The ACS Relay for Life in Second Life is in full swing this weekend. Looks like they’ve raised $2,000 so far, well on their way to the $5,000 goal. The silent auction closes today at 11am Pacific time, with the awards and closing ceremonies following at 11:30am Pacific.
I took a walk around the track this morning (well okay, I admit I actually flew most of the way – is that considered cheating??) and I’m pretty impressed with the way this event is being realized in virtual space.
I want to piggyback on Ted's recent post on inflation but go in the opposite direction.
We all repeat the mantra that inflation in MUDs/MMOs is inevitable - both the RMT and the in-game economy. And if you've played SWG, you'll remember the run-away inflation there.
But here's the weird thing. I'm not seeing this in WoW. Prices for most goods and services seem to have fallen over the past few months rather than risen. Some examples on my server (medium PvE):
And this is in the face of what everyone seems to think is massive influx of RMT into WoW servers - given all the fuss over gold farmers. But even if that were not the case, shouldn't we see inflation from an aging server anyways as more and more people hit 60? Stability is one thing, but deflation just seems strange.
So my questions are:
We've been discussing MMORPGs and social issues here at Terra Nova for nearly two years, and, if memory serves me right, we've never once mentioned attorney Jack Thompson in the body of a post. Most of our discussion of politics has stayed in the heady realm of LamdaMOO politics, and has not delved into disputes over video game-related state regulations. (We have talked about that here, but rarely.) So it is interesting to see a blog like Game Politics, which focuses almost exclusively on those state regulatory efforts, starting to pay some attention to MMOs. Check out this thread, for instance, on The Great Virtual Market Crash of 2005. It starts out noting the same website Ted pointed to (with some skepticism) in this post -- but the discussion quickly turns to Jack Thompson, who even makes an appearance in the comments. I wonder if, as MMORPGs and virtual economies take a more prominent role in the mainstream, blogs like Game Politics and Terra Nova will be operating in closer proximity?
Police in Japan recently arrested a Chinese student for mugging other players in Lineage II for virtual equipment (there's a smallish probability of dropping your equipment each time you die) and selling the items for offline profit via auction sites. The story can be found here and here. Both articles spend the majority of space discussing the fact that the guy was pulling it all off with bots and it's left fairly ambiguous as to whether or not the student was arrested for the use of such programs or for the muggings themselves. Both issues are pretty interesting.
As to the former, will I have to give up PvP in Lin2 one day as a too much of a "Liability." I mean, avatars are worth offline money as well (Castronova, 2003), so am I now going to have to retire to carebear town from all things PvP because I'm decreasing the value of someone else's avatar by killing it again and again (yes, there are many contexts where this is not harrassment but standard gameplay)?
As to the latter, I sometimes play two accounts simultaneously - a healer and a tank - with the healer on follow to the tank, there to cast periodic heals and share in the experience. Is she a bot? And am I in trouble now for having her there? I use macros with her, but Lin2 permits them. When does she become a legal issue?
According to Prof Richard Nisbett, Westerns and Asians think in different ways. What does this tell us about MMO design and the relative success of existing MMOs?
Unggi just alerted us to this: The Chinese General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) has declared that on October 1, a fatigue system will be instituted in many major MMORPGs, including WoW and Lineage 2. See this report. The Chinese regulations are aimed at reducing time spent playing. According to the linked report: "The system will only award players full experience points for the first three hours of each day, half experience for the next two hours, and no experience after five hours." If you read Chinese, see this and this too -- and feel free to translate for us.
Looks like we're starting to see state involvement with MMORPG game mechanics. Undoubtedly this has something to do with addiction concerns and the several reported incidents of death during over-playing. It is interesting to note that a fatigue system was originally built into WoW, but was swapped in beta for the inn rest=XP bonus system they now have -- I think this was due to negative player reactions. More details on the "Beijing Accord" from Gamasutra and the Financial Times.
MOGs have a thing called MUDflation (Raph Koster referred to it once as 'database inflation') that seems to have been part of their fabric from the beginning. Now, recently, a website (of dubious origin and with shady claims - not recommended) has created some charts that basically reveal what everyone here knows: the value of almost all game currencies against the dollar falls over time (although through back channels Nick Yee says that the price of WoW gold has stabilized recently; I am in EQ2 these days). Nothing new in this. Yet now that the numbers are posted this way, we get other sites (thanks Jessica) making alarmist (though tongue-in-cheek) analyses, as though something's wrong.
Is something wrong? We've talked about this before. Does this evidence of dramatic inflation indicate that these economies are horribly mismanaged? Or perhaps the universal presence of inflation in MOGs suggests something far more significant from a policy perspective (and also something of a teaser from my book), namely, that inflation may simply be more fun than price stability.
