Chinese gold farming

Great Guardian piece about Chinese gold farming, an elusive and fascinating and weird phenomenon:

For thousands of Chinese workers such as Li, "gold farming" is a way of life. Workers can expect to earn between £80-£120 a month which, given the long hours and night shifts, can amount to as little as 30p an hour. After completing his shift, Li is given a basic meal of rice, meat and vegetables and falls into a bunk bed in a room that eight other gold farmers share. His wages may be low, but food and accommodation are included.

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.

These figures mean big business. The gold farming industry may be about playing games, but these companies take their work seriously. At Wow7gold, a sophisticated division of labour splits workers into different departments, including production, sales, advertising and research. What's interesting about this "virtual division of labour" is that traditional concepts of "men's work" and "women's work" still apply. While young, largely unskilled "playbourers" such as Li spend their days toiling in the virtual field, highly skilled female graduates receive higher salaries working as customer service operators.

Welcome to the new gold mines

(Image: Anthony Gilmore)


  1. If one of the central features of your game is so boring that people will pay others to play it for them, then you designed a sucky game.

  2. @1 I’m confused, if it’s a “sucky game” why would 10 million people play it?

    Although I agree, it might not be well suited to everyone, certainly a good many people enjoy it.

  3. Is this the new mining? Virtual mining i guess people by slave labor…. ugly. dumb. pointless.

  4. I’ve been working with computers since 1972 and this is “virtual mining” has totally caught me by surprise.

    I would suppose to be competitive in a game such as this, it would almost be required to aquire virtual loot through cheap labor – I find this very interesting…

  5. @ #3 posted by Takuan:

    gee, do you suppose the “real life” economy we all buy into is just a sucky game too?

    It’s not a game at all, that’s why so much of it sucks. If it was a game I would have an awesome jet pack, my abs would look like Vin Diesel’s and I wouldn’t have to go to work unless I felt like it.

    When I pay good money to play a game I expect to be entertained, and if I don’t find it entertaining I do something else. I don’t pay some guy in a third world country to play it for me.

  6. how is this different than say hiring people to stand in line for you for an entertainment event? Your pleasure is real, it has value. The avoidance of pain you purchase also has value. The food in their belly is what the miners get.

  7. OK, just to clarify my last comment I guess China doesn’t count as a “third world” country.

    I also acknowledge that “sucky” is entirely subjective, but if you’re paying someone else to do something instead of doing it yourself then it’s implicit that you think it sucks.

  8. vendors would eliminate 90% of this if they would provide a way to do it. I would love to be able to give my brother 1000 gold as a birthday present without worrying that both our accounts would be eliminated. I don’t see why the mfg’s don’t make it an option and charge for it, there is obviously a LOT of demand.

  9. @7 Ah, then it seems that if you’re not entertained by World of Warcraft, that would make it a sucky game to you.

    In general, the game has iterated a lot over the last 4 years. In my experience, very few of the “serious players” use these sorts of services. At one point they were very important, however they (blizzard) have changed they game design to try and diminish the role of gold farmers.

    In general, most of the people I know who use these services are casual players with full time jobs who only get to play for a few hours a week. For them, they don’t enjoy the specific mechanic of resource management and choose to outsource that feature. But it’s nothing like it used to be.

  10. @ #8 posted by Takuan:

    how is this different than say hiring people to stand in line for you for an entertainment event?

    Because I paid my money to attend the event, not to wait in line for it. If the organizers went out of their way to create a line where none need exist then I would be completely pissed off.

  11. If only there were a science fiction author on this site who could work this concept into a short story or something…

  12. skiing is fun. Walking uphill isn’t. So they invented the ski lift. Then the really rich discovered helicopters. The gold farmer is just the beginning. When virtual worlds are created that absolutely REQUIRE your continuous presence, there will be a whole trade and profession established of avatar impersonators. Pay lots and you get an actor that fools everybody.

  13. As Veblen made clear, if there is no real difference to be noticed between rich and poor, people will create some.

  14. @Takuan #15:

    Ski lifts and helicopters are used at resorts because they couldn’t design the slopes any other way. If someone made a snowboarding game where you have to spend hours sitting on the lift then people would rightfully call that “sucky game design.”

    Same with any game that REQUIRED your continuous presence.

  15. @ #19 posted by Takuan:

    did the designers of this game foresee gold farming?

    I have no idea. But if they are good at designing games then they should have realized that some of the tasks players are required to do aren’t very fun.

