Our friends at Manchester University have published another study looking at developing nations where the poor earn money by gold farming or powerlevelling in MMOs. The estimate is half a million people do the work for pay, a supermajority of them in China. Of the online toilers, 400,000 are involved in gold farming, the rest powerlevelling and other services.
The study's author admits that precise estimates are not possible because of the underground nature of the activity. But it's at least a $US 500 million global industry as of now, with organised crime snaking its tendrils into the business.
The growth is entirely predictable and not really a new phenomenon, when you think about it. "When you get people with more money than time and time than money the two will find a way to meet", said Stephen Davis, of game security firm Secure Play. Quoted for truth.