Valve honcho and billionaire Gabe Newell once worked as a gold farmer in World of Warcraft while in the early research phase of what would eventually become Steam Workshop.
“We were always used to thinking about games as entertainment experiences, but then we started thinking of them as productivity platforms,” says Newell. “As a sort of proof-of-concept, I decided to be a World of Warcraft gold farmer for a while. I was making $20 an hour farming gold. I was making what was a spectacular wage for most people in most parts of the world.”
“That’s when we started focusing heavily on things like the Steam Workshop and trying to think of everybody as a content creator.”
Steam Workshop is, of course, Steam’s central hub for player-created content. The hub was introduced in late 2011, a few years after the first big wave of gold farmers into World of Warcraft.
“[We were] trying to think of everybody as a content creator,” said Newell.
“There’s this story of the parents that called us up because they thought we were selling their kids drugs. What happened was PayPal pinged the parents and said ‘Your kid is exceeding our limits of how much money they can put into PayPal per month. They’re probably selling stolen goods or drugs because there’s no other explanation.’
“So the parents called us up and I said ‘He makes items on the Team Fortress workshop. He’s making $500,000 a year.’ That to us was an indication that this was a helpful way of thinking of games as platforms and it has informed all of our decisions about multiplayer games subsequently.”