China has unveiled the first official rule on the use of virtual currency in the trade of real goods and services to limit possible impact on the real financial system. The Chinese government also spelled out the definition of "virtual currency" for the first time, which includes prepaid cards of cybergames, according to a joint announcement from the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Commerce Friday. It said:
The virtual currency, which is converted into real money at a certain exchange rate, will only be allowed to trade in virtual goods and services provided by its issuer, not real goods and services.
The ban is primarily aimed at "gold farming," an Internet-age phenomenon in which players in less developed countries collect and sell virtual gold (common to games like World of Warcraft) to wealthier gamers in the developed world. This enables gamers who have the means to buy virtual gold to get ahead in the games without actually having to accomplish the grunt work.
The trading of virtual currency for real cash generates between $200 million and $1 billion annually, according to a 2008 survey conducted by Richard Heeks at the University of Manchester.
The average user will only partially care about this ban. They might be disappointed that they can't buy their way to higher status, but I assume that Tencent and other popular sites will figure out a way to do in-game trades and that eventually the farmers will figure out how to bypass the restrictions.
The ban may scare off smaller shops, but the sophisticated organizations will continue on the same path. It reminds me of Japanese pachinko parlors where you can only win tokens (wink, wink) that you take next door for actual cash.
While I'm not convinced that gold farming is good or bad, there is a very persuasive argument that it's driving economic development in China, and that anything that perpetuates economic stimulus is a good thing.
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