The Chinese government has announced new regulations that would limit the impact virtual currencies have on the country’s economy, by prohibiting their exchange for cash or real-world goods. The move is widely seen as a crackdown on so-called “gold farming,” in which people amass virtual money on MMO games (usually by repeating mundane actions over and over), and then sell it to other players for real cash.

A survey carried out in 2008 by Richard Heeks at the University of Manchester estimated that up to 500,000 people worldwide were involved in gold farming activities. The practice is actually frowned upon and embraced by many depending on how you look at it – after all there are those who want to get ahead on games the easy way and others willing to make a living out of it.

The market is particularly strong in China, where it amounted to nearly $2 billion last year, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. In issuing the rules, the government said they were meant to cope with a growing number of problems associated with virtual currencies, including fraud concerns.