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Jun 15, 2010

Comments

1.

Probaly, something with property rights. If game chars can [actually, legaly, they can't in many games including WoW, but they might] be sold for currency, they should be seen as property.

2.

thais>Probaly, something with property rights

As you note, he doesn't own the property - it belongs to Blizzard. It's as if she destroyed his rental car because he kept driving it around instead of spending time with her: the rental car company can sue, sure, but on what basis can he do so?

Richard

3.

I'm guessing this is fake, but that doesn't invalidate the question.

One nifty thing about virtual property is that it can be created and destroyed with minimal effort. In this case, Blizzard could (and almost certainly would) restore all of this stuff, so she'd be liable for... what, exactly? Emotional distress? Time that he had to spend talking to a CSR?

Of course, you could imagine examples in games where such recovery would be impossible or more difficult, and the question becomes a bit more interesting.

4.

JeremyT>I'm guessing this is fake, but that doesn't invalidate the question.

Yes, I haven't heard of any girlfriend being murdered by being forced to eat monitor shards recently, so I have my doubts too. Assuming the scenario it paints is true, though, we do have a question.

>In this case, Blizzard could (and almost certainly would) restore all of this stuff

They don't have to, though. Could they be forced to, as has happened to other developers in China? Or could they laugh in the face of the subsequent bad publicity and say no? Could an MMO developer who doesn't keep backups of deleted characters be forced to keep them, "just in case" someone's account gets hacked?

>so she'd be liable for... what, exactly? Emotional distress?

That would perhaps work, but could she perhaps cite the emotional distress he caused her by playing WoW every evening in her defence?

Could he sue her for the damage her actions fired him to mete out to his computer?

>Of course, you could imagine examples in games where such recovery would be impossible or more difficult, and the question becomes a bit more interesting.

In MUD2, it was possible so long as you didn't create another character. If you did, the slot was taken up and the original contents were lost. In MUD1, we had to look at the logs and create the new character manually which, as it was a pain and almost invariably involved some kind of attempt to get a valid permadeath overturned, we were reluctant to do.

Richard

5.

I foresee a future in which prenuptial agreements have very specific clauses about time allowed doing things without the significant other; attention rights, perhaps, we'd call them.

6.
Robert: They don't have to, though. Could they be forced to, as has happened to other developers in China? Or could they laugh in the face of the subsequent bad publicity and say no? Could an MMO developer who doesn't keep backups of deleted characters be forced to keep them, "just in case" someone's account gets hacked?

I suspect that most MMOs do keep backups of this info and, in the US anyway, most developers will restore the account in this or any situation where a user's account is deleted/hacked/etc, not least in order to retain the customer. Also important, however, is that even though the company commits no fraud and forces players to release it from any damage claims, most regulators will see that fraud is being committed via services offered by the company, and may decide to bring action against it in order to force it to provide protection. There are many examples of this type of regualation where, for instance, fraud is committed using the services of otherwise legitimate money-wiring companies.

The calculus is based on the fact that fraudsters are numerous and hard to punish, but a company is monolithic, easy to find and sue, and usually quick to settle.

7.

Andy Havens>I foresee a future in which prenuptial agreements have very specific clauses about time allowed doing things without the significant other; attention rights, perhaps, we'd call them.

Hey, she could play WoW with him if she wanted to - she chose not to. Well, that would be his defence, anyway.

Although it's clear from the video that the girlfriend means to teach the boyfriend a lesson in some way, it's not clear that she realises the extent to which what she's doing is hurtful. She may see it in the same light as, say, cutting the sleeves off his shirts: some inconvenience, some monetary cost, a little emotional distress, but justified by her pique. She doesn't appear to be doing it with the intention that he'll be quite as gutted as he is.

Richard

8.

Isaac Knowles>

>Robert:
Almost - it's Richard...

