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Dec 06, 2003

Comments

1.

Cory> 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.

With the creation of real world value from in-game assets, the intrusion of real-world law to protect and secure those assets, and the latest and greatest hardware required to inhabit these spaces, we may be stumbling towards Stephenson's Metaverse but we are not far from some of Huxley's Brave New World (1932):

"Strange," mused the Director, as they turned away, "strange to think that even in Our Ford's day most games were played without more apparatus than a ball or two and a few sticks and a bit of netting. Imagine the folly of allowing people to play elaborate games which do nothing whatsoever to increase consumption. It's madness. Nowadays the Controllers won't approve of any new game unless it can be shown that it requires at least as much apparatus as the most complicated of existing games".

2.

Cory, I'm really glad you've joined this blog. Although I like a lot of what happens here, recent posts inspired by the State of Play conference were often disappointing. And some of the research perspectives seem rather limited.

In any case, the utopian desire to create a perfect world has led to fascist realizations offline and I don't see any reason to expect a difference online. The real world is already there. Let the players have more control of something other than who to kill and good things may actually emerge.

Clay

3.

Cory>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.

That they have decided to do it doesn't mean they WANT to do it. Millions of people work in dead-end jobs every day, not because they want to but because they don't want the consequences of not doing so. Given a choice, they'd much rather not work at all, or work doing something they regard as fulfilling for non-monetary reasons.

I agree that some players of games like EQ really do want to pay money to avoid the levelling grindstone. However, once one player breaks ranks and gains a substantial advantage by so doing, everyone else has to or they'll suffer more than if they don't. It's classic "prisoner's dilemma" material. It's like how corruption works in 3rd-world countries: no-one wants to have to pay an official to do something they have every right to expect them to do anyway, but once one person does it then everyone else has to follow suit.

>There are a lot of them and they are voting with their feet.

They're not voting with their feet. Voting with their feet would be leaving the VW that bans eBaying to play the one that doesn't ban it. It would be great if they voted with their feet. Instead, what they're doing is staying put (because the like the VW), all the time doing stuff that changes the VW gradually into something else. Whether they like that something else or not is another matter, of course.

This "everyone does it so it must be what they want" argument is along the lines of "make more reality TV programmes because everyone watches them". They don't have a lot of choice.

>"Developers have a choice about this"
>I don't think they do

Well you're wrong, they do. It's fairly easy to create a virtual world that prevents or seriously discourages people from selling characters, for example, by not allowing accounts to change hands or by introducing permanent death. They can design round other in-world support of sales, too, eg. by allowing in-context theft of virtual objects. I'm sure that other, less controversial mechanisms for designing round the problems can be constructed. My complaint is that designers shouldn't have to go to these lengths if they don't want to.

>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

I'm not trying to stop developers taking the commodification route if they want to. I'm against developers being forced to take the commodification route if they don't want to. If you want a Snowcrash-like metaverse you're entitled to go for it. Those people who don't want to go for it shouldn't have to come with you, though - both types of virtual world can exist, they're not mutually exclusive. You can have one AND the other. The tragedy would be if real-life laws meant we only got one OR the other, but not both.

It may seem like I'm dumping on 2nd-Life style worlds here, but I'm not. I want as many virtual worlds as reality can support; 2nd life is as much a virtual world as EverQuest and Ultima Online. We've seen a split between "adventure" and "social" virtual worlds before in the text domain, and both are attractive to players. It came as no surprise to me whatsoever that we started to get social graphical worlds, and I'm not going to complain about them any more than I did about social textual worlds.

I will complain, though, if the existence of one form threatens the existence of the other. Social worlds tend to be integrated into reality (because they're people-oriented and people are part of reality) and avdenture worlds tend to be separate from reality (because they're world-oriented and the world is separate from reality), but there's no reason we can't have integrated adventure worlds or separated social worlds. If we only get integrated, or we only get separated, though, that would cut out an entire class of worlds. That's what I don't want to see happen (whether it's too integrated or separated worlds). A law that didn't make the distinction would have that effect.

Real laws apply to virtual worlds because the real world always wins. That doesn't mean that the same laws have to apply to all virtual worlds.

Richard

4.

I started writing one comment and found that I was replying to your article and not this post If you want to read that, head over to my blog, I will leave it there as soon as blogger lets me in...

As for the argument you are posing here. I think of the distinction real/virtual as very different from flesh/digital. A lot of the problems with the distinctions in research on online worlds and digital spaces comes from the idea that they are "virtual".

"virtual" means something not real, but the online and digital spaces are very real. They are just not possible to locate physically. As humans we constantly relate to concepts that are real but not tangible, has no geographic border nor is limited in time and space. The clichè is of course love. Greed is an other, evil, goodness, desire... And we have to consider religion, ethnicity and culture, all of which has led to wars, we study human relationships, and in medicine it is an established fact that unhappiness and lonelyness can kill. All these things are real despite being intangible.

So, the problem isn't whether the real world and the virtual world mix. The problem is that aspects of one arena of life mingles with an other arena of life, and that profit gained through expertice in one field can lead to rewards in an other field.

Caillois discusses this as a pollution of the game by reality. Sony fights this as a pollution of their understanding of ownership by the players' idea of ownership. I think of it as a battle of ideologies - an other of those intangible concepts that are real - not of fantasy versus reality.

5.

Richard: "I agree that some players of games like EQ really do want to pay money to avoid the levelling grindstone. However, once one player breaks ranks and gains a substantial advantage by so doing, everyone else has to or they'll suffer more than if they don't. It's classic "prisoner's dilemma" material. It's like how corruption works in 3rd-world countries: no-one wants to have to pay an official to do something they have every right to expect them to do anyway, but once one person does it then everyone else has to follow suit."

Ot it might be the same reason as why some men buy a big, red, fancy car when their other abilities are not enough to get them what they want... They would probably prefer to be impressive without that car, but it is a shortcut and with some people, who think more about the car than the person driving it, it works.

6.

torill>but it is a shortcut and with some people, who think more about the car than the person driving it, it works

It's still prisoner's dilemma. Once one person buys the flashy car, the pressure is on everyone else to do the same.

This is like the make-up argument. Suppose you are a beautiful woman, and you don't wear make-up. Some less beautiful woman wears make-up and is now more beautiful than you. You therefore have to wear make-up yourself to become more beautiful than her. Result: all women in your culture end up having to wear make-up. OK, so there are other reasons that women wear make-up, but this prisoner's dilemma runs beneath it all.

If everyone could buy a flashy car, everyone would buy a flashy car, not because they want a flashy car for itself but because they don't want to suffer for not having one.

Richard

7.

BridgetAG> Well, we have pretty good examples, both in the real world and in analyzing the behavior of Second Life players, that even when people are given the option to engage in economic and/or consumer activities, that many will choose other options. Some of the most successful SL players are incredibly altruistic.

Richard> "It's fairly easy to create a virtual world that prevents or seriously discourages people from selling characters, for example, by not allowing accounts to change hands or by introducing permanent death. They can design round other in-world support of sales, too, eg. by allowing in-context theft of virtual objects."

Preventing account exchange doesn't block someone from simply passing the username/password to another. Even if you implement a policy that accounts must be paid for with a unique credit card (the best form of remote ID detection that we have right now), if players create a demand for the service, someone like IGE will start building characters that you can "rent" for a small premium and there isn't a reliable technical method of detecting that.

Permanent death and theft would, in my opinion, add to the desire to buy and sell items using-real world currency, which you still can't stop if you allow users to exchange items in world. The player might have enjoyed climbing the skill tree once but if the journey isn't more fun than the destination, there will certainly be an incentive to shortcut it the second time, right? As I've mentioned in other contexts, and in the paper, RPG style gameplay seems to be particularly open to commoditization of accounts and items.

I'm sorry if "voting with their feet" confused my point. What I meant was that that users who wanted to trade EverQuest items left eBay and went to other services in large numbers.

Is it a prisoner's dilemma? That is a great question, although until someone provides a game that players don't want to commodify, it seems like a somewhat moot one. It's also moot until the harms are laid out. The player without the time to run the treadmill has an equally strong argument that repetitive gameplay that rewards students is discriminating against her, so she needs to be able to trade money for time.

I also don't see how integration harms any class of world. Roleplaying and fantasy existed quite well in the real world, long befoe virtual worlds appeared. Why are you so convinced that laws (that you even state can't be escaped anyway) are going to ruin these spaces?

Cory

8.

I don't believe that developer's have total control over their own VW in the aspect that they can choose to develop around anti-eBay policies. If a developer chooses to put in effect some of the methodologies that you mentioned (in-game theft, perma-death, etc) their playerbase is highly likely not to be as substantial as one WITHOUT these rules, especially if you're paying for it.

I have to yet to see game come out with perma-death and so cannot compare but I believe it's highly likely that it would not go over too well in any pay-to-play environment due to factors which cannot be controlled by either side (lag, power-outage, cat jumped on your keyboard).

Yes, you COULD develop a game to prevent eBay circumvention on your leveling or gaming process but would you really want to? Would it make any sense business wise at all?

Although the "problem" of eBaying is likely never to go away, perhaps a more pertinant issue is why they're doing it in the first place. An examination into how "fun" leveling is and if varied content to keep the player amused is offered.

An example might be camping in EQ, which I can assure you most often than not people will tell you is the most boring thing in existance, but they do it anyway because that's how you level up. This would leave me to believe that the only "fun" content in the game is the high level, end game, content (i.e. raids mostly, maybe some pvp or dueling).

9.

Cory--

I subscribe to your enthusiasm for user-centric property rights, but you leave a few threads dangling in your vision. For some reason, you assume that "a" (singular) Metaverse is what the world is waiting for, but has yet to realize. Stephenson's vision is a rather arbitrary starting point for a real world endeavor. For a bit of contrast, compare William Gibson's situation in Idoru (1996?): a world where milions of users worldwide create their own content, their own environments, buildings, plants, and clothes (and to some degree, tweak the physics). These worlds all coexist on a single worldwide network, and are traversable, but to some degree private. Gibson has made the deduction that when people want to socialize, they prefer semi-private spaces; when they want to play games--or anything else with a component of goal-orientation--they want and need public spaces with shared rules.

The key difference is the diversification. A grand unified vision of the future is a stumbling block; the belief that a single space--and its rules, laws, and built-in values--can somehow accomodate the bulk of humanity. The virtual world should offer more potential than the offline world, not less. You write that the non-convertability of wealth in Stephenson's Metaverse was a "misstep", when it may well be the defining feature of its existence as a social space.

"For the Metaverse to be successful, virtual wealth must be convertible to real wealth."

Here there is the critical aspect of conflicting market forces. Free-market forces in the offline world give online objects dollar value--but we can't forget that on the other side of the keyboard, the game world and the value of its objects is a completely managed, "statist" economy. The administrators have final authority over the amount of damage your magical mace does in battle, how fast your motorcycle covers ground, and over all the numerical values in the game. If they change any of these (which is their prerogative), the real-world value of your holdings changes as well. It's a centrally controlled stock market, and to bind world developers to a notion of offline economic responsibility would be a huge burden to creativity and innovation.

But that is admittedly dealing with game worlds as they exist today. You envision a stable environment in which no central authority has the ability to capriciously alter such things--a world created by the users, who understandably require some assurances as to the foundation they are building on. But if there is no such central authority, who provides a legal guarantee to the offline world? Who has the ability to legally confiscate property to give to the bank as a default on that real-world loan (and if there is such an authority, what if the loan holder destroys his property? Do the admins have the legal obligation to recreate that wealth to give to the bank?)?

It is a mistake to think that just because we are seeing offline value ascribed to online objects, that the two economies and their vastly different premises are easily compatible. Online economies are still in a fledgling state; if we treat them with a very light touch, we might discover something new about our own world as they develop. It would be a crime to prematurely enforce anachronistic economic laws upon them. Legal status of virtual property is a necessity, but make no mistake--the more tightly we wrap our legal and economic systems around virtual spaces, the more they will lose their status as "alternate" environments. What we'll have is an elaborate method of paying the electric bill.

The final paragraph of your paper lists requirements for a future Metaverse. Without reproducing them all here, I can say with confidence that there is already a medium that fits each and every description (albeit in a different manner than you intend). The World Wide Web has delivered content and creativity, custom spaces and display forums beyond the imaginings of its original designers. If we want a blueprint for a truly open world, this seems a good starting point. It may be that the route to a truly universal virtual space will come not from designing a world, but from creating an exchange protocol...

10.

Euphrosyne,
Thanks for the great comments! A few followups:

"For some reason, you assume that "a" (singular) Metaverse is what the world is waiting for, but has yet to realize."

Actually, the underlying technology that we used to implement atomistic construction in no way requires a single world verus multiple private world and even within a single world, the topology can allow significant changes in rules, laws, and physics. That being said, many have pointed out that complexity and network theory ensure that larger worlds are more interesting.

"It's a centrally controlled stock market, and to bind world developers to a notion of offline economic responsibility would be a huge burden to creativity and innovation."

Actuaully, you describe the economic reality of current MMORPGs that I attempted to contrast with the results of atomistic construction. Your creations in the type of space that I describe allow true innovation and free markets aid innovation.

The web does certain things well, no argument here. However, the attempts to create meaningful, 3D spaces on top of the web have not worked. In the meantime, MMORPGs have become the dominant form of online space but fail to provide a workable path to something akin to the Metaverse. So, a different approach is required.

11.

Richard Bartle wrote: "I agree that some players of games like EQ really do want to pay money to avoid the levelling grindstone. However, once one player breaks ranks and gains a substantial advantage by so doing, everyone else has to or they'll suffer more than if they don't. It's classic "prisoner's dilemma" material."

I don't think a simple prisoner's dilemma situation actually takes place. Many players, even though knowing some people do eBaying, do not follow the way. It is a choice of each player.

It seems to me there are three reasons. First, many players are playing games for fun, not for life. For them, the process (fighting monsters and so on) is more important than the result (raising the avatar's level), and thus eBaying is just throwing the fun away.

Second, even if it is a prisoner's dilemma, it is a repeated-game version. If you want enjoy the game, you need to stay the VW, and thus the payoff is determined on the long-run basis. If many people really think that eBaying is a BAD thing, it will extinct eventually.

And third, it is a game any way. You don't die for what happens in the game (unlike Matrix). Even if someone do eBaying, it would be tolerable unless the situation goes to far. VWs are the derivative of the real world. You can move from one VW to another, if you don't like.

"Life finds a way." (Dr. Grant from Jurassic Park) For me, eBaying is the result of a struggle of players who do not have enough time but enough money. Of course, game companies can design any kinds of VWs. And players choose games among alternatives. Eventyally, we will see the result of our collective choice. I don't think now is the time for government intervention with respect to game design.

After all, VWs are not so far from the real world. Various kinds of people live in various places. Some people complain, and some others are satisfied.

12.

Hiroshi Yamaguchi>If many people really think that eBaying is a BAD thing, it will extinct eventually.

How will this happen? If X% of the players didn't want eBaying, what would make the remaining (100-X)% stop doing it?

The reverse argument is easier to make: once Y% people start eBaying, the remaining (100-y)% are encouraged to eBay because they find their erstwhile peers now have an edge over them.

Richard

13.

Lee Delarm>If a developer chooses to put in effect some of the methodologies that you mentioned (in-game theft, perma-death, etc) their playerbase is highly likely not to be as substantial as one WITHOUT these rules, especially if you're paying for it.

I did say that they were controversial..! The point I was making was that they are possible.

>Yes, you COULD develop a game to prevent eBay circumvention on your leveling or gaming process but would you really want to? Would it make any sense business wise at all?

Never mind why you'd want to (although there are a ton of reasons); the point is that the law may mean you don't GET to even if you DO want to.

>perhaps a more pertinant issue is why they're doing it in the first place.

This is indeed an issue. People are buying and selling because they can't get what they want fast enough and don't enjoy the process of getting it. If it took them less time to get what they wanted, or if it took the same time but was just as much fun as life will be once they've got it, there's less incentive to buy and sell stuff.

That said, while success is judged by what level you are and what kit you have, there will always be people willing to pay to appear more successful than they are.

Richard

14.

>RE: It's still prisoner's dilemma. Once one >person buys the flashy car, the pressure is on >everyone else to do the same.

I can see where you are going with this point, James, but I'm not so sure I agree. Are the majority of players eBaying doing so b/c they see other people doing it and want to jump on board (what you seem to be leaning towards), or are the majority of players eBaying b/c they simply don't want to spend X hours leveling, monster bashing, exploring, etc. to get what they desire?

In my experiences, it has been the latter; most individuals have gone to eBay to sidestep spending hours and hours doing repetitive tasks within the game. In terms of those people who go to eBay to "buy the flashy car", I don't think that leads other players to necassarily do the same thing. Some players can put in the necassary time in-game to acquire that same flashy car. Other people who have that flashy car in-game may very well opt not to part with it via eBay or a similar service.

It would be incredibly valuable to actually try and find out *why* most of these VW players are utilizing eBay. Some interesting stats to look into:
# of people eBaying in comparison to # of people subscribed to a specific VW
# of people who sell via eBay vs. # of people who buy in each VW
percentage break down of what types of goods are being sold on eBay (characters, currencty, real estate, items, services, etc) per each VW
# what people are in seek of on eBay (characters, currencty, items, real estate, etc.) per each VW

...and the list could go on and on. If any of this data is available, I'd love to take a look at it (URLs anyone?).

-Bart

15.

