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May 25, 2011 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Prison administrators in China have found a new use for forced prison labour: gold-farming operations, in which prisoners play multiplayer games for hours on end, handing over the gold they acquire to the guards, who sell it online for real money.
posted by acb (93 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think Corey Doctorow wrote a book about this sort of thing.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:04 PM on May 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


Man, give someone in China even a LITTLE bit of power and they're all about abusing it.

Humans are gross. China really needs human rights laws that prevent its general populace from being taken advantage of by any enterprising loser with a half-assed idea.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:04 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


hal_c_on: Man, give someone in China even a LITTLE bit of power and they're all about abusing it.

I'm unsure of why you think this problem is unique to China, especially considering your very next sentence.
posted by gman at 2:08 PM on May 25, 2011 [22 favorites]


Tragic and horrifying, of course, but.... You know how when you read a story that ends horribly for all the characters you cared about, and yet you have that odd sort of satisfaction that things turned out exactly the only way they could have given the circumstances? It's like that.
posted by NMcCoy at 2:09 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah! Chinese prisons suck! They should run them like in California! Empty, overcrowded cinderblock structures devoid of anything except for cots.
posted by GuyZero at 2:09 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sounds better than American prison anyway. I'd rather farm gold than cotton. Do they get a Cheetos ration?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:10 PM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


So let me get this straight -- they punish prisoners in China by making them do something I willingly pay money to do myself?
posted by crunchland at 2:12 PM on May 25, 2011 [29 favorites]


The way to attack this is to find a way to go after the buyers.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:13 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sounds better than American prison anyway. I'd rather farm gold than cotton. Do they get a Cheetos ration?

That was kinda my first reaction, Mr. Ferocious, but at the link, it's really not an ok thing at all.
As well as backbreaking mining toil, he carved chopsticks and toothpicks out of planks of wood until his hands were raw and assembled car seat covers that the prison exported to South Korea and Japan. He was also made to memorise communist literature to pay off his debt to society. But it was the forced online gaming that was the most surreal part of his imprisonment. The hard slog may have been virtual, but the punishment for falling behind was real. "If I couldn't complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things," he said.
"Mr. Ferocious" explained here.
posted by ibmcginty at 2:14 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


The way to attack this is to find a way to go after the buyers.

The game companies definitely do try and combat farming and buying gold, but it's kind of impossible to stamp out entirely especially when you are using humans instead of bots and technical solutions become more difficult.

As much as I hate what it does to gameplay, if this is becoming a human rights issue MMO developers should just start selling items themselves and undercutting any competition.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:16 PM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


OK this is not so great.
posted by aramaic at 2:17 PM on May 25, 2011


^ Right, still worse in American prisons, all joking aside.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:17 PM on May 25, 2011


Humans are gross. China really needs human rights laws that prevent its general populace from being taken advantage of by any enterprising loser with a half-assed idea.
I'm sure China has plenty of human rights laws the problem is the enforcement
They should run them like in California! Empty, overcrowded cinderblock structures devoid of anything except for cots.
Yeah, no shit. I'd rather be forced to mine gold then ass-raped.

By the way, not only does the U.S. have more prisoners per capita then china, we have more prisoners in total then China. (2,193,798 vs. 1,548,498 in 2006) In fact, India has a really low incarceration rate, so we actually have more prisoners in the U.S then China and India COMBINED (332,112 + 1,548,498 = 1,880,610 vs. 2,193,798 in 2006). Figures from this BBC article.
posted by delmoi at 2:18 PM on May 25, 2011 [26 favorites]


Every part of this story is so bizarre. Especially the last part about gold farm *businesses*. And how consumers are reluctant to pay for Chinese-farmed gold, but it's more convenient. And oh right, the part where GOLD IN AN ONLINE GAME CAN BE SOLD FOR REAL MONEY. I mean what?
posted by peachfuzz at 2:18 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The way to attack this is to find a way to go after the buyers.

The game companies definitely do try and combat farming and buying gold, but it's kind of impossible to stamp out entirely especially when you are using humans instead of bots and technical solutions become more difficult.

As much as I hate what it does to gameplay, if this is becoming a human rights issue MMO developers should just start selling items themselves and undercutting any competition.


I mean with the courts. For real. This is like people who patronize prostitutes claiming they aren't responsible for the human trafficking that feeds that.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:20 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a moderator for a Mac forum and we get a lot of spam accounts from China, pimping gold farming.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:20 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, this isn't a press release about the new Douglas Coupland novel?
posted by munchingzombie at 2:21 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


And oh right, the part where GOLD IN AN ONLINE GAME CAN BE SOLD FOR REAL MONEY. I mean what?

The games are built to encourage addictive behavior to achieve goals. It piles on work to earn the fun. If you work a good enough job already, why not substitute that work for the ingame work?

Grinding is poor gameplay but good business, for now, I wouldn't expect it to last as a model once someone shifts the MMO paradigm. All it really takes is stepping away from the numbers based RPG genre once bandwidth is better.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:21 PM on May 25, 2011



I mean with the courts. For real. This is like people who patronize prostitutes claiming they aren't responsible for the human trafficking that feeds that.


Well, it's like it aside from the whole buying gold isn't illegal thing.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:22 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wonder what the Chinese version of Scalia will have to say about these fine virtual specimens, who have developed intimating gold counts grinding it out in front of prison computer systems.
posted by reformedjerk at 2:23 PM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


After seeing how poorly the Western media (especially the Guardian) covered Japan following the megaquake/tsunami/nuka-aggedon, I'm not prepared to accept this story at face value. Seems to me that the prime purpose of the media is to reinforce our own preconceptions.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:23 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah! Chinese prisons suck! They should run them like in California! Empty, overcrowded cinderblock structures devoid of anything except for cots.

And the men, of course.

Muscular savage men... who take what they want...

I'm sorry, what were we talking about?
posted by Trurl at 2:24 PM on May 25, 2011


You can rest assure that nothing like this could happen in the US, if only because law'n'order conservatives would balk at the idea of letting prisoners play video games.
posted by acb at 2:25 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


After seeing how poorly the Western media (especially the Guardian) covered Japan following the megaquake/tsunami/nuka-aggedon, I'm not prepared to accept this story at face value. Seems to me that the prime purpose of the media is to reinforce our own preconceptions.

Which part do you have a problem with? Exploitative business practices in gold farming are pretty well documented, and prisoner abuse from guards isn't a stretch anywhere in the world.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:26 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kind of fascinating. I'm thinking about how to do a technical solution to this. You could isolate the Chinese and first-world servers, but the Chinese would just need some kind of proxy to get around that.

As far as going after the buyers, how would you even stop it? As long as there is a way to transfer gold, it's going to be a problem.

I suppose you could restrict it someway, like the only way you can transfer gold to someone is if you have done a certain number of campaigns with them, or can validate your friendship in some other way (like being friends on facebook or something)
After seeing how poorly the Western media (especially the Guardian) covered Japan following the megaquake/tsunami/nuka-aggedon
What was wrong with it, just out of curiosity? I learned most of what I know about the situation from mefi and other online sources, so I don't really have any idea.
posted by delmoi at 2:28 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe design your game in such a way that 12-hour grind sessions don't produce a tradeable commodity?
posted by 0xFCAF at 2:30 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


But wait, how can WoW gold have value, they're just printing it, it doesn't have any value, inflation is right around the corner! [/sarcasm]
posted by wuwei at 2:36 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


After seeing how poorly the Western media (especially the Guardian) covered Japan following the megaquake/tsunami/nuka-aggedon, I'm not prepared to accept this story at face value. Seems to me that the prime purpose of the media is to reinforce our own preconceptions.

Yeah, it's just really hard to believe Chinese prisons could have bad things happening in them. If you read the real unbiased sources like Xinhua, you'd know it's all hugs and puppies and rainbows.

I'm sure China has plenty of human rights laws the problem is the enforcement

Heh. The law is simply what the highest ranking concerned CCP member says it is.

Yeah, no shit. I'd rather be forced to mine gold then ass-raped.

Do we know there's no sexual abuse in Chinese prisons?

And remember, you only end up in prison in China if you don't get executed first. Which happens rather more frequently in China than just about anywhere.
posted by kmz at 2:42 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Which part do you have a problem with? Exploitative business practices in gold farming are pretty well documented, and prisoner abuse from guards isn't a stretch anywhere in the world.

If it's nothing notable, then why is it being posted here? Why is it being posted on Metafilter?

My point is, there's the entire "weird Japan" narrative, where journos who don't speak the language and who do not have any especially profound connection or insight into the country basically pull things out their ass and call it reporting.

China is of course the flavour of the week now, so it's pretty easy to write an article that combines all the lurid details of the Chinese police state with a new Web 2.0 angle. Maybe it's true, but there is a good chance that what is being reported here is not (unless Danny Vincent speaks and reads Mandarin).
posted by KokuRyu at 2:42 PM on May 25, 2011



But wait, how can WoW gold have value, they're just printing it, it doesn't have any value, inflation is right around the corner! [/sarcasm]


Actually it all comes in to existence as a result of some sort of economic effort. A limited bit comes with character creation, but the rest is minted the second you sell something you picked up off a corpse to a vendor or complete a quest.

