The Story of the Gold Farmer: Real Supply and Demand

Supply and Demand. Poor people love this phrase as much as the rich do. But I don’t live among rich people, I live among relatively poor people.

And if you don’t make enough money to quit your job forever, you are poor. I include you in this group because to be poor is to have need and people who work have needs – that’s why you work.

Yet I have peers who, like my family, have reached the lower rungs of the middle-class and they act as though they can afford to quit. The talks about finding “better” jobs elsewhere and what a strong position they’re in at their workplace. I know that if anyone of them was laid off tomorrow they’d fall straight into the ranks of the lower class just like me. They have allowed themselves to begin to believe that they are where they are because they deserve it. And in a sense, I agree – no one deserves less than what me and my family have. But when these peers talk about it it’s with a certain disdain for poors and poverty. In other words, instead of seeing themselves as better off, they see themselves as better than. This fine but critical difference often gets talked over in the round-tables about minimum wage and social safety nets.

We’re all playing the zero sum game – it’s kinda funny that we have allowed ourselves to believe it’s real …in that crying on the inside sort of way. In the games community we used to talk more about those friends we had who “lived” in the MMO world. No one knew when they logged out, if ever. In quiet circles and kind company people would mention how that paladin “doesn’t have a life” or is addicted or some other way to say that something is wrong with that person. I hear those words less and less these days because I don’t play MMOs much, but those words are still thrown about with more scorn and envy than before.

goldfarm1I remember the days before I was intimately familiar with the term “Chinese farmer” in MMOs (even the New York Times was all over the story). I knew it existed and I was aware of what they did, but I hadn’t really run into it. I had a good friend who I never knew was a farmer and a power leveler until guildies started suspecting it. At the time I was in a raiding guild in World of Warcraft and The Burning Crusade had arrived. The guild was leveling and he would always offer to level my character for me. I’m a slow leveler, because I like to take my time and smell all the roses, explore all the corners – I like to enjoy my games. But of course, raid guilds are competitive and this was especially true during The Burning Crusade. So he’d always offer and we’d joke about it – but one day he told me he was serious, that he would level for me when I logged out. I laughed it off and declined, but that moment stuck with me.

I can’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget him. There was talk among guild mates that this person was a farmer, and we should kick him out. At the time I suspected it to be true, but I didn’t see why it mattered. He was a genuinely nice person, very pleasant, great sense of humor, always willing to help – he was exactly the kind of guildy we all want. Someone ready to play. It didn’t hurt that this person would farm for the guild all the time, always bring back stacks of goods. It was actually good for the guild, but that’s not why I kept him around. Every stack of materials he gave to the guild was a payout he didn’t get from whoever he worked for. I respected his loyalty.

But one day I was flying around Nagrand and I spotted him in a field. His character was moving funny, and he wasn’t responding to messages. I landed next to him and I just waited. Was he using a bot? It was unmistakable. I was sad to find him this way. I knew we would have to kick him from the guild, because one of the officers had noticed him botting around too.


Those of us who never had to think about selling gold to make a living.

When my friend got back to the keyboard I asked him to tell me honestly if he was botting. He and I had a respect for each other up until then, and I knew he’d tell the truth. And he did. He told me the whole thing. He worked for some website. That part didn’t bother me. I asked him about the botting – clearly the most important part of all this (I was so naive)! I’ll never forget his answer. He said how in the world did I think it was possible to earn money without botting. The more goods he brings in, the more money he makes. And since he likes raiding with us, everything he donates is money he doesn’t earn. That almost broke my heart because I already knew that, but there was no way I would argue to keep him in the guild. Everyone but me wanted him out.

That put a bad taste in my mouth about the kind of guild I was in. I didn’t know what to think about players making money from gold farming. For sure I resented the inflated prices that would spike with gold in-take, but it never bothered me enough to have an open opinion about it. I knew poverty. I was super hesitant to judge someone like that.

