Via BoingBoing, here’s a Guardian article on the MMORPG gold-farming phenomenon:
These virtual industries sound surreal, but they are fast entering the mainstream. According to a report by Richard Heeks at Manchester University, an estimated 400,000 Asian workers are now employed in gold farming in a trade worth up to £700m a year. With so many gamers now online, these industries are estimated to have a consumer base of five million to 10 million, and numbers are expected to grow with widening internet access.
As I mentioned last time, what interests me most about gold-farming is that it seems to be comparatively immune to the economic slump. WoW gold or weapons are surely luxury items by any economical definition, but for some reason they’re not going the same way as bling and gas-guzzler cars. Is this due to the low ticket price, combined with the fact that gaming is a comparatively recession-friendly pastime? Is it also a recognition that the one thing we value more than our money is the time to achieve what we want (virtual or otherwise)? [image by fernashes]
Looking forward, though, how soon before the market saturates? The collapse of Chinese manufacturing has resulted in an expanded pool of labour, but that just means more competition for the work. If, as some economists have suggested, the recession is a prelude to greater financial parity on a global scale, will gold-farming or its equivalents become an increasingly attractive employment option in the West as the traditional options for blue-collar work erode?
While meatspace endures lay-offs and plummeting valuations, it seems that there’s still plenty of life left in the virtual currencies business – an MMO gold-farming site has just been snapped up for US$10 million. [image by fernashes]
Gold-farming is an interesting business phenomenon for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that it deals in completely intangible goods. But it’s also out on the edge of legality when you consider the exploitative methods used to accrue the gold and items that are traded, and for most MMOs it’s against the rules to trade in in-world items beyond the game’s confines.
But it’s even more interesting to see the gold-farming market riding high while the real-world markets are tumbling, because it implies the two systems are connected but separate. Perhaps in the near-future people will be able to ride out the rough times by shifting their work into the virtual domains?
If we have any economists in the audience, I’d really welcome your input on this story; the interaction between real and virtual economies is as fascinating as it is baffling to me.
There’s an old saying in the north of the UK – “where there’s muck, there’s brass”. So here’s a modern Japanese re-spin on it: where there’s sewage, there’s gold.
The sewage in question is from Nagano Prefecture’s Suwa Basin, a region where a lot of machining factories and metal-plating outfits are located, and apparently the resulting sludge has a higher concentration of gold than high-grade ore. Ker-ching!