Liaozhong - this rural county seat in
northeast China has an Internet cafe on almost every street, 63 in total, and
most of them are full of young people passing time.
Parked in front of computer screens, they move through virtual dungeons to
slay ogres and gather gold in online games.
But it is not mere idleness. Many of the gamers are working.
A vast shadow industry has mushroomed in rural China. Savvy entrepreneurs
harness teams to play popular online games, gathering magic spells, battle
hammers, armor and other virtual assets. They then provide the assets to
brokers, who sell them to rich players in the United States and Europe wanting
shortcuts to gaming success.
At any given time, as many as half a million Chinese gamers are completing
quests and gathering such assets as virtual gold pieces to sell off for real
money. They toil in Internet cafes and in makeshift computer labs, sometimes
sleeping on cots in nearby dormitories in shifts.
In industry lingo, the gamers are known as Chinese gold farmers.They do
the cyber scut work, menial jockeying of the mouse that are hard
on the wrist but better than factory labor.
It is easier than making shoes,said Wang Xin, 27, an entrepreneur who keeps 30
young people working in his stable of gamers. We don't work so hard. The
physical pressure is not high. This is much less demanding than the
The industry is largely clustered in coastal Fujian and Zhejiang provinces,
and in the rustbelt region of China's northeast. Liaozhong, an agricultural hub
of 120,000 residents, is near Shenyang, the largest city of northeast China.
"There are thousands of these little companies," said Peng Wen, another young
businessman who employs gamers. In rural areas, the companies have no trouble
Millions of gamers think the trade is fine. A thriving business has popped up
on auction giant eBay and other sites selling virtual assets. Buyers say they
want to enjoy the games without spending hundreds of hours working up to levels
where it gets fun and frisky.
Conservative estimate of global annual sales of virtual items for real
money is $200 million a year,?said Edward Castronova, an economist who
specializes in the study of virtual assets at Indiana University.
Courtesty of Tim Johnson,