Report: Chinese prisoners 'forced' to farm gold

Inmates at a China prison were "forced" to farm gold in MMOs, a British newspaper has reported. The dark side of gold farming is hardly a secret, but it's surprising to hear it practised in such a way.

21

Inmates at a prison in China were "forced" into gold farming, respectable British newspaper The Guardian has reported. 300 people at one particular prison were made to collect virtual currency in online games, to be sold for real money to people who didn't want to gather it themselves.

"Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour," Liu Dali, a pseudonymous former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004, told The Guardian. "There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn CN¥5,000-6,000 [$770-925] a day. We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off."

"If I couldn't complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things," Liu said.

Gold farming, if you've had the astonishing fortune to never come across it, is simply the process of repeating money-making routines in online games over and over. It might be by collecting and selling crafting materials, or simply killing and looting monsters for hours on end. This virtual currency, 'gold,' is then sold for real money to players who don't fancy collecting it themselves. While many online games expressly forbid gold farming, such as World of Warcraft, some, like EVE Online have built-in authorised ways for players to convert cash money to virtual space dollars. WoW developer Blizzard has itself sued, and won against, a gold farming company.

For players who spend their money on farmed gold, it's a convenient way to avoid the tiresome grind that's built into most MMOs. For many legitimate players, though, gold farming is seen to artificially inflate the game world's economy, driving item costs up as players with farmed gold happily pay prices that'd take yonks of playtime to afford otherwise.

While the gold farming industry is by its nature impossible to accurately track, one 2008 study estimated it to be worth $500 million annually. Three years is a long time in the world of MMOs, so doubtless that figure would be even greater today.

The dark side of gold farming has been known for some time now. While the practice began on a small scale, with players selling between themselves, it soon became industrialised and outsourcing began, with many farmers working in conditions markedly less pleasant than a cosy bedroom in the USA. The study in 2008 estimated that, at the time, 80% of gold farmers were in China.

Liu suspects the practice hasn't ended, though a 2009 Chinese law was supposed to crack down on selling virtual currencies, making it illegal for anyone but legitimate business with licenses. "Many prisons across the north-east of China also forced inmates to play games," he said. "It must still be happening."

Filed Under
From The Chatty
  • reply
    May 26, 2011 6:00 AM

    Alice O'Connor posted a new article, Report: Chinese prisoners 'forced' to farm gold.

    Inmates at a China prison were "forced" to farm gold in MMOs, a British newspaper has reported. The dark side of gold farming is hardly a secret, but it's surprising to hear it practised in such a way.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 6:09 AM

      I have never played World of Warcraft before. How does one do "gold farming" exactly? Is it boring and tedious?

      • reply
        May 26, 2011 6:13 AM

        no its exciting and fun, which is why they have to force prison inmates to do it.

        • reply
          May 26, 2011 6:13 AM

          My arch nemesis maulla, I appreciate your sarcasm, but I'm more curious about how one would do the farming. Thanks.

          • reply
            May 26, 2011 6:16 AM

            I doubt they do daily quests since that doesn't give you enough, collecting minerals and selling them in the marketplace takes too long, it most likely involves killing the same creatures over and over. Its been 3 years since I played it, so maybe there are better ways now to farm it factory style. They also often use bots or steal other peoples account to sell all their equipment and then sell the gold for real money.

            • reply
              May 26, 2011 6:17 AM

              Ah, interesting. I was just curious. Thanks.

        • reply
          May 26, 2011 9:54 AM

          I don't like encouraging sarcasm, but that was pretty funny.

      • reply
        May 26, 2011 6:14 AM

        It is boring and tedious to do it in a big style. They need loads of gold to sell it, which involves pretty much doing the same thing over and over and over 24/7, since you aren't supposed to get masses of gold.

        • reply
          May 26, 2011 6:16 AM

          What all do you do to get gold? Do you go into a mine and pick for gold? Do you kill creatures? I've never played WoW before, so I have no clue.

          • reply
            May 26, 2011 6:19 AM

            You get gold from selling equipment or materials like leather (from skinning mobs), or minerals (from picking it from mines) in the marketplace to other players, killing creatures and looting them, doing quests, doing daily quests (quests that reset every day and give you a set amount of gold upon completion). But most of that involves actual gameplay and running around, sometimes interacting with people, I don't think they use those methods (actually playing the game). The gold farming bots I've seen were usually low level characters running around killing low level mobs and looting some low amount of gold, or collecting low level minerals.
            They also could use higher level characters and kill some mobs over and over that sometimes drop expensive materials that they could sell to other players for ingame gold.