I think it is safe to say that real world trade in virtual gameworld items and characters will never go away completely so long as there are people willing to pay money to play in the commercial virtual world/games. Every single paying player has *already* made the consious(sp?) evaluation that the ability to play is worth money to them. The game companies have reinforced this concept by demanding *more* money for presumably better play experiences (premium servers), for more variety (single character servers), for more goodies (therebucks), etc. Given this predefined and reinforced valuation of play being worth money it would seem odd for anyone to be surprised that players would translate that into a realworld market of the *tools* of play - characters, items and game currencies (not to mention the single most commonly traded tool of play, information! Note the differences in how players trade information from how they trade virtual property. ;).

To understand and exert some measure of control on the realworld trade in virtual gameworld characters and items I think we need to focus on the sources of demand rather than the supply side. I can identify at least four distinct gaming-related demand motivators (please add any I've missed):

'achieving superiority through whatever means',
'keeping up with the Joneses',
'skipping the boring treadmill', and
'being able to play with friends'.

The first two motivators, achieving superiority and avoiding inferiority, are pretty basic human drives, for better or for worse, and I doubt any game developers are going to be more successful at eliminating them in their game worlds than anyone has been in the real world. There are things they can do to stimulate or dampen those drives, however, and it is interesting to note that the more directly competitive the game is, the more pressure it seems would come from these motivators as well as the more damage it would cause the game to allow them unchecked.

The third one, skipping the treadmill, has nothing to do with multiplayer dynamics at all, and "blame" falls directly in the game designers' laps. If it's boring or tedious, players will opt to skip it if they can, or minimize it (through camping, e-baying and whatnot) otherwise. Choose to implement levelling treadmills without providing enough variety and *fun* in the levelling process to satisfy folks each and every time they go through it and the result is inevitable. Developers choice, live with it and with (some of) the players' dissatisfactions, or stop making the same choice! ;) An interesting side note is that it seems like an awful lot of people find the first few levels, where progress is easy and the "dings" come rapidly, to be the "most fun", and all the rest of the treadmill to be a futile attempt to progress to some point where the game is as much fun as it was in the beginning. So why don't they just keep starting over and over? Some do, but most bail or just complain. Examining this phenomenon is worthy of a separate essay but to summarize the reasons for their discontent: no amount of dings can compensate indefinitely for repetitive gameplay/content, and the inability to play with friends unless they all restart at the same time/frequency.

The fourth motivator, the desire of slow levellers to be able to play with their fast levelling friends, is possibly the most interesting. It's the only one that's directly tied to the *cooperative* aspect of multi-player games, the first two being tied to the *competitive* aspects while the third is largely independent of other players. It is also a direct contributor to (and beneficiary of) the community/social aspects of the game and it's "stickyness" or ability to retain players for long periods. If the socializers are the glue that helps to bind all the disparate players together into a lasting community, then the loss of one socializer (who often levels slower due to spending less time levelling and more socializing) has far more damaging impact on that elusive "sticky" social factor than the loss of an achiever. And again, this is something that is completely in the hands of the game designers. It is their choices that directly determine whether characters of different levels can play (as in consume game content, not as in "roleplay" independent of game content) together or not.

Any demand motivators I missed?

16.

Cory--

It sounds like you are doing well as far as getting the intellectual/property rights away from a central authority and into the hands of the player. This will allow a free virtual market to appear and thrive, all of which is good.

But you seem to take a leap of faith that the online market can interact with the offline market by means of offline laws and regulations. The problem again is--without a central online authority to provide various guarantees to the offline authority, that interaction is founded on interpersonal trust. We can't have the integrated economy you envision without a method of ascribing legal ownership [though deeds, titles, common law] of online property. In an atomistic, non-authoritarian space, who can provide that claim? Also, who has the authority to take virtual property by force when the offline world requires it?

It seems to me that a fair portion of what we are seeing as virtual economy bleeding into offline economy is in fact a hack. A workaround for the fact that this method of marketing and swapping can't be as easily accomplished in-game. Presumably most players would rather pay game money for their game items, but are willing to pay hard currency in lieu of the existence of a robust virtual market. That is not to discount the points where the economic interchange is intentional and explicitly for-profit, but how much of the eBay market is an imperfect means rather than an end?

As for the Web protocol comment, I wouldn't suggest that we attempt to build 3D environments on top of the existing web. Rather I was floating the idea that the Metaverse, if there is to be one, might well [have to?] exist on distributed servers rather than one company's, no matter now libertarian their intent. There is no such singular entity called "The Web", but we typically conceive of it as such for ease of mental transformations. Likewise, might not a huge network of "linked" worlds--which interact with each other via recognized protocols and norms, and appear as a continuous whole--provide the best solution for the user? Is it even conceiveable that a Metaverse with the order of detail and massive size you imply could be centrally coordinated with the hardware available in the near future? I realize this is antithetical to the livelihood of most game developers, but I'm not really proposing a completely unmediated system :)

17.

I'm posting after only having glanced at Cory's piece and this discussion -- but I wanted to note that we've done a little of this "economy as design flaw" issue here already:

https://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2003/09/fun_fame_fortun.html

The key distinction, between 2L and EQ property is that user-created 2L code is IP. The eBay market for a UO Staff of the Magi is not really about player-created value, but player exchange of time/money investments.

Cory talks about crafting v. creating -- it is an important point to keep in mind. Avoiding time spent on crafting by eBay is arguably about cheating, getting bored, or keeping up with friends. Avoiding creating new code is arguably the default position in society.

18.

I don't think it's true that most Everquest players buy items/levels/anything from Ebay or Player auctions. A sizable minority do, is more my experience.

I think it's a very small minority who actually pay cash for skipping levels, however. More often people buy in game cash, or in game items. These make leveling faster, which is for many more fun; they do not allow you to actually skip it.

Most people who skip leveling do so by using networks of friends who "power level" them.

I can't say that I care that much, except that recently there have been fairly convincing rumors that someone bribed a game developer to create a way for them to add cash to the Everquest database that they would then sell for money.