    This isn’t a diatribe against MMORPGs. It’s a criticism of designers that pad games by adding a bunch of boring shit you have to do before you can get to the fun stuff. I feel the same way about racing games that make you do 10,000 laps in a Prius before you can unlock the Ferrari you bought the game to drive.

  16. someone must have done the research into the psychology of game-play. There has to be a critical break point where anticipation of play is overwhelmed by immediate dissatisfaction of doing the shit-work that gets you there. Can’t have one without the other.

  17. is there something in human nature that will always find a way to manifest itself as expressed by goldfarming in this instance? Is it inescapable by game design because every player will bring it to every game, hardwired inside?

  18. @ #21 posted by Takuan:

    …Can’t have one without the other.

    Clearly you can if people are paying others to do the shit work. Which brings me back to my point: why include the shit work at all?

  19. This “sucky design” that Brainspore points out is characteristic of lots of games, and is the main reason why I don’t play computer games very seriously any more.

    I’ll play a game for a while with great interest as I get immersed in the game world and the mechanics of game play. I’ll enjoy solving puzzles as things get harder. But then, invariably it seems, you hit a point where you have to do something you’ve already done, and you have to do it over and over x number of times before you can advance to the new content. Or you have to follow around NPCs for hours on end, or spend time waiting for an NPC to show up. At that point, I always think “Wait, isn’t there something better I could be doing with my time?”

    I guess this is where some people turn to gold farmers, or game cheats, or whatever. In my case, it’s where I give up on the game, because it seems to me that I’ve hit the point where the game designers are saying they’ve got nothing new–why play once you’ve extracted all the novelty from something? I’ve never “finished” a single modern game, and I’m amazed that people have the time and patience (and capacity for boredom) to actually do so.

    I’ve got nothing against gold farmers. They have every right to make money this way as long as there are game players willing to pay them. But I do think Brainspore is correct: this is annoying, unnecessarily tedious game design.

    Takuan’s point that the ski lift line “has to be there” in a virtual world seems a little silly. Lines and inconveniences of real-world attractions (like travel time back to the top of a mountain) are a direct result of the physical limitations of reality. In a virtual world, it would take less coding to have you just transport to the top of the mountain.

  20. follow the metaphor Nose, not the literal example.
    My point is about the psychology of the game design, not the code.

  21. Takuan: Why does it have to be there? Why can’t I hop online and start having fun immediately? It’s software, nothing actually has to be manufactured.

    It’s a game, there is no reason whatsoever why drudge work is necessary before play – and this something thathas always puzzled me about this kind of game: its as if we’ve brought a Puritan work ethic with us to the fair and insist on putting in our 8 hours before we’re allowed to have fun, after putting in our 8 hours in the real world so that we can have fun playing the game.

    If you could play a video game inside of WoW, would that video game require your character to work for hours with boring repetitive tasks before going on a quest?

    Sure, levels of resources and power are part of the game play, but why start everyone at an arbitary level of resources that requires drudgery to do anything fun at all?

  22. “its as if we’ve brought a Puritan work ethic with us to the fair and insist on putting in our 8 hours before we’re allowed to have fun”

    yes, isn’t it rather?

  23. One of the problems here is that people want to have their cake and eat it.

    There are two formats at play here, and people are demanding the best of both worlds. Games you buy, to play the storyline (usually one-player-mode), can lead you on a complex narrative and pace the game to keep you interested and discovering new things all the time. But at some point it has to end. You win or lose when all the tasks are done and all the bosses are dead.

    And now we have immersive, massively-multi-player, never ending stories. There is no ‘win’, only ‘survive’. There is no end point or specific narrative, just lots of smaller episodes that contribute to the tapestry of your virtual life.

    There has to be a compromise between never-ending and always-fun. There has to be low times, to encourage you to win the good times. If you got the Ferrari in the first place, it wouldn’t be half as sweet as beating the shit outta the NPCs and winning it. It’s not a cop out by the developers, it’s contrasts and rewarded-achievement.

    I’m certainly not saying games are as good as they could be, there are plenty of clever things they can still do, but there is definitely a place in MMOs for the reward-based economy.

  24. OK, I’m off to play “Godzilla: Save the Earth.” Thankfully that game lets me go straight to the city-smashing without spending 72 hours pushing boulders around Monster Island first.

    Enjoy collecting those pelts, Takuan.

