World of Warcraft Gold Farming Controversy

(by BrianW on 12/30/06)


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What is "Gold Farming"?

While playing the game of World of Warcraft (also known as "WoW"), you slowly acquire in-game gold in different ways (the most common is that when you kill a monster it drops some in-game gold), which can then be spent on items like better armor and better weapons.  In addition to the normal "earn your own gold", the game designers put in the ability to transfer in-game gold between two in-game players (which is a REALLY interesting feature leading to all sorts of fun social situations like "loaning" your friends a few in-game gold when they need it most, etc).   This feature of allowing transfer of gold between characters spawned a "real-world-career" for some people of playing World of Warcraft professionally to accrue in-game gold, then sell it for real world dollars to other players.  An example of such a business is  The career of doing repetitive tasks in World of Warcraft to accrue in-game gold and then selling this in-game gold to other people is called "Gold Farming".   NOTE: "Gold Farming" can be done in many video games, but right now World of Warcraft is the largest online video game and therefore has the largest market demand and dominates the discussion.

The Term "Chinese Gold Farmer" or "Chinese Gold Farming":

Gold farming is done by many diverse groups of people all over the world.  My rough calculation (from current in-game gold prices) is that you can make roughly $3/hour farming gold.  So gold farming tends to be done in countries where $3/hour attracts labor.  The term "Chinese Gold Farmer" came into common usage because of the (inaccurate) belief that all gold farming is done by Chinese citizens.  The Wikipedia_Gaming_Farmer webpage states that as of December 2005, over 100,000 Chinese were employed farming gold so it is a large phenomenon there.  That web page also states gold farming is also done in the Philippines, Mexico, and other places so the term "Chinese Gold Farmer" is inaccurate in many cases and the qualifier "Chinese" is being used less and less.

What does the Term "Power Leveling" mean?

This is just a small side note, but another service which has appeared is called "Power Leveling".  For real world dollars, you can hire somebody to play World of Warcraft for you on your account and therefore get your character's level up higher and faster.  To somebody who does not play these games, this might seem a bit insane -> you buy a game for $40, then you pay somebody in another country $100 to play the game for you so you don't have to play.  :-)  But it makes more sense than you might think...  it turns out some exiting and fun parts of World of Warcraft are not available to you until you are a certain "level".  So if you get bored and want to experience these fun parts you can either do 200 hours of "grinding" (repetitive tasks sitting at the keyboard that get your level to rise up), or you can hire somebody else to do this boring grinding part for you -> when you log back in two weeks later you can play the new fun parts of World of Warcraft.

What is the "Gold Farming Controversy"?

Gold farming seems to evoke very strong reactions in people!  Many people feel that purchasing in-game gold from gold farmers is violating the spirit of the game, in effect it is "cheating to get ahead".  I've also heard the complaint that it ruins the in-game economy for the players trying to play legitimately (raises prices on in-game artifacts).  Other people defend gold farming adamantly saying that it is just a game and they enjoy playing more being able to purchase a few items without the extra hours of mindless "grinding" (the term in World of Warcraft for repetitively killing monsters for no other reason than to get the experience and gold).  One of my friends thinks that it benefits, balances, and stabilizes the in-game economy because the gold farmers are quick to react to a shortage of a particular resource (for example, if "silk" is in short supply in the game) and produce more of it, thus supplying everybody in the game with a steady, stable stream of raw materials. In other words, the free market works for the in-game economy as much as it works for the USA economy.

This Wikipedia article says that as of February 2006, PC Gamer (popular gaming magazine) is denying all gold farmer advertisements.  This came about because those advertisements created a backlash by their readership (probably in the form of angry letters to the editor?)  I bring this up as more evidence that "gold farming" evokes strong reactions in people.

Half-hearted Enforcement of Anti-Gold-Farming Rules:

Gold farming is explicitly prohibited in World of Warcraft, but it is clear the game designers/caretakers ( don't take very many steps to stop it.  They could easily do much more to detect it and stop it if they actually thought it was incredibly bad for the game.  There are fixes and patches and game tweaks released in a regularly scheduled patch every Tuesday that is auto-updated to your machine, and your online account is at their mercy and EVERYTHING is tracked and logged, so they have full control.  I'm not going to list all the ways to stop it, but here are two examples of full and partial ways to stop or hinder gold farming: 1) total ban on ever exchanging gold or any artifact between online characters, or 2) ban on exchanging more than 5 in-game gold with any one character not in your "Guild".

