You might be surprised to learn that the nation whose people enjoy the most high-speed Internet access the nation is not the same country that created the World Wide Web. It's South Korea. Which may explain why around 30 percent of South Koreans are regular players of online video games.From my experience, skilled South Korean players (and East Asian players in general) are phenomenally good at executing a pre-conceived build/attack order with almost no inefficiency of misstep. To beat them, it is often imperative that you disrupt their build order as quickly as possible and make them try and improvise. This is where they're most vulnerable.
For a price — monthly fees, or paying by the hour at Internet cafes — they roam virtual worlds, fighting virtual enemies, amassing virtual wealth. But now, some of that wealth is spilling over to the real world, and spurring enactment of real laws.
We sent Rico Gagliano to South Korea...
Rico Gagliano: South Koreans love video games. Here's how much:That's nearly $2 million a month for the virtual auction site.
That's 150 people watching a live video game tournament in the city of Seoul. Players sit in futuristic pods, playing the sci-fi wargame "Starcraft." Announcers call the plays as the crowd watches the action on seven giant overhead plasma screens. ...
It's a boring name, but a one-of-a-kind law. The world's first legal crackdown on a form of video-game commerce players call "gold farming" — and non-gamers call "insane."
In a smoky Internet cafe in Seoul, a gamer who calls himself Nacho tries to explain gold farming to me. He sits at a beat-up PC, playing the online swords-and-sorcery game "Lineage II."
With a mouse, he guides his little dwarf character through a medieval landscape. Most of the creatures he passes — scary orcs, half-nude elves — are controlled by other players. He heads into a dungeon.
Nacho (voice of interpreter): This place we're going to, I'm guessing there will probably be a lot of gold farmers there.
Nacho: Because there's a lot of good items here.
By "good items," Nacho means virtual magic swords, or baby dragons, or lots of virtual gold. These things can make a player's character more powerful. "Gold farmers" are players who figure out when and where these items appear, and then spend time — lots of time — hoarding them.
Nacho: You see the same game character, in the same spot, doing the same hunting for the same item for two, three, four days, even up to a month. That's a gold farmer.
They're not playing for fun. They're playing for cash. 'Cause the farmers can sell this virtual stuff to other players for real money. ...
Itembay.com was the first so-called "mediating site" in South Korea. It's the eBay of game-item trade. Gamers post their virtual scepters and laser rifles for others to buy. Itembay gets a 5 percent transaction fee.
Park: We get roughly 50,000 transactions every month, and $35 million is the amount that's traded on the Web site.
Gagliano: A volume of $35 million per month?
Sites like Itembay love gold farmers. Farmers post lots of items for sale, so Itembay earns lots of fees.
The stories of low-paid gold farmers in China are well-known. Used to be that gaining experience was an intregal part of the epic RPG struggle, the part that tested sheer endurance and persistence over battle strategy or campaign preparedness. Now, you can hire some pimply-faced Chinakid to do it for you. That may seem to be an attractive solution in the short-term, but can a soldier of the wasteland lead his troops into battle successfully if he's relying so heavily on mercenaries?
The virtual world is putatively so enjoyable because it neutralizes all the extraneous stuff (who your dad knows, how much the coach likes you, your physical build) that pollutes pure competition in real life. But even in this fanciful parallel universe, the rich keep getting richer:
What's more, gold farmers supply rich players with such powerful items, it can ruin a game. Poorer players can't compete, some quit playing and the game-makers lose money.That's why war strategy games in which the game template resets after each match (like chess) is where the true competitive purists reside!
Though approached tongue-in-cheek, this trend toward living (and making a living) in the virtual world raises a slew of important questions about the future that have scarcely begun to be answered.