Welcome to the new gold mines
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.
(Image: Anthony Gilmore)