out with the purpose of finding it. Not Marxian.

For the traditional Chinese gold farmer this is different, of course. They invest labour and time with the PURPOSE of finding gold. It is a service industry, yes. But it is no longer a process of production, but a process of service ("I invest the time for you to find 1000 gold and you pay me 10 yuan an hour"). I'm not quite sure how Marxian that would be.

Posted Mar 16, 2006 11:27:21 AM | link

djg says:

MMO's are such that rewards are given based, primarily, on the amount of time played. Not all rewards can be bought or traded, however gold obviously can, which can make things easier (and quicker).

It creates an interesting set of economic classes within the game. Players that have no or little real world disposable income but little time (real world working-class). Players that have no real world disposable income but a great deal of virtual time (students perhaps). And players with a great deal of disposable income (real world well-off players able to purchase gold from farmers).

Lower class players have little idea of the class of those around them, if they purchase gold online for example (which is in contrast to the real world and seeing the car someone drives, the house they live in, or clothes they wear). But they can certainly pick out those that enable the upper class, and identify these (primarily?) Chinese players as those that enable the upper class to bypass the idea of time/reward.

I think this is primarily where the struggle lies. And I think the blame falls on the Chinese farmers by default (because they can be more easily picked out) rather than the reason they have a business at all: they have customers.

Saying it's right or wrong is more a debate about capitalism and when and where it should apply. As it is now with farming, real world wealth is having an effect on virtual leisure activities.

Posted Mar 16, 2006 11:27:40 AM | link

randolfe_ says:

For the traditional Chinese gold farmer this is different, of course. They invest labour and time with the PURPOSE of finding gold. It is a service industry, yes. But it is no longer a process of production, but a process of service ("I invest the time for you to find 1000 gold and you pay me 10 yuan an hour"). I'm not quite sure how Marxian that would be.

I think this is much more a limitation of attempting to analyze the RMT economy in neoclassical terms. Clearly the normative biases you're expecting "consumers" to exhibit are different from those actually exhibited in the real world. In fact, the rationalizing players apparently do derive sufficient economic utility, perhaps in terms of social capital, despite the virtual-ness of the goods.

But the difference between the actual and the virtual world is that finding this object is a completely random event, and usually the finder does not go out with the purpose of finding it. Not Marxian.

I think you're underestimating the degree to which randomness plays a role in real world economies, and the degree to which determinism plays a role in virtual world economies. According to your argument, the entire stock market price movement mechanism is not at all Marxian either.

People pay to gamble too, even given a higher degree of randomness, and lower chance of deriving utility. This doesn't so much disprove neoclassical economics as it invokes Thaler and how human psychology works in things economic.

Posted Mar 16, 2006 12:01:53 PM | link

lewy says:

"- MMOG Object
You are paying a monthly fee (except a few cases like Guild Wars), as well as the box price in the store. That is what you pay for the production of your entertainment, which, as above, trickles down to all those involved in the production process.
The VIRTUAL OBJECT (let's take a sword for example) that you buy on eBay is produced by the computer, on a random basis. Every time you kill that black dragon, there is a 0.5% chance that the superduper sword of instant killing drops, which then is sold on eBay for $500. The "production" of this object involves no humans, and is therefore free."

But, just like the opera house, the servers hosting that game require electricity. The giant air conditioners that keeps those servers cool require electricity. The building housing those servers and air conditioners drains money in the form of rent and maintenance. And there are programmers and technicians who keep the game and the hardware up and running. The production of that magic sword involves all the people, from coders to techs to janitors, who keep the infrastructure up and running. That's in addition to the development costs involved in getting things set up in the first place.

Posted Mar 16, 2006 6:38:08 PM | link

cindy says:

too many posts for me to read through.

1) I was told gaming needs skills. And I was told gaming can teach ICT skills. IF all are true, why then the Americans are not LEARNING the skills themselves instead 'hiring' someone to play the games for them? SO, would that mean these skills are really not that important to the American?
2) These Chinese are slaves to the games. Their behaviour towards their 'jobs', in my opinion, is no different than a drug addict.

Cindy

Posted Mar 16, 2006 7:14:17 PM | link

Ken Fox says:

Games impose artificial scarcity which causes the demand price for items to be much, much higher than production costs. The tension over RMT comes from the fact that the monopoly owner is not the one exploiting the scarcity.

Cindy, players require skill to get powerful weapons, but, more importantly, players must spend large amounts of time. The opportunity cost of finding a weapon in-game is extremely high -- hundreds or thousands of dollars for an employed U.S. resident. If the player can buy the weapon for less than his opportunity cost, it makes economic sense. He can still develop his game skills, but he doesn't have to spend game time looking for a weapon.

Posted Mar 17, 2006 8:13:33 AM | link

lesslucid says:

To me, this is a pretty bizarre phenomenon which grows out of an aspect of MMORPGs which is pretty bizarre in itself.

Huizinga, in his work on games, "Homo Ludens", divides games up into two categories based on the quality of the tension involved. A game of chess has a strong type of tension, brought on by the fact that one knows that, against a skilled player, one must strive very hard to win, or one will very likely lose. There is a weaker kind of tension involved in solving a jigsaw puzzle; while the particular piece in your hand may not be easy to find a place for right now, the question of solving the puzzle is not if, but when. Spend long enough with the puzzle and eventually you will solve it.

However, a MMORPG has an even weaker tension than this, because it has no ending point. Essentially, one is climbing an infinite ladder upward, and while "hard numberchasing" may cause you to progress more rapidly, then effectively, the power of your avatar is more or less just an approximation of the amount of time you've spent in the game, grinding mobs.

This is partly strange because the players are ostensibly there inspire by a love of fantasy fiction, in which courageous heroes take tremendous risks in order to serve noble aims, typically saving the world from destructive forces. Yet these elements are mostly absent from the MMORPG experience; instead players behave in a way that, if represented in fiction, would seem psychopathic. They kill things, loot their corpses, and then kill more things, in order to become more powerful, in order to kill more powerful things. They take hardly any risks at all. They serve themselves, not the world. And there's no tension, no real drama. If you think of any of the heroes of well-known fantasy stories... what they do is, in its character, absolutely alien to the idea of walking an "XP point treadmill", even if the things in their world are labelled as elves and goblins and so on.

Then... all this happens in the name of a kind of "progress". I guess this lies at the heart of the whole experience; people like to feel they are moving forward, upward, becoming more powerful, that their power is quantified and visibly growing. That power is limited to the realm of the gameworld, but there are other people there, at least, to see that power, to notice it, to give recognition to the player on the basis of it. So... if one is obsessed with this power, and is devoting huge amounts of one's free time and energies to developing it, why not money as well?

The notion of goldfarming is utterly alien to something like the works of Tolkien... but it makes perfect sense in the "progress-quest-esque" world of MMORPGs.

Hmm.

Posted Mar 17, 2006 1:25:01 PM | link

randolfe_ says:

lesslucid,

Very insightful. I think the answer may be in the broad market demographic to which MMORPGs appeal. Much like the LOTR movies captured a much wider audience than those who have actually read Tolkien, MMORPGs capture a much wider demographic than those who've ever actually played DnD, MUDs, and/or read fantasy fiction. To these players there is probably little in the experience which feels contradictory to the genre. Instead, they are participating in an entertainment experience which is modeled on a well understood reward system, but decorated with warmly familiar trappings of currently popular mythology. I propose that most of these players wouldn't be at all offended by sacrilege such as clerics using blades, heroes being narcissists, or trolls being cute little things with purple tufts of hair.