I wonder what an MMO economy WOULD look like if the money supply was more static. Hell if I know.

The annoying thing about my conclusion that the best harm reduction here is Blizzard selling gold themselves is that the meta-economic game is really, really fun. The auction house in WoW is a lot more fascinating than grinding.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:42 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I realize you're being sarcastic (since you used the tag and all), but inflation in MMO games is actually a significant problem that designers spend a huge amount of time and energy trying to manage.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 2:43 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]



If it's nothing notable, then why is it being posted here? Why is it being posted on Metafilter?


Neither exploitative gold farming business practices or Chinese prison abuse are new concepts, but the combination is. I would not be shocked if this is hyped up out of nothing, like you say, but I would not be at all shocked if it is true either. I have a pretty good amount of respect for the Guardian though so I'll discuss it with the assumption they are on top of things.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:44 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, it's like it aside from the whole buying gold isn't illegal thing.

What I find weird is that it's not a violation of the game rules (unless it is in which case someone please correct me; I haven't played WoW since the Beta)

On XBox Live, if you even OFFER to sell someone an upgraded profile in Call of Duty or try to sell any goods or services in exchange for points, etc., you're gone. No appeal, no jury, just a total ban of your account from the service.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:49 PM on May 25, 2011


Ban World of Warcraft and save Chinese criminals from this drudgery, before I start investing in Chinese criminal drudgery futures and using the proceeds to buy online Gold which I will then flip for Egyptian cotton which I will encase in chocolate and sell to the U.S. military.
posted by tigrefacile at 2:50 PM on May 25, 2011


Truth is stranger than fiction. Sometimes I look at the world in its current state, and it baffles me how reality is tending towards science fiction novels. 20 years ago, I would've thought you were insane if you described this article to me.
posted by spiderskull at 2:53 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's definitely a violation of the WoW rules XQ, Blizzard HATES this and have been very aggressive about it. The same assholes who do the gold farming do the account hacking which has been nothing but headaches for them.

The problem is the transaction is done outside of the game, it's tough to prove someone actually bought the gold. They will hack accounts to send out the gold. They would gladly (though I have no evidence this has ever happened) send out gold to random accounts just as a form of jamming.

It's a super-complex thing to stamp out.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:55 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I mean with the courts. For real.

As usual, Ironmouth's feigned legal expertise is revealed. While gold buying and selling is usually against a game's End User License Agreement, which is a private contract between gamer and game maker, this only gives game companies the authority to ban accounts which break the EULA as they see fit (which they very regularly do). gt Of course there are games where RMT is explicitly permitted in a limited or unlimited manner, such as EVE or Second Life.

There is no legitimate lawsuit that say, Blizzard could file against Leroy Jenkins for spending 20 USD at IGE for the gold to buy his epic mount, because Blizzard owns everything regardless of what Leroy does, and therefore nothing has changed hands, other than 20 USD being paypal'd away. Gamers, be they American or Chinese, have no ownership of their virtual game assets, and therefore their ownership cannot be transferred. Everything in WoW exists only on the servers at some data farm somewhere. In the eyes of the law they are intellectual property on a server in Irvine, California, and they remain that way regardless of whose character is wearing the epix.

Now, IGE has been the target of all sorts of legal shenanigans over the last seven years, but by and large the dust has settled and that particular company is still trucking. Case law has pretty much determined virtual currency trading to be legal, if shady, with little or no consumer protections. Many other companies located outside of the USA are beyond the state of California's reach, anyway.

All that said, the industry has been stagnating for the last couple years, as its fates are inextricably tied to the MMO industry. It doesn't surprise me that that it's no longer profitable to pay employees to farm anymore, so they have resorted to prison labour. Smart thinking, really, but a sign of how little money is left to be made. Maybe things will pick up when SWTOR comes out!
posted by mek at 3:00 PM on May 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


Maybe things will pick up when SWTOR comes out!

God I hope it isn't that kind of game. :)
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:03 PM on May 25, 2011


The internet and gaming play by the same rules as the rest of our economy, so it's not terribly surprising to find profit and exploitation there. Really, it's not fantastically different from mining diamonds, growing coffee, or sitting in a call center. You can berate the purchased all you want, but we need to fix the systems that reward this kind of behavior.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:16 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem is the transaction is done outside of the game, it's tough to prove someone actually bought the gold. They will hack accounts to send out the gold.

So correct me if I'm wrong here, but you can actually send gold between players, right? Or is that banned as well, and you literally need to hack an account to digitally increase the gold supply in that player's account?

I'm assuming it's the former, if/in which case I guess I'd have to ask the next dumb guy question: what is hindered in the game from eliminating gold transfer entirely? I imagine you can still get by well with trading items, and that in itself would be exploitable too, but at least with quest rewards the farmers actually have to, you know, quest instead of grinding.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:17 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


XQUZYPHYR: "On XBox Live, if you even OFFER to sell someone an upgraded profile in Call of Duty or try to sell any goods or services in exchange for points, etc., you're gone. No appeal, no jury, just a total ban of your account from the service."

As best I can tell, Blizzard is the same, and the reason all these places ban trading virtual goods for real money is taxation and regulatory compliance. Hence the very clear statement in EULAs that ownership of everything is retained and not given to the player.

delmoi: "Kind of fascinating. I'm thinking about how to do a technical solution to this. You could isolate the Chinese and first-world servers, but the Chinese would just need some kind of proxy to get around that."

Blizzard already has Asian servers they push people to, but they don't want to isolate the subscriber who took a year with a JET program from his guild, or cliques established elsewhere from reforming on WoW, so they're not enforced. Plenty of anti-farming people wish they'd just pull the trigger and lock regions, arguing the lag already ruins the experience and the vast majority of cross continent connections are farming.
posted by pwnguin at 3:19 PM on May 25, 2011


Adding, I ask because my limited experience here was playing LORD on a BBS in the 90's. There was one player who realized that, instead of beating the Dragon, which is the end-game event that effectively resets your character, he could just sit around and stay the top level, earning interest in his bank account. Because there was no limit, he was eventually just getting millions of gold a day and transferring it to all his friends. The SysOp (wow... first time writing THAT word in like eight years) responded in the simplest way possible: limiting gold transfers to about 100,000 a day (a mid level weapon cost maybe a million. At top level, 100,000 would be a fraction of a single monster's loot).
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:20 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


So correct me if I'm wrong here, but you can actually send gold between players, right?

Yes...

what is hindered in the game from eliminating gold transfer entirely? I imagine you can still get by well with trading items, and that in itself would be exploitable too, but at least with quest rewards the farmers actually have to, you know, quest instead of grinding.

There are multple reasons in game that gold is sent for services instead of direct trading of items. A lot of this could be eliminated, for instance item enhancements could be traded as an item instead (the mechanics for it are already in place) but ultimately Blizzard wants to allow people to do things like transfer money to their guild, or friends, etc.

limiting gold transfers to about 100,000 a day (a mid level weapon cost maybe a million. At top level, 100,000 would be a fraction of a single monster's loot).

WoW is far too populated and economically active for such a restriction not to do a ton of interference with legitimate activity.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:26 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember a lot of Chinese ISK farmers in the Drone Regions of EVE Online a few years ago, but I had no idea that some of them were prisoners. I just thought they'd signed up for a soul-sucking job, farming in-game money for people who didn't want to spend hours shooting space rocks or drones.

This is a tough nut to crack for the game developers, as they need things to be expensive in-game because if they lowered the barriers to equipment/widgets/etc. for a customer all at once, they would lose the monthly revenue from people grinding their way to victory. One wonders if the free-to-play micro-transaction games have the same issue?

Scarcity in games drives up the value--look at the triple-digit price on Team Fortress 2 hats. Collections of 1s and 0s are expensive!
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 3:28 PM on May 25, 2011


WoW is far too populated and economically active for such a restriction not to do a ton of interference with legitimate activity.

I mean I know the thrill of the game is you can do whatever you want- pay $12.99 a month and fish all day if you wanna- but what percentage of significant gameplay roles require the several dozen daily transfers a gold farmer would be doing?

What if you could only, say, do three gold transfers in a 24 hour period?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:30 PM on May 25, 2011


What if you could only, say, do three gold transfers in a 24 hour period?

Then a lot of people who play the game to trade items directly for resale would quit. I sent more than three transfers nearly every day when I played. Buying or selling items, helping out friends, getting an enchantment, etc.

I knew a guy who did a radio show for the server and ran a lot of contests with gold rewards to get people to listen. There goes that idea.

Regardless, as I said, they hack accounts. Blizzard has aggressively tried to fight this stuff, and they are a smart company. The obvious restrictions have been attempted.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:36 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Next time I play a game and it feels like it's even a little bit like something a convict in china would be forced to do I'm giving that fucker up as the Grundy poorly designed peice of junk it is - lifes too short for that.
posted by Artw at 3:37 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't worry too much, Zynga has perhaps ensured that we'll never see another new online game that doesn't sell in-game items.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:40 PM on May 25, 2011


In other news, China is cutting back on their use of capital punishment.
posted by K.P. at 3:45 PM on May 25, 2011


Next time I play a game and it feels like it's even a little bit like something a convict in china would be forced to do I'm giving that fucker up as the Grundy poorly designed peice of junk it is - lifes too short for that.

I don't play MMORPGs (they would be the end of me), but I pretty much came to this conclusion back when I played Shenmue II. It was fun, I thought, but next thing I knew I was dreading having to go back to my console and work a job for hours moving boxes to earn some cash, but I did anyhow... Something wrong with that. You don't want to know how long I played the carnival games at the very very start of Chrono Trigger trying to win tokens to convert to currency. If single player player games can do this to me, I really need to be careful.
posted by floam at 3:45 PM on May 25, 2011


Hey, now. Spacing the rewards out just right, to get players hooked in the lowest possible amount of time, is really a very challenging business. Casinos pioneered it.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:02 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


In other news, China is cutting back on their use of capital punishment.
posted by K.P. at 6:45 PM on May 25


Guess they want to get a couple years worth of gaming profits in before those eyes and hands are sold off?
posted by orme at 4:08 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


What surprises me is that it's more profitable to farm gold than to steal it outright. Warcraft accounts are frequent targets for keylogging malware; I'd naively assumed that was the source of all the gold people bought.
posted by Nelson at 4:08 PM on May 25, 2011


It is a source of a lot of it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:11 PM on May 25, 2011


I mean with the courts. For real. This is like people who patronize prostitutes claiming they aren't responsible for the human trafficking that feeds that.

Well, it's like it aside from the whole buying gold isn't illegal thing.


Prostitution isn't illegal everywhere in the US, or the world.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:19 PM on May 25, 2011


It's a lot more illegal in a lot more places than gold farming. The comparison is stupid.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:34 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm unsure of why you think this problem is unique to China, especially considering your very next sentence.

It took me a while to figure out what the heck this meant. HA! I caught it.

No, I wasn't saying its the CHINESE who cause problems. I'm say that because of a lack of human rights (enforcement-yeah you're right delmoi), its easy for anyone in power to take advantage of the country's citizens.

Usually though, its Americans with purchasing power who like cheap products.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:44 PM on May 25, 2011


It's the artificial scarcity -- to wit: game companies' obsession with forcing long hours of "grinding" as the cheaply Skinnerian way to encourage repeated gameplay -- that causes this.

Zynga, Blizzard, all of the game companies who have turned the sunk costs fallacy into rentiership are almost as much to blame as the Chinese authorities, here.
posted by chimaera at 4:55 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


wuwei writes "But wait, how can WoW gold have value, they're just printing it, it doesn't have any value, inflation is right around the corner! ["

You are being sarcastic but this is a real problem. Gold in DDO for example is essentially worthless once you've capped a character. So much drops from mobs and people who grind epics kill so many high level mobs that they are awash in gold. Routine low level items (like 2nd level +1 stat rings) that one can aquire with 15 minutes of play go for 2-4 times face value in the Auction system. Actual hard to come by items routinely go for 1000s of time their face value.

furiousxgeorge writes "The problem is the transaction is done outside of the game, it's tough to prove someone actually bought the gold. They will hack accounts to send out the gold. They would gladly (though I have no evidence this has ever happened) send out gold to random accounts just as a form of jamming."

I've seen it. Or at least I've seen gold appear in my account, I've reported it, and then it went away.

fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit writes "This is a tough nut to crack for the game developers, as they need things to be expensive in-game because if they lowered the barriers to equipment/widgets/etc. for a customer all at once, they would lose the monthly revenue from people grinding their way to victory. One wonders if the free-to-play micro-transaction games have the same issue? "

I've only experienced Turbine's properties but they have the same issue. You use turbine points to buy items fromt eh game store for your character to use. Most of these items are either cosmetic or are available in game. They give out small amount of turbine points for completing tasks and quests. FPP farm these points. In DDO you can make about $3 an hour if you group up with 5 like minded individuals one of whom is running two clients.
posted by Mitheral at 5:09 PM on May 25, 2011


Doing online "work" seems to be the ideal prison job. (except that it's not "productive" work in any sense, but then again, neither is prostitution). Bad thoughts starting, lets not go down that path.

It's ideal because it can be done in safe and tightly controlled environment, and the result - online gold - is what it is. No quality concerns, safety concerns, security concerns, etc. You could put prisoners to work in the mines or on factory lines, but even private companies sometimes fail to make a profit from that using non-criminals, I would assume the extra costs required for a prison to run it would make it unviable and probably loss making.

