Those who play MMOGs will have many a little chuckle when they read this book, buying virtual money with real money is part and parcel of the online game scene, love it or hate it, it's there.
For the Win takes place in the near future, when multiplayer online games--descendants of Everquest and World of Warcraft have continued to rise in popularity.
Gold farmers work long hours under harsh conditions to harvest digital items and currency from the games so they can be sold for real cash. When they realize they are being mistreated, they begin to come together and fight for their rights, in both the real world and in their virtual world.
The story of unions, economics, and video games that Doctorow has created is exciting and eye-opening. It will probably appeal most to nerdier, technology-oriented types with an interest in the money game that makes the world go 'round, but almost anyone could find something to enjoy here.
on 3 March 2016
Excellent stuff. You might think that a novel about online gamers would be off-puttingly geeky, but it's pretty accessible and involving. There's also a lot of economic theory dumped in, but as long as it's understandable and relevant I don't mind that. More importantly the characters and situations are vivid and engaging, and some of the set-pieces are very tense. I read Little Brother on the basis of this.
This is the third Cory Doctorow novel I have read. The first, Little Brother is a tightly plotted techno-thriller, that examines the abuse of technology in the war on terror. The second, Makers is a much more bloated affair, detailing the use of future technologies to bring about an economic new world order. 'For The Win' sits somewhere between the two.
Again, we are in the near future. 'For The Win' features a host of disparate characters all tied to the multi-million dollar gaming industry. In essence, this is a tale about the powerful and rich exploiting the weak and poor. Many of the characters 'farm' computer world gold, which can then be sold for real money, through the black market. These farmers work on repetitive in-game tasks, in sweatshops run by unscrupulous bosses. They are paid a pittance whilst the bosses cream off all the money. The novel charts the exploits of a group of works campaigning for better rights for the oppressed farmers.
My game playing days are sadly now behind me, but I found the central premise intriguing. That there is serious money to be made by hoarding a virtual asset in something as facile as a computer game is barely credulous, but Doctorow knows this stuff inside out. There is no doubting the integrity of his information, or his vision of the future. Unfortunately the resulting novel just isn't that exciting.
There are some great sections in the novel, Doctorow's vision is breathtaking, but once again (like 'Makers') his story becomes bogged down in the details. For every exciting chapter, that has the Chinese police breaking down doors, or the Indian gold-farmers defending their livelihoods, there is a verbose chunk of pseudo-intellectual economic theory. It breaks the flow of the story, ruining the novel's pace.
Doctorow is well known in the blogosphere, a place where it's safe to ramble on as much as you want about whatever you like, and has an ardent following of like-minded readers. They will no doubt love this novel, but if like me - you are passing through, searching for an entertaining read, then brevity is what you will be looking for. 'Little Brother' had this. It was accessible, readable and exciting. 'For the Win' is crying out for a ruthless editor with a sharp pair of scissors.
'For the Win' is readable enough, but too often it feels like you are reading somebody's intellectual ponderings rather than a coherent novel. The tension does build well towards the end, but ultimately, realistic though the ending is, it is something of a damp squib. The excitement and tension ebbs away, leaving me only with the frustrating sense of opportunities missed.
on 3 March 2012
`For the Win''s premise had much potential and largely that potential is adeptly explored by the author, but overall my impression of the novel was that it was too bogged-down in theory and techno-babble and as a result not truly able to embrace the fascinating possibilities of its story.
I don't believe that any knowledge of real-time computer games is necessarily required for enjoyment of this novel, but it certainly couldn't hurt, because such experience may ease readers new to Doctorow into his not-immediately-accessible writing style. I must admit that after the first 50 pages I did feel like putting the book to one side and moving onto something less demanding, but it's worth sticking with, as you're unlikely to read anything like this again. David Wingrove and Michael Crichton sprung to my mind as being authors who have written in a similar style and about similar subjects, which is not bad company for Doctorow to be among.
As with Wingrove, Doctorow seems to struggle somewhat creating unique, memorable and sympathetic protagonists with whom the reader is able to identify. Character development is really the only main area in which I would say Doctorow needs to improve, but perhaps that is the nature of the format of this novel with its multiple character perspectives. Nonetheless I would have welcomed a single character that I felt particularly sympathetic towards and whose journey I was motivated to invest my feelings in.
A dense, occasionally laboured, but interesting and ultimately rewarding read, `For the Win' is a strange novel that requires some patience, but is an easily recommendable book for those people with a predilection for edgy, subversive genre fiction.
on 1 February 2014
Another Cory Doctorow classic. Cutting right to the bone about Gold farmers and cyberspace and the global digital world. No hand waving, really good stuff. If you consider yourself a geek then you need to do yourself and get this.
I had my doubts about this book, given that I often find myself disagreeing with most of Doctorow's journalism and hard-core tech attitudes - though never doubting his expertise. (To irritate the author, I'm reading the book on my iPad!)
However this book immediately draws you in with it's brief episodic beginning. It's written like a screenplay with short scenes that paint a vivid picture of the characters and their situations. If you're familiar with online gaming you'll get the situation immediately, and if you're not, you will soon begin to wonder what MMORPGs have to offer.
The characters are all young, set up in some way against authority and the world of adults - adrift in a world where the only escape is to adopt a different character either in real life or the virtual one.
The characters are appealing, even if their situations are not, whether it's the poor quarters of China or India, or the more affluent suburbs of America.
Only one thing really jars with this book - the mention of Coca Cola as one of the games' producers. It just doesn't fit in an otherwise fictional world, this one beacon of specific reality (especially as they aren't, to my knowledge, in the software business). Why Coca Cola? It just sticks out like a sore thumb. That's why I only give it four stars - occasionally the book reads like it needed a stronger editor. But only occasionally.
Well written, with a powerful female character that makes this appealing to all genders and all ages, the battle sequences will have you gripped. Recommended for older kids or adults who like a good story.
on 25 November 2015
I read an electronic copy of this that was available as Creative Commons, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Apparently only the hard copy is available on Amazon -- but maybe that's what you prefer. If not, do a Google search.
The main characters are spread all over the world: a young man in Shenzhen who has run afoul of his heavy handed boss by doing it on his own; an Anglo teenager in California with a Chinese pseudonym plays along side his Chinese counterparts; a preteen girl in Mumbai proves herself as a gaming wizard, outsmarts her sweatshop boss and starts her own operation in a cybercafe, as the leader of an "army" -- all are playing online multi-player games as a business, collecting MMORPG pieces -- things like magic swords and other special weapons and devices, some earned by killing monsters or finding them at a particular level etc.; or creating a ready made identity, sufficiently advanced in the game to provide real adventure. All these have market value and are sought by gamers who want to start at the level they want with all the right weapons, and are willing to pay real money for it. It's called "gold-farming".
Add to the above a university student who discovers that he can play the game-credits market like one does commodities, and make a killing when the demand changes. Add to that a beautiful young Chinese lady who hosts an extremely popular pirate talk-show from any location she wants through her laptop and Internet connection, while being sought by the authorities.
It's the future -- or is it? My gaming son tells me that MMORPG pieces are already worth money. It's Cyberpunk -- about people who meet online, on gaming environments rather than chat rooms, about people who have learned that there's money in it all, and yet others who make theirs by controlling the ones who know how to win the games. It's a fight for justice on a level that can only be understood by people who move in that world. Some of the moves are made by brute force, some by making electronic bits disappear or reappear, or move from one part of the world to another. It's the computer savvy kids breaking free from underworld bosses on one hand, and the authorities on the other.
In all, an experience that only Cory Doctorow could doctor up...
I've been fortunate enough to read and review all of Cory Doctorows novels to date and I am becoming familiar and fond of his writing. This latest novel will feel quite familiar to those who have read Makers and Big Brother, but it is different enough to make it a very worthwhile endeavour.
This time the author turns his well tuned social antenna towards a new style of economics. Or should that be an old style with a new cyber suit on it? I will do my very best not to spoil the enjoyment of anyone thinking of buying this so no plot twists and turns shall be revealed here. The story has its basis in the near future in a world where one of the dominant parts of the economy is found in online gaming. Current multinationals manage and profit from a wide range of online games, catering for the tastes of millions of people around the world. And those familiar with the current online games like World of Warcraft, Everquest et al will not be surprised to see th author predicting the rise of the black economy of in game trading along with it. Gold farmers abound, highly intelligent and orgainsed groups from India, China etc working for big bosses who work them hard and pay them a pittance for accruing in game wealth for sale to wealthier gamers who have more time than money. Some of the novel is scarily relevant right now, with sweatshops for online gaming becoming increasingly common in countries like China. It certainly doesn't take a massive leap of the imagination to believe in the world the author paints. And this new world gives the author scope to talk about, in great detail sometimes, a whole range of issues around economics and exploitation.
The reason I like the authors books, and this one is no exception, is his ability to move a story along whilst still making very valid and important points about where society is going. The thing I think I enjoyed most about this novel was the transfer of older ideas about how economies work and the division of labour and throwing it into a very modern, relevant setting. Sure, the plot is good and the characters are well drawn for the most part. One or two are a bit shadily sketched but the key protagonists are well rounded enough for you to get emotionally involved in their fate. The author does have a real talent for stepping out of the story for a little while and going into some detail on things he obviously feels are socially important to our times. Shades of the 'Grapes of Wrath' really which is a huge compliment and not understated I hope!