  25. @ Arkizzle #30:

    One of the problems here is that people want to have their cake and eat it.

    Yes, that’s why I bought the damn cake in the first place. Good night!

  26. Brainspore,

    I gave a reasonable assessment of the issues involved. Different games have different architectures. Godzilla sounds like it will fulfil the need you currently have in this regard. However, if you want an always-on universe, with unlimited and varied adventure, there are different expectations, and limitations to how you go about it.

    This isn’t even new. Games like Elite and other space-faring adventure games require you to do a lot of grunt-worrk, doing milk runs and little jobs before you can buy the better ships and better guns.

    Its just a different type of game.. I don’t see what the issue is.

  27. Mos def agree with Brainspore here… seems like the Takuan is getting out of his/her element. Philosophy of game design can choke on itself for all I care. It’s the escape that matters.

  28. I could be making money right now instead of trying to leave snarky comments on this stupid website!

  29. @31

    That’s fine, I celebrate the fact that you can enjoy that style of game, but why deride the style of game that I enjoy?

  30. Takuan:

    I appreciate that this can be seen as an element of the psychology of game design (whether it’s a necessary element remains to be seen.)

    If I can paraphrase your thesis: To feel reward from a game experience, players are hard-wired to require some kind of hard work to get there. (Correct me if I’m misstating your point.)

    I’ve got two responses:

    1) In a well-designed game, this hard work need not be repetitive grinding, or travel time, etc. It could be increasingly difficult puzzle solving, for example. You can make a player work for 5 hours by making them grind for 5 hours of doing something they’ve done 100 times before, or you can make them work 5 hours by continually stimulating and challenging them with harder problems to solve.

    2) The psychological necessity of hard work to enjoy endgame content is clearly not the case for people who purchase gold from gold farmers, or use game cheats, etc. In that case, the end user seems to demonstrate that they enjoy the game more by “working” at it less.

  31. I agree with the gamer crowd here. There’s a pretty drastic disconnect between what is done for entertainment’s sake and what is actually entertaining. Yes, there’s a sense of accomplishment inherent in the process of ‘I did X hours of bitchwork to get Y++ uber-thing’ but I can’t help but feel, after having played countless rehashed models of this same scenario, that the approach is very tired and superficial. And no, it is not necessary in the slightest to any game’s design. It’s simply easier, at some point, to reward an individual for participating in repetition rather than perpetually offering novel and engaging experiences within the gameplay that concurrently allow for growth and expansion of the initial game concept.

    Even if you wish to argue about the subjective nature of what is fun for an individual, you can’t fairly bring about the issue of ‘if it is not good, then why does it have so many players?’ These types of things are inherently reinforcing; while the core content is key to continue attracting people to the game, what actually makes online games persistent and worthwhile is popularity. Having a wide range of player types, as well as an active and involved guild/community system, are ways to ensure that your company’s ‘Fantasy Milkcap Hero Clicks Shit Until it Dies’ game is more entertaining and attractive than that other company’s ‘Neon Hyper Shaving with guns 2: ‘Till bloody death’s approach!’ game. Likewise, having a steady subscriber-base allows for additional content to be regularly churned out…

    The issue gamers have isn’t that they want instant-gratification — it’s natural to enjoy achievement within a game, and is well-accepted as far as I know. The issue is that most games incorporate things that aren’t fun, aren’t even a game. They’re just work.

    Beating Super Dragon III to unlock a new dungeon = locking content behind content, as fits a natural progression.

    You can have:

    I) Super dragon be difficult but beatable based on boss knowledge, timing, or (in lieu of these things) a reasonable group of people to power through it.

    II) Super dragon to be unbeatable without certain levels/equipment, thereby having a soft-cap to gameplay that forces you to play in a certain way whether you like it or not (presumably because the developers do not like you speedin’ through their hard-made game! Look at the polygons on that newb-bat again, plz.)

    III) Super dragon to not be approachable until you complete collect-quests A-M, making you fight and slaughter over 2000 flying weeaboos. This is done when game designers are lazy jerks that want more dull time invested in their game.

    As for game progressions, I do not consider it abnormal for a game to have both a story and a reasonably fun post-story endgame based on PvP and GvG interactions. Is it really irrational to want a game experience to be satisfying throughout? How is it possibly fundamental to game design to have created mindless, gimmicky, and un-fun sections just to highlight the well-made portions?

