November 2003 | Main Page | January 2004

GTAIII most evil thing in the world ever

According to this piece in the New York Post, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (and Grand Theft Auto III) is worse than paedophilia, child porn and smoking. The piece goes on to say that an adult rating is not sufficient and that GTA should be banned - just like “dwarf throwing” has been.

As we would say in the UK, I’m gob smacked.

Ren

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Howard Dean: The Videogame

Thanks to the Cyberspace@UCLA group and Professor Susanne Lohmann for a heads up about Howard Dean's new videogame. For those not in the know, Dean is a candidate for President of the United States of America, the country's most important office (though there are others with more prestige). Dean is the front-runner for the Democratic Party nomination, and he got to the front of the pack using the internet and social software.

For more on the Dean campaign and the internet, read elsewhere.

What about the game? You wave signs, hand out literature, and knock on doors to build support in various counties of the great state of Iowa, where the nomination contest begins in a few weeks. Supporters breed supporters, and as the clock ticks down, Dean marches to victory! Game experts have not been kind to political games in the past; one wonders how this one will be received.

Well, at least Dean shows he's not afraid of the technology. We now await the response of the anti-game candidate, Joe Lieberman. Most likely: more TV ads.

[Edit: From the It's A Small World After All Department: The Howard Dean game was developed by Ian Bogost of Water Cooler Games. Also on staff: Gonzalo Frasca, author of September 12, the game that caught Greg Costikyan's ire.]

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Data Protection

Here in the UK we have legislation to protect the individual from malevolent use of their personal details by evil corporations and secretive government agencies (with some exceptions that apply to secretive government agencies). This legislation is generally recognised to be badly enacted and misunderstood, and has recently been cited as problematic in a major murder trial and two deaths related to cold weather.

The aims of the act are benign: to protect individuals' privacy, to enable them to find out what information is being held about them, and to allow them to correct it if it's false.

How would this act (or one like it in a country that drafts its laws better than the UK) affect virtual worlds?

Here's a scenario that uses some of the suggestions that were made in the recent reputation discussion:

As a player of a virtual world, I try to join a "good" guild and am turned down. I try to join another, and am turned down. This keeps happening, until I figure out that I'm on some kind of blacklist that all the good guilds are using to "check out" potential recruits. I have no idea why I am on the blacklist, or who operates it. I would like to:
1) Find out who runs the blacklist.
2) Discover what information they have about me.
3) Correct it if it is wrong.

Can I call on real-life data protection laws to do this?

Let's add a wrinkle. Say the blacklist is run by a guild of evil players who have managed to take over the good guilds' blacklisting system as part of the virtual world's eternal war between good and evil. This would make the running of the blacklist a "game" thing rather than a "real life" thing. Would data protection laws still apply? If so, should the legislation be changed so that it allows "game" personal data to be incorrect yet remain legal?

One for the lawyers among you!

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Multiple Server Hack: Portly NPC Appears Mysteriously in Several Virtual Worlds; Distributes Gifts, Tubers

Apparently the result of some kind of concerted campaign of disruption, the NPC was first reported about 12 hours ago in Lineage, Ragnarok, and Final Fantasy Online. Several hours later it (apparently 'he') appeared briefly in Anarchy Online and the Euro servers of Dark Age of Camelot and EverQuest. Five hours after that he was sighted in Camelot's US-Based servers, then, about ten minutes ago, in SOE's EverQuest/US and Star Wars Galaxies servers, and EA's Sims Online cities.

The mob appears to be a magic-user NPC, as he wears red cloth armor and equips a prodigious tomb or book. He has a number of deerlike familiars, though whether the pets are summoned or charmed or tamed is unclear. Another critical piece of equipment is a large red vehicle that was observed to sustain amazing top speeds and unheard-of maneuverability ratings.