>I suspect that most MMOs do keep backups of this info

They do, yes, for two main reasons
1) Some bug could wipe out the data, so they need to be able to restore it.
2) Accounts get hacked by people who wish to strip them bare and sell their content for real money.

>in the US anyway, most developers will restore the account in this or any situation where a user's account is deleted/hacked/etc, not least in order to retain the customer.

I agree. However, should they be required by law either to keep backups (if so, for how long?) and to restore those backups if an account has been hacked (if so, who decides what "hacked" means, and is there any criminal liability on the hacker?).

>most regulators will see that fraud is being committed via services offered by the company, and may decide to bring action against it in order to force it to provide protection.

So if I park my car in front of a mall and someone comes along and steals it because I left the keys in the ignition, it's the fault of the mall? Or the vehicle manufacturer? Or anyone, other than me?

>The calculus is based on the fact that fraudsters are numerous and hard to punish, but a company is monolithic, easy to find and sue, and usually quick to settle.

OK, so in the example we have in the video, you're saying that companies should be required by law to keep backups (of what data?) to compensate people who have, through no fault of the company's been defrauded, and that given that they have these backups they should also be required by law to revert to those backups in the event of domestic disputes? Or aren't you going that far?

Richard

9.

She obviously had the password to his account, most likely freely given without any strings attached. So i think she had the right to do with the account as she pleased, including the deletion of the characters. If they had a shared bank account, she could withdraw money and spend it as she desired to, the same applies to a shared game account.

Imho, the monetary worth of an account, if there is any, is rather insignificent to the emotional value it has for a person. Destroying the account might be more compareable to destroying a flower bed in the garden that was made and maintained with lots of love and effort, or trashing some hobby paintings.

10.

For starters, there's unauthorized access to a protected computer. That's 18 USC 1030 in the US, but it goes under other names elsewhere, and there have been cases:

https://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2008/10/virtual-crime-u.html

https://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2005/01/you_deleted_my_.html

The more interesting issue is whether there's a civil conversion (property interference) claim. In the U.S., there may well be. The Dutch have recognized that sort of claim. Civil code jurisdictions would probably reject it. And WoW's stance on user property complicates things.

Ben is generally right about joint bank accounts, but there are cases where access to an account is granted to a person without granting full rightes of ownership -- e.g., you could ask an agent to access your wealth without sharing that wealth. Also, I imagine the WoW TOS says something about the user's ability to authorize password sharing.

I agree with Ben that the curious thing about this is that the value of the property destroyed to the user goes beyond the RMT value of the account. I also agree with Isaac that the relative ease with which lost items can be restored should have some impact on the way this sort of thing is best handled.

11.

Sorry about that, Rober... err Richard..

>> 1) Some bug could wipe out the data, so they need to be able to restore it.
2) Accounts get hacked by people who wish to strip them bare and sell their content for real money.

and, 3) There's almost no reason not to keep it, and many not-yet-conceived reasons to keep it, and that at several points in time. It would cost roughly a dime to store this information.

>>> should they be required by law either to keep backups (if so, for how long?)

I don't really know whether there should be a law; I'm just saying that regulators will regulate a service if they can prove that said service is used as a medium for fraud and if the service knowingly allows such fraud to take place without implementing some sort of protection for the users.

Regulation in that sense isn't really 'law' except in a sort of implicit way: if you don't take reasonable steps(and yes, that's a vague term) to protect users from fraud, action will be taken against you. A court would probably rule against a regulator suing strip malls for theft of unlocked cars with keys in the ignition, but would probably rule against a strip mall for not providing a security guard in a golf cart if locked cars are routinely stolen, broken into, or what have you.

The example in the video: Let's say the company has a policy where it only restores 'hacked' accounts. All the guy has to do is call the company and say "I was hacked. Restore my account." They say "Ok." The information asymmetry is such that the company might as well just have a policy of restoring accounts that are compromised.