    In either case, I do find it fiercely interesting and deeply upsetting that Gold farming, as an industry, has formed. I mean…. you’re paying someone to essentially waste their life doing nothing, so that you do not have to, so that you may later optimize your leisure time. I hope that I never become callous to the utter absurdity and waste of this.

    Lucifer: Snarky comments are paramount. It is the internet.

  32. I play WoW quite a bit, and I’ve steadily seen the cost of gold decline over the years, down to almost pittance prices.

    Four years ago, 1000g would cost you about US$250. Now it costs you $16.

    They’ve made it so ridiculously easy to get gold in the game (from daily quests) that most people don’t want to risk account banning to save themselves a few hours of work.

    I genuinely wonder, with the price of gold being so low now, how these goldfarming companies stay in business.

  33. Nose,

    “Harder problems to solve” necessitates ‘an end’, and involves coders creating each new level of difficulty. If the game has no end and thousands of players playing at different configurations and levels, then we have a problem.

    I’m not defending the choices any game maker has made in this regard, there definitely could be more interesting things to do, but there is ultimately a threshold of how much new stuff you can code for (in between all the actual levels and adventures that you are already coding) – if you have to keep many people interested, all the time.

  34. Arkizzle–

    I think you are getting at the difference between a single-player game and an MMO.

    As someone who has spent a lot of time in MMOs, I’ve often wondered if it would even be possible to design an MMO that wasn’t. After all, the “hard core” players will always need something to differentiate themselves from the “noobs”, and in most MMOs, that investment really only boils down to hours played. The way most of these games are designed, demonstrating your superior investment in the game to other online players would be impossible without grinding.

    (The only exception would be an MMO that was strictly PVP, with no gear rewards or random gear drops for hours played, and with an equal playing field. In such a game, you would demonstrate your non-noobishness by showing off your superior knowledge of tactics and game play. Such games do exist, and have existed long before computers. Chess, for example. But WoW is not chess!)

    Single-player games are different though, and mindless grinding seems less necessary to game design inside a single-player game.

  35. “To feel reward from a game experience, players are hard-wired to require some kind of hard work to get there. ” Possibly, possibly,but I mean more specifically is that your pleasure must to some extent be predicated on another’s pain. You can’t really be having fun unless someone else is not.
    Consider what would happen in a total wealth economy where everyone had safety, food, shelter and even all the luxury they desired. How long before artificial disparity was invented? Basic primate politics.

  36. oops, I meant to say “…even possible to design an MMO that wasn’t a grindfest. After all,…”

    Next time, I preview before post. =P

  37. The fact that *some* players feel the need to gold-buy does not mean the game is poorly designed for all players.

    There will always be the powergamers who feel they must have the best of everything, and there will always be a subset of them who don’t want to work for it.

  38. @ Takuan: “Possibly, possibly,but I mean more specifically is that your pleasure must to some extent be predicated on another’s pain. You can’t really be having fun unless someone else is not.”

    So you imagine that a virtual gold buyer receives an added thrill in the transaction by imagining the calloused thumbs of the gold farmer, and his hopeless tears of desperate boredom? What an amusing way to see the world!

    Speaking for myself, I can have pleasure without the need to hurt someone else in the process.

  39. I imagine the virtual gold buyer has a vague idea that someone else did the shit-work and stops his mental process at:”better him than me”. It would be a fascinating study to have the buyers watch a documentary about the real lives of the miners. I’ve spent enough time in the company of the rich to know how they view the not-rich.

  40. Wow, I just had the great idea of hiring underemployed Chinese to write term papers for the gentlemen at the Ivy League colleges. I could save term papers on any topic in less than a year. Wow.
    I could be rich within five years.

  41. Takuan– But #10 in this tread would be more happy to buy the gold directly from the game maker, rather than from a gold farmer. I suspect that if, for example, Blizzard started selling WoW gold to players at competitive prices, it would drive the gold farmers out of business. Who wants to risk having their account banned? I suspect that “somebody else suffered” rarely seems like an added value to someone who buys from a gold farmer.

    Of course, if Blizzard simply sold gold themselves, the bulk of Blizzard’s dedicated players would be livid. These players already hate gold farmers, and “I bet he bought his account on ebay” is a very damning insult. If Blizz sold gold, the players would say “but, but, but I had to work to get mine!” Ultimately, it might lead to a virtual existential crisis (“All those hours of grinding were for… what?”. Blizzard lose their player base. Which is probably why Blizzard doesn’t sell gold. It would reveal too much of the con, and destroy the illusion of value for their virtual currency.