This seems like a good reason to be down on trading in game money for real money -- people go to extremes to get real money with disregard for the effect on the game as a game.

Seen in that light, I can point out another problem that the interchange creates.

A lot of people have pointed out that players with little time and a lot of money buy what they would not have time to play for in the intended way.

What they overlook is the supply side of that equation. Someone has to have the time that is worth less to them than that money. Whereas without that external demand, they'd have only so much interest in making enough cash to buy all their characters the best there is to buy, with the real cash available for their time in game, the natural limits on their interest in gaining in game money never goes away. Since the game has limits on getting in game money, these people monopolize its sources.

This limits the ability of people with equally much time, less money, but an interest in playing the game for fun rather than a job, to do so.

This *indirect* way is the main way that the item-selling hurts the fun of the players -- INCLUDING the players who actually buy the items. Many of them might have had the time to get the item the fun way if it weren't for the people sitting there forever getting more of the item than they'd ever need, to pay their rent.

Richard Bartle's comments about it being a competition and players having to buy items to keep up with other players who bought items is possibly a motive for some, but Everquest and similar non PVP (or mostly non PVP) games are not competitions in that way. Instead, it is those wanting to play for fun competing with those "playing" as a living, being less strongly motivated (it becomes not fun anymore when you have to bicker with them over it) and buying it out of frustration.

So -- players who get items to sell in a fair, in game way spoil the game for those wanting to get those items as a game/fun; players who get items to sell by cheating/hacking mess up the game economically. Either way it's trouble.

If the game company sells the items, though, it can be made to work. There may also be a way to make it work by sanctioning in some way sales of certain items. But when it's frowned on by the game company and "black market" it seems to always make the game worse overall for everyone.

19.

Argh, sorry that was so badly written. I am taking a lot of cold medicine.

Here's a link to a post on mobhunter about the rumors I mentioned and the official response.

https://www.mobhunter.com/article.jsp?articleid=-1329052326

20.

E> But you seem to take a leap of faith that the online market can interact with the offline market by means of offline laws and regulations.

The real world is managing to interact with the web (which, as you correctly point out is pretty darn unregulated and distributed). Sure, law and regulation has made mistakes wrt the web, but it is adapting. After all, as nebulous as it is, it still requires CPUs that someone owns, that exist at physical locations, right?

E> It seems to me that a fair portion of what we are seeing as virtual economy bleeding into offline economy is in fact a hack.

I don't agree with you on this one. Just about every MMORPG supports in-world exchange plus an in-world currency. The issue is that getting the in-world currency has the same treadmill problems that MMORPGs suffer from in general, so real-world currency is an effective shortcut.

I agree that, in the long run, the Metaverse needs to run in a distributed manner. However, there is currently a "can't get there from here" problem because MMORPGs are so clearly at a local-maxima within the design space of online worlds.

Greg> Cory talks about crafting v. creating -- it is an important point to keep in mind.

Thanks for bringing this up. I apologize for the shameless plug, but if you haven't mucked about with Second Life (or Sodaplay Constructor if you want a very cool 2D example) it is really hard to wrap your brain around the difference between crafting and creation.

21.

If the most of people really think that eBaying is a BAD thing, they will not do eBaying, and eBayers can't find the counterpart. If the proportion is less than that level, those who are really unhappy will migrate to another VW, and the remaining people are happy with eBaying. It is fine. I don't know exactly, but it seems that the Great Migration has not occurred yet.

My point is, you can choose either to eBay or not to eBay - game companies also have choices, either to allow or not to allow eBaying. We can choose among alternatives, thus the market mechanism works here. If you can escape from the prison, there is no dilemma. The government interventions are needed when we can't choose - it is not the case here.

22.

Hiroshi Yamaguchi>If the most of people really think that eBaying is a BAD thing, they will not do eBaying, and eBayers can't find the counterpart.

Let's suppose that most people do think that eBaying is a bad thing. If no-one eBayed, they'd be happy. However, if other people are eBaying and they're not, they may consider this to be a worse thing. Their ideal is to have no-one eBaying, but while some people are eBaying they're hurting themselves if they don't join in.

>I don't know exactly, but it seems that the Great Migration has not occurred yet.

This assumes that eBaying won't be occurring on the virtual world to which the migration occurs. Currently, where there are players there are eBayers.

>My point is, you can choose either to eBay or not to eBay - game companies also have choices, either to allow or not to allow eBaying.

They can ban it, and they can make it difficult, but unless they change their designs they can't stop it. If the changes in design they have to make are so radical that they stop the virtual worlds from being attractive, that's a serious problem.

What they'd like to do is to ban eBaying and be able to call on the force of real-world law to back up that ban. Even that wouldn't necessarily have an effect, though, given that some of the biggest eBayers operate from places real-world laws can't reach them.

Richard

23.

Dee LAcey>Many of them might have had the time to get the item the fun way if it weren't for the people sitting there forever getting more of the item than they'd ever need, to pay their rent.

This hadn't occurred to me, but yes, you're right. It's a very good point!

Richard

24.

Richard: "They can ban [Ebaying], and they can make it difficult, but unless they change their designs they can't stop it. If the changes in design they have to make are so radical that they stop the virtual worlds from being attractive, that's a serious problem.

"What they'd like to do is to ban eBaying and be able to call on the force of real-world law to back up that ban. Even that wouldn't necessarily have an effect, though, given that some of the biggest eBayers operate from places real-world laws can't reach them."

Richard, designers already have the force of law behind them. Of course, policing and enforcing their rights involve costs. A designer can avoid some of those costs through design.

Whatever balance the designer strikes between design and policing/enforcing, the costs should be internalized in the designer/customer relationship.

However, I infer that you expect society to incur a significant portion of any costs associated with policing/enforcing. What's more, these costs will be greater to the extent that a designer doesn't design to avoid them (and, if they don't have to incur them, why would they design to avoid them).

