Gold farming ‘industry’ employs more than 400,000 people

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If you’ve ever played an MMO it’s highly probable that spammers advertising various websites that specialize in converting real currencies into virtual ones have assaulted your text window on at least on one occasion. Although this practice is rather widespread, a recent report by Manchester University shows that it’s far larger and more profitable than many of us probably realized.

“I initially became aware of gold farming through my own games-playing but assumed it was just a cottage industry,” said research group head Professor Richard Heeks. “In a way that is still true. It’s just that instead of a few dozen cottages, there turn out to be tens of thousands.”

Due to the quasi-illegal status of their activities it was somewhat difficult for Heeks and co. to get any exact numbers, but they estimate that at least 400,000 people — with 80 percent of them based out of China — have been earning their living as gold farmers and power levelers in 2008. The sum of their efforts has resulted in a market worth around 500 million dollars. Heeks compared the scope of gold farming to India’s outsourcing industry, stating that they are “comparable in employment size, yet not at all in terms of profile.”

You might think that with such large profits coming in the workers slaving away in front of computers all day might actually be earning a decent wage. Yeah, right. The average salary is a pitiful 142 dollars a month. Sure, the cost of living might be lower over in Eastern Asia, but I highly doubt that it’s a suitable amount for someone to comfortably subsist on.

What you think about how big these services have gotten? Is it surprising that so many MMO players don’t actually want to earn their own stuff?

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Justin Villasenor
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