          • reply
            May 26, 2011 6:43 AM

            They have an ebay type of auction house thiing going, and certain items sell there for a very high amount. Most high lvl players are just lazy, have tons of gold, and just pay the fee instead of going to get the item.

          • reply
            May 26, 2011 9:49 AM

            You can buy stupid shit that makes you .0002% less easy to kill in your stupid ass game.

      • reply
        May 26, 2011 6:19 AM

        it is, they either farm creatures with a somewhat decent drop chance for a high selling item or they farm minerals, herbs, leather, jewels, etc and sell it on the AH

      • reply
        May 26, 2011 6:21 AM

        It's the gaming equivalent of data entry.

      • reply
        May 26, 2011 6:32 AM

        Very VERY basic summary:

        There are three ways to get items in MMOs.

        1- Kill NPC bad guys who drop the items when they are beaten - usually at a low percent chance
        2- Buy items from other players using in game currency
        3- Buy items from in game NPC vendors using various in game, non tradeable points

        "Gold Farming" relates to item number 2. Although all three ways of collecting items can be considered farmable, only number 2 can involve moving items from one player account to another.

        Some players decide they want a certain tradeable item. For the very best/coolest items they need a lot of in game currency to do so. Which takes a lot of effort to collect. People are considered "farming" when they try to compress all that money collecting effort into massively long collecting sessions over and over and over again for endless hours.

        Poor countries figured out that players in rich countries were sometimes willing to pay REAL money over a web site for someone to send them in game money - so they can buy the coolest items without all that money collecting effort. And a very shade industry was born! Poor players (often very abused by whoever hired them) spend endless hours collecting in game currency - then then sell it for real money to players with money to burn.

      • reply
        May 26, 2011 7:16 AM

        There are lots of various ways to amass gold piles. I'm assuming since they are forcing prison inmates to play, they are simply killing mobs over and over and over again - as these prison inmates are probably not well versed in the more advanced forms such as playing the Auction House market which typically involves having many addons running and historical data of items.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 6:42 AM

      This world is one screwed up place. It's not enough that buying chocolate supports child labor or buying diamonds supports wars now buying gold from MMO's support prisoner abuse. Sheesh.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 6:44 AM

      This is one messed up world. Buying chocolate that isn't free trade usually ends up supporting child labor, buying diamonds supports wars, and now buying farmed gold supports prisoner abuse.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 7:11 AM

      Really "farming gold" at prisons??? Sure it's boring but still, your playing online games at a prison on a computer??!!! What can you do on a computer?? I don't know CONTACT YOUR FRIENDS TO BREAK YOU OUT!!!!

      • reply
        May 26, 2011 7:19 AM

        Update 5/26/11. Still in prison. Forced to camp Hogger for the past 6 hours. Some dude keeps telling the same Chuck Norris joke in /g. FML.

        • reply
          May 26, 2011 7:22 AM

          Update 5/27/11: Forced to use dungeon finder. Tank couldn't hold aggro, heals went LD, and rest of team bailed. Going to go get raped in the shower.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 7:39 AM

      "...driving item costs up as players with farmed gold happily pay prices that'd take yonks of playtime to afford otherwise"


      wonderful use of the word yonks!!!

      • reply
        May 26, 2011 7:43 AM

        We need a yonks to oodles conversion equation.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 7:43 AM

      These people are in prison, not school or church, or evil grandmas basement. Normally one doesn't go to an incarceration facility becuase of acts of kindness and good deeds

      • reply
        May 26, 2011 7:53 AM

        Yes, I'm sure that PRC is trustworthy enough that they would only have the worst criminals locked up and not say, oh I don't know, political dissidents or Nobel Peace Prize winners.

        • reply
          May 26, 2011 8:29 AM

          Yeah but the truth is like 99% of people in China don't give a fuck what you call it, capitalism/socialism, as long as the economy is bustling.

          You don't honestly think you can have a democracy without a middle class do you?

          • reply
            May 26, 2011 9:53 AM

            you are a god if you know what 99% of people are thinking.