    As far as MMOs go, I think you have a point. As long as someone did something not fun for each of those units of gold, the players’ sense of the value of their time spent in-game remains intact.

  42. aha! In a virtual world with a synthetic economy what is currency? What gives game-money its value?
    Not-Fun. Since everything including what we have evolved to view as pleasure can be granted at the wave of the coder’s wand, it follows that currency must be based on a privative.

  43. Hat / Tak

    I agree, it isn’t the difference in MMOs and single-player games, it’s about currency based trading games, where the currency/work value must be maintained.

    Are there non-economy games with drudge-tasks?

  44. Yes Takuan, and perhaps that’s what leads a lot of people to quit playing MMOs eventually: the tenuous connection between the “not fun” of grinding and genuine value frays apart completely.

    Real-world currency is also based on a privative, but that’s only because that work produces something of value. Sure, it’s “not fun” to work 10 hours in a button factor, but at the end of the day you have a pile of buttons that are presumably worth something, not a pile of virtual buttons that could be made to appear or disappear by just changing a number on a server somewhere.

    The player does a lot of not-fun following this same logic, but then realizes at some point that they have nothing of any real value to show for it.

  45. if you went to the gold farms of China and grandly announced you were there to free them from this exploitation – they’d tear you to pieces.

  46. Interesting comments…

    I still don’t see the “fun” factor in being a hardcore MMO player. I have known a couple of Evercrack/WOW players. The kind that get up and play before work, and have to be home at a certain time to meet up with the guild so they can go quest for the rest of the night…

    My god that sounds like so much fun…
    Sounds like a job to me. Something I “have” to go do, so the rest of my guild doesn’t bitch me out. Yeah, and I get to pay for that experience too…

    “Consider what would happen in a total wealth economy where everyone had safety, food, shelter and even all the luxury they desired. How long before artificial disparity was invented? Basic primate politics.”

    Hmm.. Veering out of reality for a second, that pretty much describes the Star Trek universe. They have food, safety (relative to position, but assume on a “safe” planet), shelter, and pretty much all their basic needs. I suppose the “artificial disparity” comes for the idea of rank, but I see that more of an enforcement of rules and order than anything else. But at the same time, they also have things like the holodeck. That opens up the idea of experiencing a whole different world, created to your desires. Much like eating the cake you just baked.

    I think MMO’s try and “mimic” reality so they become more immersive for the user. Much in the same way movies (aka romantic comedies) skip over the reality of life. (The guys always has an awesome job, is hot, single, and has unlimited time to do anything. Similar things apply to the women. Which makes anything possible, but completely unrealistic.) Some games strive to be realistic, and have their following (say Gran Turismo), and some games are simply a way to escape reality and put your mind in a different place (Left 4 Dead). To each their own.

  47. Personally I like the feeling of accomplishment. Even if I really haven’t accomplished anything “real”.

  48. The essential problem is that you’ve got two different audiences, who derive satisfaction from two different sources.

    1. Challenge seekers. The challenges may be complex and varied or simple and repetitive. Might be automated puzzles (eg. a Sudoku or an NPC character in a MMORPG) or another human (eg. a chess tournament or PvP combat). Rewards (points, rank, gold) are valued only in as much as they represent challenges passed.

    2. Status seekers. Just want to go to the top of the high score table, and as quickly as possible. The reward is its own reward. (eg. the purse. Pure fame works for some people too.)

    The two play styles don’t mix well. The latter are always willing to take any shortcut necessary to get what they want, but in so doing, they destroy the measuring stick used by the former.

    The conflict isn’t even worst in MMORPGs. Consider performance-enhancing drugs in sports. If you allow it, everyone has to use ’em just to stay competitive, or even qualify to play the game at all. It’s now as much about how good your pharmacist is as your personal effort, something many athletes and fans have no interest in. If you create separate leagues in an effort to satisfy everyone, there can still be only one #1 rank in the steroid league, leaving lots of runners-up with an incentive to subvert the non-assisted league.

    I don’t think it’s a problem that can be solved.

  49. Blargharble.

    It is better that this happens than that it is prevented from happening. Presumably these gold farmers find gold farming preferable to the alternatives available to them.

