Monday, March 9, 2009

How to make money by being a video game geek

So you thought playing video games was a waste of time? Time that you could be spending at work or doing something constructive?

Well, apparently you are wrong, because if you live in the right country, you could get a job that involves playing games. Not designing, marketing or retailing games – though you can still do those of course – but just playing them. And it will surprise no one that the countries at the heart of this new business trend are China, Korea and Japan.

Of course, its not as simple as just playing games and getting paid a nice wage. Like many industries, there are those that do the low-end schlepp work and those at the very top of their field who rake in the big bucks.

At the top you have the professional gamers, or cyberathletes. Yes, some people treat video games as a spectator sport, and the best players can earn contracts and compete for prizemoney in tournaments. In Korea, professional players of phenomenally popular games like Starcraft actually attain celebrity status. Then there’s the Hong Kong-born American, Dennis Fong, referred to as “the Michael Jordan of video games” who raked in around $100,000 a year in prizemoney before he retired to become a cyber-entrepreneur.

I can totally imagine a not-too distant future where Asian cybergeeks refer to Michael Jordan as “the Dennis Fong of basketball”.

Professional gaming is not all glitz and glamour, obviously. At the other end of the scale we have what are known as “gold farmers”, the subject of an article in The Guardian recently. If like me you are not a gaming enthusiast (ie. you think there might be better things to do with your life), this is a concept that is hard to get your head around, so let me try to break it down for you.

In many video games you earn some kind of reward (a weapon, special ability, etc) by peforming some kind of action, such as killing opponents or obtaining large amounts of money. (So if you remember back to Super Mario - the last video game I played with any real frequency, which shows how behind the curve I am - you could earn an extra life by finding a special mushroom or by collecting 100 coins.) When a player sets out with the main objective being to acquire these rewards, this is called gold farming.

However, some people can’t be bothered with the rather repetitive task of gold farming, and would rather pay someone else to do it for them. Thus has emerged the gold farming industry, where companies employ workers – “playbourers” - to clock long hours playing games solely to earn in-game advantages. These are then sold on to gamers around the world.

What a stupid idea for an industry, I hear you saying. Yet there are around 400,000 people employed in the gold farming industry, primarily in China but also to a lesser extent Indonesia and several other countries. The wages are nothing to get excited about however – but I guess for young guys with no specialist skills, there are worse jobs they could be doing.

Another step towards the inevitable Matrix-isation of our world, perhaps?


  1. hehe, I think it's crazy too but the good kind. My younger brother is living proof that the e-gaming industry really do treat their players like "athletes"... his team (referred to in Counter-Strike as a "clan") have won several Malaysian qualifiers for regionals in the World Cyber Games in Counter Strike... and they've been sent everywhere!!! Fully paid for!!!
    I mean c'mon, he's been to Paris, Milan... he got the chance to head down to San Jose last year but didn't go! It's insaneness, but honestly, he's made us realise that it's a whole lot that goes into it. LOL! I'll explain this to you in more detail when I see you... yeah, but I still think it's crazy! aiy caramba

  2. Wow, your brother is either a total nerdface, or he's got it all totally figured out and in fact it is I who is the loser. I know this - no one's ever flown me around the world for work.

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