Humans Enslaved to Gold Farm

Written by Dr. Andrew Doan & Brooke Strickland on .

In the game World of Warcraft, gamers need virtual gold to play the game. Virtual gold allows the player to upgrade their gear (armor and weapons), advance their skills, and acquire skills in the video game.

Farming for gold is the act of earning virtual gold in the game, taking literally hours and hours of playing in order to build up enough gold to be successful and requires significant time investment equivalent to having a second job.

When I first played World of Warcraft, I did not see my first gold piece in the game until two months after I started playing. I became frustrated with the significant time commitment needed to acquire gold. I found an online source for World of Warcraft gold, one hundred dollars for one hundred World of Warcraft gold pieces. I paid the one hundred dollars, and within twenty-four hours, I received the gold pieces in my account from another player on the server.

Gold farming can be incredibly profitable for players living in countries where annual incomes are much lower. In the United States, the average annual income is about $47,000 per year, in China it is $7,500 per year, and in the Philippines it is $3,700 per year, based on purchasing power parity calculations.[1] This works out to be per hour, $22.50 for the U.S. worker, $3.60 for the Chinese worker, and $1.77 for the Filipino worker. With over eleven million players in the game, the demand for virtual World of Warcraft gold is high. Millions of players are investing over twenty-five hours per week to playing this game. Gold farming is not fun and extremely tedious. Thus, it is far easier to pay someone else money to generate the World of Warcraft currency. If only one million players paid one hundred dollars like me, that’s a one hundred million dollar business devoted to gold farming. The demand for virtual goods, items that only exist in video games, is estimated to be between two hundred million and nine hundred million dollars annually in 2006.[2]

A 2011 Guardian News article illustrates the high demand for virtual World of Warcraft gold and how lucrative gold farming can be, where prisoners were forced to play games for hours at a time, until prisoners could barely see straight.[3] Nearly three hundred prisoners in China performed physical labor by day and at night were forced to play World of Warcraft to farm virtual gold. If the prisoners did not meet their quotas, they were brutally beaten with plastic pipes. This news story resembles similar situations in the illegal drug trades and sex industry. Human beings are exploited to fulfill an enormous demand for goods and services, in this story the goods and services exist only in the digital world. The demand from gamers around the world is so immense for virtual gold, that nearly three hundred prisoners were enslaved to farm gold.

[1] “List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita.” Wikipedia. Accessed September 4, 2011.

[2] “Gold Farming.” Wikipedia. Accessed September 4, 2011.

[3] Vincent, Danny. “China used prisoners in lucrative internet gaming work.” Guardian News. May 25, 2011. Accessed September 4, 2011.

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