    But I wonder if something could be set up that is better still. For example, suppose there were a system where donating to a charity that provided Chinese students with scholarships translated to in-game gold. The players would get their gold, arguably purchased justly, and the ex-goldfarmers could do something meaningful with their time.

  50. Just to echo what Big Daddy said (#41), there’s a disconnect between the discussion here and the facts on the ground in the latest World of Warcraft expansion. Gold is no longer an issue. Questing is fun and there’s a lot more depth and storytelling to it now, not just mindless grinding. The rewards have also been greatly increased so that simply by questing to the max level you earn more than enough gold to last a long time. At max level now there are plenty of opportunities to build your character through dungeons and/or player vs. player in arenas and battlegrounds, without having to use gold at all (except for some tradeskill stuff, but the gold you make off your own should balance out with what you need from others). The Blizzard developers have gone a long way in making the game more accessible without needing to grind. Of course the only grind now is doing the same few dungeons over and over while we wait for the next patch release, Blizzard has always had an exceptionally slow release cycle.

  51. I understand both sides. It really sucks to see someone get better than you at the game because they paid for it. But that’s how it goes in real life as well.
    One might say:
    “oh, but it’s a game, not real life, and I want to be entertained”

    If you don’t want that go play your videogame console. Because MMORPGs are not just games anymore, and that’s what most people don’t get. They’re virtual societies, and they have almost all the pros and cons we have in real life, and its intricated social/economical/political/even romantic relationships. The social climbers who rely on gold farmers are just a mimicry of its “real” correlates.

    Gold farming is work, like any other. Long hours and small paycheck? Sure, but hey, I bet in China (and in a lot of other places) you can find a LOT worse jobs, by far.

    And I guess this sort of thing always existed in every bit of the entertainment industry. There will always be someone getting an advantage over you because of money. That’s how our world works.
    If you don’t agree with that, kudos to you, that’s great, but you should go to the wild or become a monk, or else you’re just whining with no commitment.

    I don’t like it either but I know I won’t do nothing about it! I’m just one of those guys who makes a habit out of complaining about these things.

  52. Liquidhal, I guess Blizzard has already read all these posts, and are implementing the good ideas. It’s just that the take a long time to write code. Well, how many coding projects ran quicker than expected? :)

    Looked at another way, we’re not contributing anything new here. Just replicating a meet at Blizzard’s office that occurred many months ago.

  53. Why do people pay to play a game, then cheat at it by hiring someone else to play a huge portion of the game?

    Its like people who work hard to have a kid, then hire a nanny to raise them. What’s the point? Games are meant to be played.

  54. It’s not that part of the game is so boring that people will pay other people to do it.

    It’s that people want it all *now*.

    If you’re buying your way to the top in a game like this, you’re cheating yourself twice. Once out of money, and once out of the game itself, since getting to the top on your own is most of the fun.

    The type of people who do this are the same type of people who put in god-mode/free-weapons/infinite-money cheats and skip cut-scenes in other video games. They don’t know what they’re missing. They haven’t learned yet, that the journey can be its own reward and that you only get to experience it by being patient. I feel sorry for them, since with that attitude they’re probably missing out on good stuff in real-life too.

  55. Brainspore, you’re persistent, and I’ll give you that much. But only that.

    “If one of the central features of your game is so boring that people will pay others to play it for them, then you designed a sucky game.”

    One of many possible translations of this ambiguous Murloc warbling: “If someone abuses your game, then the design team is at fault.” That’s almost defensible, if you hadn’t considered the nature of a persistent world (which is…uh…persistent), how patches work, and the mind-boggling amount of time Blizz actually put(s) in to balancing the experience. Honestly, it doesn’t sound like you like video games very much.

    I play pretty frequently, and the “collecting pelts” trope that lets casual gamers feel justified in dismissing WoW as an unworthy gaming experience is a hysterical misrepresentation of my actual experience.

    While kicking buildings over is an admirable endeavor, saying that it takes a lot of work to get to the enjoyable part is just silly.

    There’s nothing wrong with not liking something lots of people are into. Just don’t misrepresent, homey. And if you do, do it better.

  56. Analogy?

    those ‘ uber hard-core’ professional cricket players and the people who mow the grass on the pitch.

    sure the team could do all the hard work to set everything up so they can enjoy their games (whittle wickets by hand?) , but they would rather pay someone to do the boring stuff, and concentrate on playing the actual bit of the activity they enjoy (and is worth their time)

    Is earning a living mowing the grass on the cricket pitch a waste of a life?

