A new industry is being created by video gamers which involves paying often hundreds of pounds for highly trained in-game characters.
Online game World of Warcraft is at the forefront of the phenomenon, with enough players willing to pay as much as £300 for a character to make a sustainable industry for dedicated sellers.
Michelle Bancroft, a Californian player who sells characters as a hobby, has sold four in the past year. She said: “That’s $1,675 I made from playing a video game. It’s approximately 3 to 4 months’ hobby time.
“A character in this game is a status. It’s a struggle for fame and recognition, and that’d otherwise be impossible for these people to achieve, so they take the shortcut way and play this game seriously.”
Another gamer, Christopher Brady of Glasgow, disagrees about the value of spending time selling the characters.
He said: “Really you’re just getting back what you’ve paid in fees for levelling those characters. And it’s repetitive. It’s nothing to do with being good, it’s addictive. It is impossible to be bad at Warcraft after you’ve played it for a few hours.”
Mrs Bancroft disagreed, saying: “For me, a hobby is supposed to be a sink-hole – you don’t make money off it, you spend a lot of money on it – so for me I am just glad I can turn $50 into $500 through a hobby I do when I’m not doing anything else.”
For some, however, training characters in this way is a far more serious business. In a number of developing countries, so-called ‘Warcraft sweatshops’ are beginning to appear. A recent investigation by the University of Manchester has revealed the growing extent of the industry.
Professor Richard Heeks said: “Workers in Asia undertake long shifts and earn about £75 per month.
“However, the image of the ‘virtual sweatshop’ seems inappropriate. Most workers are young men who would otherwise be unemployed, and they report to enjoying their work.
“This represents an intriguing new way in which the internet is helping to create jobs and incomes in developing countries; one that is likely to grow over time.”