Secrets of Massively Multiplayer Farming
In the past several months, I’ve become friendly with a number of the professional farmers on my server. I had no special motive in doing so; I certainly didn’t befriend them so that I could study them. Nonetheless, during the course of our teaming and chatting together, I gained glimpses into their lifestyles and learned things that I’ve found to be interesting and that I would like to share. The odds are that if you have access to the venue where this document is being published, you’ll find them interesting too.
There are some common misconceptions that other players have about farmers. One is the belief that they are all Chinese. While a good number of them, probably a healthy majority, are; there other third world economies in which one can live off the proceeds of MMORPG farming, even after giving a substantial cut of the daily take to “the boss.”
One such country in particular in which this occupation has developed into a cottage industry is Indonesia; and a great many of the farmers you’ll meet in WoW are working in that country.
Another popular but somewhat misguided view of farmers is that they are all ninja looters. I’ve found that like the general Azeroth population, some farmers are considerate group members, and others aren’t.
It would be a gross overstatement to call the opinion that most farmers work in sweatshops “a generally held misconception.” I doubt that this idea has even occurred to most players or that they’ve thought about the issue at all. I’d like to air this concept, though here in the misconceptions section, because the term “sweatshop” has been applied to third world MMORPG farming operations by the virtual press.
Before rendering such judgments, we have to bear in mind that the norms for the parts of the world where organized farming operations take place can be very different from what they are here. For example, one Chinese farmer told me that he’s paid about 120 USD per month. Though you might at first think that’s a pittance, do you know how that compares to the average salary in his part of the world and how much buying power it provides?
An Indonesian farmer I know has a boss who imposes constantly increasing quotas on his workers. Those workers consider it difficult or impossible to meet the ever-rising expectation. Though the boss has not fired anyone yet for failing to reach quota (not even employees who have not once met their goal), those workers are in constant fear of losing their jobs. This is, of course, a stressful life situation; yet, many workers in modern unionized operations in Western countries must meet stringent quotas if they wish to maintain job security; and these quotas may “slide” as the workers gain experience, just as the MMORPG farmers’ quotas do. The carrot must always remain just out of reach or it becomes useless as an incentive.
When we think of sweatshops, we tend to picture dirty, dark, dank, hot, warehouse-sized rooms crammed with toiling human flesh, often locked into the building by cruel masters for the full duration of the shift. However, one of the same farmers who complained to me about the nigh impossibility of meeting her daily quota also told me that she works in a multistory office building, can get sick leave or personal time off whenever necessary, and has great respect for her boss whom she considers to be a disciplinarian but still a fair and decent person.
My personal impression is that while perhaps a limited number of the farming operations I’ve learned about may, in some regards, impose sweatshop conditions on their employees, many, perhaps most, don’t—especially when local norms are taken into account.
According to a commonly held opinion, farmers contribute to in-game inflation, letting their insatiable appetite for gold drive prices up as they demand higher and higher payment for their merchandise. As far as I can tell, the opposite is true. I believe, for reasons that I hope will become clear shortly, that farmers exert a counter inflationary force on the WoW economy. I will, in fact, devote a number of paragraphs to the influence of farming on WoW economics; but my thoughts may appear less than cogent before other matters have been brought to light, so I’ll reserve these considerations for later in the article.
You’ve probably already recognized stereotypical farmer behavior on your own, but for the sake of thoroughness, I’ll list the key signs here anyway:
Accounts played Almost Constantly
Look for a character that is played 24/7 (or close to it).
Look for a character who works the same area, or a limited repertoire of locales, incessantly.
Look for characters who redo an instance indefinitely, regrouping or logging to reset it as necessary. (Blizzard has taken steps to curtail this pattern, so you’ll see less of it than you used to.)
Take note of characters who aggressively hawk their wares at the same time of day on the IF trade channel, day in and day out. (For marketing reasons, most farming characters are of the Alliance faction.)
Little or No English
In conjunction with the other indications mentioned here, look for characters who speak little or no English.
Look for level 60 characters who are working on low to mid-level quests. (For marketing reasons, Asian farmers play the U.S. servers, so those who know no English at all can’t read quest requirements. Thus they can’t pursue quest goals until they are lucky enough to find an in-game translator who is willing to help them.)