The NPC's book seems to enable some sort of faction check against a PC who hails him, because, while the NPC does not give out quests, he does distribute an item apparently based on this faction check. There were some clear patterns in the loot table, i.e., with necromancers, cabalists, warlocks, any lizard race characters, and Star Wars Imperials tending to receive either A Potato or A Piece of Coal, neither of which had any special properties and appeared to be junk. Clerics, Paladins, and overt Star Wars Rebels seemed most frequently to receive a rather nice item, often one they had been wishing for. A bug seems to block the faction check against most dark elf, drow, twilek, zabrak, and fiend-type females, as if the NPC could not decide whether they were naughty or nice. The NPC was especially kind to all players on Firiona Vie (EQ), Guinivere, Percival, and Nimue (Camelot), while distributing literally tons of coal on servers like the Zeks in EQ, and UO's PvP shards. In Sims Online cities, the NPC seemed to fall into a serious pathing error, running from house to house distributing coal and potato items without responding to any hails or faction-check attempts, then de-spawning abruptly. Moreover, in all worlds, players who had been sitting in one spot continuously for more than ten hours, doing the same thing over and over and over, always got A Potato. Other attributes that led to bad faction: using numbers in place of letters in chat; kill-stealing; camp hogging; running a brothel; twinking; eBaying; doing academic research. Good faction came from role-playing, helping newbies, guild leadership, and being witty from time to time.

We await some information from devs of these worlds to determine whether this was an outside intervention or some sort of collective scheme. Early reports suggest that the player base is outraged at this obvious attempt to tie a loot-distribution system to player behavior. In most worlds, we can expect server roll-backs to 11:59pm December 24, then life as usual again.

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China, World's Largest MMORGP With Over 1.2 Billion Users, Follows Second Life's Lead and Changes EULA to Grant Users Property Rights

In an expected, but amazing move, the People's Republic of China, while still a communist nation, has chosen to enshrine property rights into its constitution. Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong says, "The Chinese leadership understands that the private sector will be the engine for economic growth."

Of course, this is merely bringing the Chinese constitution inline with reality, as China has been embracing private property for a long time, and in some ways provides it's citizens more economic freedoms then democratic nations (e.g. see comparison of property rights for farmers in India versus China here.) But now the many private endeavors throughout China will be move out from the gray market. They must read Hernando De Soto.

So, if the largest remaining communist nation can't keep the capitalists out, anybody think that MMORPGs are going to be able to? Or, that they even should?

In further parallel to recent TN discussions, China is increasing economic freedoms but not political ones. In fact, by acceding to China's powerful entrepreneurs, the ruling elite has almost certainly increased their base of support within China. This will be doubly true if economic reforms have a dramatic impact of China's economic prosperity. If nothing else, it makes for interesting reading as they attempt to explain how Marxism inevitably leads to private property and that education and technology are the path to the future (shockingly, there is very little mention of the Cultural Revolution).

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Mythic v Mythica

The Wall Street Journal reports that Mythic Entertainment (makers of DAoC) have sued Microsoft for trademark infringement over MS's use of "Mythica" for their new MMOG.

Reports available via Google News.

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Terra Nova Welcomes Ren Reynolds

Motivated primarily by philosophical questions involving virtual worlds, Ren has a number of interesting credits under his belt: marketing, programming, writing, start-ups, business strategy, consulting. Check his website for handy links to far more game studies literature than we can list here. Ren is among the first to express in print the idea that virtual items may be property and he's known for his writing on the moral aspects of game design. Being originally from the Danelaw, Ren connects to Terra Nova in a couple of ways - geographically, he's linked to both T.L. Taylor of Copenhagen and Richard Bartle of the Not Formerly Danish Part of England. And in spirit, he speaks for all residents of formerly Danish provinces around the globe, these being, in particular, France, Russia, Sicily, Newfoundland, and the State of Minnesota. We're relieved to finally have this important perspective represented on our blog. Ren, welcome!

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Reputation

I've been looking at the social software movement (see e.g. Many 2 Many) and in particular computer-mediated reputation systems (see e.g. Resnick et al's readable overview). These well-known examples of these include eBay's feeedback rating system, Amazon's seller rating system, and Slashdot's moderation system.

Anyway, this got me thinking about reputation in virtual worlds...