So I don't really think I'm going that far; I'm saying that the company will restore the account in any event because it has the tools in place to do so. It doesn't behoove the company to differentiate between a deletion due to a hack and deletion due to a domestic dispute. The only thing a company might do (and I think Blizzard does this based on my recent experience getting my account hacked) is ensure that the user is not trying to defraud the game company by claiming they were hacked and profiting from the sale of the items and currency. How they do that... I have no idea... data mining something something.

12.

Ouch. I hope she didn't understand the extent of the harm she caused. Otherwise, it's almost too cruel to consider.

If the boyfriend were to sue, his best claim would probably be for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). It's likely that the main issue at trial would be whether she knew or should have known that deleting those accounts would cause him this degree of anguish. Given her motivation for deleting the characters--the time he spent with them, rather than her--it seems likely that he'd meet this requirement.

The most interesting part of an IIED claim would probably be the need to establish damages. In ye olden times, IIED was alternatively called the "tort of outrage" on the theory that the conduct it was intended to punish would cause a reasonable bystander to yell "Outrageous!" Although not verbatim, my reaction on watching the video probably qualified. However, as a gamer, I understand the time and effort that those characters represent. The average US jury might not.

Instead, I'd expect that a jury would find the necessary intent to cause emotional distress but would dismiss the harm to the boyfriend as silly. After all, the basis for his claim would be the mental distress caused by the loss of a virtual object--something non-gamers might derogate as "not real." As a result, they'd probably award only nominal damages. This cultural barrier between gamers and non-gamers over the emotional value that virtual goods represent would likely be the most difficult (and interesting) hurdle for the boyfriend to overcome in making his claim.

> Greglas: "The more interesting issue is whether there's a civil conversion (property interference) claim"

I agree that arguing a property right in the characters would make for a more interesting claim. The boyfriend would have to establish ownership against Blizzard first, since one can't claim conversion on property one doesn't own. I'd love to see this theory tested, but it would probably require extreme circumstances for a plaintiff to risk tangling with Vivendi's attorneys on a business-critical point like ownership of intellectual property.

> Richard: "However, should they be required by law either to
keep backups (if so, for how long?) and to restore those backups if an account has been hacked[?]"

If one could convince legislators to consider the issue, they'd (hopefully) compare the marginal cost of keeping backups to the losses suffered by users if backups weren't available. However, given the low cost of data storage and the large PR benefits of allowing character retrieval, it seems like the right incentives are already built into the business. Restoring a character in MUD2 sounds onerous, but I'd imagine that it's a less costly process for a modern MMO manager.

> Richard: "Could an MMO developer who doesn't keep backups of deleted characters be forced to keep them, "just in case" someone's account gets hacked?"

Could a legislature force an MMO manager to keep backups of characters? That's pretty likely, given the low cost. Would they? Probably not.

13.

Ben>She obviously had the password to his account, most likely freely given without any strings attached. So i think she had the right to do with the account as she pleased, including the deletion of the characters.

You don't think that there's an implicit understanding that if I loan you the keys to my car and don't say "please don't deliberately wreck it", you don't thereby have carte blanche to wreck it?

Richard

14.

Isaac Knowles>There's almost no reason not to keep it

It could be part of the game's design, although it would have to involve such a large real-world component that it's doubtful whether the result could still be called an MMO.

>It would cost roughly a dime to store this information.

If you have 10 million players, that's a million dollars. Some Facebook games have those kinds of numbers of players but nowhere near that amount of income from them.

There are also some practical issues. For example, how long do I have to keep a deleted character before it can no longer be undeleted? Is the character's name protected during that period (so I could create/delete characters automatically using all the words in a dictionary, just to annoy you) or is it unprotected (so when I come back from my 6-month tour of the Far East I find someone else is innocently using the name, I get to make them change it)?

Another issue is data format. Restoring a character is relatively painless if it was deleted yesterday; it's not necessarily going to be painless if a server patch has changed the database format, or my character was holding objects that have since been removed from the game.