Don’t Remember You
Take note of characters who don’t seem to remember knowing you, even though you were grouped with them or chatted with quite recently—a different player may have been operating the character the last time you met.
How It All Works
In the course of this article, I’m going to ask you to assume several different points of view. Up until now, you have been simply you, the reader. In the coming chapters, I will also ask you to take the point of view of the MMORPG entrepreneur, and later of one of his or her employees, an actual online farmer. Of course, at times I will want you to resume just being yourself.
You Are the Manager
Please start out by imagining that you’re an aggressive entrepreneur in a third world country, a businessman or woman who has decided that your economic niche is operating an MMORPG farming shop.
Why “Players” Will Work for You
Obstacles to Playing WoW in Some 3 rd World Countries
Computers and Internet Connections May Be a Major Expense for a “Typical” Citizen
You realize that while your country has many people who might enjoy playing MMORPG’s, few possess the wherewithal to have their own Internet connection and computer—especially a computer powerful enough and connection fast enough to smoothly handle modern high speed multiplayer games requiring high baud rates and accelerated 3D graphics.
WOW Accounts May Be Unavailable
Remember, games like WoW are not marketed in regions that don’t have servers dedicated to them. This means that would-be players, even if they do have their own computers and Internet hookups, can’t get the game unless they have a “connection;” and I don’t mean an Internet cable. I’m referring to a friend in, say, the States, who can mail them a WoW package or create an account for them.
Further, for marketing reasons, farmers must work the U.S. servers, so even if a version of the game is available for somewhere like, for example, China, that version of the game is not acceptable to someone wanting to farm professionally. A U.S. connection is still a requirement.
Periodic Subscription Payments
Even if the challenges described above have been met, a credit card or access to an ongoing supply of WoW prepaid game time cards would be required. While we may take such things for granted, people in the third world economies I’m that describing—places where you can live off the proceeds of MMO farming--may not have them.
The Boss Has a Leg-Up
So there are a number of obstacles in the way of a normal third world denizen’s ability to play online games like World of Warcraft. That’s where you, the MMORPG farming-shop operator, come in. For whatever reason, you have an economic leg up compared to most of your countrymen. You posses whatever resources it takes to maintain a number of computers and Internet connections, each with its own WoW account.
You hire employees who start their careers by running characters up to level 60 as quickly as possible. You may operate in a large number of WoW realms, or concentrate on just a few--or even only one.
Boss Defines Characters
You, not your employees, pretty much decide what race, and especially class, the characters will be. You choose classes of proven productivity. Most farming characters are hunters, though you may chose to have your employees run up some rogues as well.
Making it Pay Off
You now have a significant investment in computers, connectivity, and personnel. Next you need to put your operation in the black and keep it there.
Characters Must Be Played 24/7
The most efficient use of your investment requires each of your characters be in play at all times.
Partners and 12 Hour Shifts
Being a farming-shop operator in a third world country, you can best accomplish that by having every character played by its pair of partners, each of whom takes a 12-hour shift.
Part-Timers and Stand-ins
There will also be part-timers to act as stand-ins for the one day off per week you give your fulltime employees, and for when the fulltimers need sick- or personal-time.
You assign your employee teams a quota in terms of the amount of gold they must accrue and turn in to you every 24 hours.
Because each employee plays only for a 12-hour stretch, these 24-hour quotas are broken down into two 12-hour quotas, one for each shift.
Actually, it’s quite common for bosses to stay on top of their employees’ activities and make sure they’re not goofing off by halving the quota once again and imposing collections on the workers every six hours.
Quota Amounts Vary
The quotas I’m currently aware of on my server vary, depending upon the boss and the experience of the employee, from 400 to 800 gold every 24 hours (or 200-400 every shift, or 100-200 gold every six hours). You can see why those farmers really have to hustle. Most of us feel hard-pressed having to earn just 50 gold in a single playing session.
WoW is a game in which, unfortunately, crafters generally don’t earn their due, and serious cash flow results from hunting, hunting, hunting—and only in the most productive spots.
You Are the Farmer
Until now, I’ve asked you to assume the point of view of the entrepreneur who puts it all together. Now I’d like you to put yourself in the place of one of his or her employees.
