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RPG - Gold Farming

Updated on December 19, 2011

How many real dollars is your virtual wealth worth?

Gold farming is the practice of selling virtual assets gained in a computer game (often an MMORPG) for real money. So how did it get started? One player, with a lot of stuff, decided to use online auction sites and online payment services to sell off his virtual stuff for real money. The custom caught on, expanding so large that Koreans converted cybercafes into gold farm operations, serving public demand until more recently when large portions of the gold farming industry outsourced to China.

People in Asia are not just using gold farming as a way to supplement their family income, but for many it’s their only source of income -- and it’s not a bad gig. Prison guards are using prisoners to farm gold, making them work their normal jobs in the mines by day, and raking up huge sums of wealth in video games by night. The prisoners get a minuscule profit, if all, leaving the guards to rake in vast amounts of real-world currency.

The division of labor doesn’t stop there. Where gold farms those lacking a formal education -- most are lucky to have a high school diploma -- brokers employ English-speaking graduates as customer service agents. These people do the actual trading of currency between accounts. A handful of IT specialists are on hand to sort servers and maintain Broadband Internet connections. In 2009, one brokerage in Changsha (the capital city of Hunan, China) employed more than 130 staffers who performed customer service tasks, IT duties, and in-game ads and email spamming. One brokerage could serve multiple gold farms, or vice versa.

Recent years find real players replaced by automated software. The virtual players, called bots, do all the fighting and resource gathering of real players without requiring a cut of the profits. This is an even bigger violation of most games’ terms of service policies than the act of gold farming! And those who get caught aren’t handled with kid gloves. Often players caught botting receive a single warning before administration bans them for life. If several players sharing an ISP get caught working together, developers can also ban the ISP entirely, prohibiting anyone using it to game access. The popular game Runescape just recently unleashed a weapon designed to eliminate 98% of bots!

I’d like to say I’ve never farmed for gold, but a decade ago I won a particularly huge contest in a game. I also really, really wanted to go on vacation. And not just any vacation -- I wanted to take my family to the beach. So when another player offered me several hundred American dollars in exchange, I happily (if not greedily) accepted. Sure, my character could have gone far on that kind of prize loot, but I placed a higher value on some much-needed rest and relaxation with my family. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. But if the opportunity presented itself again, there’s no way I’d take that kind of risk again. For one thing, I’m not sure the developers over at Iron Realms, where I first began playing five years ago, would appreciate it. And for another, there are so many things I want to buy for my own characters, there’s no way I’m giving up one gold coin!

According to a recent article at Massively, after banning several hundred accounts, Sony Online Entertainment Community Manager Piestro cautioned, “Remember that these suspensions are merely the first save, and further action is on the horizon. We will not rest, but will instead continue to gather data and take action as necessary on behalf of the entire player base. Don’t cheat -- it’s not worth it.”

And he’s right! Thanks for reading this article, and I’d love hearing your comments below. Happy gaming!

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