Deep into the night, Guan Wei, a 19-year-old from rural Anhui, stares at a computer screen and searches for his target - an ogre in the virtual world of the popular online game World of Warcraft. Millions of subscribers worldwide log on to fight grotesque monsters or explore dank cyber dungeons for fabled gold. But unlike other subscribers, Mr Guan is not playing for fun. He has been labouring in front of the computer for six hours without rest, clicking like mad to kill one computer-generated ogre after another. His job is to collect virtual gold in online fantasy worlds and advance the status of characters for players who want to get ahead in the game but do not want to spend time doing the mundane mouse clicking needed to get there. Far from enjoying himself, Mr Guan is mechanically following a manual's instructions on how to advance the character he controls and collect as much virtual gold as possible. 'You try going back and forth clicking the same thing for 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, then you will see if it's a game or not,' he says. Mr Guan, together with 24 other men of similar age, has been hired by an internet cafe in Shenzhen to make sure its machines are 'farming' full time. After two days' basic training, the gamers take turns in shifts before the computers, 'playing' around the clock. For their efforts, Mr Guan and the other gamers each make 1,000 yuan a month - more than the wages of people toiling in shoe factories or on construction sites. Tens of thousands of young migrant workers are employed by internet cafes around the country. In the most popular online multiplayer games, like World of Warcraft, Lineage and Dragon Empires, players make virtual gold by selling items that 'drop' from the monsters they kill, or by completing quests. One player operating as a respectable 60-level Holy Priest in the Warcraft game said he spent US$100 to buy 1,000 virtual gold pieces from other players to acquire a mechanical bird which allowed his character to move at twice its usual speed. 'It's really worth buying. It makes my character much more powerful than before,' the player said. With online gaming quickly becoming one of the major sources of entertainment for the younger generation worldwide, a new business is taking off on the mainland. Savvy online traders were quick to realise that accumulating and selling virtual hoard items like gold, weapons, skills and magic could bring them real cash, real fast. Players from the mainland are often described as 'Chinese farmers' by gamers in other countries because they play just to harvest items and sell them in the real world for profit. 'No real player goes online 24 hours a day doing repeated quests hundreds of times without getting bored. Only Chinese farmers do,' one US gamer said. 'The Chinese farmers have utterly ruined the economy and unbalanced any sense of fairness in the game. So I am certain these Chinese farmers are making a pretty decent living in China.' But, just like workers in textile factories, Guan Wei is low on the business ladder of virtual assets trading. He has to click away 12 hours a day non-stop to collect 300 Warcraft gold points, for which he is paid a meagre 30 yuan. According to online auctioneer eBay and IGE, a company which resells game gold and allows people to trade virtual assets for real-world money, the going rate for 100 gold pieces is about US$10. Most of the profit is pocketed by the internet cafe employing Guan and by brokers and online traders in South Korea and the United States. Wei Xiaoliang, 26, owns the Shenzhen Red Leaf technology company and focuses his business on wholesaling Warcraft gold to overseas brokers. 'We prefer to hire young migrant workers rather than college students. The pay is not good for students, but it is quite attractive to the young migrants from the countryside,' Mr Wei said. He started off by collecting Warcraft gold online while he was at college, but his 'farming' days are over. He's moved up to management to concentrate on marketing and delivery. He said the business was harder and riskier than people thought. 'Now my sister in Los Angeles can transfer money to me when I sell virtual gold for US dollars there. But later when my business becomes bigger, the money transfer may have to go to underground.' He estimated the business in China brought billions of dollars into the country with the help of underground banks. 'The trades bring millions of job opportunities and billions in foreign exchange to the country. The government should set rules to develop and protect this new kind of industry,' Mr Wei said. He remains optimistic about the new industry's prospects, even though thousands of newcomers dive into the business every day. 'You can't imagine how big the industry is in China,' Mr Wei said. 'The most important point is it gives you a chance to be rich in a short time by just playing games online.' He is thinking of moving his company to Gansu or Shanxi provinces, where he could easily find scores of rural migrants to become 'farmers' at lower costs.