Farmers May or May Not Have Previous MMORPG Experience
For reasons I described above, you may be able to get true MMORPG diehards with talent and experience to work for you. You may also hire people who’ve never had their fingers on a mouse or keyboard before, let alone played an online game.
These inexperienced farmers are trained to work in one spot, say in Tyr’s Hand, killing the same Scarlet Brotherhood mobs repeatedly for twelve hours at a stretch. They remind me somewhat of the lost souls you see in casinos incessantly shaking hands with the one-armed bandits, except that in this case, the odds favor the player, and the player is on someone’s payroll.
This latter group of farmers is taught to recognize mages, and memorize just enough English to ask them for conjured food and/or drink now and then. They also learn how to transport themselves between their hunting spot and Ironforge, and the essential English vocabulary for hawking their goods on the trade channel. To this group, the World of Warcraft consists of their one little corner of the world and IF. Beyond that, they may know nothing of the game.
Whether experienced or not, after the break-in period both kinds of employee end up facing pretty much the same daily grind, and the facts outlined here apply equally to both types of worker. I think it will be somewhat more interesting, though, if we approach this section from the viewpoint of an experienced MMORPG player rather than that of a newbie employee.
Your Dream Job?
You’ve always loved computer games. You may or may not have been lucky enough to get to play the very best ones (and on computers powerful enough to do them justice); but now you’re being offered your dream job. You can play one of the very best MMORPG’s for all of your waking hours, on a decent computer system, and with a good Internet connection; and not only is it all provided to you at no expense, but someone will actually pay you to do it!
Honeymoons Don’t Last Forever
Soon enough, you realize that this may not be your dream life. Perhaps it really is a sweatshop, a total grind, or maybe it’s just too much like an ordinary job. In either case, it’s not the ideal get-paid-for-playing situation you’d anticipated. You don’t get to do your own thing at all. There may be a honeymoon period during which even this is exciting, but soon enough the initial thrill wears off and you find yourself spending the last half of your shift desperately trying to stay awake and worrying about whether you’ll meet your quota. And those are not your worst problem.
Trouble in Paradise
Is Your Character Yours?
Suppose you play a character named Konan for your boss. He may have had you run the character up from a noob to level 60 on your own, or she may have turned it over to you as a ready made level uber character. In either event, you’ve been playing this role day in and day out for longer than you care to remember, and even though you’re forced to follow someone else’s agenda, you’ve come to identify with the character, to think of it as your own.
Oops! I Have a Partner!
Now I ask you to consider the implications of sharing such an alter ego with a partner who is in complete control during your time off. This partner may be a trusted relative or friend, but most often it’s a stranger assigned by your boss.
Partners Generally Aren’t Trusted
In my experience, most farmers are not on the best of terms with their partners; they don’t trust them.
More Than Half the Time, You’re Not in Control
Even if you are on good terms with your partner, there will be stand-ins playing the character during your time off and during your partner’s time off. So the reality is: other people, often untrustworthy, will be in control of your character for more than 50% of the time.
A Brief Digression—It Will Tie in
I’ll point out some of the interesting ramifications of this situation shortly, but first I need to explore some of the tricks that you, the farmer, may use to ensure that you meet your periodic quotas and still get something extra (beyond your salary) out of it for yourself. This little self-granted bonus may simply be some quality time to play and enjoy the game the way you really want to play it, some hidden income that your boss doesn’t know about, or both.
Meeting Your Quota—and Then Some
Rare or Epic Items Are not Good Enough
The demand your boss makes on you is that you provide her with a certain amount of gold every day—gold, not items. That’s because the boss can sell the gold quickly for a predictable price.
However, most of the wealth you acquire in your 12 hours of play will be in the form of a very small number, typically 1-3, rare or epic items.
Can You Use the AH to Convert Your Farmed Items to Gold?
An ordinary player wanting to convert valuable items into gold might put them into the AH, but that’s not really S.O.P. for you, the farmer.
Your Quota Is Due Today, Not Tomorrow
For one thing, you have to give your boss the gold today, not tomorrow.
You Can’t Count on Using Yesterday’s Proceeds Today
You may be thinking that if you ran auctions every day, you’d always be paying your boss today with the proceeds of the previous day’s hunt; but there are a couple of reasons why that doesn’t work.
AH Sales Are Unreliable
The most obvious drawback with relying on yesterday’s auctions to meet today’s quota is that items don’t always sell on their first trip to the AH, even if they’re very desirable and are offered at a bargain price.
But Wait, There’s More!
But there’s another reason that you may have overlooked if I haven’t succeeded in immersing you in the farmer’s daily predicament:
More Trouble with Partners (End of Digression)
Long Auctions Make it Easy for Your Partner to Rip You Off
You have to receive and turn in the gold, not your “partner.” Short term auctions have a small chance of selling compared to full length ones; but the proceeds of 24-hour auctions are quite likely to fall into the hands of your partner rather than you. Then your partner can simply turn in your earnings as if they were his own.
Can You Beat This by Not Posting a Buy Out?
You might think you could ensure that auctions won’t close until you are back on shift by not posting a buyout price. That would mean a 24 our auction would run the full 24-hours, right?
That’s Bad Marketing, And
Not only are no-buy-out auctions bad marketing, but your partner can simply cancel your auctions altogether, retrieve the items from the mailbox, and do what she wants with them. You’ll lose both the item and the posting fee.
Yes, Partners Really Do Steal from Each Other
This situation of mutual distrust and outright theft between partners can be so extreme that one partner will actually sell the equipment off the character to meet his own needs, and leave it up to the other player to replace the missing items.
The night-time player of one farming character I know is always complaining to me about having to get by with 14-slot bags because her partner keeps selling off the 16-slot ones.
In light of the foregoing, you, farmer Konan, will avoid auctions and instead sell directly to individuals.
Hawk Your Wares!
You do this by actively hawking most of your merchandise on the trade channel in IF (the best selling-venue aside from the AH itself), starting about half an hour before your quota is due.
That Something Extra
So you work in a farming-shop: your boss makes quota demands of you that you, realistically or not, consider unreasonable. He sticks you with a partner who steals from you and makes it all but impossible for you to do your job. You (like every other working person I know) consider yourself to be underpaid. So in view of all this, you don’t mind going behind the boss’ back to get a little something extra for yourself. How do you do it?
Squirrel It Away
Exceeding Your Quota
If You Occasionally Exceed Your Quota
Rule one, and in fact, basically the only rule, is: if on any given day you exceed your quota, squirrel the excess away so you can apply it toward any shortfalls on less bountiful shifts.
If You regularly Exceed Your Quota
Hoard, (Not Horde)
If you regularly exceed your quota, you will find you have a growing “bank account” which you can turn to your advantage in various ways.
Why You Need a Tax Shelter
Your Boss Wants It All—and Thinks He’s Entitled
Creating a private cache, however, isn’t as easy as it may sound at first. For one thing, your boss will expect you to turn in all of the gold you accrue while playing her character on her WoW account on her computer using her Internet connection while she is paying your salary.
When the Cat’s Away
Sees All Know All—Not!
Your boss is not watching over your shoulder every minute. In fact in many situations, the boss is not physically present most of the time. So for a while you might get away with creating a mule and hiding any excess gold and items on it.
You Can’t Hide in Plain Sight Forever
Boss Plays Catch-Up
Unfortunately, eventually you will get caught by your boss who, after all, has full access to the account and who is not totally stupid.
Partner Who Snoops
Even if your boss doesn’t catch on, your partner will probably notice and explore any “extra” characters on the account, and soon your nest egg will be gone.
A Friend in Need
Please Be My Banker
What seems to work best is forming in-game friendships with “ordinary” players, (i.e., non-farmers); and when you trust them enough, asking them to bank gold and items for you. I and other farmer-friendly players I know have been approached by farmers with this in mind.
Can You Get Me Cash for This?
I’ve even been asked by some farmers to sell their gold and/or items on IGE or eBay and, after taking a cut for my trouble, PayPal the proceeds to them. (Though I dislike saying no to a friend, I’ve always refused.)
If You’ve Chosen a Trustworthy Banker, Your Safe now, Aren’t You?
This strategy protects your savings from both your partner (and stand-in workers) and your employer. Or does it?
“You” Are Not Always “You!”
No. You need to remember that to your friend and banker, you are Konan the dwarf hunter. Konan “lent” this friend the gold, and when Konan asks for it back, your good buddy will return it without hesitation. Except at that point Konan might be your partner, a stand-in, or even the boss.
For that reason, you take care to ensure that your friend understands your situation and you work out some James Bond-like password exchange so that your banker can be certain it’s really you behind the face.
Does Your Banker Embezzle?
Speaking for a moment directly to the reader as the reader (and not to someone imagining themselves to be a boss or farmer):
It may have occurred to you that you can gain the trust of farmers and then steal their cash reserves by not returning what they put on deposit with you. After all, 1) you probably dislike farmers anyway; 2) this is money that the farmers have basically stolen from their bosses; and 3) what are they going to do, report you to a GM? Probably not, since as farmers they’re more vulnerable to being ratted out than you are.
A Personal Plea
I’d like to request of you: please don’t do this!
It’s true that the farmers you swindle might have a tenuous claim to the embezzled gold, but the boss, too, is violating Blizzard’s ToS and has no greater claim. These farmers worked very hard to accumulate this gold and still turned over their daily quota to the boss.
I would hate to be the one who propagated information that would facilitate such a cruel act of deception. I feel bad enough that a bit later in this article, I will suggest ways that you can exploit a farmers’ desperation to your own advantage—but at least the methods I describe will be free of deceit.
Getting the Most from Your Hoard
Talking to you as Konan the Hunter once again, what can you do with your nest egg once you have one? As I’ve suggested, some farmers will be enterprising enough to try to turn it into real world cash behind their boss’ back. But most use it to meet shortfalls and to occasionally give themselves a good time. By that I mean that if you have enough gold set aside to meet a whole shift’s quota, or at least a 6-hour quota, you can take several hours for yourself and do an instance, play PvP, or enjoy whatever it is that you really love about the game.
How All This Can Benefit You, the “Ordinary (Non-Farming) Player
Ok, you are now you again. You are no longer Konan. Now can you turn our knowledge of the professional farmer’s lifestyle to your advantage?
Do as They Do
Put Farmers on the List!
One way to profit by all of this is quite obvious and has probably already occurred to you. You already know how to spot a farmer. If you add them to your friends list, you can check up on their whereabouts anytime you like.
Glom Entire Guilds
Also, if you /who them, you can find out what guilds they belong to. Then /who’ing their guild names will reveal the names of many other farmers, due to the fact that farmers mostly join farmer-only guilds. This is because members of other guilds will tend to disapprove of farmers and to not to speak their language, be it Chinese or Indonesian. In fact, typically, farmers will belong to guilds all of whose members are employees of the same farming operation.
To Spy or Ask Politely?
So now you have the names of many farmers in your friends list. You can look up their whereabouts, go to whatever zone they’re in, and checkout what they’re doing (or if you can communicate with them, they might just tell you what they’re farming if you politely ask them.)
Is There an Easier Way?
Since farmers work only the areas proven most profitable, you now have a nice list of hunting grounds for your own pursuit of gold. But actually, there’s another way to profit by your knowledge of professional farming patterns that doesn’t require you to fill your friends list with the names of people you who aren’t actually interested in chatting with and to scope out what these relative strangers are doing. All you really need is some information about shift changes.
6/12 Server Time
The U.S. WoW servers are set to Pacific Time. Though Jakarta’s time zone is 14 hours ahead of this, all the Indonesian farmers (as far as I know) change shifts at 6 AM and PM Server Time. This is also true of most Chinese farmers.
Some Chinese Farmers Are a Bit Early
A minority of Chinese farmers change shifts 1.5 hours earlier than that; i.e., 4:30 Server Time, both AM and PM.
If there are half time quotas imposed on farmers, they will be due at noon and midnight Server Time for most farmers, and at 10:30 AM and PM for a minority of the Chinese.
Sell Off Times
Farmers usually start spamming the AH with their sales about half an hour before their quotas are due.
If a farmer has had trouble moving product and is behind quota, he can sometimes prevail on his partner to let him stay on the account for a few extra minutes so that he can continue to push his goods. I’ve seen this “grace” period stretch to half an hour, but only for farmers whom I know to be on particularly good terms with their partners.
So to summarize, there are major daily sell offs on the IF Trade Channel at around 5:30-6:30 AM and PM, and Minor sell offs from 11:30-12:30 AM and PM, and at 10-11, and 4-5. Most of the items are sold during the 1 st half hour of the period, but the closer to the “close of business” it gets, the more desperate the sellers become.
