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UK-sponsored research recommends encouraging gold farmers and third-world NPCs

By on April 11, 2011
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I never thought I’d write this.


A report from the World Bank, part-funded by the UK government Department for International Development, applauds the growth of gold-farmers (which they estimate take 75% of the $3 billion global virtual goods business) for its benefits to developing economies and even suggest government might wish to help foster humans playing as NPCs to improve the quality of our games:

In the gaming space, it is possible to imagine, for example, a publisher using digitally enabled blue-collar workers to replace poorly performing computer controlled characters in order to improve the gaming experience.One intervention could simply be to open a dialogue between the development community and the digital services industry on ideas for future services that provide real jobs in the virtual economy.

This seems pretty far-fetched me, and I confess that as I am at a client today, I haven’t read the full report. But seeing gold farmers highlighted as a paragons of digital entrepreurialism surprised me.

But maybe the report is right. What do you think?

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
  • In the real world having cash-hungry poor people who are prepared to grind at boring, labour intensive jobs makes life considerably more fun for the rest of us. Why is it different for games?

  • Thanks for your comment!

    Usually, games are balanced for the average user. The average user is expected to generate a certain amount of in-game currency by a certain level, and encounter appropriate goldsinks at the appropriate levels.

    In games with an open player-to-player economy, like an auction house, savvy players are able to generate a bonus income for participating in a timesink activity by watching and manipulating the market – but this is usually an insignificant collection of individuals.

    Goldfamers however have an obviously very different approach – they maximize their currency-per-minute go for a grinding playstyle that no average user would participate in. So they generate a significantly higher amount of gold without participating in most of the goldsinks, and so is kept outside a game’s economy.

    Once that gold changes hands, however, it is injected into the game’s economy “out of nowhere”. Which, obviously, is not a good thing longterm.

    This goes for “legally” generated in-game currency through methods available to everyone. This isn’t even taking into accout any hackers, cheats, scams or other way-too-common ways of Goldfarmer to stock up their bank-accounts, each of which obviously negatively impacts the game product.

    That said, I still haven’t read the report – our office’s printer is out of ink, and I now see that having an iPad could actually have it’s uses for reading this in the subway!

  • It sounds to me like they read For the Win by Cory Doctorow and copied that.

    Meanwhile your point 2 is interesting. Are you saying that because “gold mining” actually CREATES virtual gold rather than earning money that is already changing hands in the economy, it drives inflation? That makes sense. They’re not acting as buyers and sellers but rather money printers, right?

  • Meh

    How can Valve and Crytek compete with this content building race?
    Will they just select the best mods to distribute?

  • Meh

    Why stop at gold mining? Why not get the poor in developing countries to build the whole game universe and then sell it in the first world for massive profit?

    Developing virtual environments is very time consuming and costly. Since 1999, MindArk has invested over 60 million USD to develop the platform technology and Entropia Universe. MindArk’s offer to create planets in Entropia Universe includes being part of a commercially proven concept. Today this concept is well established; in 2009, the equivalent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Entropia Universe was 422 million USD.

    Users of Entropia Universe and other MMORGs spend considerable sums of real money on virtual goods and services. This confluence of hard currency and frictionless production and distribution has created a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs worldwide. Thanks to its sophisticated technology infrastructure, Cyber City will enable Thai workers to generate income from remote locations — thus revitalizing the economies of rural communities and stemming the crush of migration to urban centers. The developers of Cyber City Chiang Mai believe it will prove a benchmark in the ongoing evolution of the new global economy.

    Multiverse Unplugged: An Interview with founder Corey Bridges at AGDC
    I guess the new excitement is that we’ve released version 1.0 of the platform. That happened a month or two back. We’re up to over 13,000 registrations of teams that want to use the actual technology to start building stuff.

  • For a third world country, game gold is an export “product”. Therefore, for them, it’s another way to reduce debt.

    I don’t support gold farming and find it disruptive. But I can understand why it may look appealing… until the very community that the game is all about falls apart.

    About serving 500 players at the same time… perhaps. But some NPCs could serve about 20 people concurrently across all the worlds. Maybe you COULDN’T employ 500 first-world players to play an NPC on different worlds, but you COULD employ 20 third-world players to make that particular boss harder to defeat. If that fits with your game’s design.

  • I haven’t read the report yet either, but I will reiterate what I’ve said at a recent interview about the dangers of goldfarmers.

    Unsanctioned goldfarmers are a blight on the stability of any online community. This is true for both f2p and p2p environments.

    1) Many, many site are scams instead. Now your credit card information is freely available in Mexico, congratulations, and you never received your in-game gold from the trader. Who are you going to complain to?
    (Note: During my gaming career, I’ve seen several requests from players complaining that they were scammed after paying real money via an unaffiliated website. Awesome.)
    This, obviously, leads to a (though deservedly) frustrated customer, who is unlikely to invest into your game anymore.

    2) Goldfarmers selling gold to other players drive inflation. Auction House prizes go up beyond the estimated rate, and players who join the community at a later date are left behind. This spirals out of control quickly.
    There are arguments that “but the gold was in-game anyway”, which are unfortunately not valid – you have someone concentrating on generating as much gold as they can, but without spending it for themselves, thereby raising the “gold per player” ratio for “normal” players. Which in turn drives inflation that is difficult to control.
    Goldfarmers do not have the necessary insight or scruples to control the negative side-effects.

    3) Third-party transactions are usually expressively forbidden in the Terms of Services. The main reason for this is the lack of control over the point mentioned at 1).
    Just as important, to sum a biz point of view: “Please pay your money to us. Thank you.” Second Life is the one exception of providing a “gaming” platform to for the monetization of third parties, but our games certainly are not. If we find a way to control 2), we’d offer Gold ourselves.

    And finally, “active NPCs” don’t work in MMOs. A human is not able to service 500 players at the same time, which are the requirements for NPCs. The idea is cute, but not practical.

    And now I’ll print of the report and read through it to see how they came to this fascinating conclusion!