Once upon a time, on an afternoon of July 2017, I availed myself of my limited education to carry out a simple 3rd grade math amidst the intense period of turmoil, protests, tear gas, and Bolivarian repression to check if we had crossed an absurd threshold of no return that for all intents and purposes, was inconsequential to the country and the dire state of it all.
The whole “WoW gold is worth more than the Bolivar” was not just a funny meme, it was, for a time, my main source of income. The still ongoing hyperinflation spiral that Venezuela fell into, the meager wages of regular jobs, and my lackluster education (for which I blame no one but myself) meant that my income options were extremely limited amidst the collapse of Venezuela. In addition to that, my mother was undergoing an unfair fight against a liver Leiomyosarcoma that ultimately took her life — exceptional circumstances that demanded exceptional ‘think outside of the box’ solutions.
Let’s put some things in perspective: the year was 2017, my mother’s chemotherapy treatments, while relatively cheaper compared to other countries, were not without its increasing costs due to hyperinflation, the country continued its collapse, and money was hard to come by. We already had sold what few old jewelry she had, including her old doctor’s ring (for which she playfully jested, “if I don’t make it through this then I won’t be needing it” the day she decided to sell it at a ‘cash for gold’ store).
It was a difficult time in our lives, and World of Warcraft had been my sole escapism, before, during, and briefly after those days — call me a loser if you must, but a social outcast that never quite fit anywhere and found refugee in video games is something I am and have always been.
While my fellow countrymen have become known for their Runescape gold farming ventures, I, always being at the fringes of Venezuelan culture and never being truly part of it, went my way with something else: World of Warcraft gold. As with many major events in my life, it was an entirely accidental thing, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time, the rest just flowed on its own.
Numerous have been my adventures throughout World of Warcraft, having played it on and off for almost twelve years, when it comes to the subject at hand, I’d like to focus on five chapters of my WoW story.
So, buckle up, and get ready for a tale of one fat Venezuelan autist and WoW gold amidst the collapse of its nation.
Disclaimer: It goes without saying that many (if not all) of the things I will mention here are outdated or no longer applicable to the game, some of the antics of times past were borderline gray areas within the game’s ToS, so I will neither condone or condemn them. Don’t try this at home, etcetera.
The precursor antics
If I’m to tell the tale of farming that climaxed with the tweet I made on the 14th of July of 2017 then I must start with the first page of this long adventure: November of 2014 and the release of the Warlords of Draenor expansion, where the circumstances of the time led to some initial ideas that would lay dormant for months.
I had no money for the expansion, no way to purchase it either due to the still ongoing currency controls that were originally implemented in Venezuela in 2003. A friend hooked me with a WoD upgrade key (a favor I still need to repay and will do so as soon as I’m out of this country, even if we haven’t spoken in a while).
Two months of gametime was all I could afford at the time, purchased through a famous Latinamerican marketplace website — mind you, WoW Tokens did not exist at the time. I had no intentions to play WoW to make money, I simply wanted to play the next chapter of a beloved game of mine — to continue my heroic adventures through this virtual heroin of mine.
December of 2014 came and went, and 2015 was upon us, I was approaching the end of my two-month gametime. It was not uncommon to exchange gold for a gametime cd key, so it was time for some “WTB gametime” posts through the server’s trade chat channel.
The risk of getting scammed was ever so present (Blizzard will not provide support for this as this is not really legal within their Terms of Service), but if I ran out of gametime and I wasn’t able to keep playing then I had nothing to lose, right?
45,000 gold for a $15 30-day card, I thankfully didn’t get scammed that time, and the escapism continued. That gray area transaction got me thinking about the value of WoW gold versus the US Dollar, and weighted down against the Bolivar, a currency that had started its slow and agonizing death.
While I never really saved the corresponding exchange rates and maths of those days, WoW gold was still nowhere near at a 1:1 parity with the Bolivar, but it seemed as a viable sideventure, if only to purchase some video games through, say, Steam, and whatnot — a hobby that funded other facets of my hobby (video games) sorta deal. I actually got a game or two back then through these sort of trades.
“Hey, you can actually make money like this,” were words I conveyed to a relative, who eventually dismissed the notion.
