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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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VINE VOICEon 17 June 2010
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.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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on 14 March 2011
Last year, I very much enjoyed Doctorow's Little Brother, part YA novel about civil liberties and part how-to guide for civil disobedience in the 21st century. It was well written and while some felt the technological descriptions were somewhat basic, I think a good balance was struck between explaining things for the non-nerd audience while not being overly patronising to the more technically literate.

I was quite excited then when I received Doctorow's next novel, For the Win: Organize to Survive! as a birthday gift and a recent trip to Turkey meant that I was able to read the whole book in one stretch. In recent years, between the demands of work and the OU , most of my reading has been piecemeal. A most regrettable sacrifice, but it certainly makes me appreciate those rare windows of literary indulgence.

For the Win is a story set in a near future where the economies of Massively Multiplayer Online games are, well, massive. So huge in fact that gold farming, the organised process of acquiring lots of in-game valuables and selling them on to cash-rich, time-poor players, is big business; Big business that is performed across the third world, invariably by cruel, violent gang bosses. The premise of the FTW is that the kids playing for pay in a variety of slums across the world want rights, representation and protection from abuse. They want a union and are willing to fight for it, using a combination of strikes and market manipulation.

Sadly, there are a lot of things that don't work in this book. Firstly, the reader is thrown straight into the jargon heavy world of online gaming, with nary a glossary in sight. I am familiar with many of the terms but it was still sometimes a struggle for me. I can see anyone less familiar with the jargon, that is often never explained, just giving up before the end of the first chapter. A similar problem is encountered later in the book where we have an explanation of hedge funds, what they are, how they work, how they can be manipulated etc. Except the description isn't very good. I'm sure it's complete and accurate, but the description was detailed enough to baffle me, but not clear enough to part the veil.

Another problem with the narrative was the distributed characterisation. We'd be introduced to a strong protagonist, then another, then the first one would be dropped, then add a few more middling ones, then the remaining strong one would be dropped, etc. By the end we had lost all the best characters and were left with a series of less interesting ones, nursing their wounds. I did wonder if this was supposed to be part of the meta-narrative, that a union movement isn't about strong individuals but the masses. Or, it could just be a poor use of character arcs.

Overall, I liked the premise and found it interesting. But I would not call it fun to read and I'm unlikely to recommend it, I found it mostly a hard-to-read polemic. People who would like it: Online gamers with an interest in economics and union politics.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Cory Doctorow's gospel of the brave new world of the future that isn't all that far removed from today continues with For The Win. Like the novel that preceded it, Makers, which proposed a consumer-led society and a necessarily flexible business model with no great vision other than to churn out disposable crap and cater to nostalgia through self-evolving theme park rides, many will also "blame" the author here for not giving them a more idealistic, utopian society that they believe the rapid advancements in technology should bring, rather than the continually dumbed-down one that is more likely to be the case.

Doctorow is not here to offer any comforting visions in For The Win, finding instead a near-future where it's gamers who call the shots and potentially earn the big bucks, even if it is just virtual gold in worldwide-networked computer games. When you think about it, is this any less unlikely a scenario than banks and investors trading in "virtual" stocks and shares with your borrowed money? It's a potential economic "reality" that Charles Stross has already recognised in his novel Halting State, considering the impact that the robbery of a weapons store in a computer game can have on the players and the business who need to protect their customer's interests and investments - even if that investment is nothing more than virtual treasures, weapons and gold.

Similarly with "a connection to the net and a brain in your head", in For The Win, there's money to be made in the virtual world of Svartalfheim, Mushroom Kingdom or Zombie Mecha for enterprising gamers, gold farmers, willing to collect precious objects, weapons and powers that can be speculated upon and traded with other players too lazy to do it themselves, or just looking for an easy entry into a popular game without having to put the necessary hard work and the hours into it. Not unsurprisingly, the workers earning the little money that this brings in are all based in China, India and Indonesia, and they are exploited, much in the same way as today by the greed of the Western world. The net can however also make it possible for those exploited workers to join up and form a powerful global union and maybe do something about it.

And again, Doctorow is absolutely right. Ok, so maybe the computer game will not become the stock market of the future (some people do unfortunately take Doctorow a little bit too literally, regarding him as some kind of prophet) but the principle is sound, the author considering historical examples of economic theory and extrapolating on how this could be affected by a new global community with new rising economic forces and the potential offered by great advances in technology. When I say "gospel" however, Doctorow can be annoyingly preachy at times, using his characters more as mouthpieces than real people, having one sit down with another and condescendingly explain economic theory in kiddie terms. Ultimately, the ideas take precedence over the story - the characters are interesting, but never come to life when they are used as little more than sentimental pawns - but the lesson is an interesting one and it's one worth going over in detail in order to consider where the future might take us, or whether to a large extent we're not already there.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Imagine a world where, as well as physical workers being exploited in sweatshops by ruthless bosses, virtual workers, slaving away at their keyboards to collect gold in online games, are exploited by ruthless bosses. (They're collecting gold, of course, for sale to wealthy players who don't have the skill or patience to do it for themselves). That's this world. Now imagine that the "virtual" workers band together to stand up for their rights. They strike. When the bosses bring in strikebreakers to take over, they form picket lines within the games. Then imagine that the real and virtual workers stand together in solidarity. When the bosses attack the strikers in the "real" world, they hit back in the virtual one.

