One of China's newest factories operates here in the basement of an old warehouse. Posters of World of Warcraft and Magic Land hang above a corps of young people glued to their computer screens, pounding away at their keyboards in the latest hustle for money.
The people working at this clandestine locale are "gold farmers." Every day, in 12-hour shifts, they "play" computer games by killing onscreen monsters and winning battles, harvesting artificial gold coins and other virtual goods as rewards that, as it turns out, can be transformed into real cash.That is because, from Seoul to San Francisco, affluent online gamers who lack the time and patience to work their way up to the higher levels of gamedom are willing to pay the young Chinese here to play the early rounds for them.
Talk about your silken sweatshop. John Borthwick of AOL told me about gold farmers over dinner last spring and it struck me as fascinating but surreal. People playing games to sell the reward chits to lazy Westerners.... But there's also a strange darkside to this story, where people work long shifts every day for $250 a month. Then the "gold" in World of Warcraft is sold for $50 or $75 through email spam (I got some spam about WOW gold this morning).
Workers have strict quotas and are supervised by bosses who equip them with computers, software and Internet connections to thrash online trolls, gnomes and ogres.
We outsource the fighting of monsters? What kind of things will we invent to send to other people to handle for us? Surreal and scary and stupid (why create make-work we have to pay other people to do that, otherwise, wouldn't need to be done?). Talk about your long tail wagging the dog.