Gold is always at a premium in the World of Warcraft. I guess it’s sort of like the rest of life that way. Generalized reinforcer par excellence, and all. In 2005, even 100 gold could buy a tremendous amount, for the raider looking to boost their power. As much as I joke about it, even I, paragon of laziness, spent a couple hours out fishing in the oceans outside Gadgetzan, farming rare voodoo essences in Winterspring, and scraping up ghoul drool in the Plaguelands. A couple hours, for every night of full raiding. Buying gold would have been faster.
Especially for an epic mount. Every Joe Blow had his 100 gold mount. The riding tiger, or giant wolf, or flaming black shadow steed. The 1000 gold one was a bit harder. The Eternity Dragoons all had theirs, of course. They flew by me at high speed, as we all made our way to the raid entrance. I’d catch up eventually, usually to some loud sighs.
You could always buy gold from the Chinese farmers. The 2010 documentary Gold Farmers tracks hundreds of Chinese youths, starting with a shot of a whitewashed office space in Zhe Jiang Province, and eventually showing cramped, dark buildings where young men walk around shirtless, in boxer shorts. One farmer estimates 500,000 professional gamers, in China. One farm owner says, “Gradually we have developed to more than 100 computers and more than 200 workers. This is just medium size in this industry.”
The farmers talk about the scarcity of work in China. One says, “I used to work at a zipper factory… this one offers free food and bed.” He worked Warcraft from 8AM to 8PM. It was easy to ID the farmers from the comfort of a Hawaiʻian dorm room, they’d just be in the same spot, killing the same thing, for hours on end. One farmer noted, “Because this is his job and there is pressure from the boss, he has to stay there. If some other players come to that spot, then he has no choice but to fight with them.” I’d killed my share, usually only if they were hogging some specific tiger, whose mystic claw I needed for Mighty Epic Quest #73.
The gold is often bought by Americans and Europeans – typically via PayPal transactions – then delivered on burner Warcraft characters. If you’re a well-off programmer making eighty bucks an hour at your day job, maybe it makes sense to buy gold. Skip a little farming, here and there. Even though it’s strongly prohibited in the legal agreements you click “agree” on, before you can play. Even though your accounts could possibly be obliterated for the infraction.
A few months after my escapades with the Dragoons, and C’thun, a 31-year-old Manhattan woman reportedly sold her body over Craigslist, for the 5,000 Warcraft gold required to pick up one of the coveted flying mounts. By the going rate of farmed gold, on her server, it was probably three to four hundred US dollars worth.
Journalists had a lot of fun with their headlines, like, The Oldest Profession in the World Catches up with MMO Worlds, and Escort Quest. Her original Craigslist ad, much embellished by various good citizens of the internet, read, “Hello I need 5000 world of gold for my epic flying mount. In return you can mount me.”
I guess we pick and choose our grinds.