A research arm of the World Bank has produced a comprehensive report on the size of the grey-market virtual world economy in developing countries — gold farming, power-levelling, object making and so on — and arrived at a staggering $3 billion turnover in 2009. They go on to recommend that poor countries be provided with network access and computers so this economy can be built up — a slightly weird idea, given how hostile most game companies are to this sort of thing.
Add in a global union drive among the gold farmers, and you've got the plot of my last young adult novel. Funny old world.
Jobs in the virtual economy include micro-tasks like categorizing products in online shops, moderating content posted to social media sites, or even playing online games on behalf of wealthier players who are too busy to tend to their characters themselves. The study estimates that the market for such gaming-for-hire services was worth $3 billion in 2009, and it suggests that with suitable mobile technologies even the least-developed countries could benefit from this emerging virtual economy.
"Developing countries' roles in the digital world have been mostly limited to users and consumers, not producers. But today, a growing mesh of digital services is giving rise to a new layer of entrepreneurial opportunities with very low entry barriers," said Valerie D'Costa, Program Manager of info Dev.
Tim Kelly, info Dev's Lead ICT Policy Specialist, said, "Some of the poorest people in the world are already connected to digital networks through their mobile phones. The study shows that there are real earning opportunities in the virtual economy that will become accessible as mobile technology develops. This could significantly boost local economies and support further development of digital infrastructure in regions such as Africa and southeast Asia."
While the virtual economy unlocks a plethora of business opportunities, it should be noted that not all these activities are viewed positively. According to the info Dev study, certain business ventures and services offered may actually detract from the experience of other Internet users. For example, harvesting and selling online gaming currencies or mass clicking "Like" on corporate Facebook pages can create an unfair environment where legitimate game play and user opinion loses value and is represented inaccurately.
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