That could be this world to. It is the basic plot of Cory Doctorow's epic new novel. But the book is more than that. It reminds me of Dickens in its breadth and its portrayal of rotten working conditions, grotesque bosses and lives blighted by poverty. Or - and this is an intensely political book (in a good way) - Engel's The Condition of the Working Class in England. The portrayal is vivid and includes stories and episodes that read very much as taken from life. But, of course, the point is not to understand the world but to change it. Doctorow introduces us to a cast of characters - union organizer Big Sister Noor, Jiandi, a broadcaster in China (who also describes herself as sister to the factory girls who she advises on her underground radio show); Mala and Yasmin, living in the slums of Bombay - who are determined to change things. Hard choices cannot be avoided. The option of absolution - of saying "this is terrible, I'm so sorry, please forgive but I can't get involved" - is disdainfully refused. "Which side are you on?" this book asks.

Linking all these vividly drawn characters is the world of gaming, which is not only what they do but how they meet. Doctorow doesn't see the gamers as passively consuming their games and needing to be roused to the real world but as a force within their game worlds and so in the real world.

Nor does he see the two worlds as distinct. Life is play, play is life. "It's all a game" says one character. "Everyone plays it because they've played it all their lives." There are echoes of another book I read recently New Model Army in which the Army of the title is an assembly of citizen soldiers, providing their own weapons and directing their tactics by a form of Wifi enabled democracy - not unlike the gamers in "For the Win. In fact, amidst a lecture about the "Coase cost", the cost of organizing an enterprise or project, Doctorow makes the link. "big institutions with a lot of money and power can overcome high Coase costs: a government can put 10,000 soldiers on the battlefield.. you and you buddies cannot..." That book is well worth a read for one take on what could happen when citizens gain the power to mobilize like that. "For the Win" presents another.

While it might sound unlikely that a story with such a central political message - and which frequently steps aside from plot for lectures on inflation, the place of gold in economics, organizational theory and always, always more politics - can also be a page turner, it is. Thought provoking, entertaining, exciting - a book that, once picked up, is hard to put down again till you're finished.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's 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.
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VINE VOICEon 27 April 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Cory Doctorow, in case you're unaware, is one of the great polymaths of the cyberage:
author, advocate, social activist, etcetera .His novels are specifically concerned with the economic ramifications of new technology.

In this case, the nascent idea that cyberpossessions might have real economic value. In the world of the novel, wealthy westerners are willing to pay hard cash for advantages in video games.Therefore, young workers in the 3rd world are employed to play video games in order to earn these abstracts. It's an obvious, but effective metaphor for the way that Western luxuries are dependent on 3rd world poverty: Doctorow's written a novel that attempts to interest teen readers in these complex and harsh realities, explaining difficult economic ideas in understandable terms. As I've posted before in reviews of his work, he's not the greatest writer - He'll never write anything that's pleasing as literature. But then, neither did Philip K. Dick. And he was right about everything,
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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...
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In the near future MMORPGs are big business. Companies like Coca Cola run games with economies bigger than that of some countries, their wealth built around scarce objects used within the game like weapons and armour. But not everyone shares the financial benefits. The actual gamers - youngsters in India, China and other far eastern countries - work for criminal gangs, earning little money and working long hours and while they start off loving the opportunity to play games and get paid, their bosses turn nasty should they want to set up business on their own.

But everything changes when a group of gamers decide to unionise. They form the Webblys and it's not long before they're recruiting new members worldwide, determined to take on the game owners to get fair wages and working conditions for all gamers. What follows is an on-line revolution but no revolution is without casualties ...

Cory Doctorow's YA economic thriller is a plodding, dull polemic with two-dimensional characters weighed down by economic and financial theory. Although I admire the attempt to get teens engaged with politics, ultimately the story's smothered by the message and moralising.

The story hangs around a number of recurring characters. Mala's a young girl in a poor neighbourhood of Mumbai whose skill at gaming and ability to organise other kids to fight for her has earned her the nickname `General Robotwallah'. Matthew's a Chinese gamer who was badly beaten by his cruel boss after trying to set up his own gaming business with his friends. Wei-Dong's actually Leonard, a well-off LA kid whose love of gaming has hit his grades and worries his parents. Finally BSN or Big Sister Nor is the heart of the Webblies, organising and co-ordinating the campaign and recruiting new members. However none of these characters get much development and the use of jump cuts between scenes to allow for sudden and unexplained changes in motivation irritated me.

The struggle against the game owners didn't hold my attention. The villain's capitalism, which is difficult to relate to while large chunks of exposition on how the economics and financial markets work, which deadens the pace. Crime bosses like Bannerjee are almost cartoonish but while there's a lot of death it's confined to side characters so there's little sense of jeopardy.

Ultimately I felt that the message smothered the story and characterisation, making for a dull read.
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