“My first ‘job’ was smelting [runite] bars at the blast furnace.”
May 31, 2020 6:47 AM   Subscribe

How RuneScape is helping Venezuelans survive [Runescape]
“Against this cataclysmic economic and societal backdrop, millions of people have fled the country in search of better lives, with many more desperately trying to find their own means of escape. In November 2019, the number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants reached 3 million. Those who remain in the country have been forced to find innovative ways to survive. While some craft bags out of worthless bolivars — Venezuelan currency — to sell at markets, others look to a virtual land of opportunity, spending hours in front of computer screens and mobile phones hunting green dragons* in the online multiplayer role-playing game RuneScape.”
*A quick and common way to earn vast amounts of RuneScape’s currency, gold, is to kill “Green Dragons.” Players can collect items dropped by the dragons and sell them on the in-game marketplace for “gold.” Then, this gold can be sold on third-party sites for money that works in the real world (often in the form of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin).

• Venezuela’s paper currency is worthless, so its people seek virtual gold [The Economist]
“Lately, though, MMORPGs have had a nostalgia-fuelled comeback, and gold farmers in crisis-hit Venezuela have been quick to profit. Their assiduity irks other players. It has degraded the buying power of gold coins on the Grand Exchange, a RuneScape market where players can buy virtual necessities such as coal, maple logs, scimitars and green dragon hides (which can be turned into armour). When Venezuela suffered nationwide power cuts this year, sales of these goods nosedived. That is because “farmers” without electricity could not produce any gold, and the lack of virtual coin forced up the prices of imaginary kit. Two years ago a Reddit user who calls himself Cerael published a racially abusive guide on how to kill Venezuelans in the “player-v-player” places where gold farming occurs. Moderators removed the post and the intemperate comments on it. Jagex, RuneScape’s British developer, has banned real-world trading and intermediary websites. This month the company won a lawsuit that put two gold farming websites out of business. Yet the industry will not die. Although developers want the games to be competitions of skill and dedication, illicit markets will form wherever supply and demand exist (a truth that is lost on Venezuela’s socialist leaders). When one intermediary website is shut down, a new one pops up to replace it.”
• The Runescape Players Who Farm Gold So They Don't Starve To Death [Kotaku]
““The truth is, there are people who, if they did not play, they could not eat and would die of hunger,” a former Runescape farmer who wished to remain anonymous told me on Facebook. “I have friends who play daily, and if they do not play, they do not eat that day.” More and more Venezuelans are growing wise to the benefits of gold farming. Earlier this year, a local newspaper published an article on the process. Runescape players, meanwhile, continually report seeing dozens of gold farmers crowding up locations like the Blast Mine and East Dragons. This has resulted in growing tensions, with players doing everything from regularly demanding that developer Jagex ban all gold farmers to publishing a guide that helps other players more effectively hunt, kill, and insult farmers. The author of the guide, which received 1,613 upvotes and 769 comments on the Old-School Runescape subreddit, claimed they did it facetiously, but it still divided a portion of Runescape 2007’s community along very sharp lines. “I never thought I’d see a guide on how to efficiently kill poor people,” read one response. “Literal humanitarian crisis going on there. People starving to death. [The guide’s author] thinks it’s a good plan to not only kill them but to taunt them in their own language and [teabag] them on return… That’s some pretty asshole shit right there,” read another.”
posted by Fizz (17 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
We truly are living in one of the strangest timelines possible. And I say that about just the subject matter of this post, ignoring all the other stuff from, like, yesterday.
posted by hippybear at 7:04 AM on May 31 [9 favorites]


Goldfarming as a poverty job has been a thing for at least a decade - I know it was going on in WoW during vanilla and the first expansion, before goldfarming companies worked out it was quicker to get the gold by stealing it from hacked accounts.

I'd suggest that gaming companies could harness this for good by offering some kind of role in the game that would improve the game experience that pays more than goldfarming does, but the immediate objection is that the company providing the position would then be exploiting people in poverty
posted by Merus at 7:37 AM on May 31 [10 favorites]


If the game company begins paying players for achievements, it risks changing the game's legal status to that of a gambling game, which is more tightly regulated and has more stringent access requirements in many countries.
posted by ardgedee at 7:43 AM on May 31 [4 favorites]


No, I'd imagine something more like paying players a small amount (with royalties) for creating dungeon rooms, or having them play special monsters in the game to give the human players a bit more of a challenge. Real Mechanical Turk stuff, but things that players who enjoy the game (which it sounds like a lot of these goldfarmers essentially do) would probably prefer to do for a couple of dollars an hour.
posted by Merus at 8:00 AM on May 31 [3 favorites]


@merus While I agree that something along those lines is cool to think about, the reality is that any such system would quickly become perverted and exploited.
posted by mit5urugi at 8:12 AM on May 31 [2 favorites]


Also, this would probably be considered “paid modding” by the fanbase which has typically gone over very, very poorly with PC gamers when it’s been tried. There’s a massive legal liability angle here to consider on multiple fronts: modders do not typically hold themselves to the most rigid of intellectual property standards (he said with profound understatement), and if someone mods AO-rated content into your T-rated game...it’s one thing if that happens inside a purely external enthusiast community, another thing entirely if your company is giving that even a sliver of official sanction. There would be a significant risk of your title being pulled from shelves both literally and on digital storefronts.

It’s a good motivating sentiment, but the specific proposal here seems unlikely to go well.
posted by Ryvar at 8:32 AM on May 31 [2 favorites]


I don't really play video games but the game I did play which was online air combat suffered from a decline in population. I often wondered if it would be possible to pay people to play while charging other people to play. For something like this to work, especially in the context of "AI" , would seem to require substantial inequity but so what if right now you are talking about getting money into peoples hands, money that gamers are not going to just send out of charity but might be happy to pay if it made there game experience better.
posted by Pembquist at 9:27 AM on May 31 [1 favorite]


...having them play special monsters in the game to give the human players a bit more of a challenge.

It's a bit problematic to other desperate people by literally depicting them as monsters.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:36 PM on May 31 [5 favorites]


I'd suggest that gaming companies could harness this for good by offering some kind of role in the game that would improve the game experience that pays more than goldfarming does, but the immediate objection is that the company providing the position would then be exploiting people in poverty

I imagine companies wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole due to Venezuela being under punishing US sanctions.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:37 PM on May 31


Companies don't have to do anything except introduce an extra mechanic that produces an existing reward currency. Suddenly mining returns 10% of today's return, and the new activity "breed dragons that lay gold, and gold armor protects you from them" is how people generate gold.
posted by bashing rocks together at 2:35 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


Although developers want the games to be competitions of skill and dedication, illicit markets will form wherever supply and demand exist

Emphasis mine -- in any game or sport where contestants aren't limited in-game by the amount of time that they can spend, those who have free time, or who have identified ways to make money off of their in-game time that exceeds what they can readily make elsewhere, can be more "dedicated" to the game than people who play in their down-time. Thus, some people who have real money to spend will gladly pay to advance, thanks to that capacity for "dedication" from other players.

I'm sure this idea has been described (and probably more eloquently) over a decade ago, when as Merus pointed out, original World of Warcraft saw its first "gold farmers," so it's annoying to see anyone write about developers' wishes for player "dedication" today.

Income inequality, globally and regionally, sets up systems where some people have more money than time, and are happy to spend money to buy advancements that would otherwise cost them time. This is capitalized in so many "pay for more hearts/ lives/ tries/ gems/ goodies" games, where you can get more retries for a dollar or two, or you could wait a few minutes or hours and try again. I imagine this side-steps the "pay for achievements" aspect that ardgedee mentioned, which could keep a game from being classified as gambling, as you're not bypassing a level, just getting another re-do a bit sooner.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:46 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


> I often wondered if it would be possible to pay people to play while charging other people to play.

EVE Online basicly does this through the PLEX system. There is an in-game item that can be bought and sold with game currency, and can be bought with real money, that extends your subscription by 1 month. This makes it possible to buy in-game currency, but also possible to pay for your subscription with in-game currency.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 3:25 PM on May 31 [6 favorites]


All of this reminds me of Reamde, Neal Stephenson’s excellent novel of the shenanigans that can happen when gold-farming becomes an institutionalized thing.

Doesn’t make me despise gold farmers or their customers any less, though.
posted by drivingmenuts at 4:06 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


Now I'm imagining future generations hemming and hawing about improving conditions for gold farmers because it would put companies out of business the way we "can't" improve conditions for berry pickers today.
posted by Reyturner at 5:17 PM on May 31 [7 favorites]



I'm sure this idea has been described (and probably more eloquently) over a decade ago, when as Merus pointed out, original World of Warcraft saw its first "gold farmers," so it's annoying to see anyone write about developers' wishes for player "dedication" today.


Most modern MMOs have solved this by making highly lucrative methods of earning rewards that only work once a day - I'd imagine the only reason this works at all for Runescape is that it's "old school Runescape" which would imply it doesn't have those timegated mechanics.
posted by Merus at 1:36 AM on June 1


In Stephenson's other (better!) book "The Diamond Age," their are gig-economy actors who do remote voice work.

I wonder if it would work for players to have the option to earn their monthly access to the game by dropping in to make an NPC more lifelike. They wouldn't have to do it for long, just follow a script for a few minutes and then swap over to the next bit part. NPC Chat Roulette, sort of. Other players would get less-predictable interactions, improving the variety of play (as long as they could report trolls and assholes?)

Those who don't want to volunteer as NPCs couold just pay their monthly fee as normal.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:38 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


The cell company I'm with (Public) gives bill credits for spending time answering questions / participating in company forums. I haven't investigated how good a deal it is for the people taking advantage because I assume they are getting paid a buck an hour or something but they must have enough uptake to make it worth while running the system.
posted by Mitheral at 12:55 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


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