Posted Mar 17, 2006 1:49:35 PM | link

kevinb says:

I would like to see the interaction between chinese farmer clans set to protect bots, and the clans that kill bots. Im my gaming I have noticed this a great deal, and have even participated in bot hunting parties.

Another point of interest is how MMORPS with an adaptive economy are suffering from the influx of gold into the hands of players. I dont think in game inflation is ever taken into account when talking about farming, but is one of the largest issues with its existence.

Posted Mar 17, 2006 3:46:42 PM | link

randolfe_ says:

I dont think in game inflation is ever taken into account when talking about farming, but is one of the largest issues with its existence.

Few game titles have adequate theoretical or mechanical controls over their internal economies to enable them to effectively deal with inflation. Not only do they lack some type of "central banking" function, but they have more or less static production functions and non-reactive markets. Even sophisticated VW economies like Second Life fail when evaluating the L$/USD rate on an interest rate parity basis; so as it stands now when you lend L$ to a bank in SL you are fueling those banks earning risk-free arbitrage in USD.

Posted Mar 17, 2006 5:18:27 PM | link

csven says:

The opera house has to pay electricity bills, tax, cleaning, rent, and the occasional renovation. You are paying the people who do this work, and you are indirectly paying for work that has been done in the past, and work that will be done in the future. Also, you are paying for the actors, and the whole process that went into making this play possible. In Marxian terms, you are paying for production value.

And videogames require none of these? There is no "house" for the PC or the servers? There is no electricity, no tax, no cleaning, no rent or renovation? Who pays the people that maintain the servers? Who pays the people that develop and create the virtual world? In Marxian terms, is there no production value in all that goes into a videogame?

You are paying for the material object (maybe $0.10), and the remaining $15 or whatever it costs are marketing costs. You are paying for the fact that this DVD is being marketed to you. You are, of course, also paying a share to the retailer, who has to pay employees, taxes, refurbishments, etc..., and you are indirectly paying the studio for the filming, the actors, the director. Again, you are paying for something that was produced by people. Marxian.

The same is true of every videogame I own. Marxian.

You are paying a monthly fee (except a few cases like Guild Wars), as well as the box price in the store. That is what you pay for the production of your entertainment, which, as above, trickles down to all those involved in the production process.

I'd venture you missed quite a bit in whatever analysis you did. We pay for all the things you manage to assign to DVDs as well as attending the Opera.

The VIRTUAL OBJECT (let's take a sword for example) that you buy on eBay is produced by the computer, on a random basis. ... {snip} ... The "production" of this object involves no humans, and is therefore free.

Incorrect. Someone created the original object. That incurs its own costs as well. It is "produced" (more accurately "replicated") from that original, much like how a CD is duplicated from an original. And just in the same way that factories are often automated, the servers on which the virtual worlds reside are their own automated factories.

The work I do developing a products is often entirely virtual. If I do this for a client that has an automated factory, I doubt they'll decide to give it away free of charge based on the comments you made so far which seem to apply to their business. If you have a better argument, please provide it.

As stated, I can still take that virtual sword and fabricate it and turn it into something you can hold (also automated). What can you do with what you get from attending the opera - a piece of paper called a ticket?

Posted Mar 17, 2006 7:56:07 PM | link

Ken Fox says:

You guys should audit an Econ 101 course to relieve your fixation on total production costs. Marginal costs, scarcity and demand might be more useful concepts to explore.

Posted Mar 18, 2006 9:38:29 AM | link

csven says:

You guys should audit an Econ 101 course to relieve your fixation on total production costs. Marginal costs, scarcity and demand might be more useful concepts to explore.

I don't think any costs are worth considering in a worthless comparison. What's curious to me, is having someone saying "Why is it that people are willing to pay real money for, well, basically nothing?" and then defending something like going to a movie theater or opera. Rather than audit a course, they could more easily just follow what people like Mark Cuban or Steven J. Heyer (of Starwood hotels - where something like "scarcity and demand" would apply to the initiatives he's started) are saying. More and more industries - theaters, hotel chains, aso - are realizing that they're selling "experiences". An experience is "well, basically nothing".