>I'm just saying that regulators will regulate a service if they can prove that said service is used as a medium for fraud and if the service knowingly allows such fraud to take place without implementing some sort of protection for the users.

EVE Online is used for fraud, and CCP know it's used for fraud. It's supposed to be used for fraud - that's part of the gameplay.

>but would probably rule against a strip mall for not providing a security guard in a golf cart if locked cars are routinely stolen, broken into, or what have you.

Hmm, looks like there's a difference between the US and UK legal systems there. In the UK, the strip mall would be complaining to the police that they weren't doing their job, they wouldn't be liable themselves for it. In part, this is because almost all public parking spaces in the UK have a notice displayed saying that people park at their own risk (kind of like a EULA for parking).

>I'm saying that the company will restore the account in any event because it has the tools in place to do so.

I agree that this is almost certainly going to be the case, yes. That doesn't mean there aren't situations in which the company doesn't have such tools, though. UO has been running for well over a decade: if I called them now and demanded that they restore a character of mine hacked in 1999, they're unlikely to be able to do it even if the character was indeed hacked in 1999, and even if they could, in 1999, have restored it.

>It doesn't behoove the company to differentiate between a deletion due to a hack and deletion due to a domestic dispute.

It does if the person doing the deletion is the owner of the account. It could be that in the video, the girlfriend bought the account for the boyfriend and it's in her name. She may want those characters to stay deleted. Now, the company is embroiled in some kind of domestic dispute where they really want to say "sort it out yourselves and get back to us" but can't.

Richard

15.

Brian Creeden>Ouch. I hope she didn't understand the extent of the harm she caused. Otherwise, it's almost too cruel to consider.

She may have thought she was being cruel to be kind, equating it to destroying the boyfriend's stash of illegal drugs.

>If the boyfriend were to sue, his best claim would probably be for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).

This is tricky, though. People routinely intentionally inflict emotional distress. If the girlfriend had dumped him, for example, he would have suffered perhaps worse emotional distress, but surely he couldn't have sued over that?

>It's likely that the main issue at trial would be whether she knew or should have known that deleting those accounts would cause him this degree of anguish.

She knew it would hurt him, given her commentary and the fact she was filming it for his reaction (assuming this isn't all a set-up, of course). Did she know it would cause him this much distress, though?

>Given her motivation for deleting the characters--the time he spent with them, rather than her--it seems likely that he'd meet this requirement.

It's a question of degree. She knew it would hurt, but could she really have known it would hurt that much?

>After all, the basis for his claim would be the mental distress caused by the loss of a virtual object--something non-gamers might derogate as "not real."

Memories aren't real, but if you beat someone up and they lost their memories of early childhood as a result, the compensation would be much greater than if they merely lost yesterday.

>This cultural barrier between gamers and non-gamers over the emotional value that virtual goods represent would likely be the most difficult (and interesting) hurdle for the boyfriend to overcome in making his claim.

I agree. There would have to be a lot of effort put into showing the jury just what it meant to the player to lose his characters. I don't think it's impossible, though: if the boyfriend retaliated by deleting the girlfriend's unfinished novel from her hard drive, the jury could probably be persuaded that this loss of "virtual" property was non-trivial; it's a harder sell for games, but it's still sellable.

>Restoring a character in MUD2 sounds onerous, but I'd imagine that it's a less costly process for a modern MMO manager.

It wasn't terribly onerous - I had an "undelete" command I could use - but it became onerous if Things Had Changed between deletion and undeletion. Back then, data storage wasn't so cheap, so I couldn't keep a record of every deleted character "just in case" something awful had happened. Quick undeletes could be done so long as the player didn't re-use the deleted character's slot; manual undeletes could be done if the game logs were still around, but they only lasted a few days before they had to be purged or they'd fill up the hard drive. Things have changed now, of course, but if an MMO had to store vast amounts of data per character then it could still be impractical.

Richard

16.

Richard> I think your car comparison is very lacking. If i loan a car from a friend that usually involves explicitely a date when car and key are returned. The not time limited sharing of access to an account that by its nature involves modifications of the characters like exp or item loss by character death is not adequately described by the car example. Its also very difficult to argue about implicit restrictions in a field that ranges from several people playing one account actively to only formally knowing the password but never playing, especially legally.

17.

Interesting though to see how well acquainted the girlfriend is with WoW's interface. It makes me suspicious about the authenticity of the story, because I don't believe someone who's that familiar with the game would actually do such a thing. Although ex-smokers can be the most aggressive anti-smokers, I don't believe this addiction analogy works with WoW... am I right?

18.

>> If you have 10 million players, that's a million dollars. Some Facebook games have those kinds of numbers of players but nowhere near that amount of income from them.

True. This brings up another important point: What are the liabilities of free-to-play vs. pay-to-play? Up to now, I think the implication has been that we're talking about companies that provide a service for a fee (i.e. "FOr 15 bucks a months, you can use our characters in any manner you see fit so long as it does not violate our EULA or other game laws"). If we bring F2P into the fold, then I think we have two situations: 1) The user has not expended any real money on their avatar(s), or 2) they have spent said money. In the first case, I'd say their liability is about the same for anyone who offers a service for free and is smart enough to plainly offer no guarantees: zero. In the latter case, I think there's absolutely liability in the sense that I've been discussing it.

If I'm talking about pay to play, taking WoW as my example, then ten million players == 150 million dollars per month, while the actual storage of this information, I would estimate, is an average of ten cents per player over the LIFETIME of the player. THe real cost to the company is the customer service headache and ensuing investigation. Bringing me briefly to:

> That doesn't mean there aren't situations in which the company doesn't have such tools, though. UO has been running for well over a decade:

Supposing there were someone calling up UO reps to restore a hacked account from 1999, and supposing UO didn't have that information, and supposing there were enough people complaining to regulators to move them to act, then I would say UO is screwed. Luckily for UO, there are not many people around like you ;-) Yea, you could sue on an individual basis, but would you? In the US, you don't get to recoup litigation costs too often.

> how long do I have to keep a deleted character before it can no longer be undeleted?

Why delete it at all? All the costs you have mentioned (server patches, database formats, etc.) are sunk already by the company because it has to transfer the account information of all ACTIVE players whenever it makes these changes. The extra cost of moving YOUR information everytime these changes take place is going to be exceptionally small. If you ask me when liability ends: when the game ends.(not sure if there is a statute of limitations, though).

> EVE Online is used for fraud, and CCP know it's used for fraud.

Right. Within the game. If you defraud someone in the game context, it's whatever. If you hack someone's account and take all their loot, or steal the corporation's assets, that's another story. And yea, that brings up all kinds of problematic things like "Where the game ends/life begins" etc., but I'm not going there right now, and I don't think regulators would, either.

> Hmm, looks like there's a difference between the US and UK legal systems [regarding strip mall parking lots]

Yea. But more likely, as you and Mike showed in the Sparkle Pony post a month ago, arguments by analogy break down the closer we examine them. The point is that although caveat emptor is always a valid legal argument on an individual basis, it becomes pretty flimsy if a large enough number of customers experience the same problem and the company offers them no recourse or means of defending themselves from the fraud.

That said, the strip mall argument really exposes a point we've been ignoring so far: Market forces. If people are getting robbed and their cars stolen from a strip mall, they're probably just going to go to the other strip mall down the street. Providing security seems a reasonabe solution. Similarly, if game companies don't provide account security - either ex ante or ex post - they will lose customers.

> It [behooves the company to differentiate between a hack and a domestic dispute] if the person doing the deletion is the owner of the account.

