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03/30/2005

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Mike

Personally, I don't think stealing someone's digital inventory should be a crime punishable by jail time or government fines.

Rather, I'd like to think of it more as akin to stealing company secrets, which can lead to civil lawsuits. I think lawyers would have a far easier time finding the value lost in objects (time the average player takes to get an item of equal value, real money it goes for on eBay, etc), and creating a lawsuit in which the defendant would be responsible for damages caused by the loss of this item.

That way, we avoid the sticky entanglement of who owns the object or character, and get more to the idea of how it hurts the player when the item is lost.

But I'm not a lawyer, so I probably sound stupid.

Foopy

"The real issue that's being overlooked in the discourse is whether players can claim any rights to these digital assets."

I agree, and I think this whole issue sheds more light on why Blizzard is so concerned about asserting that their players can't claim any rights to their digital assets. If a player can't claim any rights to such an asset, he can't sell it for $871 on ebay, so it effectively has no monetary value (unless the MMOG's company sells it on ebay, which would be kind of weird), and that simplifies things considerably.

On the other hand, it seems like giving players rights to their digital assets would open a massive can of worms; for instance, if their MMOG's company suddenly decided to permanently shut down all its servers, would this constitute the destruction of personal property? Would the MMOG's company be obligated by law to give some kind of compensation to its players?

Foopy

"It seems obvious that a digital era requires new thinking about digital products and their worth."

At first I was only thinking about this from the perspective of a hypothetical lawmaker, but it seems like the statement applies equally well to the developers of virtual worlds, too, as they alone control what can and can't be done with the digital assets they create.

For instance, by making digital assets "bind" to a player when they equip it or pick it up, some MMOGs like World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 have skirted the issue of theft almost entirely. If Legend of Mir III had such a mechanism implemented, perhaps it would have prevented the real-life slaying by making the original in-game crime impossible to commit.

Similarly, you're not going to have the problem of "real-life PK's" when virtual death has almost no consequences.

I guess it's just weird to think that simple game rules--the "laws" of virtual worlds--can actually prevent real-world crime.

But maybe I just need more sleep.

Malkyne

Pardon my rant, but...

When players pay to play online games such as World of Warcraft, they are paying for entertainment, and not for ownership of virtual items. No matter how many times I watch "Star Wars," I have no claim to ownership of the things I see on the screen.

Nor does any amount of time or "work" invested give me any claim to any sort of ownership of virtual items. Let me provide an example:

I come to visit your house every day to play chess with you. I have been doing this every day for the last 10 years. I have invested countless hours of my precious free time playing chess with you. I have captured hundreds of your pieces, during this period. However, I don't OWN your chess pieces, no matter how many hours of chess I play with you. Time investment does not equal ownership. I don't own my virtual +1 Sword of Vorpal Headbooting any more than I own your pawn, after I capture it on the chessboard. The fact that I *control* that piece of equipment for the moment is a mere game mechanic.

The law should ABSOLUTELY NOT treat these as real goods. It is a fundamental violation of the rights of the companies that provide these services to do so. It removes a game company's ability to control and tune their own game mechanics. After all, if you assign LEGAL real world value to virtual goods, then the game company is liable for damages if they then have to nerf something. That would be utterly ridiculous, wouldn't it?

We need to fight this kind of muddle-headed thinking, rather than let it confuse people. Be smart.

Kika

Bloody Nerds!! LOL But as mush as it is just data, ppl play for months and months to get good characters and build up lots of currency to obtain these weapons so I guess I would be pissed off too but not enough to kill. I think the reality is that ppl live in these games, the games are their life so when this happens they do take it personally. So I feel that they should have some Laws drafted up so that ppl that think its just data and do silly stuff to others are protected from the CGN's ("Crazy Gaming Nerds") Because it wouldnt be right not to send this man to jail for murder and it wouldnt be morally right not to punish the person that stole the data.

I dont believe everything is just data. Because it would be like some guy sending a girl dirty, sexually explicit emails and then in court he gets away with it because in effect what he sent is just data. Its like whats wrong then with hacking into the FBI system and going through all their stuff, I mean its just data right?! But the truth is, its not and you cant just pick and choose what is protected and private property and whats not. Everything is emotional and personal regardless.
Anyways thats just my 2 cents :)

turandot

I tend to side with Malkyne on this one. Insofar as I know, anything digital in nature is only property insofar as it is copyrighted code, or in the case of websites, there is a physical key registry somewhere out there (and even that can lead to problems, as is the case with cybersquatting). Now, we can go on and on about the feasibility of expanding on that limitation, but let's keep in mind that there must be something tangible in property law in order to stake a claim (a stock, a piece of land, a patent document detailing one's inventions, a copyright document protecting one's art or content, and so on). I see going beyond requiring at least a symbol of ownership problematic.

I think, if any liability exists there, is with the companies who decided to usufruit from the maintenance and creation of these virtual words. They should also have a dispute system in place within the virtual world (think of it as a digital court of sorts), so that users who have invested themselves in the game do not feel angered for what they perceive to be wrongful treatment by other users.

Foopy

I thought Malkyne made a very clear argument against giving players real-world ownership of their in-game digital assets, but it looks like Sony feels differently; apparently they're setting up an official real-world auction site for in-game items, which just seems bizarre in light of all the arguments against this kind of thing.

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