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Role Playing (Games) The Almighty Buck The Courts

Making the Case That Virtual Property Is a Bad Idea 184

Posted by timothy
from the contrarians-just-can't-get-along dept.
pacergh writes "Many legal commentaries on virtual property argue that it should exist. Others argue why it can exist. None seem to explicitly spell out what virtual property will look like or how it will affect online worlds. Lost in the technology love-fest are the problems virtual property might bring. The Virtual Property Problem lays out a model for what virtual property might look like and then applies it to various scenarios. This highlights the problems of carving virtual property out of a game developer's rights in his creation. From the abstract: '"Virtual property" is a solution looking for a problem.' The article explains the 'failure of property rights to benefit the users, developers, and virtual resources of virtual worlds.'"
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Making the Case That Virtual Property Is a Bad Idea

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOsPam.gmail.com> on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:09PM (#29056011) Journal
    Whether or not you 'own' anything in a game or on a server is already defined on a per game or site basis. Slashdot says I own my comments. Star Wars Galaxies' Terms of Service says Sony owns my items and characters. I have an account but I don't 'own' the virtual things that Sony puts in the game.

    The paper starts out with two real world analogies:

    Imagine owning Fenway Park. You sell tickets to Red Sox games. These tickets allocate seats in Fenway to individual spectators. Some of these tickets are sold by the entire season â" guaranteeing the same seat to the buyer for each game of the season.
    Season ticket holders are able to renew their purchase each year. Some have done so for years and years and years. Others have had their tickets passed down amongst family members. The tickets once owned by a grandfather are now owned by the grandson.
    These season ticket holders have put tremendous time and money into being able to sit in these same seats each year for each game. Should these fans be granted a property right in their seats?

    If the people who sold them to you signed a contract saying you were building some sort of equity by buying those seats year after year, then you have that. That's not the case and they could probably drop your right to them for next year when they decide to resell everything in a lottery or auction. Tough luck for you if they get greedy. If you don't like it, stop buying Fenway Park tickets. Americans love to have a sense of undeserved entitlement and this is no different. Next analogy:

    Now imagine living near a city park. You and a number of residents have taken it upon yourselves to help beautify the park. You plant grass, replenish flower gardens, and repair jungle gyms. The park is now a jewel in your city because of your effort.
    The city, however, has decided to sell the land to a property developer. Despite your wishes, and the wishes of your friends who helped beautify the park, there is nothing you can do to stop the sale. Should you have a property right in the park you spent so much time restoring?

    Again, you don't have anything in writing so you're out of luck. If you didn't realize what you were doing to begin with, you're a moron. You didn't own the park in the first place and sprucing it up doesn't give you any ownership of it. Cleaning my neighbor's yard doesn't entitle me to it; cleaning public property doesn't entitle you to it. Get a petition or run for election to change things. You don't own it because you cleaned it. Unfortunate how things played out but there it is.

    In World of Warcraft, I feel I 'own' Ampere on Thunderlord server but Blizzard's Terms of Use [worldofwarcraft.com] sets me straight:

    Ownership. All rights and title in and to the Service (including without limitation any user accounts, titles, computer code, themes, objects, characters, character names, stories, dialogue, catch phrases, locations, concepts, artwork, animations, sounds, musical compositions, audio-visual effects, methods of operation, moral rights, any related documentation, "applets" incorporated into the Game Client, transcripts of the chat rooms, character profile information, recordings of games played using the Game Client, and the Game Client and server software) are owned by Blizzard or its licensors. The Game and the Service are protected by United States and international laws, and may contain certain licensed materials in which Blizzard's licensors may enforce their rights in the event of any violation of this Agreement.

    (emphasis mine) I know I feel the right to him but Blizzard owns it. This has always been laid out for me and this paper is pointless in arguing for virtual property rights or against them. If you own them, they will say (like Slashdot). If you don't own them and you want to, find another game or site. I don't understand how the paper men

    • Slashdot says I own my comments. Star Wars Galaxies' Terms of Service says Sony owns my items and characters.

      Personally, I find the entire concept of someone saying they own your stuff to be strange. Or, indeed, someone else saying they don't own your stuff.

