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Interesting article on gold/gil "farmers"


"Sack" is the only name I'm given for the person I'm supposed to contact. He lives in the Fujian province of China, but his place of business is online—he plays Lineage II. He's paid about 56 cents an hour to work in a videogame "sweatshop."

"I work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the U.S. Lineage II server," he says. He works long, boring hours for low pay and gets no holidays. Carefully constructed macros do most of the work; Sack is just there to fend off the occasional player itching for a fight or game master who's hunting for these automated farming programs. "Everyone knows where the good places are, and GMs know that your account has been online for a whole month," he says. "[A GM will] message me asking, .Hello, what level are you, please?' I know he isn't asking my level; he just wants to know if [there's actually a person at the computer]."

user posted image

The people in these pics taken at one virtual sweatshop make as little as 56 cents an hour
How does it work? The macros for World of WarCraft, for example, control a high-level hunter and cleric. The hunter kills while the cleric automatically heals. Once they are fully loaded with gold and items, the "farmer" who's monitoring their progress manually controls them out of the dungeon to go sell their goods. These automated agents are then returned to the dungeons to do their thing again. Sack's typical 12-hour sessions can earn his employers as much as $60,000 per month while he walks away with a measly $150.

This phenomenon is so prevalent now that everyone shrugs it off as just another occurance in any given game. If you think about it, it's really something you would read in a cyberpunk story. What's next?
Yeah, it does have that cyberpunk feel to it. Makes me feel bad that I've been guilty of feeding the "monster" on a couple of occasions. Obviously I won't be doing THAT again. At least it's helping put food on the table for some folks in poor countries.
It all just seems pretty fucked up. It also goes to show how bad China's economy is, as well. Makes me wonder if selling money/items for cash should even be allowed in online games.

Heck, it makes me wonder if the game developers should realize that they've created a virtual economy that can relate to big bucks. While it would be unethical to captialize on something such as this if you're the developer/publisher, it would seem more logical for the developers to profit fully from their own game then some jackass running a sweat shop.
Origin realized this was a fight they couldn't win, so they caved in and started selling "advanced characters" for UO a while back. I'm actually surprised others haven't followed suit.
Very good read, good to see an actual investigative piece in gaming journalism

I think everyone has at least half-suspected that the gil farming/reselling was a much shadier operation than it appears from your third-person view, either as a gamer gettin screwed by some "goddamn macroing chinaman" or as somone purchasing the ill-gotten goods for your own characters.

It's amazing how exploitable this market is, with gamers the world over with liquid cash ready to fork it over at a moment's notice to further their MMO career. I'm sure the devs/pubs could rake in a fortune if they tried this system on their own, legitimizing it in some way. However, the outcry of gamers claiming "all you need to win at XXX game is daddy's CC!" would probably hurt the game's success in the long run. Not that the claim isn't too far from the truth with 2nd party gold resellers, but that is largely out of the hands of the pubs.

As far as the pay that the "slaves" are getting, I'm sure that there are a hundred worse jobs they could be doing besides sitting in front of a computer for 12 hours a day. Hell, I bet some of us here do it for free with an intense gaming session beigelaugh.gif . China's economy is actually booming now, and part of the reason is situations just like this, outsourcing labor and production to China is a boon to foreign firms, and China is growing rapidly because of it. It's not like they are roping Harvard graduates into these shit-pay jobs, these are people who probably have a poor education, and would just as likely end up working at a box factory or McDonalds.

QUOTE (Crushinator @ Jul 8 2005, 02:17 PM)
It's amazing how exploitable this market is, with gamers the world over with liquid cash ready to fork it over at a moment's notice to further their MMO career.  I'm sure the devs/pubs could rake in a fortune if they tried this system on their own, legitimizing it in some way. However, the outcry of gamers claiming "all you need to win at XXX game is daddy's CC!" would probably hurt the game's success in the long run.  Not that the claim isn't too far from the truth with 2nd party gold resellers, but that is largely out of the hands of the pubs.

This point is exactly why game developers/publishers DON'T capitalize fully on this virtual economy. The hardcore mmorpg fanatic at home get's all pissy that people should earn their character and not buy it, even though if I have a good paying job and I have less time to play, my time spent working equates to cash;
my time spent level grinding away at some game can equate to cash. It's just a matter of converting my real hard earned cash into a MMORPG character. Essentially, in both cases we can see that time is being spent. If it's "daddy's CC," it is still his time-to-money-ratio that is being spent. If you look at it logically, time is being spent either way. It's just a matter of what we do with that time.

