Friday, August 29, 2008
They call them 'playbourers'.
Maybe you already know about gold farming for the massively multiplayer online role-playing games, known as M.M.O.’s, but I didn't and my friend, susan, didn't so I thought I'd tell you a little about what I found out. This week it was announced that more than 500,000 Chinese people are working in the industry, grinding (also known as leveling) in on-line computer games for pay. They don't make much money - an average of $0.30 an hour, 12 hours a day, seven days a week and this is all so that gamers elsewhere can have powerful game characters (it costs $250. for a fully powered up character for Final Fantasy XI).
World of Warcraft, produced in Irvine, Calif., is one of the most profitable computer games in history, earning close to $1 billion a year in monthly subscriptions and other revenue. More than eight million people around the world play World of Warcraft. They share the game’s vast, virtual world, looking for enemies to kill and coins to gather. Every WOW player needs those coins, and mostly for one reason: to pay for the virtual gear to fight the monsters to earn the points to reach the next level. And there are only two ways players can get as much of this virtual money as the game requires: they can spend hours collecting it or they can pay someone real money to do it for them.
"Economics sees value wherever humans decide that some
construct of theirs has utility but is scarce. Synthetic world
goods have utility and are scarce; thus they have value that
can be measured in terms of real dollars." (Castronova 2006:52)
It turns out that gold farming is actually a very big business since there are now more than 80 MMO's released or currently in development. As would be expected it's the company owners and brokers who make the largest part of the income from the sale of real labor in the virtual worlds. Naturally, it wouldn't feel like such a weird thing if you happened to know someone who'd be willing to spend the time leveling up your main character or collecting coins by killing hundreds of enemy monsters and could pay them directly. Perhaps you could even hang out at the end of the day and talk about the adventures and challenges that person had faced while you were in your cubicle somewhere doing something similar but being better paid.
Survivalists are those who have no choice but to take up the income-generating activity because they have no other source of livelihood. Income provided may be poverty-line or even sub-poverty-line. Most "entrepreneurs" in developing countries are of this type, "supply-driven": forced into enterprise by push factors related to their poverty and lack of alternatives.
This isn't a new story but it is about something that's continuing to grow outside of mainstream knowledge. It's all very strange for a corvid like me to contemplate but I'm wondering if it might not portend a future way of life for people outside of third world countries. Or will the third world sneak into the first world in dribs and drabs as people grab whatever opportunities the virtual world provides? Has it done so already?
Just a thought.