Gold Farmers: Deviancy is just a name (Part I)

Gold Farming has gathered a lot of media attention lately because of a recent prison scandal in China involving . For the benefit of the readers who may not be familiar with gold farming, here is a brief description of this phenomenon: Gold Farming refers to a set of closely related practices mainly in MMOs where players perform a set of repetitive tasks (farming) in order to either collect in game valuable items (gold) or improve their characters both of which can be sold to other players. While the use of real Money Trade (RMT) to buy virtual goods or characters or goods goes all the way back to the time of MUDs and is thus more than two decades old, gold farming came to prominence in the public conscience a few years ago when the scale of the Chinese gold farming operations became well known.

A peculiar aspect of the demographics of gold farmers is that most of them are located in China. Even my own research on gold farming in China yielded that more than 70 percent of all the gold farmers are Chinese. This of course does not mean that all Chinese players are gold farmers as these players represent a tiny minority of overall players who are gold farmers. Interestingly gold farming was an almost unknown phenomenon until recently in the country which is most associated with outsourcing i.e., India. Even now gold farming operations in India are limited to the local market.

The point about China brings me to one aspect of gold farming which I find fascinating is difference the cultural perceptions of gold farming. In the US most gamers think of Gold Farming as a nuisance at best and as criminal behavior at worst. This perception is prevalent not just amongst the gaming companies but amongst the players also, especially the ones who do not employ the services of the gold farmers. Thus there are players who make it their job to be in-game vigilantes. On the other hand, amongst the Chinese companies and even regular players in China the perception of gold farmers is quiet different. Many consider Gold Farmers proving a useful service to the community. Some even consider it to be essential to the market economy of the game. Ironically American companies consider Gold Farmers to be the source of disruption of in-game economics. The differences in perception has implications in not just in how people interact with gold farmers but an often overlooked implication is how  gold farmers are studied. Thus in the American vs. the Chinese context, it is the question of legitimate vs. illegitimate play. In the former case studying Gold Farmers falls under studying deviant in-game behavior while in the later case it is just an form of economic activity. Some countries like South Korea have already taken the initiative and have declared RMT including Gold Farming to be a legitimate form of economic activity and thus subject to regulation. But just like any other real world economy there will always be a shadow parallel economy and that is where some, although not all, of the Golf Farmers will thrive.

(Part II: The Real World Economics of Gold Farming)


Gold Farmers: Deviancy is just a name (Part I) by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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