Anyways, things hadn’t taken a nosedive into chaos in my life, and I did not pursue this any further. While the prospect of being able to get stuff from Steam without access to foreign currency or a working banking instrument (credit/debit card) seemed enticing, I didn’t get serious about farming gold back then.
I stopped playing when those above-mentioned 30 days ended. During the time I wasn’t playing WoW, Blizzard implemented the WoW Token feature, a way for them to cut through the illegal real money trading of gold by providing a legitimate exchange pathway between real money and the game’s gold. Initially, the tokens were only redeemable for game time (30 days per token), and their initial price hovered around 28-32,000 gold.
Unfortunately, I was short by a few thousand, regardless, I had more important stuff going around my life: some deep family drama, my mother’s health issues that led to her cancer diagnosis, and my desperate need for mental relief and my still ongoing desire to find my place in all of this after having fucked up at life so hard during my early 20s, which led to me finally getting serious about a certain dream of mine, laying the foundational stones of what is now Sword of the Nation.
Let’s fast forward to November of 2015: My mom was halfway through her first chemo cycle, one of my aunts had passed away days ago. I was still learning how to drive to take my mom to her chemo using her vehicle (yeah, a grown up man that never learned how to drive as a teenager because we never had a vehicle back then).
Venezuela continued its slow but painful decline, shortages, lines, rations, you know the drill. We had slowly adapted to this bleak reality of a collapsing country and cancer, and while we had our hopes high, I wasn’t in the best state of mind, both physically and mentally. Another old friend gave me one month as a Christmas gift, and that set the stage to my return to WoW. I hope he’s doing great right now, I don’t have a way to contact him anymore, and he stopped using his old accounts.
I had one goal in mind with the WoW token framework: achieve self-sustainability. I already knew some ways to make money, and the price of a token was not as high back then. Self-sufficiency was easily doable with minimal weekly effort during those days, it only required a few easy weekly chores that you had to do to keep playing the game for “free”.
Indeed, Warlords of Draenor was a time where you could easily make money without investing much time playing the game. 2016 was upon us, and my escapism was secured. While life here continued to become much more complex as the weeks went by, it was some peak comfy times in WoW.
The Ukrainian affair
When it comes to making gold and/or farming materials, nothing can beat a machine. Simply put, there is no way, no scenario, no absolute reality where the human labor of one player can compete with bots. With that in mind, there is one thing a mindless bot cannot replicate, and that’s human skill.
A bot can farm materials for you overnight, scan the auction house, snipe, scalp, and resell items, but it can’t carry you through a raid, and that’s where most people make their money in this game (and every other game of its kind for that matter).
At the behest of a cousin, I was hooked with a group of Ukrainians who engaged in the sale of carries to other less skilled players willing to buy their way to gear. As they were a limited group, they needed bodies to fill up a 30-man Heroic raid, that’s where I (and others) came in every night with our different characters.
You were being paid in gold for two things:
1) Approximately three hours of your time: A full heroic clear of Hellfire Citadel would take two and a half, maybe three hours, depending on the group composition.
2) Your DPS/Heal: Bring the big numbers and your skills to make the run as smooth and as efficient as possible:
3) Your ‘unsaved’ loot lockout: The more ‘unsaved’ (characters that hadn’t yet been locked out of loot for the week) the more loot dropped for the people buying the carry runs.
I don’t know the exact details of how much they were making per night, but it’s safe to say that it was anywhere between $100 and $400 depending on the amount of buyers, which I assume they split among themselves.
Now, let’s be honest here, even the top guilds in the world have partaken in this practice in some way or another, they just do it through more permissible methods, such as charging for gold.
My young self engaged in similar activities back in 2008’s Burning Crusade. Zul’Aman timed runs were my specialty (Prot paladins ‘ftw’, if I can borrow some lexicon of the era), except that back in 2008 we didn’t do it for monetary gain, but rather, to be able to keep up with our increasingly obscene Sunwell Plateau raid expenses, which were starting to become quite absurd. Gold DKP runs were popular during Icecrown Citadel back in 2009-2010, people bidding for items with gold, and then the people carrying would split the pot at the end of the run.
Did it become monotonous? Yes, but I was making a big bank every night, even though gold was only still redeemable for game time. Converting it to USD via video game cd keys once again became a thought, that, while doable, was limited and relied on trusting strangers, with the possibility of getting scammed ever so present. The gist was to get cd keys of games using WoW gold, which I would then resell for Bolivars at local websites.
