Gold farmers! They're everywhere, right? We get spammed by them, we run into them farming Dire Maul, we put them on ignore. Lazy people with too much disposable income buy gold from them in a show of crass consumerism. Blizzard has done their best to stamp out gold-farming services, but litigation is difficult due to the fact that most of the major gold-farming companies are based in China or other parts of Asia. They've instead opted to try to control and stop gold farmers from being able to complete transactions via other methods.
This time, though, it looks like Blizzard may have an unlikely ally in, of all things, the Chinese government. They announced today that the trading of virtual goods for real money is now illegal in China. This ruling reaches farther than just gold farming, though. It also bans the sale of prepaid time cards for MMOs or other online games, as well as numerous technicalities we're sure to hear about in the weeks to come.
To give you an idea of how much an economic impact this will have on China, gold farming alone generates nearly one billion dollars a year worldwide, with China's specific numbers growing at a reported rate of 20% per year. It's estimated that 80 to 85 percent of gold farmers reside in China, so this ruling is massive and, to be frank, pretty troubling.
From a gamer's perspective, yes, it'll be nice to worry about this kind of service a little less, but from a human perspective this places hundreds of thousands of Chinese people in one of two kinds of serious trouble: the first is financial hardship from the "honest" gold-farming companies that will close down after this ban, and the second is legal issues from the companies who don't close down because they can't afford not to do what they've been doing.
It's not my intention to defend gold farming as an industry, because I used to have to deal with its more nefarious effects every day -- compromised accounts stripped of gold and gear, keyloggers, disruptive spam, all of that. But life isn't easy for many Chinese people working jobs like this. Many gold farming centers are much cleaner and safer, in relative terms, than other places in China where one on the bottom rung of the financial ladder might seek work, so while I appreciate the change as only a white first-world male can, I worry about what will happen to the underprivileged working-class Chinese people behind the spam ads and dead gnomes when this law starts getting enforced.
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