The one complaint I would have is actually to do with those flights into social and economic discourse. Some of them are done very effectively, the ones where the characters remain involved and make the information transfer a little less obvious. In this way some really important concepts that I think will have an impact on our futures are discussed. However some are out and out lectures. To use an American turn of phrase at times it is a bit 'economics 101' and the novel stops and the classroom begins. It is obvious Doctorow feels passionate that people understand the key ideas behind his books but sometimes it is a bit too overwhelming.
In the end though this is a book I can highly recommend. Like the novels before Doctorow is talking about issues which need to be given more of an airing. In this information age we all need to try and arm ourselves intellectually against exploitation. I really think this book is an important read and has something to say to all of us about the modern world but especially for the younger generation who might be about to hit the modern economic world head on. This novel speaks to them in particular and in a way that I suspect they will understand better than I. I really hope it is a big success as I think it deserves to be.
The near future. In India and China many thousands of gamers are slaving in PC sweatshops, working as gold farmers, accumulating virtual money in various online games and then selling it for real money to rich Western players who can't be bothered to put the grindwork in. However, there are growing calls for the gold farmers to unite and unionise for better conditions. And when that happens, the authorities strike back hard.
For the Win is based around the process of 'gold farming', a problem in modern computer games like World of WarCraft where poor players in the Far East do the hard work to make money for players in the West. The novel predicts that in the near future, these games' economies will become so vast that the gold farmers will become an institutionalised form of work, another Asian sweatshop churning out product for the benefit of the West. However, due to the fact this work is undertaken on the Internet, it also means that the gold farmers can communicate with not just one another, but other farmers right across the world, and that lays the groundwork for strikes and possibly even revolution.
Cory Doctorow's novel charts the rise of online gaming from a niche entertainment industry into a massive economy which can be gamed and exploited like any other. Many of the issues Doctorow has identified have already been the subject of studies by economic bodies, and he unifies a technical interest in the field with more human stories about worker exploitation and also a larger idea about how much longer can the single Chinese state control everything in the face of such vast influences from outside the country, particularly with regards to workers' rights and unions. For the Win is a slightly stronger novel than his earlier Little Brother, which tripped over itself and muddied up its themes towards the end of the volume. Here, Doctorow remains on-message throughout.
Structurally, the novel moves between several sets of characters in China, India and a couple of guys in the USA. These characters are well-characterised and carefully delineated so it's easy to keep track of who's who (the cast ends up being quite large). However, the novel meanders a little bit in its opening half. Character-building and plot-advancing scenes are bogged down by three-page divergences on economic theory, whilst Doctorow front-loads the book with a lot of MMORPG terms which have mostly disappeared by the time the book ends. At this stage it's like a Kim Stanley Robinson or Neal Stephenson novel (not exactly bad company to be in) with lots of interesting material, but it's unclear what the point of it all is. Then Doctorow draws the plot threads together in the second half, building to a big finale. I wondered if he was going for a world-changing, ushering-in-a-new-age ending, but instead Doctorow gives us something that is somewhat optimistic whilst retaining a fair degree of realism.
On the negative side, it's unclear if the book has already been outdated: the failure of any non-World of WarCraft MMORPG to take off in a significantly profitable manner in the West and the resulting move to microtransaction-fuelled social games (such as CityVille, which launched last December and had ten times as many players as World of WarCraft in less than eight weeks), a move followed by several of the standard MMORPGs, means that Doctorow's economic model in the novel is already looking dubious. Whilst gold farming in these social games is still possible, the much tighter regulations imposed by playing under the framework of Facebook would make some of manipulations as seen in the novel harder to pull off. That said, the recent ability of the Internet to influence political change shows that some of the ideas in the novel that initially look unrealistic are indeed possible. There is also some unrealistic dialogue (a paragraph-long speech from a player on economic power is impressive until you realise the person saying it is 14) and the ending hinges on the goodwill of people who have no real reason to support the gold farmers. But Doctorow just about manages to sell it.
For the Win (***½) raises and addresses a number of thought-provoking subjects related to the emergence of these online economies and their impact on developing countries. The book is available now in the UK and USA, or indeed for free from Cory Doctor's website.
on 12 April 2013
After reading Ready Player One whilst in the USA last year I was ready for more of the same. I was very happy to get a signed copy of For The Win by Doctorow at Forbidden planet in London on a trip there. The book is good and is written by someone who knows what they are talking about but it loses itself in micro organising detail. This could have been more effective and a better book if it had been heavily pruned and rewritten. 5 stars for effort but only 3 for the book.