            The shack is so absolutist sometimes it's silly and hilarious.

            • reply
              May 26, 2011 6:48 PM

              Yeah, I do. In other words I know those people are overwhelmingly more representative than the dissidents.

          • reply
            May 26, 2011 11:58 AM

            Urm, it seems to me from my perspective here in the UK that China most certainly has a "middle class" or, I suppose one could say more precisely, petite bourgeois.

            • reply
              May 26, 2011 6:54 PM

              Yeah, there are hundreds of millions. Except this ain't a small island nation like the UK, the population is 4 times US's, 20 times UK's.

              China will take on social reforms after the economic reforms fully mature.

        • reply
          May 26, 2011 8:32 AM

          Right,

      • reply
        May 26, 2011 10:03 AM

        Good troll.

      • reply
        May 26, 2011 10:03 AM

        way to read:

        "The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for "illegally petitioning" the central government about corruption in his hometown"

        that sounds like a good deed to me. this is china not america

        • reply
          May 26, 2011 11:56 AM

          way to read:

          "The 54-year-old" As in they are talking about one person in 300 at this specific place, with no details at all of the situation/circumstances. You are absolutely right though, it is china, not the states, and neither of us really know what the hell is going on.

          • reply
            May 26, 2011 12:00 PM

            yes it's one person out of 300 so obviously the other 299 are homicidal maniacs

      • reply
        May 26, 2011 10:47 AM

        Yep. Preeeetty sure none those prisoners are dissidents, religious people, democracy advocates, human-rights activists or just pure unlucky. No siree.

      • reply
        May 26, 2011 11:14 AM

        Wow man, thats really low.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 7:52 AM

      Now that's just cruel and unusual punishment making prisoners play WOW.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 7:55 AM

      Beats breakin rocks I guess

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 8:26 AM

      Rofl prisoners are traditionally forced to do prison industry, getting paid pennies per hour.

      Now they sit on their ass farming gold in a mmo.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 8:26 AM

      What the world has come to... is amusing.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 8:32 AM

      Regarding the Eve Online mention, from what I saw, CCP started a year or two ago to ban gold farmers en masse. Not sure if they are still pursuing that goal.

      The process you refer to, the creation/buying/selling of PLEX is not meant to enable gold farmers. It is meant to allow players to buy currency directly from CCP, to buy in-game time card with in-game currency so they don't have to spend real money on their subscription, etc.

      • reply
        May 26, 2011 11:56 AM

        PLEX was originally designed as a legal route to combat RMT which it did as it provided an outlet that was legally sanctioned.

        The Unholy Rage campaign style has changed format however. Darius Johnson now heads a security team at CCP ( now know as CCP Skreegs) that deals with measures to thwart and track rmt and macro accounts (current focus is on macro). This can either be with tamper resistant client or with game design to make macroing less useful while removing tedium that spawned the macroing (see: ice mining as a well documented macro only trade). So the move is to a more fine grain approach of daily bannings of a few accounts instead of snapshotting for a week followed by a ban and wait a few months before repeating.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 8:58 AM

      LoL ...

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 9:29 AM

      I sentence you to farm Molten Core for 20 years

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 9:53 AM

      Sitting at a computer doing a repetitive task IS manual labor. Also, China sucks.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 10:12 AM

      "...respectable British newspaper The Guardian..."

      That joke was so dry I had to moisturize before posting.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 11:08 AM

      It could be worse... right?

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 11:15 AM

      Somehow, I always suspected this was true.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 11:26 AM

      Oh the irony...

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8358642.stm

      A five-month-old Chinese baby has died in a hospital because his doctor was busy playing a game online while his condition worsened, reports say.

      So the doctor goes to prison and is forced to play games.

      This is so tasteless.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 12:29 PM

      I wish they would just sell the damn gold themselves. Really, I have $40 but I don't have 40 hours. Lets make a deal already.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 1:40 PM

      Hahaha that picture above in the article is so 2004!!!

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 3:32 PM

      sweet mother of....this is amazing. Why didnt i think of this?

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 6:56 PM

      Theyre making that much on the 300 prisoners total right? No way its per inmate

    • reply
      May 27, 2011 7:42 AM

      In Venezuela prisoners would happily trade places with them, being the choices: playing video games or getting raped and murdered...