An analysis by a World Bank initiative recommends that gold farming - you read that right - is a substantial growth opportunity for developing nations' economies, and that NGOs - bureaucrat speak for do-gooder agencies - begin connecting the rural poor in these nations to gold farming enterprises under a fair-trade modelling.
That shit-you-not-proposition is not the only interesting thing about infoDev's report on virtual economies. Ars Technica, which first noticed the report among the gaming press, notes that it contains a ton of original research, interviews of informants, and an analysis that counteracts a lot of conventional wisdom of what the gold farming market looks like and how it functions.
The fair-trade model proposed by infoDev postulates a system where, say, a gamer places an order for $US100 worth of in-game gold. Going down the chain, PayPal takes its $US2 transaction fee; a large company in China gets $US30, a gold-farming studio contracted to that company gets $US45 (wages excluded), resulting in $US23 back to the individual worker. "Gold farming" in this case would cover gold buys as well as power-leveling, though gold was the example used in the fair-trade model.
For those conversant in economics, Ars Technica's breakdown of the report provides a solid gaming context to what the think tank has uncovered. The report itself is available here. For the lay readership, while the report confirms the stereotype of the Chinese gold farmer supplying the Western gamer with commodities he's too lazy to acquire, the report seems to suggest this is as much an opportunity for NGOs as actual farming programs and, appropriately managed, less exploitive. But it leaves open an obvious question:
What would Blizzard have to say about this?