I suspect that the costs associated with policing/enforcing would increase subscription prices so as to make the e-bay-free world prohibitively expensive or expensively unattractive.

Richard: "They can design round other in-world support of sales ... My complaint is that designers shouldn't have to go to these lengths if they don't want to."

The irony is that e-bayers would complain that they shouldn't have to go the lengths the game requires if they don't want to. I don't see a principled reason why they should and designers should not. I imagine that the law, in its capacity as designer, is going to tell developers to suck it up, level up, and camp whatever spawn drops the Design Doc of E-bay Vanquishing.

Jeff Cole

25.

It seems that most of the people are trying to go the route of stopping eBaying and coming up against brick walls. Perhaps these walls can be tunneled through but as of yet we're not even chipping the blocks yet.

I know a couple games have tried to implement the eBaying directly within their own structure (mostly not to what could be called excellent success) but perhaps this is still the right direction to be looking, at least for the moment. The current implementations have been largely in favor of currency transfers only and only one way, you pay money and get VW currency in exchange. I could see this as being the "safest" route due to the fact that you don't have to worry much about a player saying "the platinum piece was devauled 3/4 of a dollar last night!" because of some nerf you did, well intentioned or otherwise.

I realize many companies are scared of opening their own auction site for the fear of Invisible Stalkers catching them unaware (see Monster Manual I D&D edition). But instead of talking in circles and lawmakers attempting to hold off the issue as long as possible, someone should just take the plunge and do it, create a VW with an auction site where ONLY the players trade items with each other for actual cash or otherwise and see what comes from it.

We could talk lawsuits and IP rights till we're blue in the face but if no one is going to jump in the pool first then wouldn't it all be for nothing?

26.

Jeff Cole>Richard, designers already have the force of law behind them

There was some suggestion at the State of Play conference that this is not necessarily the case. If players sell "objects" that they "own", the courts may decide that they do indeed own them - whether the same was against the wishes of the developers of the virtual world or not. This is Dan Hunter's "quacks like a duck" argument: virtual property looks like real property, so courts may decide to treat it like real property.

>However, I infer that you expect society to incur a significant portion of any costs associated with policing/enforcing

I don't expect the police to track down perceived miscreants like they would an armed robber, no. At the moment, eBaying would be regarded merely a breach of contract; a civil case, not a criminal one.

If a huge fraud were being perpetuated I would expect the police to become involved, though. In virtual world terms, a developer could argue that "selling stuff that doesn't belong to you" counts as fraud, and ask the police to go after the likes of IGE that way. In this case, society would bear the cost in the same way that it would if someone ripped off a grocery store.

>these costs will be greater to the extent that a designer doesn't design to avoid them (and, if they don't have to incur them, why would they design to avoid them).

A grocery store owner could stop people ripping them off flooding the store with knockout gas if anyone came in to hold the place up. It would keep away the crooks, but it would keep away the non-crooks, too. A virtual world designer might avoid making changes to their design because the result would be something they didn't want to create.

>The irony is that e-bayers would complain that they shouldn't have to go the lengths the game requires if they don't want to

They don't have to: they can go play some other virtual world where this kind of activity is applauded.

I'm not against eBaying in general, just against it in cases where it spoils the virtual world for everyone else.

Richard

27.

Richard: "There was some suggestion at the State of Play conference that this is not necessarily the case. If players sell 'objects' that they 'own', the courts may decide that they do indeed own them - whether the same was against the wishes of the developers of the virtual world or not. This is Dan Hunter's 'quacks like a duck' argument: virtual property looks like real property, so courts may decide to treat it like real property."

But that doesn't address the issue of who *owns* the property. In all likelihood, it is a form of property. But that isn't the end of the analysis.

I think it's pretty clear that upon instantiation of an item, the developer "owns" it. Then the question becomes whether or not the developer trasnfers title to the item to the player. It is legally trivial to manage that relationship (not so trivial to manage player expectation in the Age of Entitlement). A developer can decide to what extent to transfer title. Mere possession does not establish title.

Title to an account might (or not) be a bit more involved. However, it is also pretty trivially managed through contract.

So, I don't think developers face any real *legal* threat as long as they're reactively asserting their right to manage their game as they see fit. They may indeed face PR consequences. They may indeed face significant costs associated with enforcing their rights--and such costs might be prohibitive.

Richard: "A grocery store owner could stop people ripping them off flooding the store with knockout gas if anyone came in to hold the place up. It would keep away the crooks, but it would keep away the non-crooks, too. A virtual world designer might avoid making changes to their design because the result would be something they didn't want to create."

C'mon, certainly the choice isn't between no design considerations and the VW-equivalent of flooding the world with knockout gas.

Don't buy in the collective hysteria.

Now, I'm off to work on some real-life property issues not so far removed from these ...

Jeff Cole

28.

"Avoiding time spent on crafting by eBay is arguably about cheating, getting bored, or keeping up with friends."

Arguably true, but if so, creates a tension between itself and the next sentence:

"Avoiding creating new code is arguably the default position in society."

Which is even more demonstrably the case. That's why we live in a "consumer culture" rather than a "producer culture". So it seems that when we talk about giving users/players the toolkits and infrastructure create their own virtual world, we'll likely end up with something like the offline world: lots of consumers, and relatively few prolific creators. Which can be easily and productively managed within the game world economy...

But is stepping outside the virtual economy and shortcutting via eBay "cheating"? Maybe so, but it reveals that we intuitively feel that these new economies deserve some sort of protection while they develop...which seems to me to be the right urge. Imposing legal and economic restrictions too quickly will certainly stunt some of the novel potential of the virtual world.

Meanwhile we could consider eBaying as a parallel to offline underground grey and black markets: take steps to discourage and prevent the activity, punish it moderately, but don't design the entire culture around its impermissible status--because those regulations will be felt throughout the structure of the game, even if its mechanisms are 'hidden'.

29.

E> Which can be easily and productively managed within the game world economy...