Right, well, if there's an epidemic of boyfriends creating characters on their girlfriends' accounts that their girlfriends delete so that the boyfriends are calling the game company to request a restore and the company refuses to restore the account because the boyfriend doesn't own it, *deep breath*, then I fail to see the company's liability. If there are repeated CLAIMS of hacks of the same account, AND the company makes an effort to prevent this from happening (might Blizzard's authenticators be seen as such?), then I think the company has a defense. In this particular case, I suspect the company and any regulator would say "Change you passwords and don't tell them to your boyfriend. Idiot."

And I think a couple more points are worth mentioning: Regulators don't get involved unless there are A LOT of complaints over a relatively short period of time. They also take into account the market power of the company the complaints are made against. For instance, an ISP in a rural area that gets a lot of complaints will be more likely to see action taken against it than one in an urban area, because in the former case customers rarely have other options. Not true in the latter case. In the realm of pay-to-play, I would say that because of it's market share and power, Blizzard is at real risk of liability if it doesn't provide a lot of ways to keep users accounts secure and to give them restorations when requested. THey also face the reality then when regulators regulate, they're not very precise about it. Sometimes the threat of regulation is good enough to keep companies in line.

19.

> Richard: She may have thought she was being cruel to be kind, equating it to destroying the boyfriend's stash of illegal drugs.

Having leveled a priest over a busy summer, I can understand her logic.

> Richard: This is tricky, though. People routinely intentionally inflict emotional distress. If the girlfriend had dumped him, for example, he would have suffered perhaps worse emotional distress, but surely he couldn't have sued over that?

You're right. An IIED claim for a routine breakup, without more, would probably be dismissed on summary judgment (essentially, thrown out of court). The modern standard for behavior necessary to satisfy an IIED claim is usually phrased as an act that "shocks the conscience." A break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, even when handled in a very coarse and uncaring way, is unlikely to shock many peoples' consciences.

But this highlights one of the more interesting quirks of the US legal system: the burden of proof for many civil claims relies on an objective reasonableness standard. For instance, a man who drives in severe weather conditions and accidentally hits a pedestrian he didn't see might be sued for negligence. At trial, the pedestrian plaintiff will have to establish that a hypothetical reasonable person would have exercised greater care than the defendant when driving in those weather conditions. Maybe the defendant was driving too fast or his wipers weren't on full, but he'll be judged against the theoretical behavior of a fictional reasonable person under those same conditions.

While this standard sounds compelling in theory, it can be very flawed in its application. Objectivity sounds great. It implies an unbiased application of the law to the facts of the case. However, when the case concerns events that are outside the experience of the court--as would be likely with WoW--the objective test will act more like a mass-subjective test.

A court composed of non-gamer jurors and judges will imagine a very different reasonable person than one composed of gamer jurors and judges. In many instances this wouldn't matter. For instance, both gamers and non-gamers would be familiar with driving in inclement weather. They share this cultural knowledge despite their love (or lack of love) for video games. However, the difference would be crucial to the boyfriend's IIED claim.

The objective reasonableness standard allows courts to impose their shared cultural assumptions on parties. The fictional reasonable person imagined by a non-gamer court would have a very different reaction to the deletion of his or her WoW characters than would the imaginary character summoned by a court composed of gamers. This might not be dispositive in the case: a skilled trial attorney could help a non-gamer jury to understand the harm inflicted by the actions in that video. But that cultural barrier between gamers and non-gamers over the value of virtual objects would still make for a fascinating trial.

20.

David Gerber>Interesting though to see how well acquainted the girlfriend is with WoW's interface.

It's a simple interface. It's not as if you have to read a manual explaining how to delete a character before you can do it.

>It makes me suspicious about the authenticity of the story

I agree that it doesn't ring entirely true. The aim of this thread is not, however, to expose a potentially fraudulent attempt to get onto daytime TV; rather, it's to examine the issues that arise if we take it at face value.

>I don't believe someone who's that familiar with the game would actually do such a thing. Although ex-smokers can be the most aggressive anti-smokers, I don't believe this addiction analogy works with WoW... am I right?

If she had been more than a first-few-levels WoW player then she should have some idea of what the guy was going to feel, yes. If she was a long-term player who quit, then there is an argument that she might be doing it to save the guy from himself, however she doesn't talk in those terms. She describes her motivation being that he gives WoW more attention than he gives her, not that he's going to be mentally, physically or spiritually better off if he doesn't play.

Richard

21.

Isaac Knowles>This brings up another important point: What are the liabilities of free-to-play vs. pay-to-play?

Yes, this does sound as if it ought to make a difference. A virtual world could, for example, say that it will only back up the characters on accounts that have been used to make a purchase, as a means of encouraging people to make a purchase.

>In the first case, I'd say their liability is about the same for anyone who offers a service for free and is smart enough to plainly offer no guarantees: zero.

There are some responsibilities, I think (if you give someone a badly-wired toaster and they get electrocuted, you're still heading for a court case), but yes, in general it's free "and worth every penny".

>THe real cost to the company is the customer service headache and ensuing investigation.

This is true in the short term. However, if the company were to seek to minimise these costs by acceding to every request without investigation, say, then that could have long-term consequences. People would routinely sell all their stuff, delete their player, then claim they were hacked, for example, which would lead to an over-supply of in-world currency.

>Supposing there were someone calling up UO reps to restore a hacked account from 1999, and supposing UO didn't have that information, and supposing there were enough people complaining to regulators to move them to act, then I would say UO is screwed.

In that case, what kind of punishment would the court mete out to UO, then?

>Why delete it at all?

Because deleted characters cast a shadow. If I delete my character called BILL then you create another character called BILL, it's non-trivial to delete the second BILL a year later when it's hit the level cap, just so as to restore the level 6 BILL I deleted after 2 weeks of play and now wish I hadn't. But if my character's name is protected then no-one (me included) ever gets to create another BILL just in case I want the old one back.

>If you ask me when liability ends: when the game ends.(not sure if there is a statute of limitations, though).

So even if I close my account and stop paying, the virtual world's operator can't erase my data, just in case I change my mind and want to reopen the account later? What about in countries where there are laws about how long companies can hold onto personal data (especially that of children) before they are forced to erase it?

>If you defraud someone in the game context, it's whatever. If you hack someone's account and take all their loot, or steal the corporation's assets, that's another story.

I agree. It's possible to envision a game where this was allowed, but it would be very hard to call such a game a virtual world - there's too much real world in it.

>If people are getting robbed and their cars stolen from a strip mall, they're probably just going to go to the other strip mall down the street. Providing security seems a reasonabe solution.

This is why in the UK the mall would be demanding a police presence. If the police turned them down because they didn't think it was the best use of their limited resources, then the mall would install CCTV to put off potential robbers, and they may even have a security guard (usually for moving on bored teenagers and chasing fleeing shoplifters). The mall would not, however, be liable for crimes committed by others on its premises. "I was robbed, the mall should have had a security guard to stop me" wouldn't work.

As you say, though, there is a definite financial incentive to hire security if having some costs less than what would be lost by not having any.

>In this particular case, I suspect the company and any regulator would say "Change you passwords and don't tell them to your boyfriend. Idiot."

Or they could say, "Don't play using characters on your girlfriend's account. Idiot.".

>For instance, an ISP in a rural area that gets a lot of complaints will be more likely to see action taken against it than one in an urban area, because in the former case customers rarely have other options.

This is another one of those situations in which the laws in Europe are different to those in the USA. The consumer protection legislation we have here is more absolute than relative, so if you got bad service from your ISP then they will have to compensate you irrespective of whether you're just a phone call away from getting a better service for less money from a rival provider.

Richard

22.

Brian Creeden>The modern standard for behavior necessary to satisfy an IIED claim is usually phrased as an act that "shocks the conscience."