      • by genner (694963) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:15PM (#29056087)

        Slashdot says I own my comments. Star Wars Galaxies' Terms of Service says Sony owns my items and characters.

        Personally, I find the entire concept of someone saying they own your stuff to be strange. Or, indeed, someone else saying they don't own your stuff.

        It's called a rental. Why do you think you have to send them money on a monthly basis.

        • I think you have Sony's work on their game in mind. We're talking about PLAYER'S contribution to games in general, and USER's contributions to websites in general.

        • Virtual Property MUST exist, else all the cases brought against people for STEALING (downloading) other people's music through file sharing systems would be null and void.

          It all depends on what side of the boat you are on really. Either something has been stolen, and you can't steal something that doesn't exist or belong to someone, or virtual property doesn't exist and we are all being taken for a sweet (but one sided) ride and end up broke.

          When you start playing a game, it's generally spelt out qui
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by arth1 (260657)

        Personally, I find the entire concept of someone saying they own your stuff to be strange. Or, indeed, someone else saying they don't own your stuff.

        Personally, I find the entire concept of unconditional ownership strange.
        Where there is a scarcity of objects to be "owned", ownership should follow usage -- if you don't use it, you should lose it. Society isn't enriched by hoarding.
        In a digitial world, however, there is no scarcity of resources as such, and anything can be duplicated effortlessly and for alm

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          In virtual worlds, "game economics" apply. The rules of soccer could, for instance, state that "Each team shall automatically receive infinite points and be declared 'King of all Cosmos and Universal Omniwinner." If that actually were the case, though, the game wouldn't be worth playing. In the virtual context, scarcity is artificially created(for that matter, every property of an object is artificially created) for the purpose of making the virtual environment more entertaining, interesting, or pedagogical
          • by Knuckles (8964)

            In virtual worlds, "game economics" apply. The rules of soccer could, for instance, state that "Each team shall automatically receive infinite points and be declared 'King of all Cosmos and Universal Omniwinner." If that actually were the case, though, the game wouldn't be worth playing.

            That's nonsense, though. I know that this is how many people feel who grew up in capitalist economies, me sometimes included, but it's still nonsense that won't make you happy. See, the game would be still worth playing because for the actual players it's about playing first and foremost, not winning or making money.

            • Perhaps I wasn't sufficiently clear: The hypothetical set of "bad rules" I gave was one that wouldn't facilitate play, both teams would win immediately. That was intended to be why they were bad rules. Good rules are rules that induce "playing"(often, though not always, by means of holding out the promise of winning).
        • Problem with this:

          I don't actively use my electronics in my basement. It's been years since the Atari 2600 has been hooked up, but I'll likely be hooking it up in the next couple of months now that I have moved to a bigger place.

          When, exactly, does my ownership of those objects suddenly end due to lack of use, and who comes to take them away from me (and how do they know to take them from my home? What if they take the wrong things?). Absolute ownership is the only thing that works... See: American I
          • by Knuckles (8964)

            Seems to me that the Indian system worked better and the settlers' system is the broken one, but that's me.

            • Seems to me that the Indian system worked better and the settlers' system is the broken one, but that's me.

              the Indians were at the mercy of nature to prevent starvation. If the "settlers" had not come about, they would have either died, been wiped out, or advanced their own civilization by now, anyway.

              • by Knuckles (8964)

                the Indians were at the mercy of nature to prevent starvation.

                Just like any other farm economies at that time, i.e., more or less everyone. And like we are if your think it through.

                If the "settlers" had not come about, they would have either died, been wiped out, or advanced their own civilization by now, anyway.

                Why? They survived for thousands of years, until assaulted by a genocidal conqueror. Why would they not have survived a few hundred years more, until "now"? They might have advanced their way of life, probably not fundamentally, but what's wrong with that.

                Yeah, you are somewhat right, they were "wiped out", but that's kind of my point: being wiped out by a genocidal enemy does not necessari

    • Honestly: Thank you for explaining to me exactly WTF the article was trying to say.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      "Again, you don't have anything in writing so you're out of luck. If you didn't realize what you were doing to begin with, you're a moron. You didn't own the park in the first place and sprucing it up doesn't give you any ownership of it. Cleaning my neighbor's yard doesn't entitle me to it; cleaning public property doesn't entitle you to it. Get a petition or run for election to change things. You don't own it because you cleaned it. Unfortunate how things played out but there it is."