Time = 1337 RPG character
Time = Money = 1337 RPG character

It's the same thing really, you just have less experience with your character...

Gamers aren't going to look at it that way, though. They tend to lose track of the game being their for your enjoyment, not for profit. The link between the virtual economy and the real economy blurs and people lose sight of why they are playing.

So, I really say to keep it in the game and not let the virtual economy became a real economy, but if that isn't possible to enforce, cut the farming bastards at the source and capitalize on your own product to its fulliest. As a developer, you don't need to farm anything, you can do whatever the heck you want, since it's your game.

I still feel its unethical for a game developer to take their virtual economy and fully capitalize on it as a real economy, since they aren't just technically capitalizing on human nature and the inherit desire to grow as an individual, but also on vicarious desires. I say this because we have to look at the synergistic effects self developement has when compared to something that is merely vicarious. It's easier to grow a game character then your own self. Thus, we are vicariously addicted to level building because we mesh having fun in the game with seeing a vast improvement in our fictional avatar over our own corporal bodies, which takes a lot of time, effort, and perseverance.

People become easily discouraged when given a task that is too hard. Improving our ownselves and our own life is like that. Life ain't easy, but gaining uber levels in a mmorpg is a lot easier then the years upon years it would take to master those same skills (ie cooking, blacksmithing, sword fighting etc...). Combining this with the fantasy, fiction, social community, and you've got something that preys off of those who need a vicarious escape from not only one's self, but that which is around them.

Mind you I'm not taking into account the generic aspect of "FUN" and "RECREATION," which is why we do play, but I'd be lying to myself if I said some of these said aspects stated in the above paragraph didn't play a huge or minute role in the addictiveness of any rpg.

This doesn't apply to everyone in it's fulliest, and not every aspect above applies to every individual, but there is no doubt that some people play mmorpgs in a vicarious manner, living out their fantasies and strengthening their inadequacies via their fictional avatar. People do this in the real world, so it's no different in the virtual world. There isn't really anything wrong with this and I want to stress that this is seperate from the aspect of human nature, growth, and it's relationship to stat building in a mmorpg. The above ideas are my own, so I seriously don't expect people to agree with it 100%. Either way the above ideas are my ownership anyway.

Releasing a quality mmorpg product is fine and dandy; why one person plays it from another is their own business. We all enjoy some good fantasy here and there, but I don't feel it's personally right to take the next step and capitalize on people's human nature, unless you have to because others are doing so (ie. sweat shop).

As for China's economy, they are supposedly "booming" but words sound nicer on paper. I did a research paper on comparing Western economy and business culture with China's(I probably plan to add case studies and use it for my masters). Granted with them joining the trade union, they've vastly improved their economy, but there is also the draw back that capitalism has on the quality of life for the people in China. Maybe I should instead say that this just goes to show how fucked up China's labor relation is.
I agree with you, that the time spent earning real money is just as valuable as the time you spend grinding on a game. If you have the means, you don't need to waste hours upon hours to get that sword or whatever to progress in the game, when you only get a small time to play the game because of your real life. Unfortunately there is no even-exchange for hours worked at a job and hours spent dicking around on an MMO. Conceivably, from ground zero everyone on a game has the same potential to reach the same ends. But with real-world money, obviously everyone is coming from a different income. Dropping the cash for 500 gold in WoW for one guy might mean one less gold backscratcher, but it might be the month's rent for someone else.

Like you said, gamers won't see it that way, and in the end aren't all MMO players gamers? Since the basic nature of a game is competition, keeping the playing field even is in the best interest of everyone's enjoyment.

With all the new features of X360's Live packages, (most prominently: user-created marketplace, Live currency (some kinda points thing) system, and MicroTransactions) it looks like we will get a first taste for "legit" character twinking and cash for in-game content very soon, if the publishers latch onto the programs.

I would never buy gil/gold/credits from any of these assholes. I don't give a flying rats ass if it does put food on their table. They are ruining games that I pay good money to play, and games are my escape from the real world. I need my escape, believe me.

I think that if you buy fake money with real money, you're an idiot to say the least.
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