Virtual online currencies and digital work are helping to fuel growth and provide real income opportunities to poor and unskilled workers in developing countries, according to a World Bank study.
The study, Knowledge Map of the Virtual Economy, finds that more than 100,000 people in countries such as China and India earn a living by performing 'micro-tasks' in the virtual economy.
Jobs include categorising products in online shops, moderating content posted to social media sites, or even playing online games on behalf of wealthier players who are too busy to tend to their characters themselves.
About a quarter of all players of massively multiplayer online games spend real money on virtual items. The report suggests that Western players who have limited time for gaming are increasingly buying game cash, gear and high level characters from people in China and Vietnam that are paid to play as a job.
A typical $100 transaction in game gold would be split between a large retailer ($30), a smaller farmer ($45) and the individual ($23) who had gathered the gold.
The study estimates that the market for such gaming-for-hire services was worth $3 billion in 2009, and it suggests that with suitable mobile technologies even the least-developed countries could benefit from this emerging virtual economy.
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