As an added note, a certain website was running a screenshot contest with Legion beta keys as rewards for the winners, I submitted a screenshot of my Horde priest sitting in the throne room in Stormwind, and that was good enough to be granted a key.
I ended up selling that key for a million gold.
Because Venezuela’s collapse always gets in the way of anything here, I was faced with a few obstacles here and there, water rations right before raid carry time (luckily an eventual schedule change eliminated any conflict between these two), and most importantly, an intense period of internet throttling messed me up for a few weeks. It was during those days where I became more well versed in the palliative workarounds that one must employ here to have relative stability and latency.
Things went back to ‘normal’, and I resumed my activities, securing my Legion expansion pre order through WoW gold while at it. The last Hellfire Citadel carry run I was part of took place on Monday, July 18th, 2016, the last day before the release of WoW’s 7.0 patch that prepared the game for the impending release of Legion.
Patch 7.0 killed the carry runs for a lot of people, as changes with how loot and groups worked effectively put a stop to a practice that in all honesty, was getting out of hand. The Ukraininan group was set to resume the carry runs on the very first day of Patch 7.0 (July 19th), unaware of the changes that had occurred to loot distribution. They instantly suspended operations and went on restructuring their schemes.
And so the days of Warlords of Draenor gold farming came to an end.
Solo in Legion
I had fun during the two years that spanned Legion’s tenure, it was a great expansion for me, flawed, but it had a hopeful return to form to WoW, a shame that Blizzard learned the wrong lessons from it when developing Battle for Azeroth, though.
With the Ukraininans no longer part of my plans, and most of the people I used to play with gone, I spent most of the expansion doing my own thing. I had a lot of gold still, and I wasn’t deep into making gold during those days, although I still sold some stuff here and there through the auction house to make some quick buck.
I was taking it easy back then, enjoying the game, having fun, and relishing in my escapism time in WoW as I assisted my mom in her ongoing fight with cancer. I had a new part time job back then, so I had less time to farm and whatnot. Towards the end of 2016 there was a brief period of time where WoW gold was worth more than the Bolivar, which I made note of through a tweet, however, this did not last for long.
There was a slight bump in my ability to convert gold to bolivars, as there were less people willing to exchange gold for Steam keys and other forms of balance during those days, then along came Blizzard.
In February of 2017 blizzard added the ability to redeem WoW Tokens for Battle.net balance, a change that coincided with the announcement of Destiny 2 on PC (which was originally sold through Battle.net).
The sudden announcement caused a crash in the WoW Token market, and the price of gold plummeted drastically. I made the mistake of getting Destiny 2 using WoW gold amidst the hype — oh well. The WoW Token exchange rate stabilized after some days, but it never went back to the levels it was before February of 2017, still, it has maintained relative stability throughout the years, that’s more than what I can say about Venezuela’s currency.
This change came with it’s hardships, but it also presented opportunities, as I did not require any third party to convert gold to bnet balance, I could simply do it on my own with a few clicks. That being said, bnet balance is only good for Blizzard products on their own website, luckily there was still a demand for Overwatch in Venezuela, and I tapped into that.
Getting Overwatch keys and selling them for Bolivars became the backbone of my operation by a longshot. Additionally, WoW game time (through gifting) and other Blizzard games were part of how I’d convert gold into Bolivars.
I was no longer making money through carries, as I was a lone wolf during those days, as such, I had a weekly list of activities, some of which relied on cyclical events that came along with patch 7.2 (the craftable legendaries). On the plus side, I was not bound to any raid schedule, so my farming hours were flexible, which I liked.
Rev up that Depeche Mode playlist because it’s grind time. Enjoy the Silence when your stuff didn’t sell in the Auction House, and have a Black Celebration when it does, cause baby, I was back in business.
Sure, I wasn’t making a lot of money off video games back then, not like I was a streamer or anything, but it was something, enough to at least help with our growing expenses as things got even more dire in Venezuela. Most importantly, it did not conflict with my responsibilities, out of which assisting my mom during her chemo rounds was topmost.
