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Role Playing (Games) Businesses The Almighty Buck

eBay Delisting All Auctions for Virtual Property 324

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 tepp ( 131345 ) on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:44PM (#17775146)
    I doubt it will impact the various virtual economies much, considering that you can go directly to several of the larger farming groups and buy gold direct.

    For example, IGE.

    If people still want to buy/sell virtual goods, there really isn't any way to prevent them.

    Still, I salute Ebay for trying.
  • by faloi ( 738831 ) on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:59PM (#17775464)
    This is insane. There's clearly a market for this activity. And there's clearly a way to handle it legitimately (i.e. IGE). Instead of setting up a parallel site (like eBay motors), they just decide they're not going to handle it at all. Way to serve your investors, ebay.
    That's the thing though... IGE isn't legitimate. If a MMORPG publisher finds out you bought gold or items from them, they can ban your account. eBay is protecting their customers.
    It's either this, or field the "eBay should've have sold this if they knew it could cost me the account that I spent years playing because Blizzard or SOE found out I bought gold."
  • by UCSCTek ( 806902 ) on Friday January 26, 2007 @05:02PM (#17775524)
    People who will pay for this crap: 1) Those with MMORPG's as their biggest hobby. I know people that spend thousands on other hobbies that are more...socially mainstream. 2) People with loads of money and/or little time who don't want to bother with the "unfun parts" of the game. 3) Competitive types, who derive insane pleasure from being the only one to have a "Bastard Sword of +10 Virginity", etc.
  • by jonnythan ( 79727 ) on Friday January 26, 2007 @05:16PM (#17775784)
    You must be the owner of the intellectual property *if you are selling intellectual property*.

    If you're selling a physical item, you must be the owner of the physical item.

    You don't own your WoW character. You own your CDs. You can sell your CDs but not your WoW character.

  • by the Brightside ( 945745 ) on Friday January 26, 2007 @05:23PM (#17775908) Homepage
    The reply brings up the doctrine of first sale because it controls in your specious "slippery slope" example but not the original scenario. The reason first sale does not apply to the sale of virtual goods or characteres is because control of those virtual goods or characters is granted only under a license and not by a bill of sale. That is to say, when you buy World of Warcraft, you buy the physical artifact in the box, but you do not buy what you are logging on to. The characters, world, and all items are still Blizzard's, so you never owned them in the first place, and thus can't re-sell them. You can do that with a CD, or anything else on, because what you're selling is the physical artifact, and not the rights to reproduce the music on that CD. I'm stumped that you can tell the respondent to RTFA without understanding that your initial "precedent" is irrelevant.
  • by DogAlmity ( 664209 ) on Friday January 26, 2007 @05:44PM (#17776300)
    Yes, you, you people with more money than you know what to do with!

    You DON'T need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on nothing!

    Here's a link to website with a huge listing of charitable organizations. I promise you that giving 2 grand to help the needy or cure a disease will make you feel better than spending 2 grand on a shiny new level 70 rogue. []


  • by Barny ( 103770 ) <> on Friday January 26, 2007 @06:19PM (#17776850) Journal

    there's no reason why I shouldn't be allowed to sell my character
    One thing they point out is that its not YOUR CHARACTER, its never your character, you are paying your little fee each month to use their character in their game.
  • by x_MeRLiN_x ( 935994 ) * on Friday January 26, 2007 @06:41PM (#17777196) Homepage
    Being an ex-Neopets player, that is nothing new. eBay doesn't permit anything that copyright holders can rightfully object to and has routinely removed auctions selling Neopoints for years.

    eBay policy: []
    Neopets ToS: []

    * requests for money by using your Neopets, Neopoints or any other Neopets property on third party sites or your personal websites (including Ebay)
    In my opinion, all this really means is that more will be sold on less well-known sites with an arguably higher proliferation of fraud.
  • by 1sockchuck ( 826398 ) on Friday January 26, 2007 @07:12PM (#17777772) Homepage
    Virtual Economies [] is an MMO resource site that includes a directory of online marketplaces [] dealing in real-money trading of virtual assets. It also has links to services that try to track pricing trends.
  • by louisadkins ( 963165 ) on Friday January 26, 2007 @09:03PM (#17779104)
    Actually, Blizzard has previously voiced objections to RL $$ being paid for items, gold, accounts, power leveling services.. They went as far as to try and sue a company for this, at one point, and lost. That is why they (Bliz) will tell you they can't shut down the gold seller sites. OTOH, they have, do, and will continue to watch out for farm-bots, hackers, gold sellers (and purchasers.) Generally, if they catch you at such things, you are lucky to get a warning. Usually, they will track the parties and then ban their accounts. If I understand the reasoning, when they lost the case to close down a gold-seller, they clarified that the server that you play on is their private property, and anyone who logs in to the network is held to their rules(Terms of Service that you have to click through to play the game after install and each patch.) It's kind of like going to a public mall; you are still on private property, and if you fail to follow the standards for being there the owner(s) can have you removed/refuse to allow you to return.

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly