World Bank Estimates 100k Gold Farmers

A report over on the BBC website highlights research done by the World Bank on virtual economies. The report, which can be found here (PDF link, and full of other stuff about the virtual economy), suggests that gold and item farming in MMOs was worth $3bn in 2009, and employs up to 100,000 people in China and Vietnam. That’s a lot of virtual shoulder pads, eh?

It’s interesting that this stuff actually generally supports Western players’ predelictions to spend on virtual items (the report claiming that a quarter of MMO players spend money on virtual goods, although it’s not clear whether than includes free-to-play stuff as well as farmed stuff, I assumed it does) and whether the move to free-to-play will cause Chinese gold-farming to disappear again, as their activities become less profitable.


  1. LimEJET says:

    This is actually quite pathetic, but as long as the people doing it get paid a decent amount, I guess it’s OK.

    • RP says:

      Unfortunately it’s a fair assumption that they don’t. There’s a reason labor of everything else gets outsourced to China/Vietnam, and it’s not the fair wages and humane working conditions.

    • Calneon says:

      They are most likely paid a minuscule amount. It must still be enough to sustain them so I guess I don’t have much of a problem with it. Greedy MMO players get their items faster, people in china get a paying job, Blizzard isn’t effected as far as I can tell, everybody wins.

    • siegarettes says:

      There is actually a quite interesting book that deals with the ideas behind this kind of thing by Cory Doctorow. Its called “For the Win” and although it is fictional a lot of the ideas do make sense and are similar to the real world events.

      also see “Anda’s Game” by the same author if you are strapped for time.

  2. Rinox says:

    I’m asking this without questioning the statement (as I’m not a big MMORPG player), but why would a free-to-play model make gold-farming less profitable? I thought of buying in-the-virtual-world-hard-to-get items, pets and gear with real world money as a shortcut for gamers who don’t/can’t want to spend the time necessary doing the dungeons/quests/grinds themselves. If so, how does a game being free to play change this demand?

    Like I said, I’m just looking for an explanation, not challenging the statement. :-)

    • bonjovi says:

      it is assumed that free to play model includes micro transactions. you play the game for free but you can boost yourself by purchasing : faster xp, better items, gold etc..

      So I guess the idea is that if you will be able to legally buy latest armour in WOW and pay blizzard for it, gold farmers will have a smaller clientèle.

    • Rinox says:

      Oh, yeah, that makes perfect sense. Kinda like legalising prostitution. If it won’t go away, may as well take it over and control it/profit (taxes) from it. Thanks for the answer.

    • Wulf says:

      This is sort of exactly what Cryptic are doing with Champions Online, leaving stuff in the game to be obtained via grinding, but also having it on the store. They’ve started putting stuff like that on the store already in the guise of the PvP rewards, with hopefully more to follow. This is nice, since I’ve been tempted to hire someone to grind those bloody alternative werewolf feet for me. :P I’ve had noooo luck in getting those from the bleeding Dogz. And this is the kind of mentality that a shop benefits from. So yeah.

    • Baboonanza says:

      It also makes any gold farming sales much less profitable. The maximum price a farmer can charge is the price the dev sells at, but since they have actual production costs while the dev can just conjour items out of thin air there isn’t realistically any way to compete.

    • Kdansky says:

      And in many games this is very obvious. See (the really good) Bloodlines Champions. Buying the 16 standard character set (plus bots and all game features and a few bonus things worth about two more characters, giving you ~18 of currently 21) is 30 European gold pieces, but farming ingame currency takes two weeks or so per character. No way in hell could a gold-farmer offer cheaper prices (although in BLC’s case, bloodcoins are bound to accounts anyway, making this a sub-par example).

      And in this special case: 30 Euros are quite cheap for what is basically a full game with a few unlocks, and playing it free is just a shitty version. I suspect that this business model actually costs them money (because free playing players get fed up with the ingame prices and leave) compared to just selling the game for 30.

  3. WASD says:

    “A report over on the BBC website highlights research done by the World Bank on virtual economies.”

    Does that report mention Team Fortress 2?

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Why don’t you spend the 5 seconds it would take to click the link & find out for yourself?

    • Hallgrim says:

      Why didn’t you take 5 seconds to click the link and tell him?

    • Thants says:

      Maybe it’s because he can’t read! You feel good about yourself now, making fun of another man’s horrible shame?!

    • Sassenach says:

      And after going to such lengths to write a message in a language they cannot read too.

  4. Mario Figueiredo says:

    and whether the move to free-to-play will cause Chinese gold-farming to disappear again, as their activities become less profitable

    I suspect not. Gold-farming is pretty much independent of the economy outside the game. It exists only because of the economy inside the game.

  5. Vexing Vision says:

    Interesting timing, there’s an article out later in April in the Gamestar MMO (German) that talks about the same thing, but German-centric.

    Seems to be one of those months.

    People who buy gold from goldsellers should be banned from the internet.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Any decent MMO will ban accounts that are proven to have used gold farmers services.

      I see it as the same as people who use aimbots & other hacks in multiplayer FPS games. Why bother playing if you’re going to let something or someone else play for you? Go do something more fun with your time if you find it so onerous.

    • Wulf says:

      Someone might want something from optional grindfests that aren’t a part of the main game, I suppose. Like the crafted travel powers in Champions Online that people are always going on about because of how insane they are to grind the materials for. Due to this, it’s looking like Cryptic might put them up on the C-Store. Some people like games, but not everyone is into grind, and it all comes down to different strokes for different folks.

      It seems like ArenaNet are taking exactly the same approach as well – so you have commodities in game that can either be earned with time or via money. Guild Wars 1 had optional grind, too, but it had no monetary component to make up for the time component, which is a shame. When developers do that, they’re essentially making the farmers redundant anyway. Sooo… more power to this approach!

    • Orija says:

      @Malibu Stacy.
      Sadly, that is not the case my idealistic, little The Simpsons loving friend. Usually companies just ignore complaints about gold farming, Blizzard and the Rift-guys may be an exception though.

      Gold farmers are unemployed, poor youth in third world countries willing to slog for hours in deplorable conditions to make a living and for that reason, I condone it.

    • Kdansky says:

      If you buy gold, you essentially pay to not play the game.

      If you don’t want to play the game, don’t pay for not doing so, but play Minecraft instead.

      Buying gold is the quintessential mowing the lawn because the Smiths have a greener one, or buying a Ferrari to brag with. So no, it should not be banned, it should be taxed instead. Make stupid people pay my bills.

      Why on earth should Blizzard ban bots and gold-farmers? They keep people playing the game who would have quit otherwise. It’s win-win. Blizzard is pretty much on record for not banning bots except for publicity stunts.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      My experience in MMO’s is rather limited & my view is informed mostly from years of EVE-Online so I accept I may be overstating that.

      One of the side-effects a lot of people don’t realise is the effect these people have on the in-game economy. Many people will complain about macro’s & farmers & ISK sellers but if every single one of them was banned today, by next week the prices on everything from small iron hybrid ammo to tier 3 battleships would take a massive hike & suddenly the players would be bitching & whining about how expensive stuff is (and it might actually be a risk for people to fly around in battlecruisers/battleships etc. instead of people treating them like disposable paper cups).
      That’s probably not going to affect other MMO’s to the extent it would affect EVE but it’s still going to have some effects. Unless gold farmers simply kill stuff for loot then sell off everything to NPCs which I doubt they will do if they can get better prices from players thus putting those items into general circulation.

    • Starky says:

      “If you buy gold, you essentially pay to not play the game.”

      Is rubbish.

      Now for the record I’ve never bought gold, but I’ve been very, very tempted, know people who do and it comes down to simple economics.

      I’ve played a few MMOs in my time but I’ll use the WoW example…
      buying gold came down to a simple choice for most people, you have the option of
      A: Grinding out gold doing utterly boring shit for 10+ hours, which will enable you to buy the things you need to do the fun stuff (raid, pvp, what have you).
      Or B: Buy that gold.

      Here is the economics of it – I can do an extra shift at work (10 hours), and earn around £120 after tax from that.
      The gold I’d gain in that 10 hours would cost about £20-30.

      It’s pretty simple for many, many people – hell the only reason I didn’t buy gold is because I manipulated the auction house on my server and made thousands upon thousands with little to no effort. That and I was main tank for the guild and guild leader, so I got all my raiding requirements from the guild tax/bank (as all tanks and healers did – DPS got some stuff, but were lowest priority).

  6. Olero says:

    Where’s the S H O E S F O R K I N G guy when you need/expect him?

  7. battles_atlas says:

    As an aside, this virtual economy stuff is the last great hope for capitalism, what with it being an economic activity with almost zero resource footprint. So either this stuff is all we conspicuously consume in 30 years time, or we live in some socialist steady-state world, or we live in caves, eating each other. Vote now!

    • Baboonanza says:

      As an informed voter I need more information: When you say ‘eating each other in caves’ do you mean in a sexy way?

  8. bleeters says:

    It makes me cry inside slightly that my first thought upon seeing this article was “don’t be silly, blood elf spellcasters don’t want physical dps swords”.

    • Deccan says:

      My inner nerd screamed “butbutbutbut there are no BE towers in Nagrand!” until I struck it about the head with my +1 mace.

  9. Zoso says:

    I’d just been looking at a post last week with the balance sheet of an Eastern European gold farm, published by a chap who’d done a study a couple of years ago (bit of a linkfest here). Lot of interesting stuff but not much hard detail, the papers are generally based on surveys, often with fairly small sample sizes. The move to free-to-play may well change things in the longer term, but the dominance of World of Warcraft at the moment is concentrating gold farming there.

  10. bascule42 says:

    I think this email, imagae linked below is from a “start-up” farming company…..and, I have to say, it’s the funniest I’ve recieved so far. Thanks farmers for the lol.

    link to

    Good thing it’s only enormous players who are affected eh?