Friday, December 9, 2005

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The ne plus ultra in outsourcing

David Barboza of the New York Times wins my Outsourcing Outrage of the Year award with, "Ogre to Slay? Outsource It to Chinese" :

One of China's newest factories operates here in the basement of an old warehouse. Posters of World of Warcraft and Magic Land hang above a corps of young people glued to their computer screens, pounding away at their keyboards in the latest hustle for money.

The people working at this clandestine locale are "gold farmers." Every day, in 12-hour shifts, they "play" computer games by killing onscreen monsters and winning battles, harvesting artificial gold coins and other virtual goods as rewards that, as it turns out, can be transformed into real cash.

That is because, from Seoul to San Francisco, affluent online gamers who lack the time and patience to work their way up to the higher levels of gamedom are willing to pay the young Chinese here to play the early rounds for them.

Read the whole thing. This is the perfect outsourcing story to generate outrage among perennially indignant. Why?
1) The story highlights the apparent sloth and excessive affluence of Americans that inflames the passiuons of the puritanical left and right;

2) The transaction -- Chinese gamers taking care of drudge levels of computer games -- has that whiff of cheating that will spark the ire of social conservatives (not to mention hard-core gamers);

3) The idea that sums of money are being paid for what appears to be an unproductive economic activity will cheese off traditionalists who believe that unless a job is located in an industrial factory, it serves no good purpose;

4) The Chinese benefit, which will annoy the realists;

5) In the process of the transaction, the U.S. is outsourcing its decadent Western culture to the Orient, which will annoy those uncomfortable with American power.

I eagerly await the first calls for legislation banning this kind of offshore outsourcing.

posted by Dan on 12.09.05 at 02:52 PM


I know more than one american who are doing this kind of stuff for themselves to help put them through school. Definitely not a pure outsourcing phenomenon.

posted by: James on 12.09.05 at 02:52 PM [permalink]

Note that gold farming is against the terms-of-service of just about every MMORPG, so this is outsourced already-illegal economy.

posted by: Nicholas Weaver on 12.09.05 at 02:52 PM [permalink]

Surely there has to be some way this undermines the US in its war on terrorism. How about this: how do we know these gamers are working out of a basement in Shanghai and not a cave in Afghanistan? Obviously this is just some covert scheme to finance al-Qaeda.

Remember: every time an orc dies, the terrorists win.

posted by: Adam on 12.09.05 at 02:52 PM [permalink]

Hmmm ... violating the terms of service of an MMPORG isn't "illegal," is it?

Please go read the story in the Dec. 12 Time about the Air Force jocks piloting arned Predator unmanned planes over Iraq from comfy armchairs at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, then think about "Ender's Game," then consider the possibilities for future techno-mercenaries.

posted by: trostky on 12.09.05 at 02:52 PM [permalink]

I'm a social and fiscal conservative. Let me check my "Outsourcing Outrage-O-Meter".

Nope. Nothing. Not a blip.

Of course, I may be an exception in that I have no problem with outsourcing, nor video games, nor sloth in general.

posted by: Steven Schmitt on 12.09.05 at 02:52 PM [permalink]

You forgot:

6) Bitter ex-gamer designers will be ticked off that they still put boring, repetitive, outsourcable time-sinks in on-line games.


"Note that gold farming is against the terms-of-service of just about every MMORPG, so this is outsourced already-illegal economy."

Not exactly. It's the sale of in-game goods for out-of-game resources (called RMT or Real Money Trades) that is prohibited. The EULAs and ToS for games range from vague to bizarre, so it's hard to say. Farming itself is not illegal in most MMOGs, unless you farm in a way that is also griefing or harrasment (i.e. if you "monopolize" a hunting spot or "steal" kills from another player--that can be illegal, even though farming itself is allowed).

I suspect most of the RMT market (both buyers and sellers) is American. That may change in the future, but interviews with IGE and other big sellers suggest that they get only a portion of their gold and items from other countries.

The effects of professional farmers on in-game economies are mixed and hotly debated. For instance, they add more money to the game that the typical player (and certainly more than the game designers expected). But because of their work schedule and conditions, they often sell items for much lower than the market price (to sell it before the end of thier shift, so the next person who uses their account/computer doesn't get it) and can actually help keep prices down.

posted by: AFFA on 12.09.05 at 02:52 PM [permalink]

But is it a violation to have someone else play your character for money which is what this seems to describe. I know someone who lived well for a few years off of Diablo 2 doing this kind of stuff, of course he's now the manager of a coffee shop, so it doesn't top the list of career moves.

posted by: John Jenkins on 12.09.05 at 02:52 PM [permalink]

This is so not outsourcing..

posted by: brett on 12.09.05 at 02:52 PM [permalink]

I hope to outsource my blog writing and blog reading. My blog writing I will outsource to those who use ideographs, though not compound ideographs. My blog reading I will outsource to those who do not use ideographs, but who do use compound verbs.

That covers the FOX demographic, yes?

posted by: Tyler Curtain on 12.09.05 at 02:52 PM [permalink]

As a semi-affluent gamer who buys gold instead of "farming" it, I say god-bless the Chinese gold farmers.

Seriously, until you've played some of these games, you have no idea how much an ostensibly fun activity can be made to feel like work.

Happily the other portions of the game (World of Warcraft in this case) are fun enough that it's worth paying some Chinese kids $30 for what could quite possibly amount to 100 hours of my time.

Anyway, I'm happy to outsource this, and I'm sure that the people to whom I've outsourced it prefer playing a computer game to putting together sneakers.

posted by: TWAndrews on 12.09.05 at 02:52 PM [permalink]

...and as far as "buying" in-game goods for RL cash, the common "work-armound" that I see on sites is that you're not paying for the item itself, you're paying for the farmer's time and effort in acquiring the item. I leave the supportability of that loophole to lawyers.

posted by: Arr-squared on 12.09.05 at 02:52 PM [permalink]

Isn't it possible that the "gold farmers" are the very people who programmed the game? I love it.

posted by: Larry on 12.09.05 at 02:52 PM [permalink]

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