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China prisons used for MMO gold-farming

Convicts forced to play all night.

Chinese prisons have been using convicts to make money from MMO gold-farming, according to one former inmate.

As detailed in a Guardian report, political prisoner Liu Dali claims he was forced to play games all night while held at the Jixi labour camp to build up in-game credits that could then be sold on for profit.

"Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour," explained Liu.

"There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5000-6000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off."

Sound like a cushy way to do your time? Well, Liu explained that the gaming was in addition to a full day's work chiseling chopsticks and constructing car seat covers. Not only that, but penalties were harsh for not meeting the daily gold quota.

"If I couldn't complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things," he said.

According to figures from the China Internet Centre, the trade in in-game currency was worth £1.2 billion in China in 2008. It's though that 80 per cent of all the world's gold farmers are based in the country, with estimates placing the number of full-time gold farmers there at 100,000.

The Chinese government recently outlawed unlicensed traders, but Liu believes the practice is still widespread in prisons around the country.

"Many prisons across the north-east of China also forced inmates to play games. It must still be happening," he said.

Earlier this year World of Warcraft developer Blizzard launched a crackdown on vendors attempting to sell in-game gold, asking PayPal to issue cease and desist notices to any of its clients involved in the trade.

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Fred Dutton

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Fred Dutton was Eurogamer's US news editor, based in Washington DC.

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