One would think that some means of coding the reputation of users would be of central importance to MMORPGs and social VWs. After all, you don't even know the most basic facts about the typist of the avatar you're interacting with: is she really female irl or just female presenting? Of course, there are a number of obvious examples: the UO pk flag, and red linking/tagging in TSO being the most obvious examples. Neither of these have been profoundly successful, at least as far as I read them (though I'm not trying to be dogmatic here, and would be interested if YMMV).

The one unequivocally successful reputation-signalling institution isn't software coded at all, it's human-coded. The guild. The guild not only enforces reputational cues within its members, but it also sends strong and enforceable signals to the outside world about the reputational capital of any individual member of that guild. And afaik, these institutions are basically user-created and not software mediated (though I recall vaguely that DAoC has built it into the gamedesign, and no doubt many other games I'm not familiar with have it too).

So, I'm interested in others' views of the nature of reputation in VWs/MMOGs. Software or Society? Success or Failure? Coke or Pepsi?

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Virtual Property Redux

Another datapoint follows for those tracking the rise of virtual property. A court has ordered the transfer of stolen virtual property back to the original player. Most interesting here is (1) it's a Chinese court which is leading the way, and (2) the court ordered the developer to transfer the property. This latter point merits attention that I don't have time for now, since I'm knee-deep in spackle. Will say some stuff in a bit.


[Edit: Go here for more stories. Original Reuters story that I included has been deleted from the post, since copyright is a blunt weapon and copyright plaintiffs have no sense of humor these days]

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Free Speech & Football

right.gifAs an interesting compare/contrast with VW issues, see this re Joe Horn's inability to speak freely (as in "free beer") on a game field -- apparently the phone rates are about $30K per call. (Cell-phone bans are generally content-neutral btw, just like the DMCA supposedly is...)

Of course, despite Curt Schilling's proclivity for assassinating dwarven paladins named BingBong, I admit the connections between the EULAs of professional sports and virtual worlds are somewhat tenuous. E.g. Horn may be a football field rebel, but he is being paid to amuse people, not paying people to be amused.

(More sports/speech connections to ponder: Salt Lake Olympics zoning, Baseball and Iraq, columnist thoughts, and of course, the Mexico City 1968 Olympics.)

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The Politics of Unresponsiveness

It seems that everyone has a view about the goings-on over at The Alphaville Herald. Oddly, the only view we haven't from is Maxis. Which is interesting. It would be easy--and probably helpful--for them to put their spin on the toading of Urezinus. Maybe he's a no-goodnik, maybe he's really using his account to sell simoleans. We only have his side of the story...

Of course, from the perspective of the PR flak their silence is not odd at all. Better to keep your mouth shut and hope the storm all blows over than to open your mouth and create more damage. We've come to expect this from developers. Standard Operating Procedure is to make no public response to publicly-voiced user concerns.

From other perspectives however this approach is a little odd. MMOGs are businesses where consumers have low switching costs, and where the quality of the community seems to be more important than the quality of the physics engine (else, why could EQ and UO still be making money?) Seen purely from the consumer-satisfaction standpoint, remaining silent on issues of general import to the community is, well, weird. Wouldn't you want to encourage people to stay with you, and to explain to these First Amendment-obsessed Americans than, well, no, there is no free speech issue in our game, etc etc.

Of course, if you take my perspective that much of what is going on in MMOGs involves a genuine community of indviduals, and as such has political, governmental and legal interests, then the silence is also odd. Politics in our systems (by which I mean Western, parliamentary, representative democracies) operates in public, and we are surprised when decisions of the type in issue here are taken in secret. Or, looking at it another way, governments usually find that the bitter pill of decisionmaking goes down easier with some sugar of "public consultation".

So, in thinking about the Alphaville Herald Affair, I've come to the conclusion that developers need to take the lesson of politics to heart; not because they are running political systems, but because as political consumers we love to hear why political choices are made, even if we don't agree with them. Developers will have an easier time of it if they open up, rather than batten down the hatches.

No doubt Maxis will disagree. Perhaps the true explanation for their silence is the most interesting: that Will Wright has found that players enjoy the intrigue and the plotting that occurs when they have no idea what the government is up to. Oh, and it creates column inch after column inch in all the useful blogs...

