Warcraft Gold Farmers

Shanghaiist covered this back in March but its a fascinating issue:

Via Terra Nova, an academic group blog on virtual worlds, I’ve found out a grad student at UCSD named Ge Jin has been making a documentary on World of Warcraft “gold farmers” in China. Gold farmers are players who “farm” for items and money in the virtual world and sell them in the real. This “real money trading” is highly controversial. Wikipedia states that China has by far the largest gold farming operations, with an estimated 100,000 farmers working as long as 12 hours a day.

Gold farmers, as near as I can tell, is not what they are called in China. The activity is called “´òÇ®”, or “fight money”. Gold farming is considered bad form on WoW and non-native English speakers are unfairly associated with gold farming, even being tested on their English:

As part of the game play for World of Warcraft players are required to form groups of 5 or more to be able to finish certain levels of the game. Now if you have a number of friends who also play World of Warcraft you can make arrangements to meet up in the game to complete these required group tasks. For all others players they will need to build groups by using the games message system where they can send a request out to fellow players to form or join a group of players for a certain task.

There is a common belief among English speaking players in World of Warcraft that most non English speaking players are gold farmers. This is a type of player who is only playing the game to profit, not for the ‘love of the game’. Gold Farmers are largely despised by players who feel they take away a certain purity of the game.

To combat gold farmers, players are requesting anybody who wants to join a group to type one or two lines of English. If the sentences or grammar are not proper English these players are rejected from joining this group. This has recently been creating a lot of backlash among non-English speaking players with feel they are being discriminated against based on their language.

The system has become so complicated there are even brokers such as UCDao, and the demand isn’t going away anytime soon. Questions still remain about the ethics of the practice – on the one hand, Chinese young men are being employed. On the other, there are claims of exploitation. I’m not so sure if exploitation is the right word; certainly the entire industry is based on inequality. The discrimination, however, vaguely reminds me of Chinese railroad workers a century ago. Thoughts? Is this the birth of a new industry? Exploitation? Both?

The Discussion: 18 Comments

For folks like me living in the unvirtual world, David Barboza of the NY Times wrote a piece on this subject in December, 2005. Surprisingly, it’s still available via their free registration:


November 2, 2006 @ 8:20 pm | Comment

Good call Chengdude. Actually, Julian Dibbell, the author of “Play Money”, in which he became a farmer for Ultima Online, is supposed to have another article on gold farming in the NYT Magazine this month.

November 2, 2006 @ 10:30 pm | Comment

I can really understand the gamers’ determination not to play with the “gold farmers”. It’s such an old story – people enjoying doing something until someone comes along and ruins it for everyone by trying to make money off it.

Playing with farmers on your team would be like discovering that someone who you were sharing exciting vacation travel with was actually just working, earning their income by accumulating frequent flier miles to sell on eBay.

But in this case the root problem must lie within the ranks of gamers themselves. There wouldn’t be a market for farmers unless some gamers were willing to pay for farmed “gold”.

November 2, 2006 @ 11:42 pm | Comment

As a former MMO addict during college (pkpk!! heal ++) I second Shanghai Slim in that the reason there is a gold farmer problem is because the players are as a general rule obsessive compulsive ultra-competitive fucktards. Seriously, playing WoW makes you stupid. There are certainly casual players, but it is the 12+ hour a day 7 day a week hardcore gamers that set the pace for the game world. Thus people pay money to buy the p4at 4Xe of pwnage to set themselves apart from the rest of the plebes. For all that the developers claim they are against farmers/bots, their entire business scheme rests on the competetive addiction + grind that retains monthly subscribers that spawns the farmers.

November 3, 2006 @ 12:28 am | Comment

@Slim and Jing: I’m with you guys on the nature of the beast. Some gamers (who buy broadswords on eBay) must be a bit like a guy in limited edition Air Jordans complaining about Nike sweatshops.

@Jing: as a recovering addict, what’s your take on the “no English, no Quest” thing? Did you play WoW or something else? Did you ever see blatant discrimination? Do the quests require a decent English level for coordination, or do you really just have to understand whatever brand of l33t they speak there? I could see it being less about discrimination and more about the necessity of communicating effectively when you’re ganging up on some huge cave troll.

November 3, 2006 @ 12:36 am | Comment

I have a whole stash of articles on this subject, because I thought it was so….weird. I can’t offer much of an opinion on the ethics of it because I’ve never been interested in online games.

But it’s really weird. So is the whole Second Life phenomena, where participants can create games or accessories or what have you within the game and sell those for real money.

I’m sure it says something about the ultimately artificial nature of most economic systems not directly based on bartering beads and trinkets, but I haven’t had enough coffee to formulate that thought yet.

November 3, 2006 @ 1:14 am | Comment

Wow. It’s like stumbling into the Twilight Zone. I mean, there’s Geek, and then there’s Sad.

November 3, 2006 @ 6:03 am | Comment

I showed a newspaper article about a Korean guy who died after three straight days of WoW. My roommate laughed and kept playing. He was Korean.