      In this case, or in
    • by 2obvious4u (871996) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:32PM (#29056301)
      Actually... There is something called "squatters rights" or Squatting [wikipedia.org]. So in the case of the residents taking care of the park for years, they would have a legal claim of ownership, at least in some states. There are also property laws in regards to "right of way" or Easement. [wikipedia.org]

      The important quote from the article:

      In common law, through the legally recognized concept of adverse possession, a squatter can become a bona fide owner of property without compensation to the owner. Adverse possession is the process by which one acquires the title to a piece of land by occupying it for the number of years necessary, dictated differently by each state. A necessary component of this transfer of ownership requires that the landowner is aware of the land occupation and does nothing to put an end to it. If the land use by the new occupant goes unchecked for the said number of years, the new occupant can claim legal rights to the title of the land. The occupant must show that the "possession is actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, under cover of claim or right, and continuous and uninterrupted for the statutory period."[53]As Erin Wiegand notes, the most difficult part of claiming adverse possession on the part of squatters is the continuous part. Squatting is a very transient lifestyle and many are evicted on a frequent basis. [54] In an article regarding recent foreclosures in the United States, a current squatter in Miami stated of her housing, "It's a beautiful castle and it's temporary for me, if I can be here twenty-four hours, I'm thankful."[55] Thus, while adverse possession allows for the legality of a squatter's situation, it is not easy to win a case of adverse possession.

      • by polar red (215081)

        Wonder where the 'original' ownership came from; the first 'owner' of a particular piece of the world ...

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by dangitman (862676)

          Wonder where the 'original' ownership came from; the first 'owner' of a particular piece of the world ...

          A big guy with a rock.

          • by FooAtWFU (699187)
            More like "a big mean fish who found something tasty to eat, and chased someone other fish off" but possibly you could talk about this with single-celled organisms too. Territory is a basic trait of many, many animals. Ever owned dogs, or know someone who does? Ever have them, ah, mark their territory? Or get angry when someone tries to appropriate their favorite stick, bone, or squeaky toy? Cats, too. The only difference with humans is scale.

            And some "ownership" concept is necessary for functioning socie

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mrchaotica (681592) *

          In America, the British (and other colonial powers) took the land from the indigenous people by force and claimed it in the name of the Crown. The Crown, in turn, granted/leased/sold (not sure of the terminology) it to the colonists (such that colonists had non-alloidal ownership, which they could sell amongst themselves but reverted to the Crown if they failed to pay taxes, died without heirs, etc.). Then the colonists became revolutionaries and took the land from the Crown by force, which works out the sa

          • Damnit. It's "allodial" title, not "alloidal." Dunno why I spelled it wrong; I guess I'm too used to seeing the "-oid" suffix in scientific terms...

      • So in the case of the residents taking care of the park for years, they would have a legal claim of ownership, at least in some states.

        No, I don't think so. They don't appear to be excluding the city from the park, nor do they seem to have ever claimed the park as their own until the very end; they're just donating caretaking services to the city.

      • by cmburns69 (169686)

        Of course squatters are evicted on a regular basis. If they weren't, they'd end up owning the property!

      • by brkello (642429)
        You aren't countering his point. He was saying you don't own something unless you have something in writing that legally says you do. You stated a law that might give some squatters rights in some states. Therefore, they have it in writing that they have some legal rights (just as the GP said). So you are just nitpicking something dumb without adding anything to the conversation.
        • by quadrox (1174915)

          Not if he meant an explicit form of contract for that specific property when saying "something in writing". Which is hardly a too far fetched assumption to make.

      • by Throtex (708974)

        I think you'll find that the really important quote from the article, as regards residents taking care of a park for years, is:

        Adverse possession does not typically work against property owned by a government agency.

        Not to mention, even using the quote you gave, that the example probably fails at least the exclusivity requirement.

    • It should be pointed out that some of the WoW terms of use aren't enforceable: "transcripts of the chat rooms" "character names" "applets incorporated into the Game Client" "recordings of games played"

      Transcripts of the chat rooms seems the easiest to strike down. The argument I'd use is that it's not material to the service, it disproportionately disadvantages the client party for no good technical or business reason, and Blizzard offers no compensation for what may be something of considerable value. It

    • cleaning public property doesn't entitle you to it.

