WARNING! The following may make it look like I'm prejudiced against Chinese people. This is not the case. I am, however, fed up with a very small sector of Chinese people, described below, and I'd be fed up with them regardless of their ethnicity or nationality. (i.e., if most gold farmers were, say, Azerbaijani, I'd be prattling on about how nefarious Azerbaijani farmers are. However, most farmers seem to be ethnic Chinese.)
Gold farmers are the scourge of just about every MMORPG that has ever achieved the slighest modicum of commercial success. The first gold farmers appeared in
the first popular MMORPG, Ultima Online, in 1997, and they persist to this day, always growing in number. Sometimes they're known as "Chinese farmers" or "MMORPG farmers," though "gold farmer" seems to be the most widely-used term.
A gold farmer is exactly what it sounds like; someone who plays MMORPGs not for fun, but for monetary gain. The typical gold farmer will camp out in any number of areas of the game where mobs (that is, killable monsters/enemies; original term dates back to MUDs, where "moving object" abbreviated to "mob") are likely to drop rare items that can be resold for a lot of in-game cash, or around mobs that are known to drop a lot of the cash itself. The gold they make in-game is then resold through their own websites or on eBay for real-world money. Any MMORPG worth its salt has a clause in its terms of service that forbids this practice, however it continues unchecked in most cases because the companies behind the online worlds can't keep up with the turnover rate of the average farming firms. Yes, firms. Most farming is undertaken by actual companies, 99% of them in Asia (China and South Korea share the monopoly on gold farming), where some enterprising individual gets ahold of a shipping carton full of retail copies of the games meant for American, Canadian, and European markets. Because most gaming companies refuse to restrict access based on the player's IP address, players (or employees, in this case) can install and use games not meant for their region to connect to game servers in America, Canada, and/or Europe. Most region restricting is done by the copy of the game the player is playing; i.e., if she's playing the Chinese version of the game, she'll be restricted to game servers operating in China only.
When I inquired about the region restriction policies that Blizzard (the makers of World of Warcraft) uses, I received this reply:
Quality and customer service are the highest priorities for Blizzard Entertainment. Because we cannot guarantee a positive gaming experience for users connecting to servers outside their supported region, we are not initially permitting users to connect to regions other than their home region.
In other words, players in one region of the world will not be able to play on alternate regions at this time. This is something that we will continue to investigate as a possibility for the future.
Please also keep in mind that you will not be able to access your account if you are using a different regional game version (other then your home regions version). For example, you will be unable to connect to the North American realms if using a Chinese, Korean, European, or Taiwanese version of the game.
The wild and crazy guy that managed to procure the non-Chinese/non-Korean versions of the games then employs local people, whether or not they speak the game's operating language, to sit in front of computers for 12-hour shifts six days a week for about $75 USD per week and plug away at the game, at first leveling up their character(s) to the maximum level and then camping out in all the game's lucrative spots to farm (hence the term) for gold, to be sold outside the game, and items that will sell to other players in-game, via auction houses and the like.
Given that most Asian gold farmers can't speak a lick of English, communicating with them is difficult and is best left forsworn. Usually they're easy to spot because of their character's name, which seems to almost always be romanized Asian-language words/names (i.e., "Xiaoying," "Feixing," "Piaoxue" etc), or made up of randomly-chosen letters ("Hfm," "Lkjqky," "Yhr" etc). Another tell-tale sign of a gold farmer is the amount they're selling rare items for, usually several orders of magnitude greater than what whatever they're selling will usually go for. Other tell-tale signs of farmer characters include maximum-level characters that aren't in guilds (or are in guilds only with other farmers), and characters that never participate in PvP or duels. Farmers rarely complete quests; almost all of their XP/leveling comes from grinding (viz., killing mobs all day long with no specific purpose other than to advance). Farmers typically create alternate characters to act as "bankers"; these characters remain at level 1 for their entire lifespan, and exist solely to deal with selling the farmer's items. If you see a level 1 character selling a level 50 item, chances are it's a farmer's bank character.
Also, sometimes it is impossible to avoid recruiting one or more farmers for 10- or 15-man raids due to lack of appropriately leveled characters or low server population. As expected, farmers invariably cock up such raids; if master looter isn't used, they have a tendency to ninja-loot, and they abjectly refuse to follow instructions or they can't understand them, which normally leads to the entire party's death. The vocabulary of farmers in raiding groups, as far as I've experienced, is limited to "lol," "sry" and "ok," not counting Chinese phrases which only they or their ilk can understand. If you've seen the Leeroy Jenkins machinima, you've seen Leeroy charge head-first and alone into the Rookery in Upper Blackrock Spire while the rest of his party is deciding what to do. This is classic farmer behavior, although in Leeroy's case, he was just doing it either for his own amusement or his party's dismay. Actual farmers don't seem to distinguish between the two.
A sampling of average gold farmer websites, where you can buy in-game gold and items for real money (though why you would want to is a good question):
... you acknowledge and agree that you shall have no ownership or other property interest in the Account, and you further acknowledge and agree that all rights in and to the Account are and shall forever be owned by Blizzard
... Blizzard Entertainment does not recognize any property claims outside of World of Warcraft or the purported sale, gift or trade in the "real world" of anything related to World of Warcraft. Accordingly, you may not sell items for "real" money or exchange items outside of World of Warcraft.
Despite these caveats, farming rolls on unabated, doing exactly what the ToU forbids, possibly due to the difficulty of suing a corporate entity based in a foreign country (especially communist China).
Most MMORPGs depend upon the player populace to help police their game servers, so the best thing you can do if you suspect someone on your server of farming is to report them to the appropriate people (the game's technical support, game masters, etc.) and hope for the best (i.e., the farmer's account is revoked). Beyond that, the only option is to ignore them, much like most people do with email spammers. Farmers and spammers are undoubtedly bred from the same gene pool, so ignoring them in-game shouldn't be too much of a stretch, especially if your chosen MMORPG offers an ignore list.
Of paramount importance is to avoid, no matter how much you want whatever the farmer is selling, buying from farmers, or buying in-game gold for real money, which is cheating anyway and is a great way to get your own account revoked. You can, with some effort, amass your own gold stockpile and find all those rare items you see farmers selling by yourself; it just takes time and patience. Persevere. Don't give in. Your fellow players and the game's designers will thank you for it.
IGN: Blizzard Cracks Down on "Gold Farming": http://pc.ign.com/articles/595/595918p1.html
IHT: Boring game? Hire a player: http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/12/08/business/gaming.php
And of course, the inimitable Leeroy Jenkins.
Also, I have to recommend this site, which gives you a few romanized Chinese curses, so you can hurl them at farmers who message you asking "ni hao u want buy gold??????" and the like. I recommend "hun dan" and "cao ni zu zong shi ba dai," personally.