November 3, 2006 @ 8:02 am | Comment

I swore myself off of ever touching WoW. I’m on a Blizzard boycott and of the mind that everything they have produced post D2 has been crap that has only been riding on their own coat tails ever since. I’ve played plenty of MMO’s, ranging from Lineage 2 to Anarchy Online to Dragonrealms. DR is a very advanced MuD and despite the lack of graphics it has the most unbelievably in depth and detailed game mechanics of any MMO.

Anyways questing is usually intuitive and doesn’t require any communication whatsoever besides a few grunts on ventrilo or teamspeak. A core understanding of combat mechanics makes communication in group PvM combat mostly uneccessary I’ve found. Lineage 2 barely had any quests. Well actually, they had quests, just no one cared because the game wasn’t build around them. Instead the game focused on grinding mobs for money and exp and PvP. Since the game was freeform PvP where you can pk anyone at the drop of the hat or grief others and incredibly tedious to gain levels or items, it tended to attract the biggest assholes. Lineage 2 players make WoW players seem like flower hugging carebears in comparison, you should have seen the flame wars and smack talk on the forums.

Regarding discrimination, there was plenty of it but mostly in the form of name calling and pking. Unfortunately depending on how you look at it, the farmers in Lineage 2 were incredibly sophisticated and resilient. The farmers would even have enforcer characters that would move in and kill opposition to either seize or defend a farming spot.

Communication wasn’t that much of a problem, except when a lot of the farmers were operated via automated bot scripts and you’d get no reply. Honestly I think more of the English players picked up Chinese net lingo that vis-a-vis. You’d see stuff like rangrang, or laji, or ++, or pkpk from everyone.

November 3, 2006 @ 9:01 am | Comment

鎵撻挶??? They are “刷子”(that means “brush” in English).

November 3, 2006 @ 9:41 am | Comment

The discrimination, however, vaguely reminds me of Chinese railroad workers a century ago.

woah! little loose with the analogies there, chief

November 3, 2006 @ 12:27 pm | Comment

@Wei: the characters above ought to be “da qian”, not “jia ta ju”. I don’t understand why but this site has character display issues. But thanks, I never heard them called shuazi!

@bocaj: I did say “vaguely”.

November 3, 2006 @ 12:47 pm | Comment

@Wei: Ahhhh, so I typed “´òÇ®” in unicode, but if you read it under GB2312 or GB18030 it comes out as “打钱”. Damn you, multiple character encodings!

@Jing: “The farmers would even have enforcer characters that would move in and kill opposition to either seize or defend a farming spot.” Clearly farmers is a misnomer. Gangs is far more appropriate.

November 3, 2006 @ 1:54 pm | Comment

I honestly don’t have the slightest idea what any of this is about, and I can’t figure it out even when I try to read Dave’s post.

Can someone explain to me in basic, Hemingway-esque Anglo-Saxon, what this is about?

November 3, 2006 @ 3:35 pm | Comment

Popular multi-user online games. Gamers gain points for completing quests, get more power, attain higher levels. Game farmers basically play the game 24/7 for hire so that the gamers who hired them can gain experience and become higher level players without actually putting in the time and doing the work.

Sorta like, which war was that when rich draftees paid poor people to take their place?

November 3, 2006 @ 3:42 pm | Comment

Lisa, that was the American Civil War. If you were drafted you could get out of it by paying 300 dollars, and then some impoverished sod (very often recent immigrants just off the boat from Ireland) would take your place.

In other words, today we’ve pretty much gone back to the same system: The Young Republicans live it up at college and bray for war in Iraq, knowing that some Mexican immigrants will do the fighting for them.

November 3, 2006 @ 5:21 pm | Comment

This thread has been picked up for discussion on a Chinese gaming BBS for anyone who’s interested (and who reads Chinese).

November 3, 2006 @ 6:14 pm | Comment

@OtherLisa – I think you got it a little wrong. Not to be a bitch, but I’ll try to explain so all get it right. 🙂

Gold farmers often have high ranks and therefore have access to do some important quests over and over again with ease. The quests/monsters either give them in-game money, or an item they can sell in the game. The end result is a big bank book inside the game. Nothing wrong in that if they actually intend to use it for their own game.

The problem is that the gold farmer stop “playing” the game, and only focus on camping/farming. Then they associate with homepages where they sell in-game gold or items for real money. For example like this:


If you buy from the homepage, the in-game money/items will be transferred to your characters account giving you a huge advantage when you want to level your character.

The downside:
– If you buy in-game money levelling your character will be much easier. So the buyers basically just jump the lowest fence and in a way cheat themselves.
– They also cheat other players, since they have to work harder to get their stuff.
– Some games like Final Fantasy XI (which I play, if you haven’t guessed it I’m a nerd) have an in-game Auction House whose prices should be regulated automatically and fair, but instead have crazy high price tags on special items making them inaccessible to fair players. This happens because some players don’t want to work for their in-game money, and just buy them instead. So they can “afford” the skyrocketing prices.
– The Gold farmers “camp” these quests/monsters, so they have the biggest chance to get the gold/items. The random fair player never has a chance.

November 6, 2006 @ 10:16 pm | Comment

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