Sunday, December 11, 2005

Outsourcing game playing and homeworks

Daniel W. Drezner blogged about the NY Times article linked from the title above. The article is about a new kind of Chinese "factory", in which workers play online games, building up high-level characters and collecting various in-game objects for sale to other gamers.

As they grind through the games, they accumulate virtual currency that is valuable to game players around the world. The games allow players to trade currency to other players, who can then use it to buy better armor, amulets, magic spells and other accoutrements to climb to higher levels or create more powerful characters.
I like the adjective "grind" in the quote above. Remember, these are supposed to be games. If you find playing them to be a grind, then maybe you should find something else to do. If a player needs to have a high-level character to get to the fun parts of the games, then maybe the game companies need to work on their software a bit. You'd think that the games would be designed so that exploring and developing one's character would be fun, regardless of level. Then again, I guess there will always be people who confuse "winning" with "having fun". Unless you're getting paid to do it, why do you care what level your character is?

I was going to suggest that if you have enough money to burn that you spend it on paying someone else to play games for you, it would be better to give it to charity. But, then again, maybe that's what's being done: rich kids in developed countries giving their money to kids (and companies) in developing countries. And they're fostering increased interest in technology and technology-related education in those countries, too.

"It's unimaginable how big this is," says Chen Yu, 27, who employs 20 full-time gamers here in Fuzhou. "They say that in some of these popular games, 40 or 50 percent of the players are actually Chinese..."

"What we're seeing here is the emergence of virtual currencies and virtual economies," says Peter Ludlow, a longtime gamer and a professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "People are making real money here, so these games are becoming like real economies."

The game companies don't like this, I assume not because of any sense of fairness, but because in the long term it threatens their business. Who wants to play a game when half of your opponents are only in it to develop characters for sale? Then again, maybe the game companies can embrace this, and advertise the percentage of players who are "professionals" as a way to sell their games as being more competitive than others'.

How different is this than students outsourcing their homeworks? This was a subject in a recent Communications of the ACM article, but I had my own personal run-in with it a couple years ago. A colleague emailed me with the observation that he had seen someone advertising a "programming job" on the site rentacoder.com (I refuse to link to these scumbags) that exactly matched one of my programming assignments. I reciprocated by finding similar ads for assignments at other schools and emailing the faculty involved. I just browsed their site, and here's what I found:

  • Digital computer design HW C: I need to finish this project due 12 DEC 9 AM EST...
  • Technical Paper on Interoperability between distributed heterogeneous data sources and applications: You are required to write the essay of about 2500 words to discuss the basic concepts,techniques, and challenges associated with interoperability... PLEASE ALSO REMEMBER THAT THIS MUST BE AN ORIGINAL PIECE OF WORK. All work will be plagiarism checked.
  • easy java homework
  • Develop classes in BlueJ: You are required to develop a set of classes for use in an Address List Organiser such as those found in PDA devices...
To get enough information to backtrack where these projects come from, I'd have to register as a developer on the site, as a login is pretty much uniformly required to access the various details. Maybe this is a business opportunity for someone: cruising the web for students outsourcing their homeworks.

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