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Farmer is a general term for a MMORPG player who attempts to acquire ("farm") items of value within a game, usually in order to exploit repetitive elements of the game's mechanics. This is usually accomplished by carrying out in-game actions (such as killing an important creature) repeatedly to maximize gains, sometimes by using a program such as a bot or automatic clicker. More broadly, the term could refer to a player of any type of game who repeats mundane actions over and over in order to collect in-game items. An organization which organizes farmers is known as a shop.
Gold farming in ChinaEdit
According to estimates, around 100,000 people in China are employed as gold farmers, as of December 2005.  This represents about 0.4% of all online gamers in China. Chinese gold farmers typically work twelve hour shifts, and sometimes up to eighteen hour shifts. Wages depend heavily on location and the size of the gold farming company. One gold farming operation in Chongqing in central China with 23 gold farmers was reported to pay its employees the equivalent of about 120 U.S. dollars per month, while workers at a larger gold farm in Fuzhou earn the equivalent of about 250 U.S. dollars per month. The rising prevalence of gold farming has led to the creation of gold farm brokerages.
Because of reports indicating many gold farmers are located in China they are sometimes referred to derogatorily as "Chinese farmers", "China farmers" or even "Gook farmers".
There are "gold farmers" or "gold farms" in other countries as well such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Mexico. However, they do not approach the scope and scale of the Chinese farm industry. China's abundant labor, availability of high-speed Internet connections and cheap computers have made it a powerhouse in collecting virtual assets for online games, fueling the market among the 30 million or so online gamers worldwide.
China is in fact dominant in this industry and Jin Ge, a 30-year-old Shanghai native has done a documentary on "gold farms" in China as part of his doctoral research at the University of California, San Diego.
He is one of the many researchers who has invested his time in investigating how farm owners manage their production and distribution of virtual commodities across the border between the virtual and the real as well as the border between nations. His main aim in his research was also to delve into the background and lives of these workers "I also tried to find out what this job, combining work and play, means to Chinese gold farmers and how it feels like to live at this peculiar intersection of the virtual and the real."
Ge Jin's research is also documented in his periodical online news articles which can be found at Consumer Studies Research Network.
Game economy impactEdit
Gold farming, by definition, entails the harvesting of gold or the equivalent, which is then sold to the players and/or the 'farming' organizations themselves. As the vast majority of gold farming takes place as a solo activity, the range of gold and other items that may be acquired by a gold farmer is limited. 'Craftable' items (that is, items which are produced through application of player skills) are among the most commonly farmed items. Equilibrium value of crafting materials, quest items, and low to mid-range equipment is reduced, due to the extra supply, and player crafted equipment may then be produced at a lower overall cost. Once the items accumulated by a farmer changes hand to a second party, the primary visible impact is increased demand for expensive or rare items.
The common perception by the community is that gold farming is somehow damaging to the economy as a whole. For those interested in manually laboring to farm gold via solo activity (or when purchasing top-end items), this can be true. On the other hand, some in-game activities can be specifically tailored to take advantage of such situations, and tend to be more profitable as a result of farming activity (for example, the decreased cost of 'farmed' items is counterbalanced, to a degree, by the subsequent increase in quantity demanded for those items).
Ultimately, the flow of game currency is controlled by two factors: the collection of raw currency or items, obtained by dispatching NPCs or completing in-game 'quests', and the 'money-sink' designed to absorb currency and items back into the economy. Typically, a money-sink will take the form of 'vendor' NPCs (which buy and sell the player's items) and/or the use of 'crafting' skills, most of which require a monetary investment to use.
Many companies have attempted to block the use of 'gold farming' services by specifically stating in their End User License Agreements and Terms of Service that any and all game assets (from the player's characters themselves, to any items that they may be carrying) remain the sole property of the company itself, and taking aggressive action to close the accounts of any that are found to be using gold-farming (or similar) services. The true impact of such measures is unknown, although it is not uncommon to see a major game publisher announce the closure of accounts numbering in the tens of thousands.
eBay and Auction sitesEdit
The sale of virtual items and assets have found their way into auction sites and the practice of buying goods from the ubiquitous auction site eBay is often called "eBaying". Although it was a common sight to see gold farmers list their virtual items on these sites, the sale of these virtual items do not actually take place there. More commonly these sites such as eBay are used to facilitate the sale on their own website.
In order to prevent legal entanglements and EULA violations, eBay has recently delisted all virtual property auctions. Items and property related to Linden Lab's Second Life are exempt from this policy. eBay spokesman Hani Durzy explained the logic behind the apparent double standard. "If someone participates in Second Life and wants to sell something they own, we are not at this point proactively pulling those listings off the site," he said. "We think there is an open question about whether Second Life should be regarded as a game."
Rules and enforcementEdit
In most games, gold farming is specifically prohibited by the game's EULA or terms of service and is grounds for termination of the account. However, enforcement is generally sporadic, due to the resources required to perform investigations of that kind and the large negative impact that the termination of a compliant user account has compared to the minor positive impact of the termination of a gold farmer. As well, most MMORPGs require ordinary players to spend large portions of their time on repetitive actions (farming), making it difficult to distinguish between characters that are farming for their own use and those that are farming for real-life sale.
It is possible to attack the gold farming problem by data mining transaction logs for suspicious activity. This forces gold farmers to obfuscate their activities by moving gold through many different accounts on its way to the paying client. However, it is always possible to trace the movement of objects in an MMORPG, so all clients can be identified whenever a gold farmer is found. Currently most MMORPGs do not appear to be banning clients just for buying items from gold farmers.
Player-run 'guilds' highlighting the gold-farming profession (for good or bad) have become popular in some games . At least one guild, in World of Warcraft, has chosen to name themselves 'Gold Farmers', specifically to mock such operations. Another mock guild was set up on several European servers called "we farm gold u buy", a clear dig at the usually poor typing and grammar that "Chinese gold farmers" often have.
Much derision was poured on websites that advertise and sell in-game items and property when many of them closed briefly and could not carry out transactions over the Chinese New Year. Players took this to be incontestable truth as to the identity of those involved in the farming and selling of virtual items.
- Runescape news: Bots and Real-world trading Update
- RuneScape news: Bots and real-world trading 1
- Tricia Wang's in progress paper on A Marxian Analysis of World of Warcraft: Virtual Gaming Economies Reproducing Capitalistic Structures (citing Jin Ge's goldfarming research in China
- Gamespot article on gold farmers
- World of Warcraft Gold Farmer Study
- 1UP article on slave wages
- Eurogamer on the stereotype of Chinese players as gold farmers
- Yi-Shan-Guan - An article from The Daedalus Project by Nick Yee that deals with the racialized narrative we tell about gold farmers and what that typical narrative leaves out.
- Ge Jin - a PhD student from UCSD makes a video documentary of gold farming in rural and suburban China. A video link to youtube can be found on this website.
- In Cory Doctorow's short story Anda's Game, an elite player discovers she is being paid real-world money to disrupt sweatshop gold-farming operations.
- NYTimes article
- World of Warcraft EULA
- MTV News on The Real Price Of Virtual Gold- Half a million Chinese laborers spend their days killing 'World of Warcraft' monsters for actual income. But is it exploitative?
- China's 'Gold Farmers' Play a Grim Game from NPR's Morning Edition