Monday, June 25, 2007

NYTimes on The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer

The New York Times has a long, well-written article by Julian Dibbell on the life of the Chinese gold farmer. Julian Dibbell, in case you didn't know, literally wrote the book on gold farming, called "Play Money", based on his experience of making $3,917 a month in Ultima Online with RMT.

The only part of the article that is really bad is a comment from the guy who is the most clueless about RMT in the industry. Quote: "As Mark Jacobs, vice president at Electronic Arts and creator of the classic M.M.O. Dark Age of Camelot, put it: “Are you going to get more sympathy from busting 50,000 Chinese farmers or from busting 10,000 Americans that are buying? It’s not a racial thing at all. If you bust the buyers, you’re busting the guys who are paying to play your game, who you want to keep as customers and who will then go on the forums and say really nasty things about your company and your game.”"

Apart from well-explained racism still being racism, Mark unfortunately totally got his numbers wrong. Let's do the the math, based on the other numbers given in the article. The title "hero" of the article, Li Qiwen, is said to earn $1.25 per 100 gold, "earning an effective wage of 30 cents an hour, more or less", which suggests he makes about 25 gold per hour. As he is working "twelve hours a night, seven nights a week, with only two or three nights off per month", he makes 300 gold per day, and nearly 10,000 gold per month. Yes Mark Jacobs seems to think that 50,000 Chinese farmers supply the gold for only 10,000 American buyers. Which would mean that each American buyer would need to consume 50,000 gold per month.

Apart from that being prohibitively expensive, there is simply no way that you could spend 50,000 gold per month in World of Warcraft. The biggest possible money sink is the epic flying mount for 5,200 gold. Pick any two tradeskills of your choice and level them up to maximum using only material bought from the auction house won't cost you more than another 5,000 gold. And 10,000 gold should be more than sufficient to completely equip you with the best epics money can buy, plus enchantments, potions and other consumables. At which point you still have 30,000 gold in your pocket with nothing you could possibly spend it on, except for throwing it away. And that's just what the fictive American buyer is supposed to spend in one month.

Obviously it is impossible to get hard data on this, but a far more realistic estimate would be the average American WoW gold buyer buying not more than 1,000 gold per month. Which means that 1 Chinese farmer supplies 10 American buyers. So the companies choices isn't between banning 50,000 Chinese or 10,000 Americans. It is between banning 50,000 Chinese and 500,000 Americans! (Let's assume the other 50,000 Chinese of the 100,000 estimated total Chinese WoW gold farmers work for the Europeans). Now consider that of the often cited 8.5 million WoW players only 3 million are Americans and Europeans. And consider the 1,000 gold per month per buyer is just an average estimate, with some people probably just buying smaller amounts once or twice in their gaming life. Then you realize that probably more than half of all the American and European players bought World of Warcraft gold at least once in their life. This isn't about Blizzard fearing banning buyers "who will then go on the forums and say really nasty things about your company and your game". This is about Blizzard not wanting to ban half of their customers, which would destroy half of their income!

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