A chinese worker may make $200 a month at a private factory. That's about $1 per hour (just taking a random number of hours worked)... WoW gold may go for what, $4 per thousand... I could just about make a thousand gold per hour, (300% contribution margin!) but I have never needed to. It might be soul crushing, but many jobs in the world are pretty soul crushing too...

Just to clarify, I think Blizzard's in-game economy "works" well enough. Gold is just there because, well, you need a currency for any economy to work. But gold is really one of the most unimportant things in the game. Ultimately MMOs are about accumulating power and prestige... and all the most powerful and coveted items drop from bosses, and are non-tradeable, so you can't buy them with gold. You just need good technical skills at playing the game, and good enough social skills to get accepted into a competent guild, and enough hours a week to commit to playing the game. Just playing the game will net you several thousand gold per week, and there's honestly not that much to spend it on. In the current expansion I've never "farmed" any gold, and always have had thousands upon thousands leftover in my bank.
posted by xdvesper at 5:16 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is no legitimate lawsuit that say, Blizzard could file...

Any reason it couldn't be criminalized stateside to knowingly purchase Chinese prison-farmed gold? What's your expert legal opinion about that?
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 5:36 PM on May 25, 2011


I am old school. I recall back in the eighties I paid a Bangladeshi kid to get my AD&D ranger up to fifth level.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:36 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


One simple solution is to show gold farmers uncensored world news headlines.
posted by zippy at 5:51 PM on May 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Zynga, Blizzard, all of the game companies who have turned the sunk costs fallacy into rentiership are almost as much to blame as the Chinese authorities, here.
posted by chimaera at 7:55 PM on May 25 [+] [!]


No, not even close. Gaming companies are engaging in behavior that I would, at worst, describe as distasteful. They are exploiting human psychology to create highly addictive products, which people may buy and play of their own free will.

The Chinese prison guards in this story are enslaving prisoners and BEATING THEM WITH PVC PIPES IF THEY DON'T GRIND HARD ENOUGH.

I would not describe those two parties as "almost equally culpable".
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:52 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Heh. The law is simply what the highest ranking concerned CCP member says it is.
Right, which means adding more "human rights laws" to the books isn't going to help anything.
If it's nothing notable, then why is it being posted here? Why is it being posted on Metafilter?
Because it's an unusual form of prisoner abuse. Why shouldn't people talk about it? I don't really get the criticism here. It's not like the latest abuses by the U.S. government are met with "Well, we all know they suck why are we still talking about it?"
and all the most powerful and coveted items drop from bosses, and are non-tradeable, so you can't buy them with gold.
Hmm, which brings up another potential job for people to do: pilot people's accounts while they are at work/sleep for cash and accumulate items and XP.
posted by delmoi at 6:11 PM on May 25, 2011


xdvesper: "Doing online "work" seems to be the ideal prison job. "

You did read the article, right?
posted by dunkadunc at 6:15 PM on May 25, 2011


I think he was meaning ideal from the perspective of people running prisons.
posted by Mitheral at 6:25 PM on May 25, 2011


Any reason it couldn't be criminalized stateside to knowingly purchase Chinese prison-farmed gold? What's your expert legal opinion about that?

Yes we can! We could criminalize doing under 4k dps in when using Dungeon Finder, too. Or playing female gnomes and using the /train command, that could be punishable by death! Let's get right on that.
posted by mek at 7:01 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can partly blame this woman here, Mei Francis. Check the price for Traveler's Tundra Mammoth.

Why spend 19-20K on a mount? To get another one. Most mounts can be earned or bought cheaply, but some are random, low probability drops from difficult dungeon bosses. Those can be problematic to acquire. And when you are two mounts shy of getting the achievement, believe me, buying gold might cross your mind.

So for some people, it's spend $100-$200 to get the one mount. Or buy stacks and stacks of raw materials to powerlevel up their crafting.

Blizzard has done an excellent job of short circuiting the gold economy, but for obvious reasons they can only do so much. A real issue is inflation - without money sinks like the Tundra Mount, gold eventually becomes worthless. In Diablo 2, people started trading rare Stones of Jordan, because you literally could not carry enough gold to purchase things of high value. The game designers have to balance a lot more than damage tables.
posted by Xoebe at 7:20 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


pilot people's accounts while they are at work/sleep for cash and accumulate items and XP.

There are leveling services that claim to be able to get you to level 85 in WoW in 15 days. I have no idea whether that is fast or about average if you were dedicated but I wouldn't be shocked if those services used the same people.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:20 PM on May 25, 2011


The Shawshank Redemption in Mandarin. . .without the redemption.
posted by Danf at 7:20 PM on May 25, 2011


Any reason it couldn't be criminalized stateside to knowingly purchase Chinese prison-farmed gold? What's your expert legal opinion about that?

Basically it would be impossible to enforce, and you would rightly have a hell of a time justifying wasting resources attempting enforcement.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:25 PM on May 25, 2011


In Diablo 2, people started trading rare Stones of Jordan

Happened in Habitat on q-link back in the 80s as well. There were avatar heads you could obtain that quickly became the de-facto currency.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:30 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes we can! We could criminalize doing under 4k dps in when using Dungeon Finder, too. Or playing female gnomes and using the /train command, that could be punishable by death! Let's get right on that.

1. None of those things directly contributes to, for lack of a better term, penal slave labor.
2. None of those things (I assume?) constitute a real-life commercial transaction. This is one. I don't see why it should be any less subject to government regulation than any other online transaction, just because it happens to take place in the context of a video game.

Basically it would be impossible to enforce, and you would rightly have a hell of a time justifying wasting resources attempting enforcement.

True, but you could say the same about many of our laws. If you can do online kiddie porn stings, I don't see any reason you couldn't do a "Chinese gold" sting. You're right that it's a political nonstarter, but in a perfect world you could make a pretty good case that it would be equally as enforceable as lots of other crimes and would have a more tangible positive impact.

I don't think this is a fantastic idea or anything, but it doesn't strike me as quixotic or worthy of derision, either.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:31 PM on May 25, 2011


True, but you could say the same about many of our laws. If you can do online kiddie porn stings, I don't see any reason you couldn't do a "Chinese gold" sting.

Provided you had some way of automagically identifying illegally farmed gold without causing a lot of collateral damage. It's not like cocaine or child pornography or some similarly easily identifiable illegal commodity.
posted by acb at 7:36 PM on May 25, 2011


Yeah, that's true. Perhaps it's more akin to money laundering or some other sort of white collar financial crime. I think the fact remains that it's not unlike things we do actually prosecute, though obviously going after online video game currency isn't going to garner the same kind of interest as, say, Colombian drug money or something.

I'm not trying to be argumentative, I just think it's actually an interesting suggestion that if this turned out to be a big deal we could start combating it in U.S. courts.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:43 PM on May 25, 2011


I don't think this is a fantastic idea or anything, but it doesn't strike me as quixotic or worthy of derision, either.

Yeah, it does. You were replying to my comment about the possibility of legal action under existing laws. I was simply pointing out that, if we were going to create new laws, the sky's the limit. And creating new laws dictating behaviour in World of Warcraft is about the last fucking thing on the fucking planet that we need governments doing. You do know the USA has a prison overpopulation problem, right?
posted by mek at 7:52 PM on May 25, 2011


Basically it would be impossible to enforce, and you would rightly have a hell of a time justifying wasting resources attempting enforcement.

True, but you could say the same about many of our laws. If you can do online kiddie porn stings, I don't see any reason you couldn't do a "Chinese gold" sting.


This isn't child rape, it's sweatshops. The reason we have difficulty adressing it is that we don't have the resources to watch every factory around the world.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:58 PM on May 25, 2011


What I was responding to was your aggressive dismissal of Ironmouth's point, which you read for some reason as an assertion that Blizzard can sue these people. There are other ways to bring people into court, which I wanted to highlight, is all. If you think that's an unworthy goal, then that's a separate issue, but it's not impossible, which seemed to be your contention.

I am not asserting this is a good idea or that I have the slightest inclination to try to bring it into being.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 8:01 PM on May 25, 2011


No, we can't monitor sweatshops, but we can regulate whether people in the U.S. have access to what they produce. That's the analogy here.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 8:04 PM on May 25, 2011


It's just...what does a gold farmer sting look like? The government shifts resources away from terrorism and sex crime to referee video games by creating a whole new website that no one has ever offered positive feedback on that is somehow going to convince a couple guys to try and buy gold, ignoring the much better advertised established sites and violating no current laws. From then on people stick with the established sites.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:06 PM on May 25, 2011


What I was responding to was your aggressive dismissal of Ironmouth's point, which you read for some reason as an assertion that Blizzard can sue these people. There are other ways to bring people into court, which I wanted to highlight, is all.
First of all, Ironmouth said it should be the game companies that bring people to court. Second of all, bring them to court for what? They're not breaking any U.S. laws.
posted by delmoi at 8:10 PM on May 25, 2011


And of course, the US does this because we find exploitative prison labor so very offensive.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:11 PM on May 25, 2011


First of all, Ironmouth said it should be the game companies that bring people to court. Second of all, bring them to court for what? They're not breaking any U.S. laws.

