Join 3,513 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Tags:

MMORPG Sweatshops
July 6, 2005 7:07 AM   Subscribe

Wanna make money playing games? In certain Asian countries, workers are paid just cents an hour to camp virtual spawn points to collect gold or items that will then get sold for real currency. Owners of these companies are making tens of thousands of dollars a month whereas their workers are barely earning over $100.
'Sell is a recent graduate from Nanjing University. At 24, he's a manager for Vpgamesell, a large SWG Chinese farming center that wholesales to popular resellers. He started off by selling gil in Final Fantasy XI, but his farming days are over. He's moved up to manager status, helping with marketing and delivery. His many farmers work 10-hour rotations and are paid $121 a month. Sell gets $180 a month and works closer to 14 hours a day because he lives at the office, which is a fairly common practice at farming centers - if you lose your job, you also lose your home.'
Absolutely amazing, this human ingenuity thing...
posted by jcterminal (47 comments total)

 
I wonder what they do to keep their subnet from getting banned?

If I played that game, I'd relish PKing their camper asses. "Why should I buy from you... *when I can loot your corpse?!* Muahahahaha!"
posted by modernerd at 7:20 AM on July 6, 2005


I just wanna whack the idiots who pay real $ for virtual objects or whatever. Finance the cure for cancer you bloody fool ? There you go, get this virtual +1000 cluepoints.
posted by elpapacito at 7:26 AM on July 6, 2005


What really gets me down is that we still have to wait five billion years for the sun to blow up.
posted by Goblindegook at 7:31 AM on July 6, 2005


Heh. When the Atlantic shard of UO - back when there was only one world per server, no Trammel shit - originally filled up with player housing to the point where there were no places left to put any house, one of my friends managed to sell his account with two castles near Britain (the main city) for $1500.

During WOW Beta phase 3, one of my phase 2 buddies sold 3 of his accounts for $1350. Stupidly, I never sold any of my 4. They were still going for $300-500 apiece in phase 4 on eBay.
posted by Ryvar at 7:36 AM on July 6, 2005


I just wanna whack the idiots who pay real $ for virtual objects or whatever.

You mean, er.. like these guys?
posted by odinsdream at 7:39 AM on July 6, 2005


I paid real money for my website. I'm such a fool.
posted by sciurus at 7:51 AM on July 6, 2005


What really gets me down is that we still have to wait five billion years for the sun to blow up.

no kidding, just get to the friggin point already
posted by nervousfritz at 7:57 AM on July 6, 2005


oh those poor starving workers in wherever making just $100 a month sitting their asses down in front of their computer playing a computer game
posted by Dean Keaton at 8:00 AM on July 6, 2005


odinsdream: Those shares do represent physical assets, like desks and computers and whatnot. Along with a lot of other things.

Anyway, this is just crazy. I mean one of these people would have to save for a year just to make enough money to buy a computer.
posted by delmoi at 8:01 AM on July 6, 2005


I think the fundamental bit of information in this story is that people will cheat or milk whatever system they can. I'm sure the game hosts are thrilled that people are creating entire cottage industries around their games.

I guess I'm kind of jealous of people with the free time to play these games so much.
posted by fenriq at 8:21 AM on July 6, 2005


Farming is nothing new, and selling the virtual profits is nothing new, but actual people doing the legwork? Seems like a bot should be doing this. I know that Ragnarok online was like 50% bots when I tried playing it.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:31 AM on July 6, 2005


I guess I'm kind of jealous of people with the free time to play these games so much.

????

I'm sure any of the people there would gladly trade their job for yours.
posted by mkultra at 8:36 AM on July 6, 2005


Even more insidiously some people will actually force users to spend money in order to play games.
posted by nTeleKy at 8:37 AM on July 6, 2005


I read an interesting article in the Utne Reader a few issues back. I think this is it.

The Gross National Product of EverQuest, measured by how much wealth all the players together created in a single year inside the game. It turned out to be US$2,266 per capita. By World Bank rankings, that made EverQuest richer than India, Bulgaria, or China, and nearly as wealthy as Russia. It was the 77th richest country in the world.
posted by apis mellifera at 8:37 AM on July 6, 2005


Dean Keaton: oh those poor starving workers in wherever making just $100 a month sitting their asses down in front of their computer playing a computer game

When their housing is on the line depending on their performance, yeah, I'd say it still sucks to be them. Plus, gaming ceases to be a game for you if you have to do it for your livllhood, and most MMORPGs are actually quite annoying if you aren't "into" them.

fenriq: I think the fundamental bit of information in this story is that people will cheat or milk whatever system they can.

I think the fundamental bit is that, in a world with such tremendous disparaties of affulence, it's becoming increasingly difficult to stop the pleasurable experiences of those behind the guilded wall from being degrated by the vast tide of human suffering outside of it.

Notice, that's also why U.S. workers are having problems with their jobs being outsourced to countries where people are willing to work for a lot less.
posted by JHarris at 8:41 AM on July 6, 2005


Cory Doctorow predicted this to the fucking letter a couple years ago: Anda's Game.
posted by Tlogmer at 8:45 AM on July 6, 2005


How very Snow Crash...
posted by benzo8 at 8:47 AM on July 6, 2005


BlackLeotardFront: there's a good reason bots aren't used:
Carefully constructed macros do most of the work; Sack is just there to fend off the occasional player itching for a fight or game master who's hunting for these automated farming programs. "Everyone knows where the good places are, and GMs know that your account has been online for a whole month," he says. "[A GM will] message me asking, .Hello, what level are you, please?' I know he isn't asking my level; he just wants to know if [there's actually a person at the computer]."
posted by Tlogmer at 8:50 AM on July 6, 2005


Since everyone is chipping in with their idea on what the fundamental bit is, here's mine:

In China, the labor pool is so flooded with people that it is cheaper to use brute force and manpower than to automate via software. It's that simple. Whether you're making belts or waiting for mobs to spawn in a MUD or stitching shorts for WalMart, you don't built a better metaphorical mousetrap: you get half a jillion mousetraps and fill a warehouse with them.
posted by verb at 9:13 AM on July 6, 2005


China needs an Upton Sinclair.

Oh, wait, he was jailed 10 years ago.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 9:21 AM on July 6, 2005


Just to be clear, making $100 a month in rural China in an "office job" is better than a lot of alternatives. Sustinence farming is not a lot of fun out in that part of the world, and it's not like there are exactly a ton of other jobs available. It's not ideal, but given that there are people willing to work at that wage I'd be very happy to guess that they are happy to have the steady job. Especially if the only other non-farming job is a garment factory or something similar that is about 100 degrees inside, overcrowded, and a firetrap.

But, hey, let's all ask that they get a "living wage" based on western standards and put the whole company out of business so they can go back to farming.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 9:35 AM on July 6, 2005


A guy I know leveled up and sold an Asheron's Call character to some rich moron for $3000. Clearly, the buyer didn't know he could just offshore the work. What these guys need is an ad campaign.
posted by gurple at 9:41 AM on July 6, 2005


This is outrageous... I'm glad I left MMORPGs behind as a Junior in college, mostly because I didn't want to invest the effort in making Diablo 2 run under Wine.
posted by chibikeandy at 9:49 AM on July 6, 2005


FYI, $121 (US)/month is a bit above average for China (which is closer to $80/month), though, I am sure in a city like Nanjing it is below average.

Also, these worker are not (ex)farmers or rural Chinese. They are called "farmers" because "farming" is the name given to earning gold in these online games.
posted by diftb at 9:53 AM on July 6, 2005


A change in perspective will help you understand this sort of thing better.

People typically comment that it makes no sense for people to pay real money for fake game items, or that it ruins the game. But people aren't buying fake items, they're buying time. Anything the farmers can get a legitimate player can get as well. What they are paying for is the time it would take to get the virtual loot.

And all the farmers are putting into the mix is more time. Since time is worth fewer U.S. dollars in China than it is in the U.S., there is a profit to be made by those who can find a way to export that commodity. It's not much different than having textiles made in China vs the U.S.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:57 AM on July 6, 2005


Also, these worker are not (ex)farmers or rural Chinese. They are called "farmers" because "farming" is the name given to earning gold in these online games.

Sorry for being unclear in my comment. I was just referring to the fact that a large percentage of the Chinese workforce (compared to the US) is still engaged in sustinence agriculture, which is a miserable life that is entirely dependent on good fortune and good weather. That's the alternative to "virtual" farming for many. These particular workers might not be ex-farmers, but if they take this set of office jobs then another set of farmers can move out of the fields and get better jobs. The overlap between terms may have masked the issue.

time is worth fewer U.S. dollars in China than it is in the U.S., there is a profit to be made by those who can find a way to export that commodity.

And those selling their time on the US market (the virtual farmers) can make more money than they could selling their time on the Chinese market. So they end up better-off as well.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:07 AM on July 6, 2005


This was old news 2.5 years ago.
posted by seanyboy at 10:08 AM on July 6, 2005


Mostly old news, but this is the first credible article I've seen that talks to multiple farmers.

We're outsourcing our recreation. To people who do real work for virtual goods. Bring more wine! Caesar is thirsty.
posted by Nelson at 10:22 AM on July 6, 2005


By the way, before I got my "real" job and worked as a $7/hr monkey I was surviving on about $100-$200 a month after rent (I had a $500/mo rent. *sigh*) here in the US. And these guys get free room and board.

If I could do it here in a collage town in Iowa, I'm sure this is actualy a really good job for them over there. $100/mo is nothing to sneeze at.

$100/mo to sit in front of a computer and surf the web and make sure your bot is behaving itself is not really that bad at all.
posted by delmoi at 10:40 AM on July 6, 2005


Those shares do represent physical assets, like desks and computers and whatnot. Along with a lot of other things.

You actually believe that? A stock is worth whatever someone's willing to pay for it. It's no more "real" than these in-game items being sold on virtual markets ... except more people "believe" in stock on the NASDAQ or NYSE virtual markets.

It's belief that makes these things valuable.
posted by odinsdream at 10:46 AM on July 6, 2005


I think y6y6y6 nails it: many players find the whole "level-grind" aspect of these games tedious and are more than willing to exchange money to skip it. If you work 8-6 at the job, the last thing you want to do is play an intentionally boring game in your wish-fufillment time. The "farmers" are just exploiting a market niche.

Why the game companies themselves aren't selling gold, items or whatnot directly is beyond me. Why aren't the shareholders of whoever makes Asheron's Call jumping up and down about missed market opportunity here?
posted by bonehead at 11:07 AM on July 6, 2005


Cory Doctorow predicted this to the fucking letter a couple years ago

Except that it was happening for years before Doctorow's story, so he wasn't exactly predictive.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:11 AM on July 6, 2005


Why aren't the shareholders of whoever makes Asheron's Call jumping up and down about missed market opportunity here?

Some of them are. Sony (publisher of EverQuest 1 & 2 among others) has set up The Station where you can buy characters and in-game money.

Others, like World of Warcraft, eliminate the grind and make loot much, much easier to get.
posted by haqspan at 11:35 AM on July 6, 2005


Why aren't the shareholders of whoever makes Asheron's Call jumping up and down about missed market opportunity here?

Some of them are. Sony (publisher of EverQuest 1 & 2 among others) has set up The Station where you can buy characters and in-game money.

Others, like World of Warcraft, eliminate the grind and make loot much, much easier to get.
posted by haqspan at 11:35 AM on July 6, 2005


The MMORPG companies should take a look at these operations and get a clue -- they can make games better, and wipe this operation out at the same time.

Hire the farmers at competitive wages and make special servers where the farmers become the mobs that PCs fight -- this ends the need for tiresome "AI" programming tasks, and would certainly be more challenging to the players.

I would love to walk up to the King in some game and have be all like "No qua che zhe li sup do, ~la ~la ~la" and then kill me and loot my corpse.

That would be awesome.
posted by illovich at 11:38 AM on July 6, 2005


I swear I only hit post once.
posted by haqspan at 11:48 AM on July 6, 2005


I've been doing this here for a year. I used to sell front page posts. Then $5 memberships destroyed the market.
posted by srboisvert at 12:07 PM on July 6, 2005


$100/mo to sit in front of a computer and surf the web and make sure your bot is behaving itself is not really that bad at all.

I doubt it's that easy, like if a guy had time to surf the web I'd imagine they would make him look after multiple bots. Like I'm sure the job is only a notch above data entry in terms of boredom.

Hire the farmers at competitive wages and make special servers where the farmers become the mobs that PCs fight -- this ends the need for tiresome "AI" programming tasks, and would certainly be more challenging to the players.

That's kinda funny, I can imagine a MMO where the peasants are played by real-life Chinese peasants.
posted by bobo123 at 12:22 PM on July 6, 2005


Wanna make money playing games?

See Second Life (non ref. link). It's a MMO virtual world where you can create just about anything you can think of in 3D and sell it for currency which is openly trade on sites like Gaming Open Market.