When users are spending 40 hours a week creating in-world, they are effectively full time and, in the long term, it is important that there be ways for them to be rewarded in real-world wealth for their efforts. Right now, most of the best artists, programmers, and designers are not creating content in virtual spaces because the real world demands their time and pays their bills. An important component of taking user created content to the next level is to be able to match the real-world's ability to reward the truly excellent.

30.

Cory-

I see your point about rewarding designers, and agree that economic reward (in a broad sense) will be necessary to get a real boom of design started. However, limiting that reward to "real-world wealth" sounds more and more like tying another commodity into our existing offline economy, and less and less like a semi-permeable membrane between two fairly autonomous economies.

Perhaps we're butting heads over different future visions? I have a real distaste for making the virtual subservient to the offline, because that leads to limited short-term gains. You seem to be interested in creating a virtual boom, and don't have the same reservations about the long-term restrictive legal effects. As others have noted, intellectual property has no autonomous existence outside of litigation. The only way to positively confirm IP rights is to win a court case (versus the offline world, where physical possesion makes its own claim). In a Gestalt sense, that doesn't lay the foundation for an enjoyable virtual space for consumptive players.

As I mention, in a future Metaverse, most players aren't going to spend 40 hours a week creating. Many will spend 40 hours a week online, but in less productive form. Do we design the rules for the convenience of the few, or for the enjoyment of the many?

31.

E>As I mention, in a future Metaverse, most players aren't going to spend 40 hours a week creating. Many will spend 40 hours a week online, but in less productive form. Do we design the rules for the convenience of the few, or for the enjoyment of the many?

Yes! Focusing the power of the creative users is the only hope of building something as large as the Metaverse since without content, why would anyone want to go there? They need to provide the experiences that the majority will come to the Metaverse to enjoy.

32.

"Yes! Focusing the power of the creative users is the only hope of building something as large as the Metaverse since without content, why would anyone want to go there?"

Like the parallel I drew in another post, people go to our current MMORPGs like they used to dial into BBSs. I don't want to elaborate too far here, but from the standpoint of content, it was all localized. Think about the internet now. What features stand out as far as content goes:
*) Everybody is a creator
*) Distributed content
What holds this mess of meshes together and turns them useful and attractive? Links. Hyperlinks. Hyperlinks that create hierarchical structures of content with semantic relevance. What allows me to grab the mesh and find a "tip" of this hierarchy that interests me? Search engines. What is missing in 2ndLife? Hierarchy of content and search capabilities. Am I sparking any ideas yet? :)

33.

DS,
Agreed re SL feature adds. Actually, searching is better in our next release and full object searching will in the release after that. WRT heirarchy and hyperlinks, we intentionally don't allow arbitrary hyperlinking in SL and instead use a telehub system that causes users to meet at central terminals near destinations. This has the benefits of allowing real world clustering to occur (I'll put my clothing store in the shoping district!) and makes land values vary since some locations are much easier to reach (near public transit, so to speak).
Cory

34.

Cory Ondrejka>When users are spending 40 hours a week creating in-world, they are effectively full time and, in the long term, it is important that there be ways for them to be rewarded in real-world wealth for their efforts

I have two points to raise with regards to this statement.

Firstly, you can be rewarded in terms other than real-world wealth. Someone who takes a year off work to backpack around the world is asking a lot if they want to be paid for the privilege. If people are doing something because they enjoy it, they can consider themselves fortunate if they're paid for it.

Secondly, just because someone spends 40 hours a week doing something that doesn't mean they do it well. By your argument, someone who decided to be a full-time writer and spent 40 hours a week writing would deserve to be published on that basis only, irrespective of whether their writings were any good or not. A full-time creator of unwanted items can expect to be remunerated on that basis.

I can see how this idealism goes down well with players, but not all of us here are just players.

Richard

35.

Sorry, upon rereading I can see how "ways for them to be rewarded" could imply that they must be rewarded. Clearly, there is a variety of different skill levels for just about every endeavor with outliers on both sides of the normal distribution. Those who lie far to the "good" side were the ones that I was speaking about, although the rest might benefit from the opportunity.

Were you to spend time in a world like SL, I strongly suspect that your knowledge and experience would make you an asset to other users in world, resulting in in-world fame and fortune. My feeling is that the opportunity to translate that into real-world wealth doesn't diminish the achievement.

As for the 40 hour a week writer, I think that until he or she tries it 40 hours a week we're unlikely to know whether or not they're the next Jerome K. Jerome. They might not be -- although, much like hiking around the world they might enjoy the process. Also, the virtual world opens options not considered in the real world.

Actually, hiking is a great example. Some people take a year off to do it for fun while others work as professional guides. Again, we see fun and income generation coexisting in the real world. Shouldn't users of the virtual worlds get the same choice?

I certainly have a healthy dose of idealism that drives a lot of my thinking about why a Metaverse is not just a good idea, but something acutely needed. However, my article and discussions on the topic of entangling the real and the virtual are driven by the very pragmatic goal of wanting to get the Metaverse built.

Cory

36.

Cory: "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."

From your perspective, "real-world law" seems to be analogous to developer-created content in games. Many of the weaknesses you identify with developer-created content in games also applies to real-world law that regulatory agencies and other formal institutions develop.

Real-world law, however, arises not just from specialized law-development institutions but also from decentralized, individual action. The founders of the U.S. believed that cultivating virtue among citizens was crucial for sustaining rule of law. Legal realists emphasize that law is the experience of actions and consequences. In the real world this means customary practice, threats of litigation as a means of imposing costs (which matters of lot in actual copyright, trademark, and patent disputes), regulatory capture and the development of complex laws that only highly engaged parties can interpret and shape, the mobilization of customers and public opinion to protect one's interests, etc.

I can image that at least some virtual world players might seek to insulate themselves from real-world legal processes. While the real-world provides valuable resources for play in virtual worlds, game developers can make design choices about game law and the ways players can shape it. Why surrender your artistic license here? Particularly when there's so much evidence of bad art of law in the real world...