The value of the bolivar continued to plummet, the country was thrown into chaos, I got tear gassed while driving my mom to her chemo, the entrance to that clinic was gunned down while she was receiving chemo one afternoon — just Venezuelan things.
Then one day, it happened again, and permanently this time.
All that farming really burnt me out for a bit, and things got rather dire in my life during the weeks after that tweet. My mom’s chemo (which she had been only getting one half as Docetaxel was nowhere to be found) was no longer effective, Ifosfamide and Mesna also failed, and the last treatment to try was nowhere to be found.
I was in no condition to farm anymore, and I took a break, during which events unfolded and I received help from abroad, I launched this website, and whatnot.
Back to carrying and the end of farming
I returned to WoW towards December of 2017, not to farm, but to have some Christmas escapism. I ended up joining a guild to do some Mythic raiding, I hadn’t raided at that high level in years, so why not.
As I got caught up in terms of gear and progression, a new opportunity arose for me: selling Mythic Plus carries.
It was not something new, as these had been going for years now, but it was something my characters were now properly equipped to partake in. As the gear treadmill dictated that you ran at least one high level Mythic Plus dungeon per week for that small chance at a ‘godly’ piece of gear, the amount of customers was never short.
Don’t ask me how, don’t ask me when, but at some point, it became common practice to charge people an amount in gold equivalent to the current price of a WoW Token for a carry, that was the standard fee. When redeemed, a token was worth $15, but you cannot split a token among the four players carrying the 5th. This problem had a simple solution: just rotate who gets the money in each carry, so by the time you finished 4 carries everyone had a token in their hands.
A +15 Mythic Plus dungeon run would take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour if you include the travel, summon, and preparation time (plus the time spent looking for customers and arranging the transaction). Since the prep time was not something you can accurately measure, let’s assume an average of one hour per carry. Four carries for $15 translated to $3.75 per hour, give or take.
It might look like a far cry from a regular minimum wage job in America, but in Venezuela, well…you’d be making more than most professionals. Naturally, my teammates at the time (which weren’t part of my guild) would just use it to extend their game time or to get stuff for themselves, meanwhile I was using the tokens to get Bolivars.
As my mother’s health declined during the first weeks of 2018, I had less time to engage in these activities. I eventually stopped and reduced my limited gametime to late night Mythic raiding only.
After she passed away I had no motivation to retake this, I even stopped raiding — what was the point of anything anymore. I also got chickenpox during those days, so you can imagine how miserable I felt, mind, spirit, and body, all broken.
Mage Tower challenge carries was something you could make a quick buck from, I only did a few of these, many of which were done to friends for free, being able to help them get their rewards was all the payment I needed.
The launch of Battle for Azeroth wiped the slate clean, so no carrying anyone for a while until you’re back to form in terms of gear. My lack of motivation continued, the country’s hyperinflation and pseudo dollarization made everything more expensive, and thus made WoW gold farming less profitable. Demand for Blizzard stuff drastically waned here due to the worsening economy and decline of the games’ quality (namely Overwatch).
Besides, let’s face it, WoW really went to shit during BfA, it just wasn’t worth it anymore, so I stopped playing in October of 2018.
For someone so broken and flawed as me, whose never amounted to much in life, being able to partake in these shenanigans and leaving my mark in the world while at it was a wild, memorable, and unique experience — then again, what is life in Venezuela without atypical and outlandish circumstances?
It was all a lesson to me, a lesson in borderline legal gray areas, circumventing draconian currency controls, palliating hyperinflation, a celebration of Venezuelan ingenuity as everything continued to crumble, if you will.
As I said once, Venezuela’s collapse is a Kobayashi Maru unwinnable scenario, where you have to create your own solution, during those years, World of Warcraft was my solution. It was viable, yes, but the entry barriers, both monetary and the initial entry fees, skill caps, and knowledge required to achieve self-sustainability are what made it not as widespread as Runescape — just so happens that it was a circumstance where my knowledge and skill at the game was of good use.
It’s really amazing to see an infinitely spawning resource be more stable than a country’s currency. World of Warcraft took a nosedive during the past two years, and yet its currency continues to be far more valuable than the Bolivar, a currency that has now become as digital as WoW gold, seeing as there’s not enough banknotes left.
I hope you enjoyed reading it, until the next one!