      Actually, in some states this isn't true. The process is called "Homesteading [wikipedia.org]."

      In my home state, when property is laid out it is common to leave a "right of way" area to make sure public works can get to things like coulées to maintain them. This "right of way" area is technically owned by the local government, but they usually don't bother to maintain it unless someone complains. If a home-owner cares for the land, after a certain period of time they

    • by conlaw (983784)
      Your analysis reads like that of a practicing attorney--succint and well-reasoned--but then you say

      How this author went on a 33 page 'analysis' about this, I'll never know.

      If you'd suffered through three years of law school, you should know that almost every law school professor can write 33 pages of 'analysis' on just about any subject and if they can find a case or two to cite, they can usually drag it out to fifty or sixty pages.

    • That's not the case and they could probably drop your right to them for next year when they decide to resell everything in a lottery or auction

      Since we're talking Fenway Park, let's go to NY State law. But let's move from Fenway, to a house you own outside of the city.

      Your neighbor puts up a fence that overlaps your property. You never follow up on it, and don't get him to admit that, yes, it's your property. (Or even tell him that it's yours.) Ten years pass. Guess what? That sliver of land that his fence is on is now HIS property.

      Let's shift away from real property to personal property. You hand me your bat, along with a piece of paper th

  • by genner (694963) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:14PM (#29056063)
    All software everywhere is virtual property. All databases are virtual property. All the information on a database is virtual property. Your WOW charatcer is an entry in a database. It belongs to someone. This is not a new idea. There's just a lot of argueing over who owns what.
    • by Mad Merlin (837387) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:48PM (#29056483) Homepage

      Your bank account's balance is an entry in a database.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by genner (694963)

        Your bank account's balance is an entry in a database.

        Technically no. A banks database only keeps track of how much of the green stuff they're holding on to for you. Your bank balance is made up of physical currency. That's why they hand you a little envelope when you make withdrawls and not a floppy disk.

    • by Xtravar (725372)

      My medical record is under my control despite being in others' databases, but I suppose that's a specially legislated 'virtual property' right.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      It'll be trickier than that, though. A virtual object's value is derived, more or less, from its "scarcity context": that is, within the confines of a given virtual environment(swords in WoW are not worth less just because CoD2 has guns), how many copies of the item exist, how hard it is to make new ones, what percentage of the population has one, or has something better, or has something worse, how likely it is that you will lose your copy, etc.

      This isn't too different from real property, which is also
    • All software everywhere is virtual property.

      Well yes, in a sense, all intellectual property is virtual property, but then look what's happening to intellectual property. It's having to fight to keep its value high by creating artificial scarcity of copies of that IP. There's no natural scarcity anymore, at least not for creating new copies once the first copy is created.

      Your WOW character may technically belong to someone, but there's no natural limit to how many times he could be replicated. On the other hand, insofar as scarcity is maintained a

      • by genner (694963)

        Your WOW character may technically belong to someone, but there's no natural limit to how many times he could be replicated. On the other hand, insofar as scarcity is maintained artificially, there's no assurance that your character won't just evaporate one day and complete cease to exist. How much value do you want to assign to an asset like that?

        $14.99 a month.

  • by Ksevio (865461)
    Of course the value in virtual property by itself is not worth much. It's trivial to add another server to expand the property available. What is more valuable is the property's relation to other properties. In Snow Crash there was the Metaverse with a virtual city. It was mentioned that the most expensive property was at the center where all the hip places to hang out (as well as the geek/wealthy neighborhoods). At the other side of the world there was lots of emptiness - suggesting that the property
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:19PM (#29056141) Homepage

    It's that traditional property rights law and jurisprudence is overkill. The companies that run these services are more than competent at adjudicating disputes between users, and should be the ones doing it since the "goods and services" neither really leave their company property, nor can exist outside of their property/products.

    One of the reasons the law is so fubared is because everyone wants everything laid out in advance, in exacting detail. Well, between that and the unwillingness to accept the arbitration of mediators, elders, family, neighbors, etc. is why society is so litigious. It is now de rigueur to immediately start lawyering up because the only authority that most people will truly accept is the government and its courts.