Where You Come In
What Farmers Want and What Farmers Need
Though a farmer would like to get as much gold as possible for her items so she can increase her cache, she has to collect at least enough to satisfy her quota.
Catch the Blowout
You will see a pattern starting at around 5:30 AM and PM every day. Characters will start hawking items on the IF market channel at around 11:30. The prices will probably be competitive but not lowball.
It Doesn’t Hurt to Let the Farmer Know that You’re Interested in Her Item Early on
If a price isn’t stated in the spam, you can send a whisper and ask for it. As time passes and the bewitching hour nears, the prices of any unsold items will drop drastically. The fire sale has started and true bargains are to be had. Whisper enquiries to the same farmers you’ve queried 20 minutes before and you’ll find that they’re now asking a lot less. Make an even lower counter offer and don’t be surprised if it’s accepted.
If you make a lowball offer on one of these sell-off items at about 10 minutes before the hour and it’s rejected, don’t be surprised if at a minute or two before 6:00, the seller gets back to you and, to the best of their non-English-speaking ability, asks you if you’re still interested in their item. (That’s why it can be a good idea to send the farmer a message or two earlier in the session. You want your name to spring readily to mind when their desperation hits the critical mark.) They may still try to get a higher price out of you but if you stick to your guns for a minute or so of bargaining, you’ll probably get the item at the price you named.
Of course, farmers who stay on past the ends of their shifts, while their boss and/or partner breathe impatiently down there necks, are even more amenable to agreeing to ridiculously under-market offers; so keep looking for bargains after 6:00 as well.
A Single Example (Though I Could Provide Many)
I’m not saying that at sellout time, farmers will settle for pennies on the dollar (sorry, I mean copper on the gold), but they will sell an item at a price that will let you make a nifty profit from a quick resale. For example, I’ve purchased Krol Blades from farmers who were very well aware of their true market value for 600 gold and then resold them in the AH with my auction being bought out at 950 in less than 12 hours. I’d say that earning 350 gold overnight compares well with most of the techniques you’ll find in forums on gold farming.
(By the way, a humorous sidelight of my first such Krol transaction is that the Blade was the first item I ever listed in the AH at anywhere near the thousand-gold range. As soon as that item was in the AH, I started getting whispers from strangers—in Chinese! I know this seems to belie my earlier contention that not all commercial farming takes place in China, but I still stand by that assertion. Apparently though, Chinese farmers themselves are under this same misapprehension since they seem to take it for granted that anyone auctioning such a high ticket item had to be one of their own.)
The preceding section (which describes ways that you can profit from the activities of professional farmers) was pretty much the climax of this composition. By way of winding down, however, I’d like to 1) return to the impact of professional gold farming on the economy of Azeroth, and 2) answer one more question that may be on the minds of some readers, and finally 3) give you a little something extra to take away with you.
Farmers and the Economy
As I stated earlier, there is a general belief that professional farmers increase in-game inflation. I hope you can now see that the opposite is true. By selling copious goods at low prices, farmers tend to reduce inflation by keeping prices down.
I’ve heard one person argue that farmers nonetheless contribute to inflation by taking gold out of the game and turning it over to businesses like IGE. I don’t understand that reasoning. First of all, inflation is usually identified with an increase in the money supply, not a decrease. Secondly, the money thus removed from the game soon reenters it as companies like IGE, rather than hoarding it, sell back to players as quickly as possible. Thus the net effect on the money supply would be close to zero.
For my penultimate number, I’ll answer the question: Do Professional Gold farmers use exploits (like Warp and Teleport)? The answer is: I’ve never met one who does. Most of them don’t even use ordinary AddOns, or use just a few simple ones to assist with pet management and the like.
There is, however, one minor exploit (call it an exploitlet) that I have seen farmers use. There’s trick that’s been documented on more than one forum that allows you to tune into channels that are out of your normal “viewing area.” For instance, you can monitor and participate in the IF Trade Channel either by entering (without the quotes): “/join trade – Ironforge” into the chat line (note the mandatory space before and after the hyphen), or by entering “trade – Ironforge” in the Join New Channel section of the chat window’s context menu system—and some farmers I know do exactly that. There is now also an AddOn available called ChannelManager.