Sunday, June 17, 2007

Byte Lights, Big City

I have long heard about the "factories" of Chinese gamers, playing games like World of Warcraft to earn money on the black market, but this short New York Times video is the the first I have actually seen it. The video is only 80 second long, but it gives you decent sense of what it is like to be a young gamer, playing World of Warcraft for 25 cents an hour.

Beginning with Lineage around 1998, gaming companies created virtual online economies for their games, with virtual items and virtual cash. This worked well for the gaming, however it had the side effect of creating virtual black markets, too (which I wrote about in NEWSWEEK a couple of years ago). Supply and demand -- you have people who want to play at a higher level, who have money but not the time to go up levels naturally. The result, people will pay others to do their gaming for them.

It is not just the Chinese kids playing the games for money. I have long heard stories about organized crime groups in Korea employing the disabled in much the same way (in Korea, it can be even harder to be accepted in public life than in the West, so any sort of job a disabled person can do from home can get a good reception).

UPDATE: Okay, I am a moron (once again). The full New York Times article is here (as usual, registration required, and after a week you will probably have to pay for it). It is a fairly interesting article, although I would have preferred more history and analysis of the online black market phenomenon.

For example, the article quotes one EA exec saying about the black marketing of gaming items:
If you bust the buyers, you’re busting the guys who are paying to play your game, who you want to keep as customers and who will then go on the forums and say really nasty things about your company and your game.

In fact, I have had a different EA bigwig go even further, and say that the popularity of many of those online games comes from the virtual black markets. In effect, the markets greatly increase game play, which gives your game more size and more profits. I have especially heard that allegation leveled at Lineage. Gamers say they do not like these professional players joining in and selling items and levels to lazy dolts, but for the gaming company, the black marketers more than pay for themselves.

The other funny thing about online gaming communities is how different countries have such different ideas of gaming etiquette. A lot of Americans do not like how Koreans use item trading. But Koreans often think the Chinese go too far (especially with gaming 'bots, that keep playing and earning points, even when no one is at the computer... although I do not know if that is still an issue, or if the gaming companies have found a way of eliminating that problem).

But what do I know? I play solitaire.
An altogether credulous article about the latest New York Asian Film Festival. But while I may not share Mr. Kehr's enthusiasm for many of the films on display, I do think he wrote a good article. Many films there definitely worth checking out. Congratulations to Goran and the Subway Cinema people for pulling off another fest, despite the obstacles this year (not that Goran is their leader...he's just the only one there I know).

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