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New Bout of Inflation in EverQuest

Thanks to several independent observers for forwarding information about a money hemorrhage in EverQuest. Apparently a little bug appeared on an NPC that allowed the conversion of any amount of cash into 10 times its value, almost instantly. The first sign of a problem: plummeting prices of platinum pieces in terms of dollars, a development quite understandably lamented by a moneyseller. When your inventory is digital currency, money dupes are a major problem. SOE also treated it as a problem, and diverted major resources to plugging the hole. It now appears to be fixed (although I'll have to log in tonight to see.)

Some thoughts -
1. The moneyseller is almost comedic in asserting that all he cares about is the integrity of the game. Look, the ethic of role-playing and lore within EQ is regularly and repeatedly abused, but I don't see him ranting much about that. But when the dollar value of the money falls - WHOA, now THAT's a serious problem!!!!

2. What does a money dupe really do? Well, it raises the prices of all goods in the economy. By itself, that does not matter at all - who cares whether the price of a thing is 100 or 1000 or 0.0001? The problems are that
a. some people get the money first, shifting the distribution of income their way. That's unfair - unless you believe that the meta-game of hacking and cheating and duping and exploiting is all part of the game itself (I don't.)
b. it dumbs down the game. If money matters in the sense that it can buy valuable things - and mind you, in many of these economies, including EQ's, money almost doesn't matter in this sense; it's often pretty hard to find any real use for your money at all - but anyway, if money can buy great armor and spells and such, then flooding the game with money means that you're flooding it with more powerful items. Let's say I go do the dupe and get myself a million gold pieces. I use them to buy the most powerful gear, driving up the price of that stuff. With this most powerful gear, I kill monsters more quickly, meaning that I level up more quickly and accumulate powerful items more quickly. What do I do with these new items, since I already have great stuff? I sell them down the power ladder to lower-level characters. The net result is a rapid run-up in high-end prices and a rapid collapse in middle- and low-end items.

3. Note that neither of these outcomes is necessarily a problem for the game company. What do they care about the distribution of income? Is a small shift in an already disgustingly unequal distribution of play resources and income going to drive away the marginal user? No. If such inequities really mattered, there would be some sort of progressive tax, so that anyone who got their hands on a massive amount of money overnight, however they did it, would just lose it all to the tax man. Beyond that, maybe the reputation for being a hacked game might have an effect, but again, it's not big at the margin. As for dumbing down the game - for an older game, it might be wise to make it gradually easier. Why play something hard like Horizons when I can chat up a guy on my first day of EverQuest and get a gift of 1000 platinum pieces to start out? And if the moneysellers are thought to be a problem - which is open to debate - hyperinflation definitely makes their lives tougher. That's how Germany got out of its WWI reparations burden - they turned on the money machine!

All this takes me back to thinking about the role of money in the economy. We believe that money has specific purposes - unit of account, store of value, medium of exchange - and looking at these purposes, it seems that inflation must be a bad thing. Inflation mucks up all these uses of money. Yet when we build a virtual world from scratch, not only is there always inflation, its always pretty severe. And also, its always accompanied by a fairly rapid growth in real wealth too (ie players at a given power level gradually get not only more money but also more gear). Meanwhile, in the real world - where, don't forget, money is just as constructed as it is in the virtual world - we have this chronic inflation of 3-4 percent that never goes away. Looking at the functions of money, we have to ask - why, on Earth and in Norrath, do the authorities allow this to happen? Why does money inflate, if that just messes with its role in the economy?

There's something deeper going on here, that you can only see by looking at virtual worlds, places designed for the specific purpose of having fun. Everyone have their eyes open??? Good. Here's what's going on:

Inflation is fun.

And that's why we have it. That's certainly true in Norrath; whatever's in Norrath is there for fun, right? But could it be that that's why we have it on Earth too? The mind boggles.

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MMOG Downturn? Nope

Reports of the demise of Rubies of Eventide were premature. It lives on.

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Alphaville Herald Hits the Big Time

Ren Reynolds advises us that -- just in case anyone missed it -- Salon.com is running a story (ad-viewing req'd) on the trials and travails of the oft-discussed on TN Alphaville Herald, featuring comments from our own Ted and Jules.

