The first time I saw the term farming in a videogame context was bonewall farming / "bonefarming" in Diablo 2. It makes sense in this case since you "plant" a bonewall then "harvest" items, as opposed to more common use these days where you just kill enemies.

This is the earliest I remember personally seeing the term. But is it older?

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    I believe that the first time I heard it was in the context of "gold farming" in MMORPGs when commercial companies in low-income countries hired lots of people to obtain large amounts of ingame money and then sold it on the black market for real money. Pictures from the "offices" where that took place reminded people of commercial cattle farms.
    – Philipp
    Jan 14, 2022 at 13:56
  • The term makes a lot of sense from an anthropological view. It's an apt analogy to the behavior. Groups of prehistoric humans transitioned from "hunter-gatherer" economies where they traveled around looking for resources to sedentary farming (people set up and stay on their own farms), where they intentionally and scientifically raised plants and animals for later harvest. This ushered in the ability to produce a surplus, introduce specialization in labor, and form civilization! Agriculture is the earliest empirical/experimental research science! Jan 15, 2022 at 11:37
  • @Philipp Diablo 2 came out in 2000, and MMORPGs did start before then. But I'm not sure I encountered the phrase "gold farming" before the bonewall farming. While it was definitely happening in the late 90s as a small venture and early 2000s on a commercial level I can't seem to find out when it got that name either. The wiki article has no cited sources before 2005.
    – Nick P
    Jan 15, 2022 at 23:11
  • @RobertColumbia the term makes a little less sense these days with how it's used, roaming around killing enemies for items. But I do think it's funny when used in a derogatory manner, if a boss is "on farm" or a player "got farmed" it means they offered zero resistance, basically like a plant that got plucked.
    – Nick P
    Jan 15, 2022 at 23:14
  • There is pudding farming from NetHack, but I'm not sure when that came into vogue.
    – tylisirn
    Sep 13, 2022 at 4:25

1 Answer 1


I think the earliest instances of at least the term itself, refer to generating in game items and selling them to other players for real currency, for example 'gold farming'.

There might be earlier less well known instances, but the first one that made the news outside of the game it was in was, most likely Ultima Online (1997). Wired Magazine wrote a nice retrospective on the subject, also mentioned in this article.

Other early games where this became a feature (whether wanted or not) were Everquest (1999), RuneScape (2001) and of course World of Warcraft (2004).

Later on the term expanded to include repetitive tasks done by the players themselves in order to gain resources (as opposed to grinding, which is usually about gaining XP or advancing levels faster).

The activity itself of course predates online games as described above (early RTS games like Dune 2 (1992) for example literally made you deploy a harvester to collect spice, and more spice meant a bigger/better army), but I don't recall these being referred to as such.

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    I want to say "repetitive tasks done by the players" is the original definition, with gold farming for gold sellers being a subset of that original concept, used later, but I can't readily prove it.
    – JamieB
    Nov 9, 2022 at 19:10
  • "Farming" does imply not just doing a repetitive task, but also gaining a resource from it. If you have a good source that makes the case however, I'm happy to adjust my answer :)
    – MiG
    Nov 14, 2022 at 9:36
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    "XP farming" is definitely a thing, though I couldn't say if it pre-dates farming for loot/gold (as a use of the term). Also not sure which came first: gold farming for cash or level farming for cash. Probably gold farming but I feel like it emerged more or less at the same time -- basically "what can we sell to people for cash": items, gold, character leveling services all became forms of farming. But whether the term was invented by cash sellers or was predated by players using the term to describe "the grind", I'm not sure. I wonder if old usenet archives can be searched...
    – JamieB
    Nov 14, 2022 at 15:24

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