Those guildies weren’t evil people either. Aside from their prejudices, they were just like any other player. Or maybe I should say that they have their prejudices like all of us do. But they would not forgive gold farming and botting. Their code of honor as gamers could not bend to accommodate fellow gamers who were poorer and worse off. I don’t think that even ever occurred to them, but I feel confident if I had ever brought it up they would have used the same arguments we hear surrounding the minimum wage.

  • Those people are lazy, they deserve what they get.
  • Those people are unskilled, should be grateful for what they get.
  • Those jobs were never meant to pay a living wage.
  • Those people make my costs for goods and services go up.

And so forth. Despite the fact that I’ve been talking about gold farming, many of us can see the similarity between these responses and the ones we hear in the minimum wage debate. They are exactly the same. Even if you weren’t around for the rise of gold farming, you’ve surely heard the casual vs. hardcore debate. It often features the same reasoning and excuses.

A compilation of data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Courtesy of Political Calculations

A compilation of data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Courtesy of Political Calculations

So that elitism that gamers sometimes display? It’s a direct connection to the kind of values we hold. And America is full of mean people. People who think they’re better instead of just better off. People who need to see those class lines drawn clearly, a way to differentiate those who deserve food and shelter, and those who don’t. Between the rich who laughably lecture the poor on work ethic (the rich do not work nearly as hard, because they don’t have to), and the poor who think they might someday be rich, those in between are caught in an ambush while they sally forth for a better life. That’s all we’re asking: a better life. And for that this middle group gets judged as lazy, unskilled, undeserving, stupid, and worse: necessary. If they don’t take the crappy wages, then how will the rest of us afford to shop?

There’s a deep, creeping fear of poverty that gets closer to reality for every call to improve our social safety net and wages. Many of us are shaking on the inside, because we believe that the more those groups asking for more “win”, the less we will have. One of the game developers commented on a survey I recently shared that he was afraid that with all the calls for more diversity, he (as a white male) was losing job stability and opportunities. This is exactly the kind of fear that dominates the fragile middle class and makes some of us defend poverty. Their ultimate position is that “someone has to be poor …and it can’t be me”. That’s sad. None of us should have to defend poverty in order to be better off. And there’s something hypocritical about believing that the rich getting richer is a good reward/incentive model, but if the poor make more money it’s doomsday. Many of us harbor such beliefs and don’t even realize it. But that’s part of what we’re saying when we suggest that the poor shouldn’t be paid more.

There is no supply and demand in the ways we understand it (as an equal and fair exchange). It’s a myth sold to us to keep us compliant with the system. There is no such thing as supply and demand. It doesn’t require complex economic formulas, financial statements or a college degree for us to know that. We know it by the one metric that matters: employers can chose to employ, but workers must have a job.

The Gold Farmer I knew was working. It was a job. Based on his circumstance, he was trying to find a balance between economic stability and enjoying a game with friends. But several things made that impossible and in the end, we have to choose our economic welfare.

#1 – One factor was surely the hatefulness people displayed against him without regard for his economic need. It’s so very easy for the relatively rich American/European to claim games as the province of entertainment and shun anyone who would dare make money from something they enjoy. We allow companies to do it, but players? That’s going too far!

#2 – Another factor is peer pressure. This requires shaming and shunning the farmer, while letting anyone who sympathizes with them know that they are dangerously close to being shunned as well. These people will usually call this “crossing the line” or some other code of honor they’ve drawn up which begins where their entertainment does.

#3 – The final and most decisive factor is the overall demand for poverty. That’s right: poverty is in demand. When the poor are attacked for being poor and people use poverty as a punishment for not doing well, then poverty is in demand. You can’t get rid of it because it’s intentional.

Our supply and demand is basically a relationship between owner and owned. I think most of us recognize this, but it’s such a terrifying idea that it leaves us paralyzed or in denial. Yet I don’t think it’s all hopeless. Part of the solution is simple, but very difficult to do. It starts with just empathizing with people who don’t look or act like you. That’s it. Sounds magical, but that’s really it. Everything I just described came down to some group or other demonizing people for not having the things that they have. That’s an empathy deficit. But the more people see themselves in others, the less likely they are to call for their abuse and to neglect others. There are but two sides in the battle against poverty: owners and the owned. And make no mistake, it is a battle.

