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Gold farming

2009 April 14
by Laura Blankenship

Gold farming in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s part of many MMORPG’s, each of which tend to have their own in-game economy.  Many parts of the game require the player to spend money in order to be successful.  In WoW, for example, although you can win many good pieces of equipment through gameplay, many of the really good pieces are rare and take a long time to find, so you can spend money at an auction house to purchase these items instead.  To get your money, you need to sell things as well and so you farm for items, sometimes materials to make potions, armor, and other items.  Generally, as long as you’re doing this within the game, you’re not doing any harm to anyone. You’re just participating in the fake economy.  It’s when you purchase items outside of the game that potential harm occurs.

But gold farming is also a profession itself and some companies hire people to spend all day gaming, farming for items that they can sell for in-game gold and then sell that gold online to people who pay real cash for it.  In December 2008, Wired ran a story about Brock Pierce, one of the moguls of the real money trading business where real cash (and lots of it) was exchanged for in-game items:

That Pierce lives the life of a former corporate mogul at the age of 28 is remarkable enough in itself. Even more so, perhaps, is that he got here by dominating an industry in which orcs, trolls, elves, dwarves, and minotaurs are major segments of both the customer base and the labor force. That industry is known to insiders as real-money trading, or RMT, and if I tell you now that I’ve made some money in it myself, that’s not because I expect you to take it on my say-so that there are people who might pay as much as $1,800 for an eight-piece suit of Skyshatter chain mail made entirely of fiction and code. Or that there are millions more—players of World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, EverQuest, EVE Online, and other massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs, or MMOs)—who have given other players real money in exchange for the virtual weapons, armor, currencies, and other sought-after items around which these games revolve. Or that despite the game companies’ widespread prohibition of such transactions, their number has grown to support an estimated $2 billion annual trade, a half dozen multimillion-dollar online retail businesses, and an enormous Chinese workforce earning 30 cents an hour playing MMOs and harvesting treasure to supply the major retailers.

As this paragraph makes clear, the exchange of these items for cash is often at the expense of people who earn next to nothing in order to support a person’s over-the-top gaming habit.  When you’re willing to spend real money for game items, I personally think you’ve gone over the top.

For me, there are 2 problems.  One, I don’t like the idea of people gaming for 30 cents/hour so some rich kid can have a cool sword or more gold than God.  But the second problem is that such practices kind of ruin the gaming experience at times.  Not that many people can play enough to get every single good thing in the game, though many get lucky, so those that go outside the game to buy them end up with better stuff, which allows them to play better and accumulate even better stuff and so on.  Those of us playing a normal amount of time and/or who don’t buy their stuff outside of the game have no chance of catching up.  Depending on the game, this can really suck.  Gaming companies are trying to keep this under control and eliminate altogether, but where there’s money to be made, it seems humans can’t help themselves.

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