Posted Mar 18, 2006 11:20:55 AM | link

randolfe_ says:

You guys should audit an Econ 101 course to relieve your fixation on total production costs. Marginal costs, scarcity and demand might be more useful concepts to explore.

I completed (for credit I might add) many of graduate level economics and econ strategy courses, and I'm not sure exactly what your complaint is. It's like the game-theory-economist who keeps losing the game-theory experiment against "normal" people. Although he protests that these people "simply don't know the rules and refuse to be rational", it is *he* who fails to grasp the real lesson of it all.

Posted Mar 18, 2006 4:39:47 PM | link

Ken Fox says:

Sorry randolfe, I didn't mean to direct that at you. I'm just dumbfounded by the people trying to prove that something has value by looking only at production costs. Maybe you're right and I am failing to grasp the real lesson in the discussion of opera houses and the price of electricity. How screwed up is the following thinking?

The limit of the value of a virtual object = hours_to_find * max(opportunity_cost_per_hour, connection_cost_per_hour). Production costs do impact connection_cost_per_hour, but that number is only a few cents. I don't see how anybody could value his or her time so poorly.

Posted Mar 18, 2006 10:41:53 PM | link

csven says:

I guess the sarcasm didn't come through, since apparently that was aimed at me. Let me try that again:

"That's more than someone can do with mere memories of some experience watching something they can't touch. [/sarcasm]"

The issue was never value in my mind. Who cares about production costs? It's the disconnect in perceived value imo. People are familiar and comfortable with forking over cash to see a movie or attend an event, but the minute someone assigns a value to a "virtual item" that reminds them of something they might purchase at a store, suddenly its lack of tangibility becomes an issue.

The inability to reframe it as being a part of an experience in the same way that one might spent $100 for a ticket to a concert, is the issue afaic.

Posted Mar 19, 2006 3:25:52 AM | link

jvdc says:

Yes, for the consumer, the money he is paying is entertainment value, as much as the fact that if he's buying a virtual object online he's buying entertainment value. The difference is that the ultimate cost of the opera ticket is calculated along lines of expenses incurred by the producers of the opera. The price of the opera ticket is made so that the expenses are covered and everyone involved in the production process of the opera makes a profit and can make a living.
If you buy a virtual object on eBay, none of that money goes to those people who actually "produced" the object (the company who is running the servers, has designed the game, and administers it, and pays the electricity bill -- they earn money from your monthly payments). The money goes to the person who found the object, and the price of that object is based on how hard it was to find (time invested), and how good it is (entertainment value). Thus, material value has been stripped out of the equation.

Posted Mar 19, 2006 8:26:13 AM | link

jvdc says:

#Clarification of the first sentence:
The money he's paying for the opera is entertainment value just like the money he's paying for a virtual object is entertainment value.

Posted Mar 19, 2006 8:27:21 AM | link

csven says:

The price of the opera ticket is made so that the expenses are covered and everyone involved in the production process of the opera makes a profit and can make a living.

scalping {definition}
1. To engage in the reselling of something, such as tickets, at a price higher than the established value.
2. To buy and sell securities or commodities for small quick profits.

Reference

Posted Mar 19, 2006 11:27:12 AM | link

randolfe_ says:

The opera ticket metaphor only holds if you are talking about the secondary market for resold/scalped/brokered tickets. The primary attributes driving prices in this market are transactional integrity, scarcity, and "style" as it affects demand. Assume that not all opera tickets are created equal. Some have a better view. Some are for blocks of contiguous seats. Others are perceived as the "last chance" to get in before the doors are shut.

The secondary market has been fueled through different sources, further complicating the price function. Some tickets come from individuals who find out they can't use them or don't want them. Some come from folks employed by brokers who "farm" the tickets by waiting in line or otherwise getting in on first-dibs. Some come from opera-clubs, or other organized groups who create/receive preferential treatment in ticket acquisition.