1. I think if you look back at his comments you'll find that he never said that. (Unless something has stealthily been deleted, in which case, I apologize.)
2. I know they aren't; that's precisely why I've been talking about a hypothetical law. This is how you address new social problems; you legislate and then you enforce those new laws. It is not going to happen. It is beyond a doubt not a law that I can conceive of being passed. But the same is true of a lot of people's pet causes. It doesn't mean it isn't worth discussing, which is all I'm doing.

And george – that is certainly among the reasons this kind of law would never happen here! Though that kind of hypocrisy is not beyond the pale.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 8:19 PM on May 25, 2011


So much work being done, but it produces so little material benefit to society. I wonder how one could change the way gold is earned to at least produce some mitigating benefits.
posted by floam at 8:24 PM on May 25, 2011


Dixiecupdrinking, I don't address absurd hypotheticals in my arguments, because they are absurd. Since we both agree that such a law would be absurd, I think we can decline to argue further.

To touch on the I'm-misreading-Ironmouth point, he said "I mean with the courts. For real." But there is no possible legal action to be taken in court on this matter. You could change the law to make this stuff illegal, yes, sure; but that is a legislative solution, not a judicial one. So go ahead and contact your congresscritter, as the judiciary has already ruled on virtual currency sales - they're legal.
posted by mek at 8:32 PM on May 25, 2011


The annoying thing about my conclusion that the best harm reduction here is Blizzard selling gold themselves is that the meta-economic game is really, really fun.

Yeah, I really hope that Blizzard would never do that. I've been playing WoW for about a year and half now.... I played D&D Online for part of a day before I got frustrated with being stuck at low level, looked at buying gear and gold, and then thought, "why am I even going to play this game if I feel that way about it?" And from what I've seen, Blizzard's subscriber numbers are dropping already. I don't know if it's just the regular drop that happens between new content patches, or if it's a legit representation of people who are quitting, though.

Maybe design your game in such a way that 12-hour grind sessions don't produce a tradeable commodity?

Which reminds me of how much I'm looking forward to Guild Wars 2. From everything they're saying, it's a leap forward in game mechanics that eliminates grinding completely, but allows all the questing, exploring, and crafting the genre's always provided. If it's everything they're promising, it may end up being very influential for MMOs. It also sounds waaay too good to be true, though, so I guess we'll see just how smoothly those new mechanics work.

Just thinking about technical possibilities again... what if Blizzard required all players to have authenticators, and kept a tighter leash on who got them? For that matter, since hacking is such a problem, why don't they require everyone to have one? Does hackery benefit Blizzard in some way?
posted by heatvision at 6:36 AM on May 26, 2011


heatvision writes "Just thinking about technical possibilities again... what if Blizzard required all players to have authenticators, and kept a tighter leash on who got them? For that matter, since hacking is such a problem, why don't they require everyone to have one? Does hackery benefit Blizzard in some way?"

They want it to be easy to join up. I'd never have started playing DDO or LOTRO if they had required me to get an authenticator.
posted by Mitheral at 8:23 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Blizzard could always block Chinese IP addresses from non Chinese servers.
posted by the_artificer at 10:58 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Point 1: They never say they were playing World of Warcraft. They heavily imply it, but they never mention which game was being played. Everything I've heard is that WoW gold farming is becoming less and less lucrative, given that nearly everything besides vanity items is purchasable,

Point 2: This is a non-story. If we look at the person from the camp:

Memories from his detention at Jixi re-education-through-labour camp in Heilongjiang province from 2004 still haunt Liu

So we have a story of someone who gold farmed "on a game" 7 years ago. Why is there a guardian article now?
posted by zabuni at 12:23 PM on May 26, 2011


They're being forced out by the hair-farmers.
posted by ...possums at 2:28 PM on May 26, 2011


dunkadunc, Cory Doctorow did write a short story about this sort of thing, in 2004. It is called Anda's Game (yes, a punny nod to Card's famous novel) and true to form, Doctorow released it for free online under a Creative Commons license.

Here's the story in full at Salon.com (where it was originally published), and here is the site for Doctorow's short story collection Overclocked, which includes downloads of Anda's Game in multiple formats, including an audiobook version.
posted by duffell at 3:54 PM on May 30, 2011


I was thinking of For The Win.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:57 PM on May 30, 2011


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