Virtual Economy Is Cash Cow for Developing World
Online gamers immersed in fantasy worlds supported a very real virtual economy worth more than $15 billion worldwide in 2010. But some also used the shadowy gaming services of so-called "gold farmers" – mostly Chinese and Vietnamese players who sell in-game resources to those lacking time or patience.
Now a World Bank report says that such "gold farmer" gaming services earned developing countries about $3 billion in 2009. It adds that virtual economic activities can extend digital age benefits to even the poorest netizens of the world.
"An estimated 100,000 young, low-skilled workers in countries such as China and Vietnam earn their primary income by harvesting virtual resources and providing player-for-hire services in popular online games such as 'World of Warcraft,'" the report says.
Today's virtual economy can easily rival real-world markets, according to the report. The $3 billion in the gaming services sector was mostly earned within countries such as China and Vietnam. By contrast, developing countries that grew coffee beans to support a $70 billion global coffee market only earned $5.5 billion.
Customers of such gaming services come from the 25 percent of online gamers around the world who buy virtual currency or hire third-party players to "power-level" their virtual avatars. The industry may have hired tens of thousands of skilled customer service and management staff in developing countries, according to the report.
A growing online "microwork" industry has also allowed thousands of men and women in countries such as India and Kenya to earn income by completing simple human intelligence tasks, such as assessing whether two images are of the same product, or transcribing a fragment of handwritten text.
Demand for such microwork comes from limitations in artificial intelligence that prevent automated computing from handling those clerical tasks. In other words, a human mind is still needed.
The microwork industry is still smaller than the gaming service industry. But the World Bank report says that it could make billions of dollars per year over the next five years, and recommends looking into possible interventions to boost such activities.
Microwork also has the advantage of not carrying a whiff of illegality, unlike the gaming service industry that markets in virtual goods with or without gaming operators' permission. Game companies have cracked down on gold farmer services, and many online gamers similarly view such services as cheating.
Still, the World Bank report credits the gaming services industry with allowing thousands of young people from relatively poor backgrounds to become digital entrepreneurs.
"Some of them have subsequently branched out to other fields of ecommerce," the report says. "A more typical career path for these youth would likely have been much less entrepreneurial and ambitious."
This article was provided by InnovationNewsDaily, a sister site of TechNewsDaily.