Posted Mar 19, 2006 11:30:02 AM | link

jvdc says:

Hmm... haven't thought of reselling / scalping tickets. But then, you could argue, it's outside of general market forces. Well, so is selling a virtual sword on eBay.

I think we could therefore argue that, in general, it is very similar, but the degree to which the material / production value is part of the price differs. A $500 scalped opera ticket includes maybe $50 production value (= very little), while a sold virtual sword has $0 production value (= none).

The reason for paying an inflated amount of money for it is the same, though: Entertainment / style / sign value / fetish value.

Posted Mar 19, 2006 12:31:19 PM | link

randolfe_ says:

I argue that the production value/cost of the virtual sword is not $0 for all sellers. It may be something near $0 for some sellers -- which is similar to a scalping market if you consider that some primary ticket owners won theirs on the radio, in raffles, or have season tickets (thus each individual event is a sunk cost). Other sellers are treating the creation of virtual swords more like a business, so they have production costs more in line with their true opportunity costs (what could they be doing otherwise with their time; what optimal virtual items yield the best profits).

Posted Mar 19, 2006 12:47:40 PM | link

csven says:

"The opera ticket metaphor only holds if you are talking about the secondary market for resold/scalped/brokered tickets."

I disagree. In general, the ticket (which can now be a virtual e-ticket), is only a tag on a person who has paid to attend a performance. That performance, however it's viewed, is an intangible thing. The ticket may have an assigned value, but its inherent value is neglible.

A virtual sword, by virtue of it's "ownership" is also a tag on a person - or more accurately their avatar representation inside a virtual space. It might be another kind of ticket that gets the virtual owner past an obstacle and on to the next stage of a game. But in the end, it's an intangible experience not to dissimilar from attending the opera.

I can also just as easily say that virtual swords are not all "created equal". A virtual sword may have a variety of versions similar to the variety of tickets (cheap seats = rusty metal, mezzanine = stainless, box seats = magical forged). In that way, they also have a variety of assigned values; but in the end it's inherent value is also neglible.

I only pointed to scalping to provide another example of how attempting to differentiate between the two concepts runs into practical circumstance. Like you, I would say that "the virtual sword is not $0 for all sellers"; and certainly not for those who invest the time to create the original from which the others are derived.

But again, I don't see the point in debating over value when neither the operatic experience nor the virtual world sword are tangible items. They are both effectively "nothing" as I understand how the original comment uses the term.

Posted Mar 19, 2006 2:59:17 PM | link

m+ says:

..very interesting. Voices of this phenomenon have been going around for quite a long time now, but seeing it onscreen is a shock. I think that the most interesting point is the need for "pre-developed" entertainment from western people, it's totally alienating, because it mirrors a completely spoiled conception of fun itself.
I am an italian journalist, I would be really interested in contacting Ge Jin, let me know if you can help me with that. Thanks.
m+

Posted Mar 19, 2006 6:51:15 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Mike, re: "Or, to put it another way, perhaps gold farming is the first step in outsourcing US-based VW production to China (and India?)."

Of course it is. Oh, and Russia, too, lots of highly-educated computer programmers chasing not enough low-paid work, many of them on computers and Internet Soros gave them.

The gold farmers will obviously morph to more serious and lucrative pursuits.

Already Anshe Chung, Second Life's premier real estate baroness, has hired some 20 people from Mainland China to handle her vast empire of private islands, i.e. servers, now numbering some 125 or more, all with skilled terraforming, terrain graphics, themes, infrastructure, housing, etc. (That's on top of her huge existing mainland empire of mainly sales of land, including bulk auction sims in 40 blocks.)