Should I have spoken up for the gold farmer? I definitely should have, since I left that guild not long afterward, making the whole affair a net loss for all of us. Instead I let caved to peer pressures and hung a friend out to dry. Would it have made a difference to stand up for him?

Yes. It would have made EVERYTHING different.

The Repeater: The Industry

The Repeater
The Repeater is a feature in which important discussions are highlighted and linked from other authors to help the information get around to as many eyes and ears as possible. Relevant to video games? Maybe. Relevant to gamers? Definitely. Let these be your food for thought. (Image Source:

The Bloom and Doom Cycle of Gaming

Greg Costikyan at Gamasutra published a fiery article about the waxing and waning of industry innovation. He argues that there’s a cycle of greed which, every 10 years, suppresses innovation and burns game development to the ground only to have a new generation rise from it’s ashes. Even though the industry recovers, he believes it doesn’t have to be this way and I agree. The idea that just because developers have been able to recover and revitalize the industry after the ravages of capitalism nearly destroy it doesn’t mean that this cycle is beneficial or best. There are better ways to do this.

In the comments, readers were keen to add that while the cycle of destruction is true, there’s never been a better time for games development. These kinds of arguments are fine and often valid, but I think they get brought up for the wrong reason. Usually respondents are eager to say that “things aren’t that bad/aren’t as bad as they were” in order to conclude that things are therefore good and we should be grateful. This is the wrong reason because they’re angled to refute the truth, to leave it unacknowledged somehow. It can get really twisted when rationalized too much — and that’s typically how I see these discussions go down. Sure, we’re doing some things right and let’s keep doing them. But they are woefully short of what we really ought to do. If such points aren’t balanced with this in mind, they rapidly become an excuse to cruise with the status quo.

Sexism in the Industry

This is an extremely interesting study published at Gamasutra began over a year ago to learn more about sexism in the games industry. While I believe it’s on-going, author and researcher Jennifer Allaway shares some results and analysis. Not surprisingly, sexism does exist and is as destructive as we already are aware of. The comments section though, while overwhelmingly supportive, had it’s share of deniers and sexism-skeptics.

Ethics in Game Design

A while back i wrote an article questioning the role of the industry and it’s developers in designing ethical games. Last year I remember reading a couple of articles asking the same question. This time around, Andreas Ahlborn at Gamasutra poses the question. He thinks there’s clearly some responsibility on the part of the developers and asks them to question their design intentions and decisions. I couldn’t agree more and I plan to re-open that discussion with a new article about it in the near future.

Adriel Wallick of Gamasutra shares a story of Mountain Dew and sexism and how she and her fellow developers banded together to make a stand against it. This is a very inspiring read. Though the story shared is disappointing, it was very encouraging to see how the developers supported one another and decided to not participate in sexist schemes.

There’s something that gets to us all when we hear or are presented with information which contradicts who we believe we are. I’m referring to the knee jerk reactions in comment threads from developers in these articles, some of whom are eager to assert that nothing is wrong or who just don’t want to inspect their own skepticism. I know these reactions too well and I think a lot of us do — from experience at both ends. But we are responsible for what we do and accountable for the consequences. It doesn’t matter that we believe something else or that we believe it passionately. We hate to be judged by what we do and we like to wander into the realm of who we believe we are without considering those acts. For example, many men love to talk about the superiority as human beings, far above animals and even above certain “kinds” of humans — yet in the same breath they will blame rape and/or sexism on “natural” (animal), irresistible biological “impulses” (honestly, we have to pick one, it can’t be both). In the end, what we do is what defines us. Besides, if the consequences of our reactions do not reflect those beliefs, then what do they matter?

It’s not all doom and gloom as Adriel’s story proves. There’s just a lot of work to continue to do. I think 2014 will see radical changes in the games community.

Scree Tags: #ethicalgamedesign #economics #solidarity