Unlike other games, SL's developers encourage you to trade the currency for real money, as it encourages innovation.

One thing to note is that this world can't be readily farmed by cheap labor, as you have to have some skill and creativity to build, animate, texture, and/or script something interesting that other people will be compelled to purchase.

I think SL is the only MMO where money-making for RL gain is not only allowed, but it is encouraged.
posted by joquarky at 12:30 PM on July 6, 2005


A company I once worked for writes and runs one of the world's most popular MMOGs. One day a customer turned up in the main office's lobby in Shanghai, distraught. He had purchased a rather expensive "sword" from an onlline auction and used it, happily, for a couple of days. Until the economy auditors found an item supply irregularity, identified a rather repetitive cheat that was being used to generate high-value and/or rare items, and did a selective database rollback to purge the illicit objects from the game. Poof, the sword disappeared and the customer, refused a refund from the original seller, approached customer service. They gave him the bum's rush, telling him that in the 1st place, buying and selling items was against the ToS, and in the 2nd place, the item in question was created through cheating anyway.

Anyway, the distraught individual doused himself in petrol and set himself on fire. He survived, but was very badly burned.
posted by meehawl at 1:55 PM on July 6, 2005


You actually believe that? A stock is worth whatever someone's willing to pay for it. It's no more "real" than these in-game items being sold on virtual markets ... except more people "believe" in stock on the NASDAQ or NYSE virtual markets.

It's belief that makes these things valuable.


Oh what ever. Ownership in a company means legal ownership of all the property of the company. Although most of the value is in IP or whatever, you are, in fact a part owner of all the physical things a company owns.
posted by delmoi at 2:10 PM on July 6, 2005


I doubt it's that easy, like if a guy had time to surf the web I'd imagine they would make him look after multiple bots. Like I'm sure the job is only a notch above data entry in terms of boredom.

You can really only run one of these bots per computer, so unless these guys are using $50k clusters, I kind of doubt they're looking after very many.
posted by delmoi at 2:15 PM on July 6, 2005


What is the limit? If your just farming and not after the virtual experience I'd bet you could probably run several copies of most MMOG at minimum resolution and effects in VMWARE on your average $500 Dell special.
posted by Mitheral at 2:20 PM on July 6, 2005


It is belief that is making them valuable to the players though.

I don't know if there is such a great market out there for games that can't be farmed because they eliminate the grind or they sell the items directly. I don't know if such games would totally fail, but I think they'd be missing the allure of those items, which is basically that you had to spend 20 solid hours waiting for some monster to pop to get them, and that you beat everybody else who was waiting for the monster to the punch. (Note: This is viewed as an impressive and laudable thing in online games).

The grind gives the things in these games their implied worth to the players. It's sorta the same cognitive dissonance that's at work with organizations that perform hazing.

I don't think that items that are sold directly to the players are all that hot, unless they can find some way of replicating that effect that gives them value.

(Also, I've played both FFXI and WoW by now, FFXI to the real end of the game with high level people, and you know what strikes me about it? The most successful and rich groups of players operate in exactly the same fashion as the farmer groups, with the only exception being that they keep the spoils for themselves.)
posted by SomeOneElse at 2:29 PM on July 6, 2005


see also: Caracal, Romania
posted by mrgrimm at 4:24 PM on July 6, 2005


You can really only run one of these bots per computer, so unless these guys are using $50k clusters, I kind of doubt they're looking after very many.

I would imagine Virtual PC or VMware would get around this if it is truly a limitation. In China, it's a fair bet it's pirated, too.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:37 AM on July 7, 2005


its not that you can't do it, it is that the games take up a good chunk of memory and processor power. i used to run 2 EQ accounts on a 500mhz with 512 ram and i wouldnt want to try to run any more than that. these days i could probably run 3 copies of world of warcraft at minimum resolution / effects on my 2ghz, 1gig ram desktop machine. wouldn't be especially fun to play like that because of serious slowdown, but it could be done. you are much better off buying multiple b-grade computers and hooking it all up to a KVM switch for farming however. the most fun i ever had playing EQ was when i had 6 comps all hooked up to the KVM, too bad $10/mo * 6 = $60/mo.
posted by sophist at 2:53 PM on July 7, 2005


« Older European Parliament rejects software patenting...  |  How to turn your Doberman into... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments