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Role Playing (Games) Businesses The Almighty Buck

eBay Delisting All Auctions for Virtual Property 324

Posted by Zonk
from the definition-of-what-is-real dept.
The growing popularity of Massively Multiplayer games has brought the issue of ownership rights in virtual worlds, and the appropriateness of what is called 'real money transfer' (RMT) into an increasingly public light. The success of the company IGE, as well as the launch of Sony Online Entertainment's 'Station Exchange' service would seem to indicate that RMT is now an acceptable part of Massive gaming. The well-known auction site eBay has recently made a policy decision that may throw these assumptions into a different light. Following up on a rumour that's been going around I spoke today with a media representative for the company, who confirmed that eBay is now delisting all auctions for 'virtual artifacts' from the site. This includes currency, items, and accounts/characters; not even the 'neopoints' used in the popular Neopets service is exempt from this decision. Read on below for the company's rationale for this decision, and a few words on the impact this could have on future RMT sales.
Mr. Hani Durzy, speaking for eBay, explained that the decision to pull these items was due to the 'legal complexities' surrounding virtual property. "For the overall health of the marketplace" the company felt that the proper course of action, after considerable contemplation, was to ban the sale of these items outright. While he couldn't give me a specific date when the delistings began, he estimated that they've been coming down for about a month or so. Mr. Durzy pointed out that in reality, the company is just now following through with a pre-existing policy, as opposed to creating a new one. The policy on digitally delivered goods states: "The seller must be the owner of the underlying intellectual property, or authorized to distribute it by the intellectual property owner." Given the nebulous nature of ownership in online games, eBay has decided the prudent decision is to remove the possibility for players to sell what might be the IP of other parties via their service. Mr. Durzy made it a point to say that initial listings of virtual property would not have punitive actions. Their assumption, he said, is that most users break with policies because they're unaware of them, rather than maliciously. Initial infractions will result in a delisting of items, and an attempt to educate the user on the policy. Persistent disregard for the policies, of course, will result in a removal of the seller's account.

We've spoken before on the possibility of taxation of virtual goods in the U.S. and abroad, as well as the economic impact these sales can have. With the removal of a very popular, very public source of virtual currency and goods from the market, what does this mean for the future of RMT? Will small businessmen who previously worked via eBay now turn to larger independent sites like IGE? Given that eBay is ipso facto declaring virtual goods to be the property of the game makers and not the players who 'earn' them, what does this mean for the future of virtual rights in general?
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eBay Delisting All Auctions for Virtual Property

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  • by bokmann (323771) on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:51PM (#17775272) Homepage
    Does this mean they are also going to delist auctions for domain names, downloadable software, and other, not-so-game-oriented property that also happens to be virtual?
  • Is eBay that lazy? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cornflake917 (515940) on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:56PM (#17775398) Homepage

    The seller must be the owner of the underlying intellectual property, or authorized to distribute it by the intellectual property owner.
    For games such as World of Wacraft which explicity say in the EULA that all characters etc. are property of Blizzard and that the selling of these items break the terms of the license, I can see why you would want to delist them.

    What about games that do allow or will allow buying of virtual property? It seems to me that eBay would be shooting themselves in the foot by blindly delisting all virtual items.

    On a different topic, now where will I shop for a level 70 blood elf paladin?
  • So, can I not sell used books, cd's, artwork or games?

    Jesus H. Christ, have you never heard of First Sale Doctrine [wikipedia.org]? I assure you that ebay's lawyers have, and will not be advising that they cut out a truly absurd percentage of their revenue over something that is legal. Anyway the two situations are not remotely similar. In the case of a book, cd, artwork, or game, you are selling physical media which contains some data.

    In the case of a digital asset, you are selling a promise to make an alteration to a game world. There is no physical good and furthermore there is no intellectual property to transfer! It's not even like you exported an item out of the game world and are transferring the file representing the object. You are trying to sell something that clearly does not belong to you. You are not your character in world of warcraft. That's not even a representation of you. It's more like you've paid a monthly fee to play with someone else's action figures, in their sandbox.

  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Friday January 26, 2007 @05:07PM (#17775616) Journal
    PlayerAuctions.com has no rules about who gets to list items and who's items get taken down. I used to ebay for about $2,000/month but ebay got mad at me. Apparently only certain people are allowed to list 500 auctions of gold selling, while my modest 5 listings a week got banned. I'm glad no one will be using Ebay anymore. PlayerAuctions.com seem cool and aren't capricious on the ban hammer.
  • by maxume (22995) on Friday January 26, 2007 @05:18PM (#17775796)
    That's like saying people shouldn't be allowed to practice with their shitty bands or write shitty novels.

    The good news is that the damn fool who is farming is lowering the amount of time the damn fool spending money on virtual goods is spending on the game, freeing up the spender to do other actual work in the economy.

    Entertainment is an economic sink, it disappears productivity into the (supposed) well being of the person being entertained. Placing a silly regulation on a form of entertainment because it is extra stupid is a bad idea.
  • by InFire (32320) on Friday January 26, 2007 @06:12PM (#17776764) Homepage
    You guys seem very naive. Corporations do not have morals - they only care about $$$$$$money and lawsuits. The people that run them are even less likely to have morals than politicians (aka lawyers). In fact the legal system demands ("due diligence") that they do everything legally (moral or immoral) possible to maximize profit and crush any opposition.

    eBay has tried several times to shut down Half.com even though they do not have any other venue for selling rare/low turnover items profitably. They only bought it to close down what they viewed as undue competition. They don't care what impact that has on the rest of the world. Look at how they are slowly removing features (like pre-orders) and trickling catalog updates. The goal has not changed.
  • by radarsat1 (786772) on Friday January 26, 2007 @06:27PM (#17777006) Homepage
    I hope that they can classify "informational PDF files" as "virtual items" and delist them. Ebay is just plagued with people selling "information" on how to get actual products, hoping someone will basically make a mistake and buy it thinking they are getting the product itself. This has got to stop. It's basically Ebay SPAM.
  • Software Listings... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 26, 2007 @06:45PM (#17777246)
    I'm not completely sure if this applies, but as a small software company we have been dealing with illegal license keys being sold on eBay and other similar venues for a while now. We are of course aware of piracy, and we accept that a certain amount is inevitable; but when someone is selling licenses to our software online, making money, we don't take this lightly. And eBay doesn't make it easy for us to have such listings removed (usually, no action takes place until long after the auction has ended).

    Our solution has simply been to add a note to our software, indicating that any license purchased on eBay is definitely not legit, so the end user realizes this, though this doesn't help the situation much in the end...

    If such listings are disallowed from the start, this may help. Sadly, as some users have reported, the licenses they are purchasing are licensed to (for example) "TEAM-DM" or whatever - obviously keys pilfered from usenet and resold on eBay.

    So, as a software publisher, I for one am all for disallowing sales of so-called "intellectual property" on eBay. I'm sure the game publishers have something to do with this as well...
  • by srvivn21 (410280) on Friday January 26, 2007 @07:02PM (#17777620)

    On a different topic, now where will I shop for a level 70 blood elf paladin?
    My guess would be eBay.

    Hypothetical situation:

    You buy a piece of paper. That piece of paper is imprinted with the account and password (as a "free" bonus), the seller sends said paper through the mail and sends you a confirmation email containing the same information.

    You bought a physical object, and got a virtual avatar as a bonus. If the seller "forgets" to physically mail the paper, who's going to complain?

  • by boarder (41071) on Friday January 26, 2007 @07:19PM (#17777850) Homepage
    EBay tried to de-list my auction back in October for the character I played. I put up my fully epic hunter for $375 buyout, and it sold in under 12 hours.

    The kicker is that about 6 hours after I got the paypal payment for it, eBay sends me an email saying they have taken my auction down because it violated Blizzard's IP. The auction was already done! Hilarious work, eBay... not only did I get the money for my character, but I didn't have to pay eBay for the auction cost.

    The other guy got my account;
    I got money for the time I put into the character;
    Blizzard got the money for the game CDs and my monthly subscription;
    Paypal got their bite out of our transaction;
    eBay lost money for the bandwidth, site design and hosting.
  • by haggus71 (1051238) on Friday January 26, 2007 @08:30PM (#17778782)
    At first I thought it was a good idea on ebay's part. On further review, it seems to me that if someone wants to pay real money for items existing only in an imaginary world(sorry, ritualist Neo, but is IS fantasy), as long as they are getting the products they paid for, let them! I mean, it can't be as bad as people paying for 'Pet Rocks' in the early '80s. As long as WOW, Guild Wars and others don't object, it shouldn't be ebay's problem. If WOW and Guild Wars DO object, then the point is moot. Your character is LEASED to you, and these companies do have copyright to all the goddies that go along with the game. If you think you do own them, I know a nice bridge off South Manhattan I'd love to sell you.
  • by raehl (609729) <raehl311@@@yahoo...com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @10:40PM (#17779862) Homepage
    That doesn't make any sense. If the item belongs to the game publisher before you "sell" it on eBay, then it still belongs to them after the sale, so why should they care?