    • by SirLanse (625210)
      If they dont like the ruling of the Supreme court they still get pissy and look for some where else to sue.
  • by popo (107611) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:23PM (#29056185) Homepage

    Stocks, Pension plans, Intellectual property rights, Bank accounts -- all of these things are virtual.

    We can try to pretend that they represent something tangible -- but that tangible thing is only a piece of paper which in turn, represents the intangible.

    When we talk about "virtual property" today, we're talking about something very similar: a right or access to something intangible which you control.

    This is a very old concept. Some might say, "yes, but this property has no bearing on the 'real' world". But this is a shortsighted argument, and one that any insightful person can see will become increasingly blurry with time.

    The only thing that makes "in game" property different is that the "right" or "access" exists within a framework and/or platform which in turn is the intellectual property of another/larger entity.

    But virtual property has always been a "good" idea, and it isn't anything new.

    • by JSBiff (87824) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:36PM (#29056363) Journal

      When you buy stock in a company, as a stock owner, you are a partial owner of all land, factories, office buildings (and any other facilities owned by the corporation), furniture, equipment (vehicles, manufacturing machines, etc) that company owns. All that stuff is quite tangible. I can go touch a building, and if I own stock in the company that owns the building, then I (in part), own that building.

      As to your main point, virtual property in the 'game world' sense is different. How? You might theoretically 'own' a particular instance of a building in a game, but you most likely do not own the artwork which represents that building (models, textures, shaders, etc), nor the game server in whose memory it resides, nor even the client running on your machine (remember kids, you *license* software copies, you don't *own* software unless you wrote it or payed someone else to right it for you as an employee or contract work-for-hire and have the paperwork to document that fact).

      I have a hard time saying you own *anything* if everyone else owns the stuff it's made up of. That's like saying you own your house, but someone else owns the land under your house which you rent, and the materials your house was constructed from (so they could take back the 'materials' any time they wanted).

      Do you really own your house if someone else owns the land and materials?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TubeSteak (669689)

        That's like saying you own your house, but someone else owns the land under your house which you rent,

        Try this: stop paying your property taxes.
        You'll find out very quickly just who owns the land under your house.

        There's also the matter of mineral rights, which you more than likely don't own.

      • Well, the government, in effect, owns the land, and if you don't pony up the dough, they can take it away from you. Also, "eminent domain" = they can take it if they want to. But trust me, I still own my house. If you try to take my stuff from my house, or try to live in my house, I will call the cops and have you arrested for trespassing.
      • "but you most likely do not own the artwork which represents that building (models, textures, shaders, etc), "

        Not entirely true in the context of SecondLife type setups

        You can in Photoshop/Gimp/whatever create your textures (and in some cases in some programs like Blender or AC3D create the models)
        and then upload to the SL server and build an in game item.

        You most definitely "own" those items created and the assests used to build them (and could file DMCA takedowns over them).

      • That's like saying you own your house, but someone else owns the land under your house which you rent

        In common law countries, the government owns all land. People who hold real estate in fee simple [wikipedia.org] in the United States, for example, pay a rent called "property tax" to the county.

      • by jparker (105202)

        You say that if you own stock in a company, you own part of its buildings, factories, etc., but what does ownership give you in this case? Can you take your part of that building and go sell it to someone else? Can you take it and use it in your house? Can you have the workers you own get you coffee? What you "own" in this case is entirely virtual. There's a theoretical mapping onto some real items, but the "ownership" that you have over those is very different than the ownership you have over a piece of fu

      • When you buy a $10 share in an oil company, you may believe its real because you can go and touch the office building, or an oil rig. But your share is only worth $10 because people believe that a small percentage of the company's assets (oil rigs, office buildings etc) works out at a value of $10. It's all virtual. Maybe the next day the oil company announces it might have found oil in some new location. It's not sure, but it thinks so. Probably your share will now be worth $11 or $15. There aren't 10% mor

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nine-times (778537)

      But virtual property has always been a "good" idea, and it isn't anything new.