After typing up my post on KC Munchkin, I thought to myself: "Wouldn't it be helpful if someone made a comprehensive online list of early IP lawsuits related to video games?" Of course, as these things tend to go on the Web, someone already has. Today I stumbled across The Patent Arcade, a blog by lawyer Ross Dannenberg (who is also an adjunct IP prof at George Mason) that features a continually updated library of video game IP decisions, with blog-format postings about the opinions (including screenshots). Included are some cases discussed here before, including the KC Munchkin case, Williams v. Arctic Int'l (here, there), and Marvel v. NcSoft. Relatedly, I should note that the IGDA has recently started an IP rights special interest group with a wiki and a blog.
Update: I just received an email from Chris Bennet of the Video Game Law Blog. They've even got an RSS feed for online/multiplayer. If any one knows of more gaming blawgs out there, please let me know or post a comment.
So Microsoft has revealed the pricing for Xbox 360.
I figure, all the cool kids will be talking about this for a bit, so why shouldn't the beardy scholars of Terra Nova attempt to join in?
Dear Blizzard, selling virtual stuff such as neat character attributes, by getting people to buy a non-monetary token (such as a trading card) that has a chance of getting you virtual stuff, is STILL selling virtual stuff.
There's been a great new accidental minigame spawned in World of Warcraft recently. On July 29th, Scott Kurtz of PvP fame invited his readers to join him on the new Dark Iron server. The Horde guild Panda Attack grew rapidly: 500 members by August 1st, and then spin-off guilds. On August 1st, Penny Arcade called upon their readers to create an enemy Alliance guild. There are now at least six PA-associated guilds (Knights of Arcadia, Fancy Lads, Cardboard Samurai, Keepers of the Wang, Annarchy, CTS Dojo). Not to be left out, Ctrl-Alt-Delete formed Horde affiliate guilds on the same server: The Rapscallions and now the Bloody Carrots.
If you're interested in Pac-Man, you might have heard of K.C.Munchkin. Then again, maybe you haven't. K.C. Munchkin had a brief existence, perhaps due to the fact that he infringed the copyright in the much more famous Pac-Man, according to the 1982 decision of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Atari v. North American Philips Consumer Elecs., 672 F.2d 607.
While we were chatting about virtual crimes a few months back, cybercrime guru Orin Kerr (who blogs over at TVC) pointed me to the case of People v. Johnson, 560 N.Y.S.2d 238 (1990). What a fascinating case -- it stands for the remarkable proposition that mere knowledge of a 14 digit number can constitute criminal possession of stolen property. What 14-digit numerical properties do you have in your head? Might I offer you 123321456787654? Do you want it? Can you be sure it isn't contraband?
Doing research on other issues, I stumbled across two interesting state criminal statutes. Permit these a broad interpretation and then apply them to Julian's Bone Crusher theft (described here, discussed by Dan and I here) -- would the statutes criminalize the theft of a virtual item with the intent to realize a real-world profit?
It would probably make sense for us to start a post every August for the academic job openings that virtual world specialists might be interested in. To keep it simple, let's only have positions open to people with the standard university-level terminal degrees - PhD, JD, MFA.
In 2005, there aren't going to be too, too many of these. But time, and the digital revolution, marches on.
I'll start with my department's two tenure-track openings at the assistant professor level...
There has been some controversy in Blizzard’s official World of Warcraft forums lately over the concept of privacy. After some players started asking some pointed questions in a now-locked message thread, an official Blizzard post from community rep Caydiem confirmed that the company scans players’ computers for hacking programs. He tried to address the issue of whether the scans are ethically appropriate, as well as being legal and allowed by the EULA, assuring the player base that Blizzard was collecting no personally identifiable information, just looking for the cheaters.
Of course, the controversy hasn’t stopped there.
So, suppose you're a virtual world developer. Your players have signed a contract with you, and you have their credit card on file. It's on file so that you can charge people their monthly subscription (or, for RMT worlds, so you can sell them stuff).
Is that all you can do with it, though?
Sage has recently launched a new peer-reviewed print journal for game studies named Games and Culture. They seem to be really putting a lot of backing behind it (even turning up at DiGRA to get a sense of the work out there and meet folks) and hopefully a new kid on the game-journal-block shows the strength of the field :) You might have heard about it before but they have just announced they are offering a free trial issue (electronic) for the first issue due in January. You can find out more about the journal and sign up for the freebie at their website. I also really encourage folks to consider submitting work. The editor, Doug Thomas, has a very exciting and ambitious vision and I know he is looking forward to receiving submissions so definitely check it out.
Symantec notes a new trojan horse "PWSteal.Wowcraft" that steals World of Warcraft passwords and emails them to the author. Security guru Bruce Shneier notes how this business of stealing imaginary things seems to be part of a growing trend. Thanks to TN friend and virtual worlds scholar James Grimmelmann for the tip.