    There are a few reasons.

    One, they don't want to lose customers who stop playing the game because they feel other people are buying success in the game that they can't afford.

    Two, they don't want you selling things from their world when they could be selling those same things and keeping the money for themselves.
  • by BillGatesLoveChild (1046184) on Friday January 26, 2007 @10:50PM (#17779910) Journal
    eBay is a big, profit-focused company. They don't walk away from money unless there is a reason. Either they've decided it will become a problem in the future, or more likely, it's a problem for them now. That could be the cost and ill-will of complaints for selling virtual items is now making it cost more than they're making out of it. What do you think?
  • by DDLKermit007 (911046) on Friday January 26, 2007 @11:19PM (#17780120)
    Definitely not the end user. Your leasing access to the character & the service. Stop paying for the account and see what happens. You get it taken away from you. Heck, try selling a leased car & see how far you get. It's the same thing pretty much. Only people really bitching about this are the lazy & those farming. Both of which I could a flying crap about. Lazyasses shouldn't bother & farmers need to find a day job.
  • by s388 (910768) on Saturday January 27, 2007 @02:54AM (#17781338)
    The item clearly doesn't "belong" to Blizzard or Blizzard artists in any sense that's relevant to the kind of virtual loot transactions in question. When you sell virtual loot, you (in reality) in addition to your own personal in-game character are losing something, and somebody else is gaining it, in fair exchange. As noted by other commentators here, the buying player "gains" the time and effort that somebody else invested in that item, and gains the benefits that the time and effort produced. The game designers gain and lose nothing.

    The designers INVESTED nothing in that item IN THE VIRTUAL WORLD-- only the player did. Specifically, the player invested time and effort. The designers invested all sorts of things in the "items" in the real world. They created the artwork, creating the networking code, and much of the medium of the virtual world itself. But none of that is what the ebay buyer is paying for. The item for sale (or service, or time/effort, or whatever you want to call it) shouldn't be confounded with the physical game materials themselves including images and sounds.

    When you work in-game to gain an item, you gain the privilege of possessing that item. That privilege is what other people will PAY YOU FOR.

    If on the other hand you taking a screenshot of some typical in-game item, then sell that picture as merchandise itself, then it might be more appropriate to say that you're selling somebody else's property. Or if you steal a CD package from the manufacturer and sell it, for example.
  • by EonBlueTooL (974478) on Saturday January 27, 2007 @05:34AM (#17781954)
    But you don't own the music on your CD's.

    Why wouldn't I just sell a CD that has my account info on it? After all I own the CD with my account info on it even though I don't own the account, and I would be selling a physical object. If you rip the music to your PC would it still be ok (on a legal standpoint) to sell the CD?

    Anytime lawyers are involved things get stupid. I think 90% of legal problems could be solved with common sense alone. EULA's and other frivolous agreements should have the sole purpose of giving the company no liability.
  • by Sparr0 (451780) <sparr0@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @02:34AM (#17824752) Homepage Journal
    Preface... I buy and sell both real and virtual property on ebay, and moved my Everquest buying an selling (to the tune of USD10k/mo) to PlayerAuctions.com after ebay banned that particular game many years ago.

    That said, there is a certain amount of risk in doing any business online. Person-to-person transactions increase the risk. Transactions outside the bounds of the site's protection policies (which are mostly useless, but of measurably non-zero value) like unconfirmable virtual deliveries increase the risk significantly.

    There are many ways to decrease the risk. Only do business proportional to someone's feedback, or your own previous experience with them. Use legitimate (read: used by real auction companies) escrow services for large transactions. Follow a site's protection policy requirements to the letter.

    And, in closing... if you are waiting 3 months for packages from overseas, you're being scammed AND naive. I have never had a package take more than 2 weeks to get to me from anywhere in the world, including two trips through customs.

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