      Yes, but in the past, virtual property was generally some kind of representation of real property somehow. Stocks are "virtual property" except that they represent ownership in a real company. If that company goes out of business and they liquidate all their assets, your stocks will still be worth some non-zero amount of money, which represents the value of your share of those liquidated assets. We could shut down the stock exchange and, insofar as you still own shares of ownership of various companies,

    • Some might say, "yes, but this property has no bearing on the 'real' world". But this is a shortsighted argument, and one that any insightful person can see will become increasingly blurry with time.

      Could somebody mod me insightful so that I will understand?

      Alternatively, I will settle for an explanation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by avandesande (143899)

      The simplest example of this is money or check, which is virtual in the sense that it represents a promise.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by brkello (642429)
      Umm, my bank account doesn't pretend to represent something tangible. It does represent something tangible. I can go in and get stacks of $100 bills any time I want.

      When we are talking virtual property, one example is your MMORPG characters. I can't withdraw anything from Blizzard without violating the ToS since it belongs to them as is clearly stated. In this instance, this property has no bearing on the real world (at least in the sense that I have no rights to it). If it did, then I would be taxed
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:28PM (#29056249)

    Virtual property may have a tangible value in a few circumstances, which are mostly tech-dependent; But rather than list hard rules, let's give some examples where there's a real cost;

    The Domain Name System (DNS). The system has the constraint that only certain combinations of words or letters are easily remembered. For example, "www.fjoi323r9023vvnd.com" fails the test, while "www.buy-my-cheap-useless-crap.com" is not. The limits are mostly due to limitations of language, human memory, and legal considerations (ex. trademark and copyright law). As a result of this -- a domain name can have a real, material cost.

    IP Address space. ipv4 doesn't have enough available addresses to account for every device that can/will be/is connected to the internet. It's a finite resource. This is a technical constraint caused by early planning decisions and the cost of infrastructure upgrades. Once that limit is met, the laws of supply and demand state that a price-point will be established. The infrastructure won't be upgraded until the cost of those IP addresses exceeds the cost of the upgrade to a different protocol (ipv6) -- despite the fact that most equipment today is capable of transitioning. The real cost is administrative, not technical.

    Examples where "virtual property" is entirely or largely artificial; MP3s. Videos. Multimedia. The cost here is in terms of licensing -- the cost of storing and using such intangibles has almost no economic cost. Examples where "virtual property" is explicitly limited to create a cost point; Comcast, bandwidth restrictions, etc.

    The problem isn't whether virtual property exists, or if it should exist (or not). The problem is that technical limitations are often used to justify the creation of an artificial market -- and in many cases this isn't due to entrenched infrastructure costs or a marginal need to upgrade or change it to remove those limitations, but rather is rather a deliberate act in order to monetize something that otherwise would have a marginal cost of near zero.

    I would argue that virtual property is valid and needs some legal controls; But that laws should be carefully crafted to disallow constraints being intentionally created to create artificial markets. Changes in copyright law would address most of this problem. Changes in how our utilities operate and forcing businesses to set aside a portion of their profits for infrastucture upgrades (and then do so!) would solve most of the rest.

    • by sayfawa (1099071)
      I thought almost exactly the same way, but I made the mistake of grouping all physical goods together, and all virtual goods together. With your example of the domain name and IP addresses, I can now see that virtual goods can have real value too, as long as there is real scarcity.

      But thinking about it further (and maybe to play devil's advocate); what happens if two people have the same IP or domain name? Somewhere there's going to be conflict, and it's going to affect the real world. And by affect the r
  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted@@@slashdot...org> on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:28PM (#29056251)

    Because it *doesn't exist*!

    There. I killed the whole discussion. ;)

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:30PM (#29056283)
    Any time you have good that is infinitely reproducible at negligible cost, it inevitably leads to a bubble, followed by a meltdown. The global economic meltdown just demonstrated that this principle was true for Credit Default Swaps; it was just as true for the Tulip Bubble and Internet Bubble. Any attempt to monetize virtual property will inevitably result in this same boom/bust cycle. That's good if your one of the first to cash out, but very bad if you wait until later in the cycle...
    • I am now eager awaiting the Project Gutenberg bubble, since it is easy to reproduce a good (like an electronic copy of Pride and Prejudice) indefinitely at a negligible cost. The meltdown should be interesting also.