Urizenus gives the article a thumbs up. Slashdot discussion here.

Update: Quips and comments at IGN, LawMeme, Gamegirl, D&D, Penny A, Joho, Brian Leiter, Gamespot, BBC...

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EverQuest to Launch Casino

Thanks to Caster's Realm for news that EverQuest will host card games and prize wheels in the city of Shadowhaven. You can even win a Fungi-Covered Great Staff, worth at least a couple hundred bucks at PlayerAuctions.com. That's about as much as the payoff on a $1 three-way box bet in Iowa's Pick-3 Lottery. Note also that the report implictly confirms the continuing existence of lucrative cash-based gambling games run by players. Look out, Vegas, here they come.

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Licensed Worlds & Heroism

world3.jpgThere has been frequent musing lately on the value (or lack thereof) of IP licenses in the games industry. Copyright law (mostly the derivative works right) and trademark law will generally prevent designers from selling games (and others from selling other things) based on Star Trek, Scarlet O'Hara, and the LOTR (book or film) unless a licensing fee is paid. It operates the other way, too, of course -- see e.g. Tomb Raider.

Game-crit luminaries like Janet Murray (and most everyone else) predicted that Star Wars Galaxies would be a huge hit simply because of the Lucasfilm license -- and it has been a huge hit. But as Greg Costikyan and others have observed, games based on licenses often do well on the market but are just as often lousy games. Either the game design is formulaic and bland or the underlying promise of the licensed IP is not delivered. To some extent, the latter seems to be part of Tim Burke's gripe with SWG (shared by several others). The world certainly looks like Star Wars, but it doesn't play like Space Opera.

Of course, few worlds are ever as fully imagined as Middle Earth or George Lucas's Galaxy far far away. "Genres", e.g. fantasy, sci-fi, or history, arguably provide sufficiently evocative vocabularies that we're all familiar with and which don't require licenses. (Some genres arguably don't work for VWs, though -- see Richard's book at pp. 40-41 re Westerns.) All this makes me wonder how much value (outside of marketing value) any derivative IP license can really add to a VW. Any thoughts?

And two additional questions: 1) I would think VWs based on collaborative world-authorship (e.g. 2L, MOOs) probably would have much less to gain from licensing. Anyone disagree? 2) Did Tolkien create the fantasy genre?

Update: Tim Burke has an interesting post tangential to the last question.

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Second Life Radically Changes Pricing, Offers $US Incentives For User Content

In an announcement that will long be remembered, the makers of Second Life have revealed a new pricing policy that allows users to turn some of their in-world earnings into cash. Base user fees have been cut significantly [edit: was "monthly fee cut in half", but the pricing is actually more complex than that], making this one of the lowest-cost worlds in the market. Moreover, anyone who pays this fee can now use the object-creation tools within the world to make content (on which they have already received a property right, don't forget), charge Linden dollars for that content, and eventually turn some of those virtual dollars into real ones through a cash Developer Incentive program. Businesses that require little land can operate from the free plot that every user gets. Those whose virtual business requires more land can rent what they need from Linden Lab at rates that decline with total acreage. Under the new system, the land mass of an entire 2L server can be had for $195 a month.

To belabor the obvious: this is a very new thing indeed. Veterans should correct me if I am wrong, but I believe this is the first time users have had direct access to the $US value of the things they create in online worlds. Contemporary economic theory says that property rights and direct monetary incentives are the key to growth.

For more, read the initial announcement and subsequent discussion.

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Miss Norway & Wicked Non-Games

rabbits.jpgLudologist Jesper Juul has opined that MMORPGs are not "classic games" in contradistinction to Greg Costikyan. Is deciding whether MMORPGs are games a game? I should confess that most lawyers enjoy moving objects of study inside or outside certain word-boxes. In fact, playing with definitions is one of the common tasks of law. Sometimes 3.2 billion dollars can be at stake in word games (defining "occurence"). I wonder what is at stake this time around?

