"PLAYBORERS," the nickname for those who make money from collecting the "gold" used to buy weapons and other implements in online games, usually hail from Asia and number in the hundreds of thousands. Image: Phil Ashley Getty Images
- A new type of service industry has emerged to meet the needs of the millions who play online fantasy games such as World of Warcraft.
- Players called gold farmers amass game “currency” to sell to other players for a fee.
- This controversial practice violates the rules of play but has become a means for hundreds of thousands of developing world players to earn a wage comparable to that of factory workers.
It sounds like a digital alchemist’s question. How do you turn virtual gold into the real item? Hundreds of thousands of “gold farmers” in developing countries have found a lucrative answer. They have become entrepreneurs who make their living by profiting from online games. By assuming fantasy roles in these games, they kill monsters, mine ore or engage in other activities that earn “virtual gold” that they then sell to other players, often in rich nations, for real-world currency. Although it flaunts the rules of the game, buyers and sellers of this make-believe currency use the gold to determine the fate of a character in these fantasy games.
A gold farmer in China who plays games and sells virtual currency can earn the same wage and, sometimes, more than might be paid for assembling toys in a factory for 12 hours a day. As a result, this activity has emerged in the past 10 years as an ingenious, though controversial, way for poorer nations to earn money from information and communications technologies and a way for impoverished workers to build digital skills that might be later transferred to other information technology jobs unrelated to game playing.
This article was originally published with the title Real Money from Virtual Worlds.