A new report on MMO gold farming claims that there are about 400,000 working in China on gold farming and trading, and that there could be as many as 500,000 to even a full million. Of course there's no way to tell exactly how many people are employed in the business (and the number almost certainly doesn't stay constant for long), but according to interviews and surveys done of business there, that's the number they've come up with. They also claim a $10 billion a year turnover, however, and that number seems way high, though remember that they're talking about all MMOs, not just World of Warcraft. The report has some other interesting information about how China does gold farming: there are a number of brokerages staffed by English speakers in the larger cities that handle the actual transaction, and then the farms themselves are usually outside the cities, where cheaper labor is available. Typical pay in the farms is about $140 a month plus food and board, working in about ten hour shifts, while pay is higher in the city-based brokerages. Most employees are younger guys, who play while drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, and lots of their ingame tasks are automated with custom-made and adapted software.
Very intriguing. News of the report actually came from Kevin Werbach, who, as we've reported, is not only a WoW player but acted as the FCC's transition co-chair for the Obama administration. He's doing research for a talk he's giving soon in Philadelphia called "All I really need to know I learned in World of Warcraft." And we also hear he's set to be on an upcoming episode of How I WoW, so stay tuned for that.
As for Chinese wow gold farmers, no matter what the numbers actually are, it's clearly a huge industry, and one that is almost invisible even in the modern global economy. It's hard to believe that they really are going through $10 billion a year, but there's no question, from what we've seen of the farms and brokerages that have been studied, that there are huge numbers of people supporting the flow of virtual gold.