Spend some time in any of the great World of Warcraft capitals—Stormwind City, Ironforge, Orgrimmar, etc.—and you’ll soon see this message flood the Trade Channel: “Need gold fast? You visit somesite.com, we have best gold prices on Internet!” To some players, myself included, it’s nothing more than noisy spam. “Shut up, jerkface, I’m trying to find mats for this enchant I read about on Thottbot.” But while you and I, honest players just looking to whittle away a few hours, may see these unsolicited advertisements as nothing more than mere nuisances, the people behind them—gold farmers—see them as pure profit. Minus the human costs, of course.
billion million [sue me] gold farming industry—yes, it’s a proper industry—employs some 400,000 people in Asia each year. Imagine every man, woman and child living in Miami, less 10,000, sitting in front of a computer monitor for ~12 hours per day looking for gold in all the wrong places, and you’ll get an idea of just how many lives are affected by gold farming. The people doing the farming are called gold farmers, and they earn anywhere from $100-$200 per month. They’re typically young, some with only a modest education, and play games like World of Warcraft for several hours per day looking for gold (the in-game currency used to buy weapons, power-ups, and so forth) or leveling other people’s characters. (That’s called power-leveling.) And while $100-$200 may not seem like much, gold farmers don’t usually have to pay for room and board. Nope, one of the perks, as it were, of the job is that you’re often provided with a roof over your head and a few grains of rice.
Working hours belie the job’s computer-centric environment. Farmers can expect to put in 12-hour shifts, including weekends, since that’s when most American players—surprise, Americans are gold farmers’ biggest customer—are running around Azeroth. Days off? Just one. Per month.
And while Blizzard officially forbids gold farming, the Chinese government is realistic about it: it happens, you can’t stop, so let’s make some money off it. To that end, it has recently imposed a “gold farming tax.” Too bad it can’t be bothered to regulate the industry.
As for the customers, it’s like this: yeah, big deal, these gold farmers may have it rough, but I’d rather take the money I earned after one hour of work, and pay them for the goods, than sit there and play the game for the 20 hours it would take to earn X-amount of gold.
So hooray for anything, I guess.