Ah, OK, so it's relative to the social mores of the day. If a couple split acrimoniously, that doesn't shock the conscience. If one party announces their decision to split by taking out a TV ad using home video footage to show the other party in a bondage session from happier times, then that would shock the conscience.

>But this highlights one of the more interesting quirks of the US legal system: the burden of proof for many civil claims relies on an objective reasonableness standard.

Yes, we have that in the UK, too. The burden of proof is much less in civil cases than in criminal cases, and relies on what is viewed as reasonable by a normally educated non-specialist ("the man on the Clapham omnibus").

>However, when the case concerns events that are outside the experience of the court--as would be likely with WoW--the objective test will act more like a mass-subjective test.

I concur that it would take a lot of bringing up to speed on the part of the virtual world's operators to help the jury understand what was going on, yes.

Richard

23.

As names and the available namespace were mentioned as a reason to delete characters, i wonder why mmos still stick to the name as a unique identifier for a character. With the huge databases involved in current games, why not use a unique database key/number for a character and allow any name a player wants, even multiple instances of the same name in a single game world.

Identification of multi instance names to other players could be provided by said key/number, simple enumeration, or player specific contact lists.

24.

In the UK, wouldn't the Computer Misuse Act take care of this? "Unauthorised modification of computer material." Presumably, even though he'd given his girlfriend the password, he didn't give her permission to delete his characters. So yeah, six months in jail for her.

25.

You'd even need a bunch of a certain TYPE of gamer on the jury to agree any harm was done. Most gamers would say he had it coming to him, intervention-style, just as most non-gamers would.

Clearly the monitor manufacturer is liable for the monitor not displaying the guy's characters.

I wonder if she left him after that incident. I would certainly hope so, or she's gonna end up another statistic in some domestic violence report.

Will virtual worlds undermine even more well intentioned laws? 6 months in jail for trying to wake someone up from their MMO addiction? Yeah, that's some good PR.

26.

RE: character names - What ben said.

27.

Ben>As names and the available namespace were mentioned as a reason to delete characters, i wonder why mmos still stick to the name as a unique identifier for a character.

Well it's so people don't go around pretending to be you. There were some MUDs that allowed people to have the same name as one another, and it didn't work well (so many Gandalfs...).

It's not so much a problem on different servers unless you allow transfers. On a single server, though, there's too much scope for mayhem. Many players don't like it much when someone else has their name, too.

Richard

28.

Matt>In the UK, wouldn't the Computer Misuse Act take care of this?

Probably. The Computer Misuse Act can take care of practically anything!

Richard

29.

robusticus>Clearly the monitor manufacturer is liable for the monitor not displaying the guy's characters.

Right now they're probably composing a defence passing the blame to the power company. "We were at the mercy of their electrons".

Richard

30.

Finland had a case of WoW account theft recently, where the thief got fined 4000 eur based on the character property value.

My (short) post about it: https://www.sulka.net/item/595

31.

So that's material value, not sentimental value? I can see how a court could argue that losing a WoW account was akin to losing something with a value of 4,000 euros in terms of its impact on the victim of the theft, but this seems to go way beyond that. It says not only that you can calculate the real value of something not for sale by examining black market prices, but also that the player owned the item that was stolen.

Those are disturbing developments. If someone steal my passport, I'm pretty sure I don't get compensated for its black market value, and I'm pretty sure it's the government who own it, not me personally. Why are WoW accounts any different?

Richard

32.

Because game developers are not the government?

33.

4000 euros seems steep. Once upon a time there were accounts that could be valued as such, but now?

I wonder why the complainant didn't go through normal channels to have his/her account restored.

In other news, WoW just implemented their first stab at brining social networking into WoW. Are they now liable for the value of my social network should it be damaged by a hacker or account theft? (in a similar vein, what is facebook's liability in this respect?)

34.

greglas>Because game developers are not the government?

If someone steals my credit card, I'm pretty sure I don't get compensated for its black market value, and I'm pretty sure it's the bank who own it, not me personally.

Better?

Richard

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