Blizzard (the game designer/caretaker) does seem to draw the line at any automated program (known as a "bot") playing the game to farm gold.  If they find a completely automated program playing World of Warcraft, they delete the account.  As recently as November of 2006 Blizzard deleted 105,000 World of Warcraft online accounts and confiscated 12 million in-game gold! 

I believe that this is all simple economics for Blizzard -> As long as the gold farming is not causing players to stop playing the game, there is no economic incentive for Blizzard to invest in the additional programming effort it would take to stop or severely limit gold farming.  On a more subtle note, I actually suspect gold farming encourages more people to play the game (thus making more money for Blizzard).  Without purchasing a little outside gold, the game can get frustrating and boring.  Gold farming allows both poor players with a lot of time on their hands to play, and ALSO allows players who have an extra $20 but do not have much spare time to also play at the same level.  So for these reasons, Blizzard is watching to make sure they don't lose too much business, but is quietly allowing the gold farming to continue.

Ok, Stop Beating Around the Bush -> What is BRIAN'S Opinion on Gold Farming?   :-)

I have purchased in-game gold with US dollars and therefore supported the gold farming economy.  I believe that as it stands in the current World of Warcraft balance today (December, 2006) that gold farming is not harming the game or community and it makes it more fun to play.  In the real world I believe in the free market, and I do not mean that in a "small way".  I believe deeply (DEEPLY) that free markets are good for everybody involved.   I think that works in World of Warcraft also (with an economy of 7 million online players at last count). 

One (of many) arguments against gold farming is that "buying gold farming gold isn't fair to those of us that do not have much money, it will unfairly give players willing to spend more real-world cash an in-game advantage".  This is true, but the advantage is highly exaggerated.  The very best equipment in World of Warcraft comes from "mob drops" and is instantly "soul bound" (cannot be transferred to another character).  What gold farming gold actually buys is the ability to avoid some aspects of the game that many people find time consuming and not very rewarding.  The end result is exactly the same outfitting as a character who did not buy gold farmed gold, it was just a different way to get there.  Also, I see nothing wrong with having more money lead to a better gaming experience.  This is simply the underlying truth in *ALL* online gaming -> if you purchase a faster computer for more money, you will win more.  If you pay more for a faster internet connection with low latency, you will win more.  In my guild in World of Warcraft, it is common to purchase an expensive pair of headphones with a microphone so we can all use voice chat while playing.  Voice chat is completely optional, but it allows you to play better, more efficiently, and therefore win more often.  How much you "win" will be a combination of all of the above expenses, combined with practice and natural ability.  To be honest, maybe a better tradeoff is to purchase a pair of headphones with a microphone INSTEAD of purchasing gold farmer gold -> it is a better investment of $150 for in-game advantage against other players.  But either decision should be left up to the individual gamer. 

This is just a game, we play it for fun.  If the game of World of Warcraft was perfectly designed, the gold farmers would not exist.  But the game is not perfect, sometimes the game designers made mistakes.  Or put slightly differently, the game isn't perfect FOR EVERYBODY as it ships.  In this case, the gold farmer gold allows me to skip over some parts of the game I feel I don't want to play.  Again, it's just a game to be enjoyed however you want! 

Final caveat -> part of what is so interesting about World of Warcraft is the aspect of community, of meeting people online and interacting with common goals.  Just like free markets need to be regulated for various reasons (for example, to make sure companies do not pollute the environment), gold farming needs to be watched and "regulated" (the game parameters tweaked) when it negatively affects the overall game playing environment.  Does purchasing online gold change the game play slightly?  Yes.  Just like a million other intriguing aspects of World of Warcraft interact in subtle ways to change the game play slightly! And right now I feel gold farmer gold is a net positive -> it adds more than it subtracts from the game.  Blizzard just needs to watch it carefully for signs that it is hurting more than it is helping, and I believe Blizzard is doing just this.

Links and Pointers to More Interesting References on World of Warcraft Gold Farming:


This webpage, and all of are yours to enjoy.  Feel free to use any pictures found here for any purpose you like, with or without credit.  I grant you full rights, for free, forever, to do anything you want, including redistribute the pictures with or without any credit to me.  This isn't my job, it's just my vacation website.  Enjoy!

(Read a personal description of Backblaze here.)



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