Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Inside a gold farm

GigaOm has an article on Chinese gold farms, *yawn*, who hasn't? But it links to two YouTube videos, showing actual footage filmed in Chinese gold farms, from a TV documentary.

One theme of the documentary is "the future of work". The gold farm owner explains that he was in the US and found that a meal or haircut there cost 8 times as much as in China. If he could easily export meals or haircuts, he would make a lot of money. But as these things aren't that easy to export, he turned to the one "service industry" which allowed him to export Chinese labor to the USA. I guess he is paying neither customs nor any form of taxes, which makes that an attractive business.

In a way that gold farm is just a typical example of globalization. Work is done at the cheapest possible location. With the Chinese economy growing so fast, in 10 or 20 years the Chinese will be too rich to do such gold farm works. Meanwhile probably Africa will have acquired enough people with internet access and we'll talk about African gold farms.

The other theme of the documentary is exploitation of the young Chinese guys working in that gold farm "sweat shop". Now that argument I'm not buying. Sure, the gold farm looked not terribly clean, with two dozen people sleeping, eating, and "working" in the same house. But you can't compare that work to an US office job, you'll have to compare it to a job that an unskilled Chinese guy could find in China. I've seen another documentary about Chinese day laborers, most of them working in construction, and the gold farm work looked comparatively paradisiac to that.

In fact I've seen US dorms that looked remarkably similar to that gold farm. I bet if I installed a big table with a dozen computers running WoW in an average US college dorm, after two weeks the place would look exactly like the gold farm in the video. Just with pizza instead of ramen noodles, and the Americans not being paid to play WoW. If the Chinese guys are getting paid to play WoW, and the Americans are paying to play WoW, who is being exploited here?
Good point. I don't think the goldfarmers work under bad circumstances (perhaps bad by our standards- long hours, low wages) but compared to other jobs (playing WoW is most probably better than folding t-shirts all day).

Another thing on goldfarming: the whole gold-farm industry exists because people keep buying gold. Sometimes it is projected as if the chinese goldfarmers ruin the game. They wouldn't farm gold if there wasn't a market for it, so who is ruining the game? Instead of keep banning goldfarmer accounts, the gold-buyer accounts should be banned. As long as it's profitable enough to sell gold even with keeping up replacing banned accounts there will be goldfarmers. Juding by the increased advertising (heck - I even get an ingame mail spam for gold) there must be enough people buying gold on the server I play.

If the Chinese guys are getting paid to play WoW, and the Americans are paying to play WoW, who is being exploited here?
I guess if you had to play like a Chinese goldfarmer one would lose the 'fun' part of play soon. There are two definitions of play here:
1. to play: to control an avatar/operate controls in a game environment.
2. to play: to enjoy a pasttime for leisure
Definition 1 would be Chinese farmers but also include people working in the game industry like professional testers or even programmers who "play" the game they're programming to see if their code works is intended.
Definition 2 would be us, the consumers who play in their spare time to have fun.
China is no longer the country-du-jour for sweat shops. Plenty of far far cheaper places now if you just want T-Shirt folders.

What China has is technology, broadband to rival the US. And enterprise.
"[T]he whole gold-farm industry exists because people keep buying gold"
honestly i would much rather see young kids making money in this way, than selling drugs, or doing other unsavory professions. plus these guys look like they like playing and having a sit-down-job and a place to live and have food doesn't seem that bad to me. Also i think it should be totally legal, as long as there are people behind the computers, and not scripts.
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