Relatedly, one of my favorite moments at the State of Play conference was when Tracy Spaight presented his "Who Killed Miss Norway" slides and concluded, somewhat paradoxically, that the death of the imaginary "Karyn" proved that virtual worlds actually are true communities. Difficult to puzzle out what that means. Borderline games, borderline communities -- I wonder what other borderlines we're dealing with.

Raph and Tracy have referenced the Velveteen Rabbit as a text to help us think through the questions posed by Karyn. But the Velveteen Rabbit wasn't trying to deceive anyone, as I recall. It wasn't playing a game. Was Miss Norway playing a game? If she was, did she break the rules?

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Censorship in TSO

So The Alphaville Herald continues to push the edge of the envelope. In this case the envelope has "Underage Child Sexual Solicitation in Virtual Worlds" written all over it. They're running a mind-boggling interview with an avatar who's been turning tricks in TSO since the early days. Since this sexual activity involves real money, an under-age protagonist, and the violation of a serious number of federal and state sexual solicitation statutes, it's your required reading for the day. Call it research.

Oh, did we mention that Maxis, the developers of TSO, have started to delete in-world references to The Alphaville Herald?

Sex, Minors, Censorship, First Amendment, Corporate Retaliation... This one's got it all.

Heaven.

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Yet Another Videogame Violence Bill

This time its Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who, apparently ignorant of the inability of these statutes to survive court tests elsewhere, announced legislation to:
1. Ban sales of first-person shooters to minors, and
2. Enforce restrictive display of such games in stores (i.e. on high shelves and behind glass cases)

Yee presents evidence that lots of kids get their hands on FPS games even though the games are rated mature. His website also notes that in the year 2000, every "American Academy of X" worth mentioning released a consensus statement that exposure to violence in media, especially interactive media, makes kids more violent. Yee's fact sheet heavily cites one study (literally, one) which found that FPS games involve, and reward, a heck of a lot of violence. [edit: for more, see Yee's interview by HomeLan Fed here]

For what it's worth, Yee's measure has received formal support from NOW, and been opposed by a stupid evil bastard.

Meanwhile, the IGDA and the Free Expression Policy Project have argued that those stodgy academy types are off their rocker; that there's no consistent evidence of an effect of violence in entertainment on violence in children. Gerard Jones makes an interesting point: the 1970s, he says in Killing Monsters, was the CareBear decade. No violence until Star Wars. (Certain 1970s TV shows could be construed as a particularly malicious form of violence against the mind, but leave that for another post). Yet in the late 70s and 80s, there was no sign of a drop-off in youth violence. Similarly, the generations who actually read the Iliad seem to have been no worse off from repeated exposure to lurid, affirming descriptions of spears piercing human flesh.

Two reasons I bring all this up here. First, there's been much talk about the possibility of bad legislation affecting virtual worlds. Yee's bill seems to be pretty bad legislation: banning HalfLife 2 and putting it on the shelf next to Playboy is a surefire way to ensure that every teenager will want it. Yet the theory behind it, that games are a cause of violence and obesity and backtalk, rather than merely comorbid with a large range of teenage behavior that grownups don't like, seems to be fairly popular. More than just teen behavior is at stake here; grown-up gamers are clearly being stigmatized by the stereotypes implicit in these theories and codified in this legislation.

Second, if the researchers cited in Yee's Fact Sheet had played MMORPGs, they probably would have noticed quite a bit of violence there too. Much of it is of the first-person variety; it gets rewarded; in most of these games, it can become a way of life ("A pulls the mob. B tanks the mob. C roots the mob. D nukes the mob. Continue until the mob is killed. Then repeat one hundred bazillion times.") On the other hand, I play a cleric in EQ, I can't fight my way out of a paper bag. All I do is hang around and heal the wounds of people who are fighting.

The point being that virtual world experiences are complex. Will legislation respect the subtleties? Is there enough sensible expertise out there? Judging from the efforts of Dr. Yee (PhD field: Child Psychology), we do have reason to be concerned.

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Online game conference

The Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association has announced a 1-day conference for 3rd February, 2004. For a mere £816.63, you too can step back in time to 1995 and hear people discussing things they just found out that are Real Important which they wish to share with you, except you already figured it out for yourself at least 5 years earlier. The "importance of community", the "evolution of multiplayer", the "business models", ...

I don't know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

I must be getting old when not only do have I have a sense of deja vu, but I have a particular sense of deja vu that I feel I've had once before...

Richard

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Real v. Virtual Worlds

There has been a lot of writing about the real world intruding into the virtual world of late. The majority of writers on the subject, including James' State of Play write up, Richard's many comments about wanting different rules and laws in "play" spaces, and Ted's State of Play paper take, to varying degrees, the positions that real-world intrusion into online games/worlds is a Bad Thing, that the developers have a choice about allowing it, and that players generally don't want it.

I disagree with those positions.

Appropriately, my State of Play paper is an extensive look at these issues. Its focus is on the requirements for creating Stephenson's Metaverse and it uses examples and data from Second Life and other products. I've been referencing small pieces of it in various comments but comments are often lost, plus the paper as a whole provides a far better look at the issues than a short post possibly could. But, briefly, my thoughts on those positions are as follows.

"Players don't want their worlds commodified"

While there are clearly some who don't, including Richard, Ted, Sony Online Entertainment's General Counsel, and most game developers, the volume of transactions on eBay and the popularity of alternate options that appeared after the EverQuest ban, like PlayerAuctions, indicate that tremendous numbers of the players of MMORPGs have decided that they want to be able to short circuit leveling. There are a lot of them and they are voting with their feet.

"Developers have a choice about this"

I don't think they do -- see the above paragraph. Now, I can think of games that do not have marketable items (Quake and Scrabble come to mind) but the nature of RPGs is that time == more fun. Since not everyone has time, those who are able will change it to money == more fun. Without biometrics (and even with, as Kevin points out) I see this as an extremely difficult problem and a waste of good development resources.

"Letting real-world laws into the virtual world is a Bad Thing"

No it isn't. In fact, the burden of proof lies with those who believe it to be true. Play and fun clearly exist within the place with the most complete implementation of real world laws possible: the real world itself. In Lacrosse you can beat the tar out of someone with a stick -- but if you murder someone you'll still be meeting Officer Loink. This "intrusion" of real world laws doesn't make Lacrosse less fun. It seems to me that online worlds aren't getting enough credit if the application of real world laws somehow ruins them.

In fact, letting real-world laws into virtual worlds is the critical step if online worlds are going to become the Metaverses that many of us want them to be (sorry, but you'll need to read the paper on this one!)

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Terra Nova Welcomes Cory Ondrejka

Cory heads up product development at Linden Lab, architects of Second Life, the world making quite the splash these days (and one guesses there is more to come). Speaking of splash, Linden's company bio page reveals that Lieutenant Commander (edit: was Ensign) Ondrejka (USN, inactive res.) is an expert on naval nuclear power systems, weapons engineering, and computer programming. Word to the wise: avoid this man's 2L creations at all costs, especially if they seem to be big, gray, fast, sentient, and loaded. But don't avoid his commentary! We've gained much from his comments here and expect to gain even more from his posts. Cory, welcome!

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EULA-topia

globe19.gifJames Grimmelman, whose posts have been mentioned before here, is a former EFF intern, former Microsoft intern, and currently a student at Yale Law School. He also moderated the Shirky/Dibbell/Lastowka panel at the State of Play. James is sharing a magnum opus over at Lawmeme re some of his favorite issues that arose during the conference. In particular, he focuses on Yochai Benkler's objection to Second Life's de-EULAzation (re-EULAzation?) of participant IP rights. (Prof. Benkler's comment was one of my favorite moments in the conference too.) And James also has some interesting takes on comments by Dibbell, Balkin, and Phil Rosendale.

Note that I don't agree with James on all points (I don't usually agree with anyone on all points) -- but I do think he's spotted some interesting legal/policy debates. Here's the link.

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Virtual Worlds Review

Been looking for a virtual world that suits your tastes? Browse through the Virtual Worlds Review. It's a guide to famous places like Second Life, There, Sims Online, and not so famous but interesting ones like Faketown. Brought to you by Betsy Book of BBI Systems, New York.

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