In the World of Warcraft, and other MMORPG’s (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) such as Everquest, Onverse, and even Facebook’s popular FarmVille (which as a genre are one of the original Social Media communities [WebDesignerDepot]), one of the goals of the game is to achieve certain items that escalate the ambience of the game playing experience. To aquire such enrichments, these items must be purchased within the gaming matrix; therefore one must earn currency within the process of gameplay. Ordinarilly, this requires extended time playing the game to effect. Enter the phenomena of gold farming; an eCommerce method which is illicit in the eyes of many, including the game’s Software License Agreements (EULA, or terms of service), as well as some governments, that circumvents the need to make such an investment of duration and effort.
Gold farming is the process of playing the game with the strict intention of earning the game’s currency; achieving higher levels and interacting with adventure possibilities are ignored. The process began with games like Ultima Online and Lineage in the late nineties, with players using eBay’s PayPal to exchange funds. It is believed to have then become organized in Korea, where as early as 2001 PC bangs, or cybercafe’s as they are more commonly known, began to serve as gold farming operations to fulfill a domestic need. The practice soon spread to China, where it became a fully fledged industry, with players working long hours and earning approximately $14o USD per month. By 2004, swift growth had occurred, and annual revenues estimated at anywhere from $200 million to $900 million USD were being earned. Since the activities have been likened by academic studies to be similar to social networks established in the black-market and clandestine drug trade, exact figures are difficult to discern. As a result, gold farming has been banned across the board in online gaming, and in certain countries, such as Australia, Korea, China, Japan, and even the U.S., lawmakers have either investigated or passed regulations concerning taxation and income rules. Some have gone so far as to label the method as fraud. In fact, Zynga, the makers of FarmVille, have successfully sued to halt online sales of the game’s currency.
As the practice continues today, Chinese players often find themselves as targets of harassment and predjudice. Still, 2008 reports from the Chinese State indicate domestic earnings of several billion yuan, or $300 million USD in trade of virtual currency, thus leading one to surmise that the convention will not only continue for the foreseeable future, but be supported as well.