Selling Virtual Game Winnings: a $3 Billion Industry

Businesses in Asia have created a $3 billion industry by paying employees to spend their days playing videogames and selling the virtual loot to other gamers, according to the World Bank.

Through a technique known as “gold farming,” players sit at rows of computers, and the businesses pay them to play, gathering virtual goods that can be sold later. Another part of the $3 billion market involves something called “powerleveling,” in which people manually play games for others to enable them to pass through levels more quickly. The practice started when individuals began selling in-game goods through markets like eBay and has now expanded into the real business described in a Thursday report by the World Bank Group’s infoDev program.

The report says half of “gold farms” are now automated–run by programming a computer to play the game. Others still use actual players, and about 20 percent aren’t farms so much as theft rings, in which hacker groups steal goods from other players and sell them, the report says.

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