Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The New Chinese Sweatshop

The New York Times just published a really good article on Chinese gold farms, basically internet cafe sweatshops designed to harvest economic units in virtual worlds -- in this case, gold coins in World of Warcraft -- and sell them to Western customers.

The same economic logic that leads conventional megaretailers to China in search of cheap toys and textiles takes their virtual counterparts to China’s gold farms.

At the end of each shift, Li reports the night’s haul to his supervisor, and at the end of the week, he, like his nine co-workers, will be paid in full. For every 100 gold coins he gathers, Li makes 10 yuan, or about $1.25, earning an effective wage of 30 cents an hour, more or less. The boss, in turn, receives $3 or more when he sells those same coins to an online retailer, who will sell them to the final customer (an American or European player) for as much as $20. The small commercial space Li and his colleagues work in — two rooms, one for the workers and another for the supervisor — along with a rudimentary workers’ dorm, a half-hour’s bus ride away, are the entire physical plant of this modest $80,000-a-year business.

Here's a link to the article. It's long (7 pages), but pretty interesting.

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