37.

Cory --
"However, my article and discussions on the topic of entangling the real and the virtual are driven by the very pragmatic goal of wanting to get the Metaverse built."

That was my impression from your writings. There is a real danger that one person, or group, in their pragmatic drive to build their grand Thing, will irresponsibly lash down others, with different (but not incompatible) goals, into an economic and legal scheme that is primarily suited to one vision.

"Focusing the power of the creative users is the only hope of building something as large as the Metaverse since without content, why would anyone want to go there?"

To trot out an old but relevant conterexample: the Web.

If you primarily want to inspire creativity (some good, some bad) rather than economic activity (some good, some bad), then all you need to do is provide the public with a workspace and a good toolkit. It sounds like you may be doing that in SL. Economics will naturally follow creativity; but economics are poor at inspiring creativity. In aspiring to create *the* Metaverse, you should realize that there is a threshold of regulations that, once passed, will preclude its status as the carte blanche space which we know fuels creativity. It will be seen as commodified space, and competitors will appear with alternatives--with whatever legal wriggle room remains.

I agree that a single encompassing 3D (and more) virtual space is desirable. What I find *necessary* is that regulations appear in response to well-known problems, rather than in anticipation of them (because the anticipation will always be incorrect). People will figure out better ways to preserve their ideas and ideals than the law can imagine a priori, and we aren't yet at a point where these emerging points of contention can be considered fully representative of broader issues. This jump to legal solutions sounds like an attempt to "please all of the people all of the time".

Allow me a final messy metaphor: The internet is like the physical Earth; individual sites--and game worlds--are the towns and cities in that world. Each town and city has its own laws, and there is variation and competition between them. But the Internet itself as a whole, the Earth, exist outside the sovereignty of any regulations. Laws act through them, but not on them.

By inviting regulation down upon virtual spaces, you are choosing to further confine them and define them against their foundation. The Metaverse you envision will be a city, not a world--and other other cities will appear to compete.

My exception here is not that legal intermixing of virtual and offline space is inherently undesireable, but rather that someone who wants to build a world should not follow the blueprint for constructing a city. You'll end up boxing yourself and other designers inside your own spaces, and make it more difficult for the next guy to come along, step outside, and take another shot at creating what you wanted all along.

Once again, I realize that this is not a view that can easily be made productive (ie economically lucrative). It can be done, but not by asking the old rules to govern the new game. I'd love to harangue you with my thoughts on the psychology of early world-builders, but I've rambled long enough for now.

38.

The only thing I've gained from all this is that no one has a solution.

As far as I know, only one of the motivations listed by Brian Allman has been addressed. In DAoC, you were able to play with your friends/guildmates even if you were lower level. The XP cap prevented the worst extremes of powerlevelling while still allowing friends to play together. DAoC guilds seemed more stable and "newbie friendly" to me as a player. Of course, I don't have any stats to back this up.

Other than this, the issue here seems to be less of an economic one and merely a restatement of the old "hardcore vs. casual" debate.

There are ways to prevent ebaying of items, but I believe all the methods I've seen give even more advantages to hardcore players and are ultimately detrimental to the economy. For instance, a developer could make it so that rare items could not be traded or sold (as has been done in several persistent world games). One person could loot them from a mob, but whoever loots the item is the only one who can possess it. This causes even more trouble for casual players. Instead of being able to possess the item via in-game or real-world cash, they must now be in an uberguild or capable of bribing such a guild to gain loot rights (or capable of ninja-looting it). This is substantially more difficult than merely purchasing an item. Furthermore, every item that cannot be traded or sold (and, to an extent, any item that can only be used by a particular race/class/level) reduces the value of in-game money and is harmful the economy as a whole.

A dramatic example of this can be seen in Anarchy Online's Shadowlands expansion. There are now ways in which players can make 10-15 million credits an hour. Yet most of the valuable items added in the last few months have the NODROP flag, which prevents them from being traded or sold. This has dramatically increased the prices for other items, sending the prices out of reach of casual players. And, since the only way to acquire most of the new items is through camping, only those with excessive time (or luck) can acquire them. Most of the new content is unattainable by most players. Ironically, I suspect that the developers were attempting to make it more casual friendly with these changes. I can see how it might seem like a good idea on paper, but this is not how it has worked out in practice.

The lock that hardcore players have on some games is similar to a monopoly in the real world. It causes the same problems as well. What no one (myself included) seems to be able to figure out is a kind of Virtual Sherman Act.

Without a real solution, there are a few ways to minimize ebaying. First, make sure no item is so rare that it is completely outside the hands of casual players (i.e. use fast spawn rates, variable spawn locations, and high drop rates to prevent monopolization). Second, make every item in the game sellable (with the possible exception of quest items, etc). Third, spend a large portion of your precious developer-hours watching the economy. Is one player making 10 million "dollars" every hour? Monitor what they're doing and prevent it with the next patch. Is one item selling for 500 million "dollars"? Find out why that item is so valuable and either make it more common or nerf it.

For people who ebay high-level characters, I'd like to point out, once again, that the main problem with on-line games today is the reward schedule. The "level ladder" causes frustration, not because the adequate reward schedule at low levels (one or more food pellets in an casual hour or two of play) is no longer possible at the high end. The lack of consistent rewards leads to extinction (players no longer exhibit the developer's desired behavior, i.e. spending money every month to play the game). But, if you really want to addict someone, use a *variable* reward schedule...

39.

E> To trot out an old but relevant conterexample: the Web.

Are you saying that content and real-world laws didn't drive web expansion? Publishing web content (usually) didn't make you fork over all your rights to it, so you retain real-world protections. Plus, I'd say the web is an excellent example of what happens when the general population (which is usually dismissed as uncreative) is given the proper tools to express themselves. Sure not all of it is spectacular, but some of it is.

Cory

40.

https://www.ccdprog.com/wwwboard/messages/7220.html formallevelrecovered

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