Each servers costs $1250 wholesale. She develops it, then makes $25 US off every 4096 m2 square or "estate" of server she rents out. Each server has 65k plus m2. She pays some $12 USD in tier (maintenance fee to Linden Lab) at the upper discount levels for each of those squares. So she'll have plenty of funds to hire even more expensive labour than Chinese -- but she's hiring the Chinese almost to make a point: whoever is hungriest is going to get a big chunk of this virtual estate up there and some people in some countries are just hungrier than others.

If it kept growing like this, you could envision a scenario where phalanxes of "gold farmers" led by the right kind of savvy leadership might higher a small California start-up software company or even something 10 times as big to be their programmers to serve their now independently-hosted servers -- instead of thinking of those "gold farmers" as pathetic third-world losers without English.

LL gave them their own last name, "ACS," and welcomed them -- up to a point. Then they slapped a tax on private islands by setting up a "Land Store" to reserve grid positions for future expansion of the servers on the grid, starting at $30. Nice! Then Anshe announced a boycott of that system. Then LL came back with a deal to give a year's grace period. Etc. It's not clear who is going to co-opt whom here.

Posted Mar 19, 2006 8:20:52 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

*That's $12 USD in bulk discount tier per 4096, then $25 USD one can collect in rentals -- people will pay that because at that level of account they'd pay that as an individual.

Posted Mar 19, 2006 8:23:12 PM | link

Dalgar says:

Ge Jin,

I have started the NoGold.org webmaster organization. I would be eternally grateful for any mention you could give us in your documentary, or work with you in the future.

Thank you.

Posted Mar 23, 2006 12:14:40 AM | link

Flyer says:

Ge Jin,

Regarding how Chinese Farmers react with American players.

I used to farm a lot, for myself, I'm talking about 5 hours a night, 6 days a week, straight farming. So In that period of time, I came across many "Chinese Farmers," Horde and Alliance.(I was a Dwarf Hunter.)

Anyway, 90% of the time whether they were horde or not, they'd just distance themselves from me, and if we did happen to cross paths, leave me be. I've tried talking to many of them, however most of them(I assume) don't speak english, or would just use phrases like "Sorry, No." Or "Hi, I'm busy." But regardless their just doing their thing, not bothering anyone.

Thought you'd like to know,

Flyer.

Posted Apr 4, 2006 8:21:11 AM | link

Qiu says:

For those who had been to china or even been to china farmer factory will know how the living and stuff like.

You paid their service to do so.

Exchange rate from USD to Yuan is very actractive....

Posted Apr 14, 2006 1:39:13 PM | link

Mario Saavedra says:

Hi there,

This is a Spanish journalist trying to contact with Cal-San Diego PhD student named Jin Ge, autor del video de gaming workshop. Could you help me?

Posted Jun 29, 2006 8:11:21 AM | link

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Posted Jul 29, 2006 4:49:30 PM | link

usa says:

I'm an American gamer and I've purchased G before on WoW. Not a whole lot (prob less then $50 total), but I can give you some insight into why.

Basically, the analogy I'd make is to people who get lawn mowing services. Your paying a guy money so that you can enjoy free time instead of mowing your lawn. For a lot of people this makes sense because they have to pay the immigrants that do it alot less per hour then they make themselves.

When you look at China gold, the ratio gets absurd. What would take me five hours to farm in the game takes me about 20 minutes to make at my real life job. So basically we are talking about a 15 to 1 ratio. It seems crazy not to do it.

Some people might think I'm just playing a game when I farm so its not like a job, but farming is. Mindlessly killing the same NPCs over and over for hours is the equviliant of assembly line work. My job is actually more stimulating then gold farming. However, to participate in the fun parts of the game, complex boss encounters and competitive team PvP, one needs gold.

So, whenever I need gold for repairs or reagents I use China Gold. My friends go out and farm it themselves for hours. I've tried to convince them otherwise. While they farm away every night, I study for my actuary exams. Every exam I pass is another 5k/year in my pocket(at least). That's alot more then I spent on the gold.

Do I like the fact I have to buy gold, no. It's a major flaw in the game. WoW, like other MMORPGs, has major design flaws in it. It is because of these design flaws that this external market is created. I would sooner save my money if they fixed the system.

But they won't. It's very profitable to has all those farmers doling out monthly fees. Not to mention the time sink model is an addictive model meant to keep American's comming back for more.

The only thing that will really end farming is if a new company, ready to take a bite out of the existing subscriber base, comes up with a game that dixes those structural issues.

But, until then, 15-to-1 sounds good.

Posted Sep 29, 2006 6:49:16 PM | link

Jadedbyte says:

You know, this is all heart-warming crapola from the perspective of the 'other victim', the gold-farmer; the schmuck who in lieu of a real job, is 'forced' to make a living farming gold in a virtual environment in order to feed his family.

Now for the truth:

Scrap your studies, your research, your bullshit you're selling the bleeding hearts and let's get down to the facts, shall we?

The truth is, in over 50 computers I've fixed with every version of malware you can imagine that infected their systems in an effort to steal their WoW accounts, in every single case, those victims were buyers of virtual gold.

The FACT is, for every website out there claiming to beat the going rate, the intention is NOT to sell online gold, but rather, to steal back the money they sell you and STEAL the rest of anything they find in your account.

I have reviewed online forms and java scripts only to find malicious code and droppers embedded into the form scripts in cgi format and java code, sometimes both. This is NOT unsophisticated stuff we're talking about either. It's all the latest technology and updated regularly.

So please, cut the bull. People get their accounts stolen as a result of believing they are getting a great price for virtual gold they don't have to farm themselves. The truth is, these farmers NEVER had any intention of selling a thing to you. The websites themselves are proof of THAT MUCH with the code they embed within them right from the git-go. In addition to never having the intention to sell you a thing, the truth is, the intention is to STEAL! It's pre-meditated, planned in fore-thought and deliberate!

Sell your teary-eyed b.s. to someone else with your videos of MMORPG 'kinship'. The fact of the matter is, it's all carefully depicted to deter the reader from what's really going on and that's to rip off your 'victims'.

Buyers of gold, this is who intrudes on your privacy. This is who steals your passwords and strips your characters, if not deleting them entirely and leaves your recourse with the game's technical department. The gold farmers could care less about you or your demolished characters you spent a year developing. They believe you are nothing but a spoiled, rich, asshole who deserves it anyway.

Believe it, because that IS the truth of what's going on.

So, what's your rebuttal now GeJin? Bring it on. When you're done, I'm bringing out a documentary that will scare the shit out of anyone considering buying that crap ever again. You want to throw this crap out to the public? Be prepared to meet your match.

Your move.

Posted Dec 3, 2006 8:48:53 PM | link

Kurt says:

Howdy,
this is Kurt I have been running a gold farming biz in China. I am currently doing my Econ Ph.D in United States. I would be glad to answer some of the questions giving my first hand exp.
"1) I would like to know more about the demographics and background of the pharmers.
most farming shops are organized in relatively undeveloped province. At my best knowledge,half of them come from college graduate(community college type of school) hard to get a decent job and get to know that there is a place can make 1k RMB with game.
2) I would like to know what other jobs they are qualified to fill and for how much (comparative)
They will probably get a lousy job making some amount of money with quite a bit effort in job hunting.

3) How many of the them think or do sell physical stuff of auction houses? (correlation)
I would say 100% of them sell stuff in AH
"
I have been running the biz for almost 2 yrs. have seen tons of interesting discussions here.And so far I haven't heard of any website that steal ppl's acct pwd or whatsoever.

Furthermore, I haven't noticed any discussion regarding the role of the game development Blizzard. their regulation and reinforcement of the TOS etc. the rationals of tolerating the gold farming and trading in some extends.

Posted Dec 10, 2006 2:28:58 PM | link