In related news, David Long of Gamer Dad has some thoughts on the recent EQ II Dog Dupe story that, if credited, apparently netted the wily Methical somewhere upward of $70K. This was reportedly well spent on a trip to Paris. Note that Methical, like Julian, does have some pangs of conscience:
"P.S. Sorry for ruining the economy and all that."
On the Commons--a great blog which extolls/explains the significance of common ownership regimes in areas like intellectual property--has a posting called "The Video Game Theory of Global Politics". In it David Bollier, author of Brand Name Bullies, suggests that MMOGs provide some insights into the international political economy of common ownership. He references, inter alia, Gilman Louie, head of In-Q-Tel, a CIA-funded venture capital firm (I shit you not) and game industry guy:
"Last year, Louie...offered some astute insights about global politics based on the collective behaviors he has observed in massively multi-player online games (MMPOGs). These games -- Quake, Civilization III, Diplomacy, Navy Seals and many others -- have literally tens of thousands of players at any given time. While there are obvious differences between online games and "real life" (no one really gets hurt; no real estate actually changes hands) there are also many intriguing similarities (identity and respect are paramount; group dynamics of competition and cooperation matter). What might MMPOGs have to say about collective behavior in the global commons?"
What's a Ludium? It's an academic conference built as a live-action game. At this one, a mixed group of academics, MMORPG designers, and experts with funding contacts will compete to come up with the best ways to use avatars in university research. Anyone who reads this page knows that basic research using the technology of multiplayer persistent gaming will open countless new approaches to the exploration of human sociality. That's valuable in and of itself, but there are all kinds of spinoffs that advance the agendas of others. There's IP for businesses in this; information-spreading tools for foundations; policy levers for government. There are so many good research ideas that the question is not whether we should do anything, but where do we start? This conference will try to pick out the five best ideas and lay down, concretely, the pragmatics of working on them. Who benefits? How deep is the impact? What will this kind of work cost? Who will fund it? How quickly will the results be available?
The people who will actually play this game of project development have already been selected. It's basically the Terra Nova community, plus some folks with expertise at organizing and funding large-scale research projects. But the ideas they come up with will be presented in an open forum, which may be of interest to many...
Our Richard B is quoted:
"Most of the players hate this kind of activity, really, really hate it. As far as they're concerned, they're playing a game," he says. "And if someone comes along and turns it from a game into work, they think: 'I work all day, and now my fun is being spoilt by these people buying success.' You can't buy a gold medal and then claim you're the world high-jump champion. You have to jump something."
Against this we have SOE's magisterial defense of the practice:
"Over the last five years we've seen the secondary market for sales of virtual goods go from a few guys selling our characters on eBay to about $200m in sales annually. We can no longer ignore a secondary market that has reached levels as high as that."
Good to see that SOE has abandoned the pretense that they entered into this as a matter of customer service, consumer welfare, fraud avoidance, fairness, etc. It's about the
cash...um, principle of the thing, or the genius of the market, or something.
Anyway, not much else in the piece that we haven't seen a million times (indeed, a million times from the BBC). I have a thought about the inevitability of RMT that was going to post here, but I'm about to miss a deadline and have to get on with another thing. More later.
Tom Standage at The Economist has the cover story in the latest issue. It is devoted to the recent series of moral attacks over games (highlighted by the Hot Coffee fiasco), and featuring only some of the usual cast of characters. Unlike many articles on the topic, this one presents some balance. Actually, despite this cover shot, it might even be said to stray into the unexpected turf of defending games . . .
Postigo is wrapping up his PhD at RPI's Science and Technology Studies program and has written on the contribution of modding communities to a company's bottom line. Here are some thoughts on the GTA sex Easter Egg, mentioned in comments to Richard's censorship post. It also got attention in the halls of power, such as they are. Postigo ponders what it means for the video game business. Hook line: On the Chill Effect of Hot Coffee.
So, the folks from Three Rings, who we all know and love from Puzzle Pirates, have announced a new game, Bang! Howdy. Bang! Howdy is described as an "online tactical strategy game in a 3D Wild West setting," and it seems to capture Three Rings' love of lingo and cute drawings. Of note is the business model:
Bang! Howdy ™ will be downloadable for free over the Internet and free to play with no signup or recurring subscription fee. Players will pay for Big Shot units and customizations and will buy train tickets to new towns using our microcurrency system. Prices will be announced prior to official launch and we expect that they will be downright inexpensive.
No info on timing yet, of course.
(EDIT: We're slow, Alice mentioned this already)
Quite simply David Thomas’s Architecture and Vice (The Escapist issue 4) is not just the best thing ever written about Second Life it’s a fascinating meditation on what occurs when ordinary people are given the ability to express, share and let other play with their inner life.
Oh and forget the happy, brightly coloured Second Life you might have read about - this is the fricking ecstatic, dirty, dark, furry, Gorean, queer and out-there-weird SL that I know and love.