    Slight difference – the rate of grass growth was not determined by a game designer.

  57. Zen has a good point. Actually, I seem to recall BB doing a more representative post on the issue a few weeks ago… I suppose it could have been an offworld feature, which might explain a bit of the disconnect.

    From what I understand, these are actually really crap jobs — they only persist because the investment capital and upkeep is so freaking low. Still, the combination of redesigned games (making gold much easier to acquire and thereby devaluing it to a point where it isn’t economical to farm) and recessions has made the industry less than viable in a lot of ways. And you won’t find girls doing this crap, because they’re in such high-demand for actual labor (which, sadly isn’t much better).

    I seem to recall that a new trend is to employ keylogging/passhacking to go into a user’s account and autosell their entire inventory. Ha.

    Anyway, I do agree that WOW isn’t the bastard it once was. This does not change the general cliches of online games that are sorely outdated, nor does it confirm that one must undergo pain to extract pleasure from an event. Yes, Takuan, you’re right, making $=boredom is one way to make it something of value. It is far from the only way, however, and there are way too many examples of currencies and progression that aren’t based on acquisition through such uninspired means.

    Also, perpetual satisfaction from a persistent world does not imply endless ‘one-upping’ of challenges by the developers. Good games employ means for users to play with each other and develop new experiences. Forming new strategies and counterstrategies, as well as being surprised at someone’s ingenuity towards something old, is what can make something like chess timeless. It’s why you’d bother playing an online game in the first place — to compete and cooperate with other people. Duh.

  58. if I were to design a game, I would exploit the primate tribal instinct of the need to belong. Perhaps some careful study of the rise of certain religions and cults. A game that drew from $cientology, Amway pyramid selling, jingoistic patriotism, racism, etc. Target it at children in middle school and tie it in with some fast food chain. Push all the right buttons and the social pressure to belong would be so overpowering, no one would notice or care it was a shitty game in the first place. It would have electrolytes.

  59. @ #70 posted by Strophe:

    As I’ve been trying to make clear, I’m not knocking the WoW game genre or the people that enjoy it. I’m knocking the design decision to make “non-fun” tasks (as Takuan puts it) an integral part of gameplay, for this or ANY game.

    If the majority of players actually enjoy doing the mindless repetitive stuff that these gold farmers are getting to do then I retract my earlier statement, but it sounds to me like they don’t.

  60. @ Brainspore

    Noted. Sorry if I got a tad cantankerous. Still, “non-fun” is subjective, and believe it or not, some people enjoy the “grinding” part, especially since they’re alongside a zillion other people to talk to while doing repetitive things. (Not me, though.)

    I never got into Zuma, Minesweeper, solitaire, Bejewelled, or Lumines, but those are more repetitive than the the most repetitive tasks in WoW that have been designed by Blizz, and yet retain their addiction factor. Ultimately, shooting marbles out of a frog to get to the next level and levelling up my druid via quests (or, if you like, pelt-collection) are the same thing, IMHO. The version I prefer feels a little more empowering and personal, and is vastly more social.

    A goal that gives a reward and the tools to get to that goal in a way that makes someone feel like they’re accomplishing something are critical facets of video game design. And you’re right, some people will do very repetitive things for incomprehensibly long periods of time to get there. (I guess fishing in WoW is more fun than fishing in real life, for some.) But the game has come a long way since the early days, and it just isn’t anything like that now.


    You have a bright future in game design ahead of you.

  61. Brainspore: I still think it is NOT a “design decision”. At least not in the proper sense of a decision where alternate choice exists. It is something that will embed itself in any game architecture the same way the design of a glove cannot escape the physical construction of the hand.
    An “ideal” game can only exist in an ideal world. If your one hundred percent good-stuff game were built, you could only maintain its integrity by having AIs play it.

  62. I think at some point someone’s going to develop a program that will imitate the way we write casual emails and comments so you can let it run your myspace/facebook page for you, commenting on friends photos, replying to comments etc. Takes all the hassle out of having to do it yourself! I just have a vision of a massive social network of these programs all chatting away to each other on our behalf.

    Or we could farm our myspace maintenance out to underpaid Chinese workers? Could lead to interesting results for your social life…

  63. I interviewed with a company in Cologne, GameGoods, that is one of the most successful international providers of virtual goods.

    They described being a virtual goods company “like being, but without the warehouse of books.”

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