These people are called “goldfarmers”. There’s a fascinating preview of a documentary about goldfarmers up at YouTube at the moment.
At the time of writing, 500 World of Warcraft (WoW) gold pieces cost about 30 euros. It’s a liquid market though, so check the spot prices and don’t forget to shop around. As further testament to the fuzziness of the real/virtual boundary, you can even donate virtual currency to real charities. (Note to Digital Money Forum delegates: Consult Hyperion will be donating real currency to our chosen charities again!)
A Chinese goldfarmer earns around $100-$120 per month according to the various estimates floating around, whereas an actual Chinese farmer makes around $40 per month (2005 figures). Actual miners in China seem to earn even less: about $12 per month (and tend to die vastly more often than people playing World of Warcraft).
China is the world’s 4th largest gold producer: it has around a thousand gold mining operations and produces about 200 tonnes of the stuff per annum. Hence it is so interesting to reflect on the fact that it has thousands and thousands of people who earn more money mining virtual gold than their fellows earn from mining actual gold.