The Chinese government has taken a new stance against virtual currency trading that is set to have a huge impact on so-called Gold Farmers. The announcement, made by China’s Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Commerce, stated that virtual currency could only be used to trade for “virtual goods and services provided by its issuer, not real goods and services.”
Gold Farming is a phenomenon born of the MMO era; players have developed an almost black market trading platform to exchange in-game currencies – often virtual gold or resources – for real cash. In China, there are whole organisations set up to generate the virtual currency using banks of computers and players who spend their entire day playing the game to generate the virtual cash.
Most MMO makers, including Blizzard, don’t want their virtual currencies to be traded between players. It means players with more disposable income can get an advantage, that some of best resourced areas can end up being filled with Gold Farmers, and chat windows get flooded with Gold Seller spam. It is also connected to account theft and credit card fraud.
Despite that, the virtual currency market is booming. Last year it was estimated to be worth somewhere between $200m and $1bn annually according to a survey conducted by Richard Heeks at the University of Manchester.
China’s ban on trading virtual currency for real will obviously undermine the nation’s surging Gold Farming business – although it’s unlikely to make the problem go away. There are, after all, plenty of other countries where Gold Farming can be carried out, and in the end all it may do is drive the trading websites abroad while those stuck behind the computers will stay where they are, albeit in an even greyer legal area.