      • by sayfawa (1099071)
        Isn't the meltdown happening now? That's why there's so much talking (and doing) of making draconian laws to stop people from copying infinitely copyable goods. The people who have imaginary property know their bubble is bursting. And it sure is interesting, if sometimes irritating.
      • by Locke2005 (849178)
        Obviously I left out a few other necessary conditions, such as demand for the good, and non-zero valuation. "Meltdown" or bust means that valuations go to zero or very little; Project Gutenberg has been there since day one, so there is no room to fall.
  • I've often wondered what would become of online multiplayer games if Player A were allowed to sue Player B for stealing his items while playing "in character" according to the rules of the game. It occurs to me such a thing would be very bad for the viability of online role-playing. As far as online games are concerned, I feel it's better if disputes over virtual property are left to be resolved within the virtual world itself, according to its own rules.

  • Imagine owning Fenway Park.

    Virtual resources, however, do not exist in a state of nature.

    At this point, I realized there would be no insight offered here. Just hype.

    The idea of "property" is what people seem to completely ignore, choosing to focus on arbitrary topics that have basis in what their concept of ownership is built upon. The ownership of something as imaginary as invisible lines on a map should be broken down and examined, not serve as a starting point, not presented as a black box of assumptions

    • Property relies on scarcity. Heck, our entire economy relies on scarcity. Ownership can only be effectively enforced when there is only one copy. For example, if I have a watch, it is going to be distinct and different in some ways than another watch, each watch is unique. On the other hand, virtual "property" lacks this quality. For example, you can define a entire virtual character in the following lines:

      name: SomeName

      attack: 5

      defense: 3

      hp: 200

      level: 40

      equipped: sword

      Cloak

      Staff

      D
  • by stimpleton (732392) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:33PM (#29056331)
    My account in second life was terminated due to billing issue.

    That email states:
    "What happens to your Second Life account holdings? When terminating Second Life accounts, we remove all associated holdings. There will be no refunds or exchanges for any unused time on your subscription, Island purchases, Linden Dollars, or inworld objects, items, or content."

    The slightly longer explanation is was that my CC expired, which in turn forced me to "basic" membership with virtually no support rights.
    If i'd owned virtual land then hundreds if not thousands could have been lost.
    I know of one direct example. 6 sims x $195/month. Gone bill to billing dispute, and people see the tier(land tax) quickly exceed their saleable land value so just walk away.

    I consider this article [wordpress.com] the definitive summary of how things can turn to custard very quickly.

    Being a pioneer in a 3d world is risky and unfeasible.
  • Some games try to simulate Reality, or a version of something not entirely dissimilar (wizards and such aside). Real life is characterized by objects that can only exist one place at a time. There is not an infinite supply of these objects. Insofar as a game attempts to simulate real life, then the notion of "virtual property" is not entirely devoid of meaning.

    On the other hand, it's certainly overrated in some places. "Second Life" comes to mind. The objective of virtual property there, however, is not s

  • by FunkyELF (609131) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:47PM (#29056467)
    If you have direct deposit and a debit / credit card linked to your checking account, all your money if virtual property.
    Not to mention the fact that the Federal Reserve System can create it out of thin air... it might as well be completely virtual.
  • I was supposed to cancel WOW but I kept forgetting. This article reminded me and now my wife deeply appreciates the existence of /. (feel free to mod me OffTopic).
  • Punishment for violating virtual property rights must be domain-specific. If I got too clever in a game and ended up taking or damaging someone else's stuff, it's all right to forfeit my items (fine), suspend my account for a certain time (incarceration) or terminate my character and ban me from the game for life (death penalty). However people playing games shouldn't end up in real-world jail for getting caught up in the moment.

    The only exception would be virtual systems specialized for tracking real-life

  • Second Life grants its users the right to copyright their creations.

    This is neither true nor relevant to the situation described in SL.

    * In US law, you have a copyright in your creations when you create them, unless you grant that copyright to another. The Terms of Service in Sony's "Little Big World" state that to access the service you have to give up your rights in what you create, YOU grant YOUR rights TO Sony. The terms of Service in SL grant Linden Labs a right to your creations... Linden Labs isn't granting you anything... they are merely limiting the rights you grant them in the Terms of Service.

