Research by Manchester University shows that almost 500,000 people in developing nations are earning a wage by making virtual goods in online games (known as gold-farming )to sell to players and the industry is increasing rapidly.
The industry (about 80% of which is based in China) is estimated to employ in 2008 400,000 people who earned an average of $145 (Â£77) per month creating a global market worth around $500m. Professor Richard Heeks, head of the development informatics group at Manchester University who wrote the report said that very accurate figures for the size of the gold farming sector were hard to estimate and that gold farming has become a significant economic sector in many developing countries.
“I initially became aware of gold farming through my own games-playing but assumed it was just a cottage industry. In a way that is still true. It’s just that instead of a few dozen cottages, there turn out to be tens of thousands.”
In many online games virtual cash is hard to gain and many people turn to suppliers such as gold farmers to obtain money to outfit their avatars/characters with better equipment, weapons etc. Some gold-farming operations also offer the service of “power levelling” in which a worker assumes control of a player’s character and turn it into a high-powered (or “levelled”) character far quicker than the original owner could manage themselves due to time constraints or knowledge.
In most online games the activities associated with gold farming – gathering in-game cash to items to sell, buying game gold or sharing accounts – are a violation of the terms and anyone caught engaging in these activities is likely to be banned from the game and have their account shut down.
For more information read the BBC report here