    * The grant allows Linden Lab to use your works within the SL service. What they do with those rights is to set up a mini-economy based on a permissions model that controls the copying and transfer of objects in the game. The mechanism of duplicating objects in SL does not depend on a bug in the permissions system, but on the realities of copy protection in the real world... what you're doing is the equivalent of taping a song from the radio and selling copies of that tape out of the back of your car. The applicability of the law in this situation is clear, and it doesn't matter whether the so-called virtual property consists of two minutes of music or two megabytes of texture files.

    This paper's analysis only applies to a situation where either (a) the content of the virtual world is only created by the game developer, or (b) where the terms of service require a transfer of copyright to the game developer. It's completely irrelevant to content in SL where real-life copyright laws are in play.

    There is an analogy in SL, ownership of virtual land, but the existing case law is at best unsettled (Bragg vs Linden Lab [wikipedia.org]).

  • Think of the taxes...insurance, what about ADA access. These are all things that can impact property of all sorts.
  • To those who say that digital property is meaningless and nothing but bytes in a computer, I ask this:

    What is the money in your wallet but paper? What is the money in your bank account but bytes? What is the real world property you own but words on a deed?

    It all comes down to how much you and others value it. There is no objective value to it.

  • 1. SQL*Plus: Release 10.2.0.1.0 - Production on Thu Aug 13 16:07:13 2009
    Copyright (c) 1982, 2005, Oracle. All rights reserved.

    Connected to: wow_prod_001
    Oracle Database 10g Enterprise Edition Release 10.2.0.1.0 - Production
    With the Partitioning, OLAP and Data Mining options

    SQL> DELETE FROM player_inventory;
    where oh shit!!!!1!!

    2. Virtual property cannot be reconciled. With real property, there is a house, a dead a title, a MCO. There are physical things which exist beyond these paper instruments, or the
    • 1. Your house, my gasoline. Pour, light match. By by.

      2. 90% of what proves your house is your house is your possession of it. Bits and bytes are the same way.

      3. INSERT INTO player_inventory actually costs something to make. First, you have to define the thing to insert, then you have to define the database, the storage, the network, the software... all of that is work, and the investment that is put into these systems, the work, is what people are trying to preserve when they call it property.

  • by ehud42 (314607) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @03:20PM (#29056935) Homepage
    I can't help but think of the say "Possession is nine tenths of the law" or something like that. If the property is virtual then who has it in their hands? who can lick to get first dibs?

    In the end, virtual property is neither good nor bad - it's ugly.

  • What I've always wondered about relating to virtual property is how its value will is decided on a large scale, and the potential risks for abuse. Virtual property has these 2 issues:

    1. Unlimited supply -> Basically anything with unlimited supply should be a price point close to 0. Assigning an arbitrary value goes against the basic rules of an economy, where demand here will not dictate price. In some economies like WoW's gold economy, there is the appearance of limited supply, and value was derived acc

  • Equating virtual property to real property is insanely stupid.

    (a) Whose law is going to apply? You must remember that the law of the USA is not the law of the world. I don't think that any game host would want to touch that issue with a ten foot pole (at the risk of losing Korean, Chinese, Indian, or British players). I also don't think that most hosts would want people in their enviroments bartering with thirty page contracts. Making a Himalayan game player liable to a Chilean game player under Chilea

  • It is not reality.
    If you think it is, come out of your parents basement and get a job!
    • "it is not reality"

      Buying and selling real estate is just a game too. It might be a game that is ratified by governments and community sentiment, but for all that it is arbitrary. You don't 'own' a piece of land in anything more than a legal sense. You can't take it with you if you move overseas. You don't necessarily have the right to dig underneath it or fly over it. You didn't create it, cannot throw it away. A change of government could take it away from you with the stroke of a pen. You cannot prote

  • by PPH (736903)

    You kids stay off my virtual lawn!

  • ... in favor of so-called "virtual property" I find myself thinking that this seems like it might be an idea put out there by the same geniuses that, only recently, nearly destroyed the global economy.

A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any other invention, with the possible exceptions of handguns and Tequilla. -- Mitch Ratcliffe

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