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Jun 18, 2004

Comments

1.

Richard,
The paper was a great read and covers a lot of the flaws in conventional MMORPGs property and economies. I do have a couple of comments:

In the opening of Pitfall #1, where you assert that virtual property isn't a meaningful concept, you use Magic: the Gathering as an example and point out that a sale of a card during a tournament would be inappropriate. Yet, Magic, particularly in unlimited tournaments and amateur games, is strongly linked to the sale and value of Magic cards. Also, Wizards of the Coast doesn't stop you from buying and selling the cards. Clearly, rich people do have an advantage so in some contexts -- such as sealed deck tournaments -- there is a social agreement amoung the players not to engage in that behavior.

In Point 3 of Pitfall #1 "I own the product of my labour", I'm not sure that the litmus test of creation for fun is enough to overturn Locke. People clearly create for different reasons and generally who sold you the tool doesn't change whether the creation is property or not. To use the jigsaw puzzle example, were I -- just for fun -- to write a poem on it or frame the completed puzzle, the creator of the puzzle wouldn't own the IP rights to my poem nor would they be able to block me selling the framed puzzle if someone made me an offer on it.

In Point 5, cash-rich people have the option of an executive MBA program that significantly reduces the time commitment required. These programs exist exactly because of the time opportunity cost of an MBA for many senior employees.

Also in Point 5, you talk about how tending plants in the place you're renting doesn't make the home yours. Sure, but the landlord also isn't going to stop you from selling one of your tulips to a guest who decides that they want to buy it.

In Pitfall #2, you say that in the real world nobody gets to change the way that physics works. However, real world property goes through wild fluctuations in value all the time -- watch California real estate values after significant seismic events or the price of dresses worn to the Oscars -- and nobody needs godlike powers. I don't think that you'd argue that the real world economy is any less entwined or more predictable than digital worlds. So, I'm not convinced that digital property blocks the developers' abilities to change their world. That being said, I wouldn't be at all surprised if digital worlds ended up operating under higher degrees of regulation and transparency in the long run.

I disagree with the benefits of magic circles around digital worlds but I've discussed my thoughts elsewhere.

I thought that your points about professional object farmers and digital object frauds were excellent. My opinion is that the solution to the former is to rely on creation rather than the crafting/MOB model and that regulations will need to be put into place to solve the latter (a la laws restricting credit card liability).

I completely agree that any world that is planning on real-world values for its digital items must plan the digital world around that requirement and tightly integrate with the real world. Your description is a rather more eloquent explanation than I've written in previous papers, so I'll definitely have to cite you :-)!

Cory

2.

Before the people from IGE get too upset, here's what the missing footnote #9 should say:

"In practice, IGE doesn’t do much of this itself: rather, there are important independents who farm goods very effectively (some use bots to do so) and sell the resulting product to IGE. In this sense, IGE is acting more as a retailer than a producer, although the difference between paying someone to farm goods and paying them for the goods they’ve farmed is fine. Another good source of high-ticket items for them is the buying of them back from people who want to stop playing a particular VW and decide to cash in."

Richard

3.

Cory Ondrejka>In the opening of Pitfall #1, where you assert that virtual property isn't a meaningful concept

It's not that I assert it isn't a meaningful concept; rather, it's that I highlight some of the problems that arise from asserting that it is a meaningful concept. There are also problems in asserting that it isn't, but this paper isn't aimed at people who might want to make that assertion.

>you use Magic: the Gathering as an example and point out that a sale of a card during a tournament would be inappropriate.

My point was that although M:TG is very commodified, there are limits to its commodification. Although you could buy/sell a card during a tournament, you couldn't do it during an actual game (or at least if you could, you couldn't thereupon make instant use of it - even if you bought it from your opponent). In other words, even commodified games have commodification boundaries.

>In Point 3 of Pitfall #1 "I own the product of my labour", I'm not sure that the litmus test of creation for fun is enough to overturn Locke.

The point I'm trying to make with this one is that it's not "labour" in the Lockean sense - or at least it's not supposed to be. Some people may regard it as labour, but if they do so then it's in the best interests of those who don't to keep them out (assuming the virtual world is not set up for them).

>To use the jigsaw puzzle example, were I -- just for fun -- to write a poem on it or frame the completed puzzle, the creator of the puzzle wouldn't own the IP rights to my poem

Agreed.

>nor would they be able to block me selling the framed puzzle if someone made me an offer on it.

The creator of the puzzle wouldn't, but the owner of the pieces would. If I let you borrow my jigsaw puzzle and you completed it, wrote a poem on the back, framed it and sold it, I don't think a "product of my labour" or "my IP" argument would save you in court.

>In Point 5, cash-rich people have the option of an executive MBA program that significantly reduces the time commitment required. These programs exist exactly because of the time opportunity cost of an MBA for many senior employees.

And these MBAs are taken seriously? Blimey!

>Sure, but the landlord also isn't going to stop you from selling one of your tulips to a guest who decides that they want to buy it.

One of yours, no, but one of his, yes.

Could you sell apples that grew on the apple tree that was there when you moved in?

>real world property goes through wild fluctuations in value all the time -- watch California real estate values after significant seismic events or the price of dresses worn to the Oscars -- and nobody needs godlike powers.

Insurance companies regard some things as "acts of god". Your car was flattened by freak hailstones the size of coconuts. Your house was damaged by a cow hurled against the wall by a strong wind. Locusts ate your orchard. There's no-one to blame for these things, they "just happen".

In virtual worlds, someone is to blame for these things, because they don't "just happen". They happen because the virtual world's developer made or allowed them to happen. If the designer chose, hailstones the size of coconuts wouldn't exist, and winds able to hurl cars at walls wouldn't occur, and locusts would stay peaceful in their special locust reservations.

>So, I'm not convinced that digital property blocks the developers' abilities to change their world.

I'd hope that it wouldn't, too, but I was painting a scenario where it might. Ill-conceived regulations (or application of regulations intended for other purposes) could screw things up for pro- and anti-commodifiers alike.

>I disagree with the benefits of magic circles around digital worlds but I've discussed my thoughts elsewhere.

I support the right of every virtual world developer to decide whether the magic circle should be preserved for their virtual world or not. I would therefore argue very strongly against any laws that forced worlds like SL to adopt a magic circle. However, I would also argue very strongly against any laws that forced worlds like EQ to breach their magic circle.

I personally feel that there are benefits to a magic circle that must be protected. I'm OK with the idea that there are some applications of virtual worlds for which a magic circle is neither desired nor appropriate. Given the stark choice between one or the other, I'd prefer the magic circle version every time because that's where my interests lie, but I don't see that anyone should have to make that choice. These different kinds of virtual world are not incompatible: they can exist alongside one another quite happily.

Thus, if you disagree with the benefits of the magic circle then that's fine by me. What would not be fine would be if the law also disagreed with them to the extent it removed them, or if the law agreed with them to the extent that it screwed over SL by imposing them.

>I completely agree that any world that is planning on real-world values for its digital items must plan the digital world around that requirement and tightly integrate with the real world.

I thought you might, since you're one of the very few designers who has actually done this!

Richard

4.

Richard> In other words, even commodified games have commodification boundaries.

I think we're agreeing, since what I was trying to point out was that social norms between players allow barriers even when there are significant pressures -- such as the game being created to be commodified.

Richard> Could you sell apples that grew on the apple tree that was there when you moved in?

Right, that's the crux. To take it a step further, if the owner advertised the home as having an apple tree and never stopped you from eating them, would he then be able to stop you selling a pie you made out of the apples. IANAL so I don't know, but the Lockean definition seems to apply here.

Richard> Insurance companies regard some things as "acts of god".

Sorry, I misunderstood your argument. Let me try again. In the real world, companies do things to manipulate prices all the time (advertising, sales, changing their portfolio products) but they do this with certain regulations -- truth in advertising, corporate transparency, etc.

Richard> Ill-conceived regulations (or application of regulations intended for other purposes) could screw things up for pro- and anti-commodifiers alike.

Absolutely. This is why we need to keep pounding out papers and clarifying these issues :-) Well, more importantly, actual lawyers like Greg, Dan and Jack need to.

Richard> Thus, if you disagree with the benefits of the magic circle then that's fine by me. What would not be fine would be if the law also disagreed with them to the extent it removed them, or if the law agreed with them to the extent that it screwed over SL by imposing them.

Absolutely.

5.

Richard:

First off, excellent paper. Lots of good points brought up, and I consider it useful for designers to think about these sorts of things.

That being said, I see a gaping hole in Pitfall #3... there's no coverage of what I think is a major reason why we see out-of-game financial transactions taking place, especially for things like in-game currency.

Let me lay out my argument in favor of permitting (or at least not forbidding/punishing) such transactions to take place in MMO games.

Consider three new players to a game. Player N is our "control", the off-the-street newbie who has never played the game, or any other for that matter. Player G is also a new player to this game, as is Player E.

Moments after the creation of Player G's first character, another character walks up, and hands over a massive amount of gold, armor, weapons, and other useful items. Player G provides nothing in return in-game. The published game rules permit characters to transfer items to each other, and these items provide tangible benefits.

We observe in-game behavior that is identical in every respect for Player E as compared to Player G.

The transfers of these items give players G and E substantial advantages over player N. If we follow their in-game progression, we see that G and E advance much more quickly in the game.

Is it ethical for game developers to construct their EULAs and TOS such that Player E is banned and forfeits all of their paid-for subscription time, while Player G will never receive so much as a warning for his behavior?

This is precisely what we see in many MMO implementations, however. In the case of each of these two players, out-of-game considerations are causing players to offer substantial in-game advantages to other characters.

Player G is a member of a cross-game Guild, and his hundred buddies are more than happy to allow him to spend his "social capital" out-of-game for in-game benefits.

Player E spent out-of-game cash on Ebay to gain consideration for his character in-game... he has spent financial capital out-of-game for in-game benefits.

The in-game behavior is identical for both characters, and has an identically "unfair" effect on Player N... yet the punishment is grossly asymmetric based only on factors that are ENTIRELY OUTSIDE THE SCOPE OF THE GAME.

My premise is this: The wink-and-a-nod with which many MMO developers allow twinking to take place for socially well-connected people DRIVES a substantial fraction of the Ebayers to make purchases.

Twinking for social considerations (trades that are grossly imbalanced within the game for external social considerations) gives Player G a substantial advantage over the non-twinking population (Player N).

I believe many people who used to be Player N types are now Player E types... precisely because they are trying to overcome the disadvantage that they face when dealing with guild twinks.

If a game was completely and utterly twink-proof, where no character advantage whatsoever can accrue from someone engaging in imbalanced tradin, then I submit that it should be obvious that there will be no "unfairness" that arises from such transactions, and you will see no meaningful out-of-game market arise.

Why is it that twinking is ignored or even condoned when it is done for social reasons out-of-game, but cause for a virtual death-sentence when it is done for financial reasons out-of-game?

With respect to things like in-game currency, I hold that Pitfall #1 is largely a red herring... casting this as a question of "property" simply clouds the real issue, and that is the issue of CONSIDERATION.

In most MMO games, players are permitted to perform "legal" acts in the game (giving gifts, helping others, showing preferential treatment towards some players but not others) and their motivations for doing so are typically not called into question... it is often taken as a given that it is fundamentally PERMITTED for players to exercise discretionary consideration in the game.

This is not because they "own" those things that they use as tools of their consideration, it is because they have CONTROL over how they choose to manipulate those things.

One player might accumulate a large amount of valuable objects or currency over time, and when they are ready to give up the game, it is considered perfectly acceptable to allow them to make the decision as to how to transfer CONTROL over those items.

They might hand them all over to a friend... they might distribute them amongst members of their guild. They might give them as gifts to the most physically attractive avatars they see... or the ugliest. They might give them away to random strangers, but not give any to someone that they noticed "spamming" in a chat channel. They might choose to just destroy it, and no one gets benefits.

But the fundamental "right" of making choices for such disposition is generally not disputed, and certainly not on the grounds that the MMO owners have real-world control all of the underlying "property".

They are able to show consideration because the software PERMITS IT. The software allows players to make their own decisions as to the behaviors of their avatars in asymmetric in-game transactions.

Why, then, do we as players consider it acceptable that the developers are going to impose their own moral filters over how we should be treated, simply because there are different out-of-game motivations for showing consideration?

Why is it somehow considered morally OK for developers to permit guild twinking and all of the "competitive unfairness" that arises because of it, while at the same time declaring that if PRECISELY THE SAME IMPACT is caused for financial consideration the player will be banned... and people just nod their heads and accept it?

I hold that so long as some teenager is permitted to gain a substantial competitive advantage over me by persuading his hundred "buds" from school to "hook him up", I should be permitted to motivate other people to "hook me up" in precisely the same way... simply with a different motivation.

I should be allowed to use the same in-game rules to balance out the disadvantage that his social network puts on me, by applying my financial network.

If gaining the advantage via social twinking is not "wrong" enough to warrant banning an account, then doing so for financial reasons should be treated precisely the same way.

If it's legal to do in-game "for free", then there is no ethical reason why compensation for precisely the same act should cause a ban.

(For moral consistency, I feel obligated to point out that I oppose prostitution laws in the real world for precisely the same reason. If it's "OK" for a cheerleader to sleep with someone "for free" just because they are popular, it should be just as fine for her to sleep with someone because he's rich and generous. If it's promiscuity ITSELF that is opposed, then make that clear... just stop differentially punishing because of "better" motivations).

6.

Richard,

Thank you for posting your paper and putting it out here for evaluation and to stimulate valuable discussion.

Player rights are based upon a monthly lease which they pay to the provider. In return, the player maintains the right to modify, trade, change, destroy or keep any data objects that the player can control via his/her characters/avatars in the course of playing in the virtual world. There is a subtle yet definitive distinction here. The players do not own the data. They own the rights to modify the data objects. They maintain these rights by paying a monthly fee to the provider.

This brings me to an interesting point which is a weakness in our definitions and one source of some of our confusion. These Virtual worlds are not games. They are closer to simulations that may or may not be a game. Several of your examples (Poker, Clue, Magic the Gathering, Civ III, Monopoly) are true games where there is a beginning, and an ending with a clear “winner”. The vast majority of virtual worlds do not have endings or winners per se, thus competition becomes much more abstract and undefined. To compare set piece competition type “contests” to a virtual world is like comparing apples to pumpkins. We clearly need to make distinctions in our terminology.

Mostly we are approaching these virtual words in a myopic sense. We are looking at the act of sitting down at a computer and experiencing a shared reality through a virtual medium. What we are failing to understand, take into account, and design for, is that these virtual worlds do indeed extend beyond the realms of the data that bring them to virtual life. People create real life relationships, create social systems and hierarchies, exchange ideas, and a host of other activities that affect their real non-virtual lives.

Barry Kearnes has made some very insightful points concerning the out of game morality of virtual property trading. The rules that prohibit trading of items for real life currency clearly is not one of game function, but rather a rule set down to influence the actions of players “outside” of the virtual world boundaries. As Barry points out it is the real life method and motives that is against the rules, not the actual game actions.

Jim

7.

Cory Ondrejka>I think we're agreeing, since what I was trying to point out was that social norms between players allow barriers even when there are significant pressures -- such as the game being created to be commodified.

Although I would agree that social norms allow barriers, that doesn’t mean the barriers are effectual. Social norms mean nothing to some of the farmers out there. Furthermore, once a few of them make regular contact with one another they are able to validate their otherwise isolated viewpoints, so that for them the social norm may be to behave in a way that the general social norm does not support.

>if the owner advertised the home as having an apple tree and never stopped you from eating them, would he then be able to stop you selling a pie you made out of the apples. IANAL so I don't know, but the Lockean definition seems to apply here.

If the owner allowed you to eat the apples (or at least didn’t reserve the right to stop you from eating them), then I don’t think this would be a problem (but IANAL either). To take it a step further still, though, what if the owner did reserve ownership of the applies and you still made the pie. From a Lockean point of view, all the owner has done is not cut down an apple tree that sprouted from wild in the garden 30 years ago, whereas you have made a pie. Is it your pie, because you’ve done the work, or the owner’s pie because that’s enshrined in your rental agreement?

Richard

8.

Barry Kearns>Is it ethical for game developers to construct their EULAs and TOS such that Player E is banned and forfeits all of their paid-for subscription time, while Player G will never receive so much as a warning for his behavior?

I don’t think ethics comes into it. Suppose a bank sees two massive deposits of money going into two accounts. Because of money-laundering laws, they are obliged to check on the depositors. They discover that one of them is wanted by the police for stealing the money in an armed raid. The other is not wanted by the police, but is a cousin of someone who is wanted by the police for stealing an equivalent amount of money in an armed raid. To the bank, they both look to have done something wrong, but there’s only sufficient evidence for the police to convict one of them. Is it unethical for the bank to report the one the police can arrest, given that the other one will get away with their crime? Well yes, it is. Likewise, in virtual worlds, if there are two things you don’t want people to do and you can only stop one of them, why should it be immoral to stop that one? Where does morality come into play here?

>Player G is a member of a cross-game Guild, and his hundred buddies are more than happy to allow him to spend his "social capital" out-of-game for in-game benefits.

Well they could ban that too. I do, in fact, ban it for MUD2, but that’s a much smaller virtual world and the ban is actually enforceable.

>yet the punishment is grossly asymmetric based only on factors that are ENTIRELY OUTSIDE THE SCOPE OF THE GAME.

This is the heart of the problem. Code can only regulate what happens within the virtual world, but there are things that can happen outside of the virtual world that affect gameplay which code can’t regulate. If the programmers could code for when an object transfer was within the spirit of the design and when it wasn’t, they would, but they can’t. Therefore, developers have to use the "code" that does apply in the real world, ie. the law. They make people sign EULAs before letting them into the VW. This gives them the power to eject people who don’t play by the rules. However, just because they can eject people who don’t play by the rules, that doesn’t mean they can detect that they have broken the rules in the first place. The real world has laws about insider trading on stock exchanges, but that doesn’t mean insider trading doesn’t go on. All it means is that the people who do it, when caught, are punished heavily so as to dissuade those who were considering it from following the same course. Virtual worlds can ban a practice, but it may be difficult to enforce such a ban if they can't tell when it's going on.

>My premise is this: The wink-and-a-nod with which many MMO developers allow twinking to take place for socially well-connected people DRIVES a substantial fraction of the Ebayers to make purchases.

This could well be true. In that case, the developers should limit twinking, too (and this can be done more easily through design). This is still a "the game made me buy it" argument, but it does suggest a fifth reason that people might indulge in commodification: they feel that if other people are getting away with cheating, they have to cheat themselves in order to compete. I’d maybe group this together with the fourth reason I gave in my paper (ie. cheating with resentment).

>Why is it that twinking is ignored or even condoned when it is done for social reasons out-of-game, but cause for a virtual death-sentence when it is done for financial reasons out-of-game?

I don’t know. Personally, I regard both as bad for the game conceit. Maybe it’s the fact that one involves money and the other doesn’t, therefore that’s the one that gets the attention from lawyers?

>They are able to show consideration because the software PERMITS IT. The software allows players to make their own decisions as to the behaviors of their avatars in asymmetric in-game transactions.

The same software also permits the developers to take all the property away. You can’t use "the software permits" as an argument – or if you do, you have to live with the fact that it’s a double-edged sword.

>I hold that so long as some teenager is permitted to gain a substantial competitive advantage over me by persuading his hundred "buds" from school to "hook him up", I should be permitted to motivate other people to "hook me up" in precisely the same way... simply with a different motivation.

It would rather depend on the motive. If you went round their houses and threatened to shoot them if they didn’t "hook you up", that would be to provide them with a different motivation too – just one that would land you in jail.

>I should be allowed to use the same in-game rules to balance out the disadvantage that his social network puts on me, by applying my financial network.

Alternatively, neither of you should be allowed to gain the advantage in the first place.

I agree with your central point: there are many ways that characters can acquire virtual property. Those that make sense from the character’s point of view are unquestionably legitimate. Those that make sense from a player’s point of view are treated legitimately or illegitimately, but the means for deciding which are not entirely consistent. In particular, paying using social capital and paying using financial capital are treated differently when they perhaps should be treated the same.

My own view is that from a hero’s journey (ie. pitfall #3) point of view, the virtual world would be better off banning both. Detection for one may be harder than for another, though, therefore it may be that it’s only practical to ban that one. Your point is that this drives people to use the other, which seems a reasonable conjecture (although I’d also add that another possibility would be for you to acquire your own social capital).

Richard

9.

Jim Landes>Player rights are based upon a monthly lease which they pay to the provider. In return, the player maintains the right to modify, trade, change, destroy or keep any data objects that the player can control via his/her characters/avatars in the course of playing in the virtual world.

Says whom?

> These Virtual worlds are not games.

They are for some people – perhaps the majority of their players in most cases. What's more, the "game conceit" I referred to applies to almost all of them.

>Several of your examples (Poker, Clue, Magic the Gathering, Civ III, Monopoly) are true games where there is a beginning, and an ending with a clear “winner”.

Poker can go on indefinitely with no clear "winner".

>The vast majority of virtual worlds do not have endings or winners per se

I know – I’ve argued elsewhere that perhaps they should.

>To compare set piece competition type “contests” to a virtual world is like comparing apples to pumpkins.

I don’t think it is. I’m only suggesting that the aspects of a virtual world that are game-like are compared. I’m well aware that not everyone in a virtual world plays an achiever-style "game". Rather than comparing apples to pumpkins, it’s like comparing apples to a basket of fruit with all the non-apples removed.

> What we are failing to understand, take into account, and design for, is that these virtual worlds do indeed extend beyond the realms of the data that bring them to virtual life. People create real life relationships, create social systems and hierarchies, exchange ideas, and a host of other activities that affect their real non-virtual lives.

Who’s the "we" here? The players? The designers? The developers? I’d argue quite strongly that there are some designers who do understand, take into account and design for this (although I wouldn’t suggest that they know all the answers).

>The rules that prohibit trading of items for real life currency clearly is not one of game function, but rather a rule set down to influence the actions of players “outside” of the virtual world boundaries. As Barry points out it is the real life method and motives that is against the rules, not the actual game actions.

Well yes, but as I pointed out in my paper this can also apply to real-world games – to stop people from paying to see cards in Clue/Cluedo, for example.

Richard

10.

> My own view is that from a hero’s journey (ie. pitfall #3) point of view, the virtual world would be better off banning both. Detection for one may be harder than for another, though, therefore it may be that it’s only practical to ban that one. Your point is that this drives people to use the other, which seems a reasonable conjecture (although I’d also add that another possibility would be for you to acquire your own social capital).

My position is that, so long as one is permitted, both should be permitted. If players are allowed to make asymmetric in-game deals for out-of-game considerations, then the form of the consideration should be largely irrelevant to the Terms of Service.

Seperate terms of most TOS or EULA documents already cover the outlier cases that you might think of (threats, fraud, scamming, exploiting game bugs and duping, etc).

My central thrust is that it is the DIFFERENTIAL enforcement of a player's reasons for performing legitimate (allowed) in-game actions that is the heart of the problem.

The relative inability of developers to easily differentiate between those different PLAYER motivations should raise a red flag to them that they shouldn't even be trying.

I see no instance where the inclusion of outside financial compensation for in-game consideration affects the in-game outcome... the game is equally distorted by guild twinking, which requires no financial consideration.

IMO, developers should either design the games so that twinking has no significant impact, or live with the impact that twinking has on the competitive landscape... and stop trying to annihilate those who twink for "impure" reasons like financial ones, while doing nothing to those who do it because they are popular.

Of the two, I'd much rather see the first... but in its absence, I think it is only fair that enforcement be equal regardless of the "moral" reasons that drive the player. So long as there are no threats, coercion or fraud, the player motivations are moot. Those instances are already dealt with, so there's no need to unnecessarily single out the financially-motivated for unequal treatment.

11.

Jim Landes wrote:

>> The rules that prohibit trading of items for real life currency clearly is not one of game function, but rather a rule set down to influence the actions of players “outside” of the virtual world boundaries. As Barry points out it is the real life method and motives that is against the rules, not the actual game actions.

Richard Bartle replied:

> Well yes, but as I pointed out in my paper this can also apply to real-world games – to stop people from paying to see cards in Clue/Cluedo, for example.

Richard, I think you're missing the fundamental distinction that I was trying to make.

I was pointing out cases where the actions were in-game "legal"... for your example to be congruent with mine, it would have to already be considered permissible and acceptable in the game for a player to show his cards to his girlfriend or college roommate who were also playing the game, or for him to show them to the guy sitting next to you because he allowed the player seven "gimmes" on their last round of golf together... and then expecting people to call "cheating" and cry for a permanent ban from the game if someone offered five dollars to also get a peek at those same cards.

The same behaviors (exposure of cards to some of the players but not all) are legitimized in one case, and cause for a virtual death sentence in the other... why should we consider differential enforcement for identical impacts acceptable, if both parties are happy at the end of each of the two transactions?

12.

Very nice paper, and I agree with all of these pitfalls. But I do think you missed the major reason of why people buy things on EBay: Because they feel they need help to be able to consume the games content at a meaningful rate.

Whatever you call them, money-holders, time-poor, casual player, there is a population of players that due to having a job and family are limited to playing their favorite MMORPG only like 10 hours per week. Meanwhile the "time-rich" "powergamers" play 50 or even 100 hours per week. Even if the two types of players would be able to consume the same amount of content per hour, at the end of the week the time-rich have consumed 5 to 10 times more content than the time-poor.

Many games are designed in a way that the amount of content a time-rich person can consume per week is not too much, so that he is not able to "finish" the game in too short a time. But that means that for a time-poor player the perceived speed of the game per week has slowed down to a crawl. A "socializer" type probably wouldn't mind, unless he is unable to group with his friends. But "explorers" don't get to see new zones fast enough, and "achievers" and "killers" are obviously unable to enjoy the game if it is too slow.

It is not, as you say, the desire to reach a higher status in the player community that drives people to buy virtual goods on EBay. It is the impression that large parts of the games content are closed to them. If the "heroes journey" through the MMORPG is designed to take 1 year for a time-rich person, the time-poor will consider 5 to 10 years far too long for the same journey, and will look for a shortcut.

13.

Barry Kearns>Is it ethical for game developers to construct their EULAs and TOS such that Player E is banned and forfeits all of their paid-for subscription time, while Player G will never receive so much as a warning for his behavior?

There have been some recent posts on Many-to-Many touching upon ideas similar to wink-nod EULAs. They've been discussing self-censorship in China, and how the "anaconda in the chandelier" threatens people through vague wording and random enforcement:

"A vague accusation frightens more people. If I, like Gao Zhan, am a Chinese scholar working in the United States, and I do not know why she was arrested, then the reason could be virtually anything; therefore it could be what I am doing; therefore I pull back. (Result: many people begin to censor themselves.) If, on the other hand, I could know exactly why Gao Zhan was nabbed, then I could feel fairly confident that my own work was all right — or, if not, how to make it all right. (Result: few people would pull back.) Clarity serves the purpose of the censoring state only when it wants to curb a very specific kind of behavior; when it wants to intimidate a large group, vagueness works much better."

I don't think most EULAs seek to threaten players. But similar to in China, they are sometimes used as a pretext, like in the Alphaville case.

Excellent comments all around, though!

14.

Barry Kearns>Richard, I think you're missing the fundamental distinction that I was trying to make. I was pointing out cases where the actions were in-game "legal"...

No, I knew what you were saying. What I was saying is that ideally the in-game "legal" actions (of spending social capital obtained in other games/VWs) shouldn’t be legal either.

>why should we consider differential enforcement for identical impacts acceptable, if both parties are happy at the end of each of the two transactions?

Two reasons.

Firstly, because there are more than two parties involved here. When I was 16, I took a bunch of examinations which were important to me at age 16 but are useless to me now. Why can’t I sell the resulting qualifications to someone currently aged 16 who could put them to some use? I’d be happy, the 16-year-old would be happy, why these fusty old laws to stop the transaction? Well, the reason is that other 16-year-olds would not be happy. If they knew someone themselves with better qualifications than mine that they could buy, they may be happy, but even then they may be unhappy if they were smart enough to get good examination results on their own but people just think they bought them. Buying and selling goods and characters on eBay may make the buyer and the seller happy, but what about the other players who feel their achievements are being undermined through such sales?

The second reason is because identical impacts is no reason for allowing something. If can get an object by buying it, and get an object by persuading my buddies to give me it, can I get it by cornering them in an alleyway and threatening to rip off their ears if they don’t give me it? Hey, the impact in the virtual world is the same. The VW has no way of knowing that the player obtained the object through RL menace, any more than it has knowledge of whether they got it through social or financial capital. Were the developers to discover that this is what happened, should they just leave the object transfer intact? Or should they return it, or destroy it? And if they do that for one RL practice of which they disapprove, why not others with identical impact?

Richard

15.

Tobold> I do think you missed the major reason of why people buy things on EBay: Because they feel they need help to be able to consume the games content at a meaningful rate.

I wouldn’t say that was "the major reason".

> Even if the two types of players would be able to consume the same amount of content per hour, at the end of the week the time-rich have consumed 5 to 10 times more content than the time-poor.

You know, I have the same problem. While I’m here replying to posts, people with free time are watching TV. Even though we watch TV at the same rate, they can watch 5 to 10 times more TV than I can.

>It is the impression that large parts of the games content are closed to them.

Yes, this too. I wanted to watch “24”, but realised that it would take a whole day out of my life to do so. I don’t have that kind of free time. “24” was closed to me.

>If the "heroes journey" through the MMORPG is designed to take 1 year for a time-rich person, the time-poor will consider 5 to 10 years far too long for the same journey, and will look for a shortcut.

Maybe I should just watch the first and last episodes of “24”? That will be just like I watched the other 22. I’ll have had the full experience, just in 1/12 of the time.

The hero’s journey for a virtual world isn’t “designed” to take 1 year or whatever, because few designers as yet have given any thought to it. Ideally, it’s designed to take as long as it takes: in other words, whatever is right for the individual. I’ve had some players in MUD2 do it in a month, and others do it in 8 years – and the 8-year guy played more hours a night than someone else who did it in 8 months. It depends on the individual. In a treadmill virtual world, the length of the treadmill is such that it suits some people more than others, yes. It’s still a journey, though, and you have to follow all the steps on the journey for it to be (as you say) meaningful. If you take a shortcut, you invalidate the journey. It’s the journey that’s important, not the arriving at the end. If you don’t have enough time to finish the journey, don’t start it.

Jason and the Argonauts set sail for the golden fleece. Except Jason is a busy person, he has a wife and kids, he has to work, he doesn’t want to spend all that time building a boat and sailing to the ends of the Earth. Come on, Zeus, give the guy a break! Teleport him to the hydra, let him kill it, resurrect him if he doesn’t manage it first time, then give him the damned fleece and call him a hero.

No, it doesn’t work.

Some virtual worlds are so disappointingly designed that the players feel they need to take shortcuts because otherwise they’re going to be bored to death. This is understandable, but it’s a different point to the one you seem to be arguing.

Richard

16.

{Just so we are clear here... I've never been arguing in favor of character/account selling in this thread. My argument is offered only in regards to in-game items and currency.}

Richard Bartle> No, I knew what you were saying. What I was saying is that ideally the in-game "legal" actions (of spending social capital obtained in other games/VWs) shouldn’t be legal either.

I already stipulated that earlier. However, the fundamental reality is that the vast majority of MMO implementations do not outlaw twinking, and their game mechanics allow substantial benefit to accrue to those who twink. That's why I phrased my premise as I did... it's an IF-THEN construction, and your counter-argument here is to ignore the "IF".

Richard Bartle> (quoting Barry Kearns) "why should we consider differential enforcement for identical impacts acceptable, if both parties are happy at the end of each of the two transactions?"

[Sidebar: I find your selective use of context and deconstruction in the following "answer" you provide to be a classic case of misdirection... you're breaking the conditional nature of my argument into separate, non-conditional parts, and then acting as if addressing each part addresses the whole. It does not. I'd appreciate an intellectually honest answer to the whole question in the original context.]

Your "Firstly" argument is a classic case against twinking. It is functionally identical if we substitute 'guild members trading' for 'Ebay buying and selling'. However, I've already stipulated that (ideally) twinking of all kinds should not be allowed, and I further offered the premise that such an enforced prohibition would likely prevent commodification of in-game items/currency ever arising TO BEGIN WITH, since there would be no benefit.

But I think people reading this know that the reality of the situation is nowhere near the "ideal"... we're talking about the real world, not the ideal world. And in the real world, many MMO games permit twinking, and that twinking gives substantial benefits.

That's the landscape for my argument... please don't ignore it. The fundamental premise is that we recognize that TWINKING IS ALREADY ALLOWED (whether we like it or not).

Given that fundamental premise, what we are left with is player motivations for twinking, and Devs/GMs that give radically different treatment to players who have social reasons for doing it versus those with financial reasons. In this EXACT case, why should we consider this particular differential enforcement acceptable?

Richard Bartle> "If can get an object by buying it, and get an object by persuading my buddies to give me it, can I get it by cornering them in an alleyway and threatening to rip off their ears if they don’t give me it? Hey, the impact in the virtual world is the same."

The difference is obvious... the threat is an out-of-game crime. All MMOs that I know of ALREADY HAVE PROVISIONS to cover out-of-game crimes, threats and fraud.

It is not illegal in the out-of-game world to pay someone to be nice to you. It is not illegal to hire sycophants and yes-men to fawn all over you if you like it. It is not illegal to hire people to act as in-game whipping boys in your favorite online game, who can be trounced ad infinitum in PvP (PvWB?) play. It is not illegal to deliberately miss a putt to avoid beating your boss at golf. It is not illegal to hire someone to act as a "cheering section" for you in a chat room, gushing about how clever you are. All of the above may be considered quite "sad", but they are fundamentally not illegal. You might consider buying or selling a virtual item to be equally or even more "sad", but please don't act as if it is somehow tantamount to player threats and violence, which ARE out-of-game illegal acts.

The heart of my argument remains: If an action in-game is considered "legal" and non-punishable to do just because you like someone (i.e. "for free"), then it should not be punishable SOLELY because money also changed hands outside the game.

If a player breaks a real-world law (threatens another player, commits fraud, etc) there are already TOS provisions to deal with that, completely independent of whether there is financial consideration. Such things can and do happen all the time without money entering into it.

Can you honestly address the argument without breaking the conditional form, Richard?

If MMO Devs/GMs want to change the games so that no benefit accrues from twinking, fantastic! If they want to explicitly ban giving in-game-beneficial items to others for ALL reasons, that'd be intellectually consistent too.

But if they don't, I hold that they shouldn't be punishing players who are not breaking any out-of-game laws, for performing the identical in-game actions that others do all day long for social reasons without any punishment at all.

17.

Richard Bartle> In a treadmill virtual world, the length of the treadmill is such that it suits some people more than others, yes. It’s still a journey, though, and you have to follow all the steps on the journey for it to be (as you say) meaningful. If you take a shortcut, you invalidate the journey. It’s the journey that’s important, not the arriving at the end. If you don’t have enough time to finish the journey, don’t start it.

I recogonize that you personally (and perhaps many VW designers also) consider the "all the steps of the journey" to be the important thing, but I'd offer the perspective that, as a paying customer, I should be afforded some measure of control over how I personally choose to make the voyage.

Using your TV show "24" example, let's consider a show writer that deliberately writes cliffhangers into the story line, and uses the once-a-week format and the commercial breaks to create dynamic tension and counts on that as a fundamental part of the "voyage" that the watcher will experience.

Because of scheduling and real-life concerns, let's say I'm unable to watch the show exactly as originally presented. So I tape/TiVo the whole series without watching, and then over a rainy weekend watch the whole thing back-to-back skipping all of the commercials.

I'm not making the same "voyage" that those who watched it in the original format did... should the artist's vision somehow trump my desires as a watcher, and should I therefore be forbidden from taping it and watching it later on my own terms?

I don't think the real reason behind MMO developers trying to throttle content consumption via treadmills is one of maintaining a "hero's voyage". I think it's much, much simpler than that.

It comes down to money. They've come up with a pricing model (monthly subscription) that gives them a direct financial incentive to make the total aggregate number of player months spent on the "treadmill" as high as possible.

I consider the flaw to be the pricing model. I don't think the developers of Half Life (should have) cared if each person who bought the game took every developer-anticipated step to finish it, or if they "skipped forward". They had their money, and the player could (rightfully IMO) decide how to consume the content. Each player decided how much (or how little) of the "journey" to embrace.

I don't consider the developer's desire for continuity in a journey to trump the flexibility for different players to "consume content" in different ways at different paces.

I think this would be far less of an issue if developers didn't have such a built-in financial incentive to make the process take as long as it often does... and by doing so, hampering the ability of the more casual player to reach their own personal form of satisfaction.

18.

Barry Kearns>I already stipulated that earlier.

OK, well in that case we agree on the fundamentals.

>the vast majority of MMO implementations do not outlaw twinking, and their game mechanics allow substantial benefit to accrue to those who twink. That's why I phrased my premise as I did... it's an IF-THEN construction, and your counter-argument here is to ignore the "IF".

You said (paraphrasing), IF virtual worlds allow twinking THEN they should allow commodification. My response was that the THEN doesn’t follow from the IF.

>I find your selective use of context and deconstruction in the following "answer" you provide to be a classic case of misdirection...

Attempting to deconstruct the meta-argument, as you have just done, is an even more classic case of misdirection. Saying that you know how someone is arguing doesn’t invalidate their argument.

> I'd appreciate an intellectually honest answer to the whole question in the original context.

To summarise my position: I believe that neither twinking nor commodification are necessarily good for many virtual worlds; I agree that virtual worlds that come down heavy on commodification often let twinking pass without comment, and that this is hypocritical; I don’t believe that such hypocrisy need necessarily be resolved either one way (ban both) or the other (ban neither), because of the different degrees of difficulty in banning; I don’t believe that banning one and not the other is immoral.

>That's the landscape for my argument... please don't ignore it. The fundamental premise is that we recognize that TWINKING IS ALREADY ALLOWED (whether we like it or not).

I wasn’t ignoring it. Given that twinking is already allowed, that doesn’t mean that other things which aren’t allowed but that have the same effect as twinking ought themselves to be allowed. Allowing only twinking may wound a VW, and allowing only commodification may also wound it, but together they may kill it.

>Given that fundamental premise, what we are left with is player motivations for twinking, and Devs/GMs that give radically different treatment to players who have social reasons for doing it versus those with financial reasons. In this EXACT case, why should we consider this particular differential enforcement acceptable?

It is acceptable because the consequences of allowing BOTH twinking AND commodification is greater than allowing just one or the other, and may be enough to tip the scales. Ideally, they should allow neither. The question we perhaps ought to be asking is not why, if they allow twinking, they disallow commodification; rather, it should be why they allow either in the first place.

>The difference is obvious... the threat is an out-of-game crime. All MMOs that I know of ALREADY HAVE PROVISIONS to cover out-of-game crimes, threats and fraud.

From the point of view of the VW developer, going against the EULA is, if not a crime, at least a breach of contract. Why can’t they treat it just the same way as anything else that would end up with someone in court?

>The heart of my argument remains: If an action in-game is considered "legal" and non-punishable to do just because you like someone (i.e. "for free"), then it should not be punishable SOLELY because money also changed hands outside the game.
>Can you honestly address the argument without breaking the conditional form, Richard?

OK, if you really want it in Boolean algebra…

You’re saying X => Y. X is “the VW can function when players give each other things” and Y is “the VW can function when players sell each other things”. Let’s suppose that the virtual world, V, can absorb a certain degree of twink-like behaviour, T(V). The amount it receives when people give each other things is T(G) and the amount it receives when people sell each other things is T(S). The statement “the VW can function when players give each other things” translates as T(G) < T(V), and “the VW can function when players sell each other things” translates as T(S) < T(V). You’re saying (T(G) < T(V)) => (T(S) < T(V)). I don’t see that this follows: the amount of twink-like behaviour arising from commodification, T(S), has no relationship to the amount arising from classing twinking, T(G). It could well be that T(S) > T(V). This would mean that the virtual world could not function if players were given a free rein to commodify it. Also, I note that there is another axiom at play which has an effect, namely (T(G) < T(V)) /\ (T(S) < T(V)) \=> T(G)+T(S) < T(V). In other words, the VW may be able to survive twinking levels from giving and selling alone, but it may not survive their combined twinking level.

It may be that you’re not making a practical point, you know that a VW could fold if it allows both giving and selling. In that event, your statement amounts to a condemnation of VW developers for being hypocritical. That’s fine by me, they are indeed being hypocritical. However, my argument explains why they may choose not to address the situation by allowing both giving and selling.

Richard

19.

Barry Kearns>I recogonize that you personally (and perhaps many VW designers also) consider the "all the steps of the journey" to be the important thing

I don’t know that many VW designers even give the Hero’s Journey thing a second thought, and I’m pretty sure that only a very tiny fraction of players (those few who’ve read my book) do. They don’t even know they’re on a journey, which is probably just as well…!

>but I'd offer the perspective that, as a paying customer, I should be afforded some measure of control over how I personally choose to make the voyage.

No, that’s not how it works. You have to complete the journey if you’re to be a hero. It’s a journey of the self; if you omit steps, you don’t get to self-actualise. Either you’re not ready to be a hero, or this particular virtual world isn’t playing its part properly (probably the latter). You always, always choose how to make the voyage, because only you know who you really are: the VW merely offers you a means of finding out. If you decide to skip steps, though, you’re abandoning the journey. You’re not going to get from it what you went on it for (well, you could find some other route, I guess, but it’s going to be a lot harder).

>should the artist's vision somehow trump my desires as a watcher, and should I therefore be forbidden from taping it and watching it later on my own terms?

Hey, do what you like, just don’t interfere with my viewing pleasure. Unfortunately, in a virtual world, that’s exactly what can happen. It’s as if you get hold of preview tapes, watch them all, then tell me what happens.

It's not an "artist's vision" thing, though, it's an "artist helping you explore your identity" thing.

>I don't think the real reason behind MMO developers trying to throttle content consumption via treadmills is one of maintaining a "hero's voyage". I think it's much, much simpler than that.

Oh, me too. I doubt any designer has yet made a conscious decision to implement a formal hero’s journey, otherwise the treadmills would be much shorter than they are and content wouldn’t keep being added to the high end rather than across the board.

>It comes down to money. They've come up with a pricing model (monthly subscription) that gives them a direct financial incentive to make the total aggregate number of player months spent on the "treadmill" as high as possible.

I think it’s even simpler than that. In many cases, they have a treadmill because that’s what the VW they learned to play on had, so they didn’t really consider alternatives. They figure it’s intrinsic to what VWs are.

>I think this would be far less of an issue if developers didn't have such a built-in financial incentive to make the process take as long as it often does...

It takes just as long in some of the free, textual worlds. In some of them, you reach the end of the treadmill and can remort, undertaking the whole thing again as a different class, continually, through like 50 classes..! Now THAT'S a treadmill!

The hero’s journey thing is a means by which designers can understand what their players are going through. If designers buy the idea, then they should adapt their designs so as to account for it in their virtual world. This should mean if not the end of treadmills then at least multi-speed treadmills of varying lengths. It should also mean that players will stay on for much longer than they ever did when made to run a treadmill.

Richard

20.

Richard> To summarise my position: I believe that neither twinking nor commodification are necessarily good for many virtual worlds; I agree that virtual worlds that come down heavy on commodification often let twinking pass without comment, and that this is hypocritical; I don’t believe that such hypocrisy need necessarily be resolved either one way (ban both) or the other (ban neither), because of the different degrees of difficulty in banning; I don’t believe that banning one and not the other is immoral.

Thanks for setting your position out clearly. I don't agree with it, but I think I understand where you're coming from.

Richard> I wasn’t ignoring it. Given that twinking is already allowed, that doesn’t mean that other things which aren’t allowed but that have the same effect as twinking ought themselves to be allowed. Allowing only twinking may wound a VW, and allowing only commodification may also wound it, but together they may kill it.

We're using terminology at crossed purposes. I had hoped that I had made clear in my previous writings that (in my lexicon, at least) twinking means the transfer of items/currency between characters which give substantive benefits which otherwise would not accrue so quickly. Twinking is the "shortening of the way" via item transfer.

Commodification is therefore IMO only a subset of twinking... in other words, all commidification is twinking (but not vice versa).

I consider such an identification important, since it clarifies the root problem, and where the responsibility for that problem lies IMO... with the developers and the types of CHARACTER interactions they permit, which are distinct from the player interactions that may take place outside the game.

I believe I understand the thrust of your argument though... you contend that commodification provides a form of "encouragement" to the performance of these particular in-game legal acts, and that the increased volume of such acts may add stress to the VW system, potentially to the point of destruction.

However, being able to predict dire consequences (in conjunction with an identifiable characteristic that correlates to the risk) does not imply that it is ethically sound to discriminate against players who have that identifiable characteristic (instead of fixing the game).

Let me give an example. Let's say I'm running a new MMO, and I've structured things to substantially reward group play... and the larger the groups, the better the bonus. Furthermore, my design gives inherent bonuses for groups that retain their membership for long play sessions.

Based on ongoing demographic analysis of the player population, I've scaled the computing resources and game content to match the average American player's gaming habits... the average group sizes are appropriate, and the game is working well and is profitable.

Now assume that a DIFFERENT demographic group gets wind of the structure that I've put in place, and once a few get in and recognize that the structure is VERY advantageous to the way they prefer to play, they start flooding into the population base. These particular players consume vastly greater resources than do the previous player base, and my accountants tell me that if the trend continues, the game will almost certainly collapse from continuous server crashes and outages. The revenue from each additional player in this demographic will not be enough to cover the costs of new equipment... I'll go bankrupt if many more of those players join.

I clearly want to protect the ongoing existence of the game... does that make it ethically sound to add a EULA clause stating that it is a bannable offense to be part of that demographic, just because I can identify them?

The ends do not justify the means in this case. Players would find it justifiably repugnant if a developer added bannable TOS violations for being Korean, or a high school student on summer break, or unemployed, or to log over 80 hours of play time in a single week on an "unlimited access" game.

But people seem to barely blink when they add terms that call for perma-bans if there are outside financial transactions.

The developers create a situation (by granting benefits to players using "unearned" rewards)where both social twinking and commodification is strategically ATTRACTIVE, and a rational competitive strategy for many players to pursue, and then severely punish only a SUBSET of those players, because they have a more easily identifiable characteristic.

I contend that this is fundamentally WRONG on ethical grounds to do so. The morally sound solution for the developers IMO is to adjust the game mechanics to prevent EVERYONE (equally) from receiving those unearned benefits, or reduce the impact of each benefit to accomodate the appropriate "tolerance level" for the game for the aggregate amount of that behavior that happens to occur for any and all out-of-game-legal player motivations.

As far as I'm concerned, player discrimination on a financial-identification basis is no more ethically sound than player discrimination for racial, ethnic, religious or sexual reasons. It's abhorrent. Just because some players have different motivations than other, that doesn't make it ethically sound to punish some of them for in-game behavior that is identical in every way with the in-game behavior of others who will never be punished... even if such discrimination "helps your game survive".

Richard> From the point of view of the VW developer, going against the EULA is, if not a crime, at least a breach of contract. Why can’t they treat it just the same way as anything else that would end up with someone in court?

As I've hopefully shown, it's not a question of CAN THEY... of course they CAN. The question is "should they"? It's physically possible to put disgustingly discriminatory provisions in a Terms of Service or EULA document, and then use that document as their "breach of contract" justification for their actions. The ability to do something does not imply that doing so is ethically sound... even when such an action has an arguably beneficial effect of "game survival".

My point is that this shouldn't reduce to "it's easier to ban some folks and receive a game stability benefit, so that's what we do" argument, regardless of whether or not that act is discriminatory.

I hold that it is the game provider's ethical responsibility to treat players who break no out-of-game laws (whose characters perform only the same in-game-legal acts as others) with the same enforcement rules as the rest of the population base. If they don't like the in-game effects of commodification and social twinking, they can address those effects in a non-discriminatory fashion by mechanically fixing the root problem of characters excessively capitalizing on unearned benefits.

Game providers finding some out-of-game player action or attribute distasteful is not a license to discriminate, IMO... or should we consider it an ethically valid TOS practice if some so-called "family-friendly" game decides to start perma-banning the accounts of anyone discovered out-of-game to be atheists or homosexuals?

21.

Barry Kearns> Commodification is therefore IMO only a subset of twinking... in other words, all commidification is twinking (but not vice versa).

I agree that eBaying is a form of twinking, yes (one which, for whatever reasons, players regard as more odious than mere gift-giving). That’s why, later on in my post, I distinguished between the two by calling one “giving” and the other “selling”.

>I believe I understand the thrust of your argument though... you contend that commodification provides a form of "encouragement" to the performance of these particular in-game legal acts, and that the increased volume of such acts may add stress to the VW system, potentially to the point of destruction.

I do happen to believe that in some cases commodification could open the floodgates and make a virtual world be so twink-oriented that any sense of achievement is completely trashed, yes, but that’s not what I was arguing in that post. What I was saying there is that it may be that in combination with “regular” twinking (ie, the subset of twinking that doesn’t involve commodification) there may be enough total twinking to sink a virtual world, whereas if commodification is kept at bay then the twink-level overall may be acceptable.

>being able to predict dire consequences (in conjunction with an identifiable characteristic that correlates to the risk) does not imply that it is ethically sound to discriminate against players who have that identifiable characteristic (instead of fixing the game).

Is it more ethically sound to ban one form of twinking and save the VW or not to ban it and destroy the VW? In the former case, the developer is a hypocrite with a virtual world, and in the latter case the developer is not a hypocrite and doesn’t have a virtual world. We can argue over different interpretations of ethics, but I would say that under the "most good to most people" approach then it’s more ethical to keep the virtual world open to the benefit of all but sell-twinkers than to open it to all forms of twinker but then have to close it as a result of the damage done to gameplay.

>I clearly want to protect the ongoing existence of the game... does that make it ethically sound to add a EULA clause stating that it is a bannable offense to be part of that demographic, just because I can identify them?

Yes, although if you take the ethics beyond the virtual world then the answer may be no: the "most good to most people" extends into the real world. Generally speaking, it’s OK to ban people for what they do, but not for what they are. Thus, you can ban people from playing at 3:15 in the afternoon if hordes of people come in at that time and crash the server. You can’t ban them for being Moslems, even if the people who have been crashing your server are all Moslems and the reason they all come in at 3:15 is because they’ve just finished afternoon prayers. There are RL ethics that apply to virtual worlds and that are beyond virtual worlds' control through EULAs. I don’t, however, feel that "you let people give stuff but not sell stuff" is quite in that league, though.


>Players would find it justifiably repugnant if a developer added bannable TOS violations for being Korean, or a high school student on summer break, or unemployed, or to log over 80 hours of play time in a single week on an "unlimited access" game.

The Korean/student/unemployed examples probably work for virtual worlds (although it may be that some virtual worlds could ban people who refused to speak any language other than Korean, eg. educational worlds set up to help people learn English). The "80 hours for unlimited access" example ought to result in a change to the TOS that defined the maximum number of hours you could play a week, or, failing that, the VW design could be altered so that after 80 hours you could score no points or whatever; banning seems a rather blunt instrument.

>The developers create a situation (by granting benefits to players using "unearned" rewards)where both social twinking and commodification is strategically ATTRACTIVE, and a rational competitive strategy for many players to pursue, and then severely punish only a SUBSET of those players, because they have a more easily identifiable characteristic.

Albeit a characteristic which was identified in the TOS as one that would not be tolerated, and which the subset of players is perfectly well aware is not tolerated when they sign up, but they sign up anyway and then claim it’s unfair?

>The morally sound solution for the developers IMO is to adjust the game mechanics to prevent EVERYONE (equally) from receiving those unearned benefits

I agree.

>or reduce the impact of each benefit to accomodate the appropriate "tolerance level" for the game for the aggregate amount of that behavior that happens to occur for any and all out-of-game-legal player motivations.

This isn’t always practical. For many developers, it’s far easier to ban commodification than it is to ban social twinking, and far easier to lower its incidence than it is for social twinking. The theory’s fine, but the practice isn’t.

>As far as I'm concerned, player discrimination on a financial-identification basis is no more ethically sound than player discrimination for racial, ethnic, religious or sexual reasons.

So access to virtual worlds ought to be given free to people who can’t afford the monthly fee? And if they don’t have a computer or a phone, that should be given free too? Take your "discrimination on a financial-identification basis" to its logical conclusions and that’s where you end up.

>If they don't like the in-game effects of commodification and social twinking, they can address those effects in a non-discriminatory fashion by mechanically fixing the root problem of characters excessively capitalizing on unearned benefits.

Yet if they did that then the virtual world may be untenable. You seem to think that it’s better to have no virtual world rather than one which discriminates against rich people.

>Game providers finding some out-of-game player action or attribute distasteful is not a license to discriminate, IMO... or should we consider it an ethically valid TOS practice if some so-called "family-friendly" game decides to start perma-banning the accounts of anyone discovered out-of-game to be atheists or homosexuals?

The EULA should be able to ban people for being what they are in certain circumstances. Example: a VW set up as a church for people to worship in should be able to eject atheists from collective acts of worship in just the same way that a RL church could. A VW set up as a women-only refuge should be able to ban male players in the same way that a RL refuge could. These are very specific, though, and not compatible with the "family-friendly" tag. That said, if a VW is supposed to be family-friendly, perhaps that would excuse them from allowing social twinking (eg. from members of the family) while not allowing financial twinking (because kids don’t have money).

Stopping rich people from buying an advantage in a VW can be seen as discriminating against the rich, but allowing rich people to buy an advantage can be seen as discriminating against the poor. You may be able to argue that, for ethical reasons, virtual worlds should have care packages to help the disadvantaged buy goods they couldn’t otherwise obtain, but the reverse argument – that VWs should help people who have more money than friends – is rather lower on the ethical scale, if indeed it registers above "poor little rich boy" at all.

Richard

22.

Coming back to the original post for a moment, I reference Ren's "Hands off MY Avatar" paper in it, but it occurs to me that one of his earlier ones would have been worth mentioning too for the benefit of people who are interested in this stuff, particularly section 6.

Richard

23.

>>Richard
>>Some virtual worlds are so disappointingly designed that the players feel they need to take shortcuts because otherwise they’re going to be bored to death. This is understandable, but it’s a different point to the one you seem to be arguing.

My argument is that you are more likely to be bored to death if you have less hours per day to play. Or in your example, having to watch "24 hours" in 240 installments of 10 minutes.

Jason setting out for the golden fleece did not have to camp the same orc spawn for 100 hours. The casual player does not want to skip the orc camp totally, he just wants to shorten the 100 hours to 10. Because the perceived speed of content would then be equal to the one of the power gamer, 1 week of orc camp, which is quite enough. So he buys the sword of quick orc slaying for $50 on EBay. Saves him 9 weeks of boring repetitive game play, thus a good investment.

24.

I've been thinking of a model similar to that commonly taken with the PvP issue: separation by server. What if you designate certain servers as Market servers or what have you, and others where it is illegal to sell virtual items. To make it compelling, the game company could run the sale of items on the Market servers and offer secure transactions (no chargebacks). Would this be sufficient to keep both sides happy? The goal that this should accomplish is to have less item traffic on the non-Market servers than you would have under SOE's model (black market case). A side benefit is some extra profit from the Market servers (from commissions).

Maybe a tougher question is whether or not the buyers/sellers would go for it. Do they need the innocent background of hard workers to feel like the purchase was worthwhile?

25.

Tobold>Jason setting out for the golden fleece did not have to camp the same orc spawn for 100 hours. The casual player does not want to skip the orc camp totally, he just wants to shorten the 100 hours to 10.

Jason had to build a ship. Building the ship was part of the journey. If he’d thought "this sucks, it's going to take ages, I’m buying a ship", he wouldn’t have regarded it with the symbolic importance he did, and he wouldn’t have had the depth of understanding of it and its use that he did. There would have been holes in his knowledge that later in the journey would have led to disaster.

>So he buys the sword of quick orc slaying for $50 on EBay. Saves him 9 weeks of boring repetitive game play, thus a good investment.

But where’s the challenge he’s overcome? He hasn’t learned to slay orcs: there was never any danger he’d lose, as he has the sword of quick orc slaying. He has no understanding of the virtual world’s orcs or of his ability to deal with them; his response to a challenge is to buy a solution. He’s not going to experience what the virtual world has to offer because he can’t cope with it; he’s reinforcing a self-image of someone who can’t handle pressure, challenge, problems, himself... He may as well pay $300 on eBay for a "sword of kill everything and make me level 700 and I rule bow down before me suckers la la la".

I’m all for reducing the length of the treadmill, and I agree that better design is called for in this regard. I don’t, however, feel that letting people buy their way to success is necessarily a good thing for the virtual world (or for them, not that this really matters). For some VWs it may be, but for others it isn’t.

Richard

26.

Tek>I've been thinking of a model similar to that commonly taken with the PvP issue: separation by server.

That's an interesting idea, which might be worth undertaking as an experiment. My only reservation would be that the developers, by acknowledging that commodification was a valid concept (on their pro-commodification server) could open them up to legal challenges from people who want to commodify the other servers. I'd fully expect people to argue that if commodification was fine on server X, it should be fine on server Y. After all, that's kinda what we're seeing now, except instead of having different servers for the same virtual world having different commodification strategies there are different virtual worlds having them.

All those EQ players in favour of commodification could go off and play SL if they are so enamoured of the concept, so why don't they? And would the answer they give apply if EQ itself had a commodification-friendly server?

Good post!

Richard

27.

Richard>All those EQ players in favour of commodification could go off and play SL...

Maybe, except, to my knowledge, players don't primarily choose worlds based on this characteristic (excluding the 3rd world farmers of course). The first motivation is still fun, not profit. This is naturally weighted on the consumer side, since they aren't going to buy items in a game they don't want to play*, while sellers might not care.


*the development into a full-blown RW-style commodity market, where people trade virtual currency and goods like stocks, would disrupt this.

28.

Richard> Is it more ethically sound to ban one form of twinking and save the VW or not to ban it and destroy the VW? In the former case, the developer is a hypocrite with a virtual world, and in the latter case the developer is not a hypocrite and doesn’t have a virtual world. We can argue over different interpretations of ethics, but I would say that under the "most good to most people" approach then it’s more ethical to keep the virtual world open to the benefit of all but sell-twinkers than to open it to all forms of twinker but then have to close it as a result of the damage done to gameplay.

Personally, I've never bought the "Chicken Little" argument that a VW will be predictably "destroyed" by commodification. Further, I reject the false dichotomy of "ban or fail", because there is clearly a third option: alter the game mechanics to eliminate/reduce the impact of all forms of twinking. I realize that this might mean that the developers would have to confront head-on the very situation that they created when they coded the game into existence, and that this might make them uncomfortable. It might even (gasp) change the game dynamic somewhat. I can see how that might be unfortunate or unpleasant in their eyes... but I think that's fundamentally where the responsibility should lie: with the developers who coded game mechanics that distort the competitive landscape through the use of character-unearned benefits.

Just because the gameplay landscape might look different under commodification, it doesn't necessarily follow that a developer must "close it as a result of the damage done to gameplay".
It is largely their choice, and they can certainly choose to "live with it", or alter the landscape to take commodification into account, or even alter it to the point where there's no reason for commodification to even be practical.
It's not an "either-or" choice of banning commodification or being forced to close the game.

If you have a concrete example where the developer is forced to close it, and somehow CANNOT alter the landscape (as opposed to simply not wanting to), by all means... offer it.

I contend it does not exist for any practical cases where commodification has already taken hold.

Richard> The "80 hours for unlimited access" example ought to result in a change to the TOS that defined the maximum number of hours you could play a week, or, failing that, the VW design could be altered so that after 80 hours you could score no points or whatever; banning seems a rather blunt instrument.

Exactly. These are prime examples were the developers would be driving their modifications and terms based solely on in-game aspects, and as such, they are non-discriminatory... they treat all players equally, and don't use out-of-game characteristics as some kind of easy "relief valve" for addressing resource problems via player bans.

Richard> Albeit a characteristic which was identified in the TOS as one that would not be tolerated, and which the subset of players is perfectly well aware is not tolerated when they sign up, but they sign up anyway and then claim it’s unfair?

Yes, of course. Or are you one of those folks who think Rosa Parks never should have got on the bus in the first place, since she knew going into it that sitting down in the front would "not be tolerated"? Heck, it was clearly posted on a sign at the front of the bus, after all. What's the big deal, why couldn't she just follow the rules?

Richard> This isn’t always practical. For many developers, it’s far easier to ban commodification than it is to ban social twinking, and far easier to lower its incidence than it is for social twinking. The theory’s fine, but the practice isn’t.

Counter: You know, it isn't always practical for me to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. After all, that's going to mean spending my time and money putting in wheelchair ramps and curb cuts for all of my stores, and widening the shelf placements. It's far easier to reduce my expenses and keep my store in business if I just ban all people in wheelchairs. After all, that's the greatest good for the greatest number, right? If I stay in business, look at all of the non-wheelchair folks who get to keep using the store! The ADA's theory is fine, but the practice isn’t.

Sorry, that doesn't wash. We have ethical obligations, and that fact that those obligations involve effort and expense doesn't excuse us from them.

Richard> So access to virtual worlds ought to be given free to people who can’t afford the monthly fee? And if they don’t have a computer or a phone, that should be given free too? Take your "discrimination on a financial-identification basis" to its logical conclusions and that’s where you end up.

No, because your argument rests on the logical fallacy of equivocation regarding the term "discrimination".

The term as I have used it clearly refers to the act of denying service to a subset of the population based on an identifiable characteristic, not to the vastly more broad definition of giving advantages to one group but not all.

The second "fuzzy" usage could be used as a basis for saying fighters are "discriminated against" because they don't get the same healing spells as clerics. No one is making an argument even vaguely like that.

The only discriminatory act I've been discussing in this thread is the BANNING of a player account based on the game provider's discovery of a legal out-of-game behavior that they don't happen to like.

If you want to allege that some VW providers are banning accounts because they find out someone is poor, then you'll have a supportable argument.

I'm not alleging that any VW is banning people for "being rich"... that's a divisive class-warfare distraction and not part of my argument. You don't have to be rich to engage in commodification.

I'm talking about banning access to a game based entirely on identifying legal out-of-game player actions.

Richard> Yet if they did that then the virtual world may be untenable. You seem to think that it’s better to have no virtual world rather than one which discriminates against rich people.

No, I don't accept the false dichotomy. I don't buy the argument that the sky is falling, and that gives developers carte blanche to ban people solely for out-of-game behaviors because they think it's "easier" and "for the greater good". I think the REAL dichotomy is that it's better that developers adjust their world than discriminate against those who happen to spend money outside the game... regardless of whether they are rich or poor, and DESPITE the fact that some developers might not like to make adjustments.

Richard> Stopping rich people from buying an advantage in a VW can be seen as discriminating against the rich, but allowing rich people to buy an advantage can be seen as discriminating against the poor.

Again, this is equivocation, pure and simple. We're not talking about "discrimination" as different players having different abilities... we are talking about a provider BANNING someone from accessing a game. We're talking about a denial of service, not a competitive edge between players. The denial of service and forfeiture of paid time is the only discriminatory act being discussed.

I expect logical and rational folks to recognize that some people will have different abilities and resources than others. No one should realistically expect otherwise. We as players are not pre-programmed robots or NPCs. Some will have better reflexes, some will have more friends, and some will have more money.

If one subset of those players is having a significant effect through their play style on the game balance, competitive landscape or story line, I certainly think it's the developer's prerogative to adjust the landscape to move closer to their vision of how they'd like to see the world... because all of those changes will apply equally to all players, regardless of their out-of-game circumstances.

That desire for game balance and harmony, however, shouldn't free developers from their ethical obligations to avoid discrimination (in the "denial of service" sense).

The "easy, practical" solution is sometimes the unethical solution. It would be easy and practical for someone to spend $10 on signs banning wheelchairs from their stores... but it's still unethical.

I recognize that you want some worlds to be free from commodification, Richard, and I embrace that vision. It's RIGHT that some VWs have no out-of-game advantages being applied to their characters. But the way to do that, IMO, is to limit the benefits that characters achieve from such applications, not to ban a small subset of those capitalizing (pun intended) on those world-permitted benefits while others walk free who take advantage of those same world-permitted benefits.

If a developer cannot do that, then I posit that their various desires might be inconsistent with each other. It's quite possible for a developer to create an environment where not all of their desires can be satisfied. The frustration that might arise from such a situation should not, however, serve as a license to discriminate.

We should expect better.

29.

Barry>If you have a concrete example where the developer is forced to close it, and somehow CANNOT alter the landscape (as opposed to simply not wanting to), by all means... offer it.

How about if players are leaving because they don't like the commodification?

30.

Barry> If you have a concrete example where the developer is forced to close it, and somehow CANNOT alter the landscape (as opposed to simply not wanting to), by all means... offer it.

Tek> How about if players are leaving because they don't like the commodification?

That ignores the distinction that I made above about altering the in-game landscape. Take away the advantages that drive twinking (including commodification), and you won't see it.

My question posited the INABILITY to change the landscape. Do you have an example like that?

If your players are leaving because they don't like that Koreans are becoming more prevalent, does that make it OK to make being a Korean a bannable offense?

The ends do not justify the means.

31.

Tek> players don't primarily choose worlds based on this characteristic (excluding the 3rd world farmers of course). The first motivation is still fun, not profit.

So SL isn't fun for pro-commodification EQ players because SL doesn’t have any game to it and EQ does. Unfortunately, if commodification gets a real grip on EQ, EQ won’t might not have any game to it either.

Richard

32.

Barry Kearns>Personally, I've never bought the "Chicken Little" argument that a VW will be predictably "destroyed" by commodification.

So why have you said that ideally a VW would have neither social nor financial twinking? That seems to imply that such a VW would be better than one that had either or both. That being the case, introducing either into a VW set up for neither would destroy that VW in the eyes of those who, like you, prefered it the way it was.

>I reject the false dichotomy of "ban or fail", because there is clearly a third option: alter the game mechanics to eliminate/reduce the impact of all forms of twinking.

But to do this would be to change the VW in ways that might spoil it. The cure could be worse than the disease.

>I can see how that might be unfortunate or unpleasant in their eyes... but I think that's fundamentally where the responsibility should lie: with the developers who coded game mechanics that distort the competitive landscape through the use of character-unearned benefits.

This attempt to put all the blame on developers is misconceived. Developers are providing a service that they want to provide and that significant numbers of players want them to provide. It doesn’t matter one iota if some players want to do something that the design seems to encourage but the rules prevent: the rules are there because to code a solution would be to spoil the product. The designers and the players want a particular feature, they understand that it can be exploited, so there is a rule that punishes those who exploit it. Players who betray the trust of the designers and of the other players by going ahead and breaking the rules can’t complain if they are thrown out.

As I explained in my earlier analogy, the point of the Olympic 100m is to find who can run 100m the fastest. This, by design, encourages people to find ways by which they can run 100m faster than anyone else. One of the means of achieving this is by taking drugs, some of which are perfectly legal (eg. caffeine). Now from your victim-oriented point of view, people who take drugs to win the 100m are only responding to the design of the contest, it’s not their fault, they were made to take the drugs because of the very nature of the race. Unfortunately, this means that the athletes who are faster than they are also have to take the drugs so they can win. So the poorer athletes take more drugs, some of which are potentially deadly but they don’t care. Now, the better athletes have a dilemma: do they also take the deadly drugs, so they’ll win, or do they save their lives but lose? They could try to find some race where none of the athletes take drugs, but then how do they stop the drug-takers from switching to that?

You can’t use the argument that "the designers made me do it". They didn’t make you play, you decided that all on your own. One you do play, you play by the rules. If you believe those rules break RL laws, write to your local police force and complain. If you don’t believe they break any laws, don’t complain when they’re applied.

>It's not an "either-or" choice of banning commodification or being forced to close the game.

Not immediately, no, but in the long term it could have that effect. I didn’t say that they were forced to close down anyway, I said that the VW would be destroyed. Maybe I said "the VW as it was would be destroyed", it would make my view clearer?

>are you one of those folks who think Rosa Parks never should have got on the bus in the first place, since she knew going into it that sitting down in the front would "not be tolerated"?

No, I’m not. She was being discriminated against for what she was, not for what she did. She didn't decide to be black. You did decide to play a virtual world.

>If I stay in business, look at all of the non-wheelchair folks who get to keep using the store! The ADA's theory is fine, but the practice isn’t.

Why stop at wheelchairs? You should be made to knock down the walls so that people who are super-obese can get in. You should be made to raise the ceiling so the tallest man in the world can get in. Anti-discrimination laws do take into account the financial effect. For wheelchairs, there are enough people who use them and the cost of installing ramps is sufficiently modest and grants are available to help pay for conversion work that "I can’t afford to do it" is no excuse. However, "I can’t afford to do it" would be a valid excuse for you not to have to widen your door, carpet your entire floorspace and put all your shelving 4 yards apart so some sunlight-allergic child in a plastic bubble can get into your store.

The ADA’s theory is fine and the practice is fine, so the law was passed. The bubble boy’s theory is fine but the practice isn’t fine so no bubble-boy law was passed.

>The term as I have used it clearly refers to the act of denying service to a subset of the population based on an identifiable characteristic, not to the vastly more broad definition of giving advantages to one group but not all.

The identifiable characteristic of poor people is that they have no money. Why is selling stuff at a price they can’t afford not discriminating against them?

>You don't have to be rich to engage in commodification.

Half the population of the world is so poor they don’t have a telephone. You do have to be rich engage in commodification.

>I'm talking about banning access to a game based entirely on identifying legal out-of-game player actions.

So am I. I’m saying you can do it, in the same sense that you can be banned from a cricket match for throwing the ball even though throwing a ball is legal in the real world.

> We're not talking about "discrimination" as different players having different abilities... we are talking about a provider BANNING someone from accessing a game.

Charging fees bans people from the VW. It’s just a covert way of doing it. "I didn’t sack her, I transferred her to our office in La Paz, Bolivia" would be treated by a court as effectively sacking her. I don’t have to ban rich people, I can include in my EULA a clause to the effect that anyone found trading in RL will have $X charged to their credit card for a first offence, then $2X for their second, $4X for their third, and so on. That wouldn’t be BANNING them, would it? It wouldn’t make you any happier, though.

>I expect logical and rational folks to recognize that some people will have different abilities and resources than others.

They do. They also recognise that when playing something that has game-system rules, players elect to forfeit some of their abilities and resources in order to experience what the game has to offer.

Richard

33.

Barry >are you one of those folks who think Rosa Parks never should have got on the bus in the first place, since she knew going into it that sitting down in the front would "not be tolerated"?

Richard> No, I’m not. She was being discriminated against for what she was, not for what she did. She didn't decide to be black. You did decide to play a virtual world.

So apparently it would have been OK for you if the sign had said "Jews to the back of the bus", and Rosa had converted to Judaism? After all, she decided to be a Jew...

Richard> The designers and the players want a particular feature, they understand that it can be exploited, so there is a rule that punishes those who exploit it. Players who betray the trust of the designers and of the other players by going ahead and breaking the rules can’t complain if they are thrown out.

The entire point is that the rule is not referencing anything in-game... there are no in-game behaviors or actions that are being exploited, because all of these in-game actions are done every day by social twinkers with no penalty.

My objection is entirely that the financial twinker is doing EXACTLY THE SAME THING in the game as the social twinker, yet the financial twinker is the only one that has "rules" that make them bannable.


Richard> As I explained in my earlier analogy, the point of the Olympic 100m is to find who can run 100m the fastest. This, by design, encourages people to find ways by which they can run 100m faster than anyone else. One of the means of achieving this is by taking drugs, some of which are perfectly legal (eg. caffeine).

Your analogy is flawed, because something mechanically new is being introduced into the equation that wasn't there before... the drugs physically change the in-game landscape.

If you want an analogous in-game behavior to Olympic doping, it's utilizing something like a speed hack (packet intercept/injection, etc) in a game that allows your characters to outrun others. Your out-of-game actions are now altering the in-game landscape. You've hacked the game for a competitive advantage. I agree that's a cheat, and should definitely be a legitimate cause for a ban.

That's not the case in making distinctions between financial twinking and social twinking. Nothing new is being created in the game. It's just moving wholly legitimate itemss from one character to another character, and that's already been defined as an in-game legal action for characters to take. The only difference is the player's out-of-game MOTIVATION for doing that. I object to financial twinking ban rules because they are functionally "criminalizing" having personal motivations that developers don't like.

To make your Olympic analogy match up with the twinking situation, you'd have accept that it would be OK to have an Olympic rule allowing the stripping of medals from those who have love interests in the stands, because that motivation might cause them to WANT to run faster for a reason other than simply being competitive (which the Olympics might declare is the only "good" motivation for wanting to run fast).

I would object to that, because as long as I don't introduce something physically new into the equation ("hacking" my body with drugs), my motivation should not be any of their business.

Richard> You can’t use the argument that "the designers made me do it". They didn’t make you play, you decided that all on your own. One you do play, you play by the rules. If you believe those rules break RL laws, write to your local police force and complain. If you don’t believe they break any laws, don’t complain when they’re applied.

I object for the same reason that I would object to a EULA provision that made giving gifts between same-sex avatars bannable only if at least one of the players was found out-of-game to be a homosexual. Platonic gifts are fine, but if we find out you have any kind of romantic interest in the other player, your account will be cancelled. We don't like that motivation, and after all, it's our game and our rules, so you can't complain.

Like hell I can't. I don't want a law... I want to persuade game providers that such EULA provisions are ethically wrong, and should be stopped.

IMO, no game provider should try to inject their personal views about a player's out-of-game moral/ethical character into a game's rule set. That's a "breaking of immersion" in exactly the opposite direction of the one that's usually offered as an objection to commodification.

I should hopefully have a short article put together soon that I'll be emailing into Terra Nova, and hopefully someone will be nice enough to post it as a new discussion thread... I think it's a topic that's quite worthy of preserving as a discussion.

34.

Ouch, reading some of these strained analogies is like being forced to take steroids while running 100m carrying my loved one trying to catch a bus to a racist cricket match.

Personally I don't have any problem with games "discriminating" against people who want money to solve all their problems. That's the whole point. Good games also tend to discriminate against stupid people, or those who can't communicate with other humans. It's all good, that's what we signed up for.

I don't see social twinking as being the same, becuase MMO games are supposed to be social. Having friends is supposed to be an advantage, whether it's for grouping for faster xp or getting some good starting gear. If twinking makes playing a game trivial, well then the game sucks and that's that, but always having good gear for your level is no more unfair than having a friend to buff you, group with you, or mentor you into the game.

In the end though I agree it's all about game design making the game fun to play, and minimizing the effects of both eBaying and twinking.

Query: should botting be a bannable offense? Is it even wrong in any way?

35.

Staarkhand> If twinking makes playing a game trivial, well then the game sucks and that's that, but always having good gear for your level is no more unfair than having a friend to buff you, group with you, or mentor you into the game.

OK, let's find the dividing line. Should it be OK to pay another a player $10 per hour to buff you, group with you, mentor you in the game, and help make sure that you have good gear for your level?

Same question, if you offer to give them your old Atari 2600 console instead? How about if you offer to make them dinner, or treat them to a round of golf? Let them crash at your bachelor pad when they like?

Starkhaand> Query: should botting be a bannable offense? Is it even wrong in any way?

If by "botting", you mean unattended macroing, I certainly think that's a legitimate reason for banning. You're interfering with the human/game interface for a competitive advantage.

I suppose if you wanted to stretch it, you might say you are allowing someone else to use your account (in this case, the computer or script), and such access might be restricted.

Attended macros are somewhat of a grey area for me. I can see legitimate cases for their use (compensating for carpal tunnel syndrome, etc), but if they give competitive advantages that humans cannot be reasonably expected to have (high speed/accuracy targeting macros, looting scripts, etc) then I can certainly see those being bannable.

If it's something trivial like selecting a long series of menu entries in a poorly designed interface, and there's no competition involved, I don't see it as problematic.

If the menu is deliberately *designed* to prevent you from doing something quickly for game-play reasons, though, it's probably a bad idea.

Star Wars Galaxies does a pretty good job bridging the gap via their in-game macro system... players can overcome a lot of the repetitive/annoying keystroke and button-push aspects by writing a script in the provided language.

Kudos to them for recognizing that some people would like to bypass some of the unnecessary clutter and hassle.

36.

"Botting" to me means running two (or more) accounts, allowing you to play two complimentary characters at the same time. Or more typically, to play one while buffing/healing with the other.

37.

Ah... I've heard that referred to as "two-boxing" or "N-boxing". "Botting" I've most commonly heard as a reference to robots i.e. player characters not controlled by humans, but instead by programs/scripts. "Pindlebot" is a good example from the Diablo II world. It's a "bot" that repeatedly runs missions to kill a particular boss, collect the loot, rinse and repeat... all unattended.

For N-boxing, I'd think it would rest on whether the game provider allows one person to own more than one account. If the game provider puts a requirement of only one account allowed per person (and no account sharing allowed), then obviously N-boxing should be bannable.

Star Wars Galaxies, on the other hand, makes it crystal clear that you can own as many accounts as you like. From Sony's Knowledge Base:

"Star Wars Galaxies: Can I have multiple Star Wars Galaxies accounts?

You can have as many Star Wars Galaxies accounts as you would like. The following will go over the FAQ's of multiple accounts.

For each account you must have a separate account key.
Each account must have its own subscription.
Each account will be under a separate station name.
You can only have one character per server per account.
To play multiple accounts at once will require multiple computers."

Sounds pretty crystal-clear to me that N-boxing is legitimate in Star Wars Galaxies. Now, if you combine that with unattended macros so that one of those N boxes is having a character perform actions without a human at the controls, you might be getting into a much stickier situation.
Now you have a "bot" in the sense I defined above.

But sequentially jumping from console to console (either physically or via a KVM switch arrangement) and issuing commands to each should be fine.

38.

Barry Kearns>So apparently it would have been OK for you if the sign had said "Jews to the back of the bus", and Rosa had converted to Judaism? After all, she decided to be a Jew...

You’re asking the wrong person. You should be asking someone qualified to answer the question "is being a jew the same as does having converted to Judaism make you a jew?". I’m not. Personally, I regard religion as distinct from race, but understand that some people use religion as a covert mechanism for racism ("I’m not against arabs, just Moslems", that kind of thing).

>My objection is entirely that the financial twinker is doing EXACTLY THE SAME THING in the game as the social twinker, yet the financial twinker is the only one that has "rules" that make them bannable.

Look, repeating your belief over and over and over again doesn’t make it any more true. I’ve told you why it’s not the same, I’ve told you why even if it were the same it would still be ethical to ban it, and all you can do it repeat the statement.

>Your analogy is flawed, because something mechanically new is being introduced into the equation that wasn't there before... the drugs physically change the in-game landscape.

So does training. If you train, your muscle bulk increases. If you take drugs, your muscle bulk increases. Same result, but one is banned and the other is not. Why shouldn’t those people who don’t have the time to train be allowed to take drugs so they can compete with those who do? Under your system, it’s only ethical that they be allowed to.

>I object for the same reason that I would object to a EULA provision that made giving gifts between same-sex avatars bannable only if at least one of the players was found out-of-game to be a homosexual.

That would be banning someone for what they were, not for what they did. How many times do I have to repeat my answer? I’m NOT saying that people should be banned for what they are (although, as it happens, I do believe that developers should have the right to ban people for what they are under certain very specific circumstances, as in RL).

>Like hell I can't. I don't want a law... I want to persuade game providers that such EULA provisions are ethically wrong, and should be stopped.

You’re not going to do so, especially with your weak argument.

Virtual world designers reserve the right to throw people out of their virtual world on a whim, for no reason whatsoever, just because they don’t like the cut of their jib. If this breaks RL law, then they can be sued. If it doesn’t, that’s it, end of story, it doesn’t matter a hoot whether you consider it ethical or not because NO ONE IS MAKING YOU PLAY. You can argue until you’re blue in the face (or, rather, in your case, you can repeat the same assertion over and over and over again until you’re blue in the face) but you actually have a choice here. If you see people who commodify virtual worlds as Rosa Parks figures fighting against discrimination, you’re deluding yourself: Rosa Parks couldn’t change what she was, and there was no justification for what the bus companies were doing. People with money to spend can change what they are (by not spending the money) and there is justification for whatthe VW companies are doing (protecting their magic circle).

>IMO, no game provider should tr y to inject their personal views about a player's out-of-game moral/ethical character into a game's rule set.

IMO, no player should try to inject their personal views about whom the VW developer lets into their VW into the VW’s rule set.

>I should hopefully have a short article put together soon that I'll be emailing into Terra Nova, and hopefully someone will be nice enough to post it as a new discussion thread... I think it's a topic that's quite worthy of preserving as a discussion

Richard

39.

Staarkhand>Ouch, reading some of these strained analogies is like being forced to take steroids while running 100m carrying my loved one trying to catch a bus to a racist cricket match

:D

I still think the Olympics-steroids example is very accurate though.

And to me botting is as Barry describes. Having multiple accounts can be either alting or muling in my usage; I think N-boxing works well too.

40.

Staarkhand>Ouch, reading some of these strained analogies is like being forced to take steroids while running 100m carrying my loved one trying to catch a bus to a racist cricket match.

Not only are the analogies strained, they are also rather unpractical and theoretical. Because in all these analogies, whether somebody belonged to a certain group was never the question.

But in a practical situation you only have a game log of avatar "BigGuy" giving 1 million platinum pieces to avatar "NewGuy". How will you know if NewGuy happens to be a friend of BigGuy, or whether he paid him $50? A customer service representative of the game in question simply has no means to find out, unless there is a log of the conversation between the two in game, and they were stupid enough to mention EBay.

Thinking that the transfer out of friendship is okay, while the transfer for money is not, is certainly a valid opinion. But as long as you are unable to tell the difference between the two in game, you can only either allow or forbid both, or create a rule that is unenforcable.

41.

Tobold>you can only either allow or forbid both, or create a rule that is unenforcable.

There's a difference between "unenforceable" and "partially enforceable". Sure, BigGuy can give 1,000,000PP to NewGuy and CS might not be able to tell where he got it from, but if they can tell where he got it from then they can stop it. They wouldn't stop all the trades that way, but they could stop a huge chunk of them.

In the UK, you can't buy a hand gun unless you have a licence. People can still get hold of them, but nowhere near as many as would do so if they could just go into a shop and buy one. Result: much less gun crime than in countries where pretty well anyone can buy a gun.

Richard

42.

Tobold>How will you know if NewGuy happens to be a friend of BigGuy, or whether he paid him $50?

It's probably more practical to monitor the 3rd party places. If two players find each other in-game and make a sale without using a middleman, there's not too much that can be done. Most players won't want to take such a risk though, so eliminating the 3rd parties' involvement should keep the traffic very low.

43.

Richard> Virtual world designers reserve the right to throw people out of their virtual world on a whim, for no reason whatsoever, just because they don’t like the cut of their jib. If this breaks RL law, then they can be sued. If it doesn’t, that’s it, end of story, it doesn’t matter a hoot whether you consider it ethical or not because NO ONE IS MAKING YOU PLAY.

They can be sued even in cases where it *doesn't* break RL law. IMO, it's a pity that it might have to come to that.

Personally, I find it sad that you seem to want this conversation reduced to "sue or STFU, VW operators are God". I expected better on Terra Nova.

44.

I'm probably waaaay out on left (right?) field here but just to speak to all these Olympic sports analogies -- it's never been clear to me why we forbid performance-enhancing drugs while permitting all other forms of performance-enhancing behavior. I know the conventional answer is that "it's unhealthy" but when a sport like professional football sends the average player into permanent physical disability within 3 years it makes little sense to me to forbid that player from taking a steroid that might help him avoid that (or just plain do better) in the near term, even if in 10 or 20 years he might become disabled as a result.

So I think it's a bad analogy to the case at hand as the moral issue isn't really clearer there than it is here. Again it's simply a matter of "rules". Anyway, I'm late to the party so I won't belabor the points.

We'd love to release a follow-on white paper to this topic, perhaps more in-depth on one specific area or perhaps counter-pointing. Interested authors should drop me or Nova Barlow ([email protected]) a line...

45.

Alexander Macris>it's never been clear to me why we forbid performance-enhancing drugs while permitting all other forms of performance-enhancing behavior.

You can win at weightlifting in the Olympics if you take steroids. The more steroids you take, the greater the length of time by which you shorten your life. If we allow steroids at the Olympic weightlifting, it ceases to become weightlifting and starts to become "chicken". So does every other sport that has drugs which will increase performance at the expense of decreasing lifespan.

>when a sport like professional football sends the average player into permanent physical disability within 3 years it makes little sense to me to forbid that player from taking a steroid that might help him avoid that

Not being American, I don't know how steroids might help in this example, but I'm assuming it's that if you take steroids you'll be bigger and bulkier and better able to take punishment. Unfortunately, if you are taking steroids, so is everyone else, and therefore they are better able to deliver punishment. Result: you're still disabled after 3 years AND you get all the steroid-related heart-attack problems too.

The thing about drugs in the Olympics and commodification in virtual worlds is that they only give you an advantage if you're one of only a few peple doing it. If everyone does it, the advantage disappears, then everyone is in the same position they were before it was done except now they're losing health/money, too.

Richard

46.

Barry Kearns>Personally, I find it sad that you seem to want this conversation reduced to "sue or STFU, VW operators are God". I expected better on Terra Nova.

You may find it sad, and you may have expected better, but basically that's the way it is because that's the ONLY way it CAN be. VW operators are god, whether they like it or not. Every time in the past they've tried not to be god, they've had to return and be god. They have the responsibilities, even if they don't want the powers; to answer the responsibilities, they must use the powers even if they don't want to do so.

Still, this being TN, and my not wanting to disappoint you completely, how would you reduce the argument to its essentials?

Richard

47.

Richard Bartle> You may find it sad, and you may have expected better, but basically that's the way it is because that's the ONLY way it CAN be. VW operators are god, whether they like it or not. Every time in the past they've tried not to be god, they've had to return and be god. They have the responsibilities, even if they don't want the powers; to answer the responsibilities, they must use the powers even if they don't want to do so.

Here's the problem: There are three different areas involved with customer interactions with a virtual world.

Visualize two concentric circles (one smaller than the other). The innermost area is the actions of characters/avatars within a VW space. I agree that VW operators should rightfully govern the mechanics of acceptable/allowed behavior within that space. Since they control the "physics" of that space, they are (for all intents and purposes) all-powerful and God-like. Game rules within that space are not something that I expect reasonable people to want opened to legislation or regulation... who wants the courts to decide if Sorcerers should be subject to a 10% damage-over-time nerf?

Since humans are the ones operating controls, which in turn cause avatars to take actions, the in-game rules will have an effect on the humans at the controls... if only by proxy. That may represent a frustration to the players, but that's part of the landscape. In fact, I'd argue that frustration of some player desires is the ESSENCE of creating a compelling competitive experience. I find in-game rules about line-of-sight exploits and the like wholly appropriate, as they govern purely in-game aspects.

The space between the two circles is the interface between the customer and the company that provides the VW service. Here is where rules about modifications to the client programs, hacks, denial of service attacks, third-party "enhancers" and the like fall. Providers establish contracts with customers, which govern acceptable means of interface with the system. Access with only approved clients is a reasonable contract term, as it has a direct effect on the stability and security of the system as a whole.

Once we hit this second circle, however, we are into the "outside world", and laws and regulations apply to VW providers. Here they are definitely NOT "God". Society recognizes that there are limits to what businesses can do... even when they claim that they are doing it "for the greater good". Contracts have limits with respect to how far they can go.

The area outside both circles is the realm of customers' outside lives. Here is where it gets sticky.

My primary objection is when providers take their inner-circle hubris with respect to "being God", and add provisions into the second-circle contract that attempt to govern access to the service based on purely outside-the-circles choices that a customer makes.

I haven't made up my mind yet on whether in-game items and currency are "property" that belongs to a player or not. But I do recognize that players assign VALUE to those items. When a game provider makes that value alienable for the characters (transferrable power), they create an environment where players MUST make social decisions with respect to that value. The players choose how to dispose of that value, and so long as the in-game character mechanics of that are satisfied, we are left with moral and ethical value judgements that a player is making. Players choose to give power to attactive avatars, or new avatars, or avatars of friends, or destroy the power, or hoard it, or give it to the enemies of those they oppose... but to the extent that the rules permit the PLAYERS to make those decisions, these are outside-the-circles aspects. The reasons for the disposition of the value belong to the players.

This may not be a legally recognized right today (or at all), but it is a practical right when providers give players the ability to transfer power from one character to another. Some players will do a time/value calculation, and that calculation will influence their motivation for disposing of "their" power. They are doing a favor for someone else (providing value) in exchange for compensation (receiving value).

Ultimately, this is more likely a service than a question of legal property... a player is making out-of-game value judgements on how and why they will exercise their practical rights of disposition of in-game value.

I see that as fundamentally no different than a player deciding to help out a friend-of-a-friend by transferring power to them. They are exchanging a value of friendship or obligation for other considerations.

In today's world, it is certainly possible for providers to put provisions into the second-circle access contracts which allow them to "hold a club over the head" of players, and thereby enforce their outer-circle desires. No one has yet completed the act of "belling the cat" by pulling a provider into court and getting definitive legal rulings on whether some of these provisions are legitimate.

I have been hoping that it wouldn't take that... that providers might take a step back from the brink and recognize the practical rights of players to make their own outer-circle decisions. Litigation and/or legislation seems to be a nasty way to go, as it tends to shoehorn different circumstances into a one-size-fits-all mold. I would find that tragic, because there are plenty of non-commercial VWs that would invariably suffer under such a heavy-handed "solution".

Now, I realize that some of my comparisons in these threads may have gone "beyond the pale"... but I think allegations about "we can ban anyone for any reason" are also beyond the pale. There clearly ARE limits. I apologize if my examples pointing out practical cases where limits exist have somehow been offensive to people. That is not their intent, nor did I ever intend to say that this case is somehow equivalent.

I had hoped to show that it's clearly NOT just a case of "we can do whatever we want", and since that is true, we should discuss the boundaries of what limits are reasonable... and what limits are not.

My contention is that the proper place to "draw the line" with respect to EULA and TOS provisions should be at the outer edge of the second circle for all outside-legal customer actions. If someone is hacking your system or using an unapproved client for competitive advantages, banning them is certainly reasonable IMO. If they are causing their characters to take offensive in-game actions such as racist speech or griefing other players, then bans are certainly appropriate there, too. If they are using your in-game email system to commit or facilitate out-of-world crimes, you have a legal responsibility to act.

But once we get down to the ONLY distinction between a banned player and an approved player is WHY they choose to use their characters to perform fully in-game-allowed actions involving disposition of character value, then I think the providers have crossed the line. Prior restraint of trade against players may be a DESIRABLE thing for a provider to want to put into the contract... but that doesn't make it right.

Richard Bartle> Still, this being TN, and my not wanting to disappoint you completely, how would you reduce the argument to its essentials?

1. Some providers create VWs where the participants accumulate in-game-transferrable power, and implement game mechanics that clearly permit players to make choices regarding that disposition.

2. This circumstance creates a legitimate sense of an alienable value in the holdings of characters, and by extension a practical right of disposition for the player who controls that character.

3. While VW operators have a responsibility to maintain and run the operations of the VW, their unbounded power within the VW does not automatically extend beyond the boundaries of that VW.

4. Contract law recognizes that contracts have reasonable limits, and the attempts of some VW operators to extend their reach beyond the bounds of the VW itself (and the methods/mechanics of access) and into the private lives of the customers may be stretching beyond the limits that we should consider reasonable.

5. The prior restraint of trade that some VWs attempt to codify into their EULA and TOS provisions might be struck down upon legal challenge, but the community as a whole may be better served if self-regulation is imposed before the legislative or judicial hammer pounds out a cookie-cutter solution that creates more problems than it solves.

Essential enough?

48.

The problem with you argument, Barry, is that at the very heart of the transaction that you claim beyond the bounds of the VW is an in-world transaction. If you don't want to agree to the EULA, then don't. But then you don't get to play the game.

The transaction of your scenario that is most extra-game is the customer's decision whter or not to subscribe.

These EULA provisions are little more than 'good faith' provisions. An agreement to play the games in good faith, which (according to the EULAs) means trasnacting game items in the game economy, not in any extra-game economy. Given any current (truly MMO) implementation, there isn't an American jurisidiction that is likely to find any such provision unconscionable.

That said, Richard is equally far afield. The law simply shouldn't meddle beyond providing a forum for relief for a party (customer or developer) in the event the other breaches.

Jeff Cole

49.

Jeff Cole> The problem with you argument, Barry, is that at the very heart of the transaction that you claim beyond the bounds of the VW is an in-world transaction.

I disagree. The in-game transaction (of the two involved) is not the one that is referenced in typical EULAs... if it were, we would see players being banned for asymmetric in-game transactions without regard to their reasoning. And that would (at the root of it) be fundamentally equitable, since all players would be being treated the same. It is the out-of-game "sale" transaction that is forbidden.

When a provider tries to take the same asymmetric transactions and say that they are cause for a denial of service ONLY IF THERE IS AN OUTSIDE FINANCIAL TRANSACTION, but they are perfectly fine if the outside transaction is for friendship, obligation, altruism, socialization or sexual attraction for that matter... then they are making the service access provisions a function of the player's outside life.

Jeff Cole> An agreement to play the games in good faith, which (according to the EULAs) means trasnacting game items in the game economy, not in any extra-game economy.

Every asymmetric in-game transaction that is performed of both players' free wills leaving both sides happy (a "fair trade"), also involves an external transaction of some form. Free people tend to exchange value for value. Failing to recognize that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist, no matter how much VW operators want that to be true.

So long as players are allowed to freely accumulate and then transfer power between characters for advantage or enjoyment, you will ALWAYS have an interaction with SOMETHING outside the game... because PEOPLE are making the decisions. I contend that there are no such transactions that can remain entirely "within the in-game economy". People will have their own individual preferences and judgements about how to dispense and dispose of the values they control, and they will trade value for value. It's part of being a free human.

Bannable EULA provisions against some forms of out-of-game value trades (but not others) make about as much sense as a EULA provision that forbids two players from (out-of-game) falling in love, on penalty of account cancellation.

50.

> While VW operators have a responsibility to maintain and run the operations of the VW, their unbounded power within the VW does not automatically extend beyond the boundaries of that VW.

Do you remember the case of the EQ player posting a pornographic story playing in the EQ world on some fan site? He was banned from playing the game for that, although he did nothing wrong in game. The VW operators unbounded power within the VW does not extend beyond the boundaries of the VW, Verant realized how difficult it would have been to sue somebody for sullying the EQ image. But the VW operator is likely to use his unbounded power within the VW as threat, as leverage, to keep players from doing out of game actions over which the VW operator has no control.

51.

Also as long as in the RW social advantage (nepotism for exampe) is more acceptable then monetary advantage (bribe for example), I don't expect many VW operators to promote utopian ideals.

Frank

52.

Barry Kearns>Essential enough?

I think I can do better: “obey us: in RL, players are God”.

I summarised this situation in my book when writing about Raph’s “Rights of Avatars” paper:

1) Ultimately, someone has their finger on the power button.
2) What this someone says, goes.
3) If this someone doesn’t provide a code of conduct for their virtual world, then
anyone playing in it deserves all they get.
4) If this someone wants to change the code of conduct, they should consult their
players, but they can ignore whatever they are told.
5) Codes of conduct should be fair and should be applied fairly.

VW owners “are god” because it’s their ball. VW players “are god” because they don’t have to play ball if they don’t want to. Both can close a virtual world down: one by switching off the electricity, the other by not playing.

If a VW designer is stupid enough to believe the “hubris” as you call it, then players will stop playing their VW and they’ll suffer for it. If they deal fairly with players, then players will stay with their VW and they’ll benefit from it. The EULA states their position. If you think it’s over the top, don’t play. If you think it’s a recipe for anarchy, don’t play. If you do play, yes, you can try to get them to change it. If they don’t, though, don’t play.

We can turn this argument around. Developers are gods of VWs, but players are gods of Reality. The real always beats the virtual. Reality’s EULA are the laws of the land. Developers have to follow what these laws say. If they don’t like them, then they can try to get them change, but lawmakers don’t have to listen. If the laws impose conditions on VW developers that they feel they can’t live with (eg. “you are not gods of their own domains”) then they can decide not to play, too. They can simply stop making VWs. Then your laws apply but there is nothing for them to apply to. Fine for you, not so fine for all the players who actually quite liked those VWs and are not at all keen on the gameplay-free alternatives that are on offer instead.

Richard

53.

Jeff Cole>That said, Richard is equally far afield. The law simply shouldn't meddle beyond providing a forum for relief for a party (customer or developer) in the event the other breaches.

Where did I suggest otherwise?

Richard

54.

Barry>Access with only approved clients is a reasonable contract term, as it has a direct effect on the stability and security of the system as a whole.

I'm confused as to how restrictions on the client interface are acceptable, whereas restrictions on commodification re: 'real world' transactions are not.

What is the end result of a hacked client or a bot? Someone with no respect for the magical circle leverages out-of-game resources for in-game advantage. That sounds an awful lot like the same problem that commodification brings in.

Why bother preventing a hack that allows someone to see hidden players - and then allow someone else to sell a quested item that grants 'see hidden' as an ability?

Both avenues provide an ability to a character who 'shouldn't' have it, were they obeying the magic circle. Both, imo, are equally undesireable. So why is it that you would think one reasonable and the other not?

Sure hacked-clients can indeed lead to more troubling problems that commodification can't (not on the same scale anyway): such as Denial of Service Attacks on the server or other clients, access to Imm powers, etc. Thankfully though the market has matured to a point where clients and network streams aren't so poorly designed anymore.

But what is the innate difference between a hack that grants an 'unearned' effect, and the purchase of an item that grants an 'unearned' effect?

55.

Laws covering other intangibles such as stocks or commodities were specifically written to cover those items. There simply aren't any written expressly for virtual content.

That's why most companies take the safe approach: EULAs are written as they are to provide the boundaries in which the provider-subscriber relationship operates and to define the rights to content created. Doing otherwise means wandering into uncharted legal territory, and that can be an awfully dangerous platform on which to run a business.

Btw Richard I enjoyed your paper. Thanks for sharing!

56.

Barry>It is the out-of-game "sale" transaction that is forbidden.

I think it is fallacious to separate the transaction into strictly in-game and out-of-game components. The out-of-game component does not exist without the in-game, thus the two are inseparable.

Take prostitution in the US for example. It's legal in much of the state of Nevada, but illegal in any other state. The act of sex is, of course, legal on its own; so let's say you carry out the act in California, but pay for it in Nevada (say by wiring your Carson City agent the money, who then puts it into the prostitute's Nevada bank account). Is this legal? I doubt anyone reasonable would think so.

So, for item sales, while you can identify activities that are performed out-of-game, you must consider the transaction as a whole, which I say falls under in-game jurisdiction.

Richard>The thing about drugs in the Olympics and commodification in virtual worlds is that they only give you an advantage if you're one of only a few peple doing it. If everyone does it, the advantage disappears, then everyone is in the same position they were before it was done except now they're losing health/money, too.

I hadn't even considered this yet, but it's another important point about commodification in certain worlds. If the casual gamer is complaining now, think of how much worse it will be after full commodification when the effective price to play competitively has gone from $15/mo to $30/mo (I'm being rather conservative with that).

57.

Richard Bartle>
1) Ultimately, someone has their finger on the power button.
2) What this someone says, goes.

This is clearly not the case in all circumstances, as you mentioned in your paper near the end of Pitfall #2. Having the ability to destroy something does not give that person legal or ethical rights to absolute control over that thing, nor does it mean that everyone interacting with that thing must subsume their rights into the control of the one with the power.

We wouldn't find it acceptable for the Bank of America to randomize or erase the digital assets of their account holders, because we recognize the represented value of the account holders that is contained within the "database records" that make up their accounts. Likewise, just because Bank of America has the POWER to wipe those records, we don't assume that the CEO of Bank of America should be able to seize the assets of an account holder just because they wrote a scathingly satirical political cartoon about said CEO. There are limits.

The fact that there are limits does not, however, logically lead to the rhetorical you mentioned in Pitfall #2: "Were this the case,
why would any company commit to developing a virtual world in the first place?"

The reason would be simple: They might judge that the limits are reasonable enough to allow them to make a profit while still complying with the limits.

Richard Bartle> If a VW designer is stupid enough to believe the “hubris” as you call it, then players will stop playing their VW and they’ll suffer for it. If they deal fairly with players, then players will stay with their VW and they’ll benefit from it. The EULA states their position. If you think it’s over the top, don’t play.

This doesn't logically follow for all cases. It's quite possible that a business can trample on the rights of some small minority of their customers, and still stay in business. So long as there are enough OTHER customers who don't mind (because their ox is not the one being gored), the situation remains viable, and that business will not automatically collapse as you seem to imply.

In fact, a case can be made that some businesses might attract a net INCREASE in customers by engaging in such actions... all it takes is a degree of unpopularity for that smaller group, and there may be an audience out there that will flock to that venue precisely because it reinforces their personal world view. When that comes at the expense of the rights of that smaller group, we are left with a quandary.

The "invisible hand" is not well-known for protecting the individual's rights, after all.

In the Unites States (at least), we recognize that there are times when the rights of individuals will come into conflict with the rights of a group. We do not automatically operate from the perspective that whatever is beneficial for the majority is what we will allow.

We strive to protect the individual from the "tyranny of the majority", and that protection (for many rights) is needed most strongly when the actions of an individual or small group are unpopular.

Now, you might argue that you don't think that players should ever have anything resembling "property rights" or alienable interests in what they create while they are using a VW... and that's understandable from the perspective of someone invested as a creator of a VW. It's not surprising that VW operators would want all of the advantages and control, and want to transfer all rights to themselves. That desire doesn't make the rights of the participants disappear, nor does it imply that the only participant option is to "walk away if you don't like it".

I think my position is rather aligned with the observations made by our TN moderators Greg Lastowka and Dan Hunter in their paper "The Laws of the Virtual Worlds":

"It is likely that we will see courts rejecting EULAs to the extent that they are overly restrictive upon the economic interests of the participants within the world. And since there is
already so much money and property at stake in these worlds—and there will be significant more in the future—we can expect a large number of suits surrounding the property issue, raising various legal theories that may try to circumvent or attack EULA restrictions. As we said at the beginning: as we live out more of our lives in these worlds, any simple resolution of the property rights issues will become more difficult."

I see that observation and take the next logical step. I draw the conclusion that VW operators who recognize the rights of their players / customers before being forced to... might help to set the stage for an evolution in provider-participant relations: one that need not be as adversarial (or as potentially devastating) as large-scale litigation and the shoehorned solutions that might arise from the aftermath of those confrontations.

58.

Weasel wrote:

"Why bother preventing a hack that allows someone to see hidden players - and then allow someone else to sell a quested item that grants 'see hidden' as an ability?

Both avenues provide an ability to a character who 'shouldn't' have it, were they obeying the magic circle. Both, imo, are equally undesireable. So why is it that you would think one reasonable and the other not?

{snip}

But what is the innate difference between a hack that grants an 'unearned' effect, and the purchase of an item that grants an 'unearned' effect?"

Excellent questions... allow me to reiterate the distinction between these two situations.

In the case of a hack, you are injecting something into the landscape that was not there before... you are creating abilities (or in the case of dupes, creating items or currency) that are bypassing the mechanics of world itself, thereby subverting any programmatic checks and balances that may be in place.

In a sense, you are engaging in counterfeiting. In the case of a dupe exploit, you are counterfeiting items or currency. In the case of a visibility hack, you are counterfeiting skills and abilities... in some cases, creating them out of whole cloth where none existed before.

This is utterly different from a situation where you have an item that grants the skill in question, and you transfer it between characters. To the extent that the game permits this as a "legal" action between characters, and the weak character gains unearned benefit from it (giving power which was not earned), we have a situation where the developers have created an alienable interest that is transferring between these characters.

Is this a problem? Absolutely! That was my initial premise in this thread, in fact: That it is this form of unearned power transfer (twinking) that is at the heart of the "problems" that are often blamed on commodification.

Where the conflict arises between those who commodify and some providers is that some of the providers want to allow this alienable interest, and then confiscate the interests of those who exercise that alienability for reasons that they don't like.

The in-game actions involved with a commodified transaction are a part of the in-game landscape that people are already exploiting for their own benefit, when some guilds give massive gifts to new members and thereby give them unearned power.

The difference between a commodified transaction and a non-commodified one of this nature is the outside transaction... which is the REASON that people have for making the transaction.

Hacks, on the other hand, tend to inject something new INTO the game world, as opposed to simply moving existing things around from place to place.

Hacks alter *HOW* you interface with the world. Commodification is a question of *WHY* you exercise your interests in the game, without requiring that anything new be injected.

The root issue is therefore, IMO, the creation and allowing of alienable interests that allow players to give substantial unearned power to other players... FOR ANY REASON.

Where developers address that problem, I contend that you simply won't see commodification of in-game currency and items arise (to an extent that it can have any meaningful impact).

Twinking is therefore a necessary condition for "harmful" commodification to arise, and twinking can be addressed entirely in-game. When that is done, I don't think you have problems of players utilizing their sense of having alienable chattels, and disposing of them as they see fit.

But once you open the floodgates by creating that alienable interest (i.e. "I can give this to someone else for free if I feel like it"), then it is foolish to expect that people aren't going to make their own decisions regarding why they would want to... and you invite court challenges when you try to codify (via excessively one-sided contract provisions) confiscating that property because you don't like someone's motivations.

Avatars are a whole other ball of wax... I'm not yet convinced that identity (in this sense) is or should be alienable. However, if a game provider makes it a defacto policy that you can GIVE AWAY your account (and the associated identity), then I think they will run into problems when they try to say you can't give it away for certain reasons ("sell it").

As I originally noted, fixing the problem of twinking fixes the problem of item/currency commodification. Developers can choose to do so. Not wanting to do so is not a sufficient justification IMO to step on the rights of some of their customers.

59.

For anyone out there still reading this thread, there's now a review of my paper at Gamespot.

Richard

60.

Barry Hearns>This is clearly not the case in all circumstances

Well no, it's hardly a law of physics.

>Having the ability to destroy something does not give that person legal or ethical rights to absolute control over that thing

In general, no, but if having the ability to destroy something is intrinsic to what that thing is, then yes, it does. Virtual worlds wouldn't be virtual worlds unless the developer had the absolute ability to destroy things in it, because the developer would be unable to operate the virtual world in those circumstances.

I have a paper that touches on this topic that's due to be published in the State of Play conference book when it appears next year.

>We wouldn't find it acceptable for the Bank of America to randomize or erase the digital assets of their account holders

No, but then that's a real-world financial institution set up to deal with real-world currency. It's not a virtual world set up to be entertaining under a set of agreed and legal rules that disavows real-world financial interaction entirely. The gulf between the situation you describe and the one that pertains for virtual worlds is so great that the word "analogy" barely applies to it.

Me>"Were this the case,
why would any company commit to developing a virtual world in the first place?"
Barry>The reason would be simple: They might judge that the limits are reasonable enough to allow them to make a profit while still complying with the limits.

OK, I should have said "why would any company acting rationally commit to developing a virtual world in the first place?". The ones that judge the limits reasonable would find out, once they had done it, that they weren't.

Some limits are, on the whole, reasonable, although it's almost always possible to come up with a VW concept where they might be OK. VWs not intended for educational or therapeutic use, for example, could expect a torrid time if they institutionalised racism. However, the limits I'm talking about in pitfall #2 are not like that. In particular, if developers were never allowed to close down a VW once they opened it, that would be too limiting for any commercial organisation to stomach.

>It's quite possible that a business can trample on the rights of some small minority of their customers, and still stay in business.

Yes, but in general they could expect stay in business longer if they don't.

That said, if the small minority they were trampling on was preventing the business from operating in an optimum fashion, they may stay in business longer still. A car dealership may deny smokers the offer of taking a new model for a test drive. The smokers will go elsewhere, so the dealership loses money. However, non-smokers may flock to the dealership because they can now test-drive cars that don't stink of stale tomacco, so the dealership could make more money out of it.

It's not an ethical decision, it's a business decision. VW developers who feel that commodifiers are spoiling their product (which, we agree, they do) should be allowed to ban those people from playing. The fact that they don't ban some other twinkers is irrelevant. "It's one law for the rich, another for the poor" doesn't cut it here...

>When that comes at the expense of the rights of that smaller group, we are left with a quandary.

We are, but that smaller group doesn't have any "rights" here. Come to that, neither does the larger group.

>We strive to protect the individual from the "tyranny of the majority"

Yes, yes, but you don't if the minority is itself being tyrannical.

Commodifiers may be a minority (in terms of VW players), but they're not independent of the majority. Their actions affect the majority - in fact, they affect other members of the minority, too (because some rich people are richer than others).

>and that protection (for many rights) is needed most strongly when the actions of an individual or small group are unpopular.

It depends why they're unpopular. Terrorists aren't merely exercising their rights to free speech, for example.

In virtual worlds, commodifiers are unpopular not because they're wealthy, but because they commodify. They're not a put-upon minority trying to eke out an existence in the face of ignorance and blind prejudice. If a VW developers considers there's no place in their VW for arrogant spoilsports, then they should be able to deny them entry.

>It's not surprising that VW operators would want all of the advantages and control, and want to transfer all rights to themselves. That desire doesn't make the rights of the participants disappear

The rights are not "transfered", they were with the VW developer from the start. They are there whether the developer wants them or not. They are there for the purely practical reason that if they weren't there, the VW would be unmanageable and unplayable.

>"It is likely that we will see courts rejecting EULAs to the extent that they are overly restrictive upon the economic interests of the participants within the world.

It may be likely, but it's not right. That's why I'm railing against this. [Aside: I'm not railing against Greg & Dan - they were writing about what they thought could happen, not what they thought would happen.]

>VW operators who recognize the rights of their players / customers before being forced to... might help to set the stage for an evolution in provider-participant relations:

I agree, they might. I'm quite happy for them to try, and would be even happier if they succeeded. That doesn't mean I think everyone else should be forced to do it too, though.

Richard

61.

A question about pitfall 2: Responsibility and “running forever VW”.

From the paper:
"However, because they could never move that wealth out of the VW without selling it to someone else (who could then invoke the same law), in effect the VW would have to be kept running forever. Were this the case, why would any company commit to developing a virtual world in the first place?"

--------------%<---------------

Assuming the game service provider is forced to keep VW running also if the VW is no longer profitable, what would happen if the subscription fees would be increased proportional to the number of customers to cover the operational costs? That would initiate a waterfall effect till no one could afford anymore the subscription fee and implying the closure of the VW.
That would be an easy solution about the "running forever VW".

62.

Luca Girardo>what would happen if the subscription fees would be increased proportional to the number of customers to cover the operational costs?

I should imagine that the players would claim that this was "effectively" closing down the virtual world, and the law could agree with them. After all, if wanted to sack someone from their job but didn't want to pay them compensation, you couldn't get away with it merely by dropping their salary to that required by minimum wage legislation - you'd still "effectively" be sacking them.

Richard

63.

Richard> For anyone out there still reading this thread, there's now a review of my paper at Gamespot.

Hey, that's a neat write-up. Glad to know Gamespot thinks TN is the coolest place to talk about virtual property. :-)

My apologies for kind of sleeping through this whole discussion -- I've actually been revising the "virtual crime" State of Play paper which deals with -- what else -- the legal recognition of virtual property. Our conclusion is generally that virtual property disputes are more likely to result in interesting precedent when the issue of VP is raised by game owners, not players (see the EULA), and that game owners would probably be smarter not to raise the issue at all. Kind of a re-affirmation of the bid for cyberspace exceptionalism that we made in the first article. Of course, we've got to note in a footnote that SL is moving outside the box.

When we get it posted on SSRN, I'll probably do a brief post about it, but I better catch up with all these lengthy virtual property threads before I do that. :-)

64.

greglas>Glad to know Gamespot thinks TN is the coolest place to talk about virtual property. :-)

Not just virtual property, of course - we're cool whatever we talk about!

>My apologies for kind of sleeping through this whole discussion

I think sleeping through it was probably the wisest thing to do...

Richard

65.

Richard> Virtual worlds wouldn't be virtual worlds unless the developer had the absolute ability to destroy things in it, because the developer would be unable to operate the virtual world in those circumstances.

Balderdash. This is pure poppycock. Businesses accept regulation all of the time, and the heart of regulation is that businesses are forced to set aside some of their desires in order to accomodate the rights of others. That doesn't mean the whole concept of business implodes because businesses can't do whatever they like.

Industries that impose self-regulation, however, are less likely to have regulation imposed upon them from the outside... to the extent, at least, that the regulations serve to balance the interests of the various parties involved.

Don't assume that just because you might fold up your tent in the face of regulation, that everyone else automatically will too. You do not control the industry, nor do you speak for them all, either.

The concept of virtual worlds would certainly survive the concept of legally recognizing a customer's alienable interests in that world, even if some VW operators choose to close their doors rather than surrender even an inch of control.

There are virtual worlds in existence right now where the operators clearly don't have "the absolute ability to destroy things in it", yet they still exist.

Do you honestly think MindArk could choose to just arbitratily wipe out the PED balance that I might have in Project Entropia without compensation, and not have to be held accountable for the property interests of their customers? The same with ThereBucks.

Oh wait... do these no longer count as VWs because they aren't Bartle-worlds?


Richard> that smaller group doesn't have any "rights" here. Come to that, neither does the larger group.

Continuing to make such an assertion does not make it true. It's clear that customers had rights before interacting with a VW operator. Are you now contending that the moment they do so, they surrender all of their rights?

Contracts do not give the universal ability to alienate rights from one party... to the extent that contract provisions do so for certain rights, the courts tend to strike down those provisions as invalid and unenforceable.


Richard> The rights are not "transfered", they were with the VW developer from the start. They are there whether the developer wants them or not. They are there for the purely practical reason that if they weren't there, the VW would be unmanageable and unplayable.

Again, this is beyond silly. Such absolutes are utterly insupportable. There is no evidence whatsoever that a VW operator CANNOT ever accept or recognize the interests of their players, without making the VW unmanagable and unplayable.

It is certainly POSSIBLE for that to be an outcome in at least one case, but such an outcome
is not guaranteed simply because these are "virtual worlds". Some VW operaters can accept, live with, manage and produce playable games while still recognizing player rights and interests.

These "doom" pronouncements are as silly as some restaurant owner saying that restauranteurs must be immune from regulation, because if they don't have absolute control over their restaurant, they can't run it or serve good meals, and then no one will have restaurants to go to.

Rubbish, plain and simple. Refusal to comply is not the same as the inability to comply.

Current EULAs clearly *DO* try to transfer a huge collection of player rights to the owners and operators. Here's an example from the Sony Online Entertainment Terms of Service:

--------
By submitting (e.g., uploading or transmitting) Content to an SOE Communication Feature, you automatically grant SOE the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, and fully sublicensable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such Content (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed. In addition, you warrant that any and all so-called "moral rights" in the Content have been waived.
--------

Better hope that no one ever reads their poem or lyrics to a song they wrote while in an SOE game... if they do, it sounds like SOE claims they can now own it, sell it, build it into anything that ever exists, and you can never do a thing about it. In fact, they could now say that *YOU* no longer own it, since you warranted that you waived all of your rights.

But I guess if someone believes that all rights MUST naturally belong to VW operators and never customers (or the worlds will end), that's a natural conclusion to draw.

66.

Richard> [Aside: I'm not railing against Greg & Dan - they were writing about what they thought could happen, not what they thought would happen.]

So now in addition to speaking for "VW operators", you speak for Greg & Dan's thoughts when they were writing, too?

Wow!

Perhaps we could hear from them directly as to what they were thinking...

67.

Luca Girardo> Assuming the game service provider is forced to keep VW running also if the VW is no longer profitable

I've seen this red herring offered before (the "unkillable VW" because someone always asserts that their value will be lost, ad infinitum), and it's just that: a red herring.

I know of no industry or business which offers property of any kind, where the legally-enforced expectation is that the value of a piece of property must be constant. The courts recognize that values rise and fall, and that doesn't make property into a non-concept, nor does it put businesses who deal in property in danger of being perpetually "zombified" by the courts.

A far more reasonable expectation that might arise out of recognizing property rights in VWs is that VW operators might need to provide "fair notice" for some stipulated (but clearly finite)time period to allow people to realize/convert at least a portion of the values which are present within the world.

If I have a transferrable lifetime pass to Wally World, that doesn't mean Wally World can never go out of business... it just means that the resale value of the pass will likely drop when Wally World announces that this will be their final year in business. Purchasing such a pass carries an inherent risk that the value might go down. That's not an unreasonable concept.

Expecting the value to remain constant *IS* an unreasonable concept, and anyone arguing that a Sword of Truth must always have the same value is being unreasonable. Values fluctuate.

Likewise with VWs that have property interests if those interests are legally recognized by the courst... there's no reasonable expectation that the value of those interests will remain constant.
Someone might have such an expectation, but that doesn't make it legally sound.

Instead, we might see minimum time periods to allow people to "wrap up" their affairs within that VW. A Sword of Truth might be worth $300 today, but it doesn't drop to $0 if a VW announces that the doors will close in six months.

It's worth less, but it's still worth something to someone who wants to get several more month's worth of enjoyment out of it. Anyone purchasing after that point no longer has any claim that they don't realize that this is an "ending concern"... they are buying a resource that they KNOW will go to zero, and they will market-price accordingly.

At the most extreme end, I might possibly see a VW (where the owners disappear, for instance) going into receivership and being continued for some small period. I can't see people making too convincing of a case that they can't get any remaining value out of an item if they only get to use it for the next year.

Of course, making such "fair notice" provisions a prominent part of the up-front agreement would provide a heck of a lot of insulation for VW owners to being with. Hard to claim that you didn't know your Sword may eventually be useless when you were told at the beginning that the game won't last forever.

At that point, you're speculating on value, and speculators sometimes lose. That's life.

68.

Barry,

I'd like to comment but I still haven't caught up with this thread and the GOM thread.

Richard's appraisal, though, is right -- we tried to be say what we thought could happen in this area. Obviously, we don't know what will happen, because the case law doesn't exist yet and there are some novel issues presented.

69.

I'm wondering if Richard's observation is a distinction without a difference. I don't know of anyone who would read the word "likely" and interpret it as "certainty".

I know I didn't. I think we all recognize that it is certainly POSSIBLE.

The word "likely" to me implies an opinion that leans towards the reasonable probability that it will happen, rather than a guarantee.

I think the outcome is certainly not a foregone conclusion, but I think there's a fairly high probability of seeing such a ruling sometime in the next ten years, for instance.

Substituting "could" for "would" tilts the impression (for me at least) that the outcome is rather UNLIKELY, but still possible.

For grins, what rough probability would you assign to ever seeing "courts rejecting EULAs to the extent that they are overly restrictive upon
the economic interests of the participants within the world"?

It's not anything binding, of course, just trying to get a rough feel for what you mean when you say "likely".

70.

Re: the Gamespot review:

"The victory in that case, Mulligan explains, was for Mythic, which essentially received judicial notice that the End User License Agreement for Camelot was valid, including the sections regarding Mythic's retaining ownership of all in-game assets and only licensing their use to the player--and forbidding buying and selling of in-game items. "Black Snow’s management disappeared after that and [the business] closed down."

Is it just me, or does that sound like a pretty strong mis-statement of what actually happened in the Black Snow case?

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding was that the court specifically did NOT find one way or the other on the issue of property and whether the "forbidding" provisions of the EULA were enforceable, but instead they simply punted the case to binding arbitration instead... basically saying "don't fight it out here, you agreed to fight it out over there instead".

(See http://www.unknownplayer.com/images/blacksnow/2_3%20copy.gif )

Does anyone have any pointers to more detailed reference materials where this can be clarified?

71.

> Richard > If a VW developers considers there's no place in their VW for arrogant spoilsports, then they should be able to deny them entry.

Ouch, that hurt! I still believe you are seriously misjudging the players that buy virtual items, and calling them "arrogant spoilsports" doesn't exactly help.

Nobody is spending real world dollars on virtual items on EBay with the intention of spoiling the game for others. Like in the real world, virtual worlds are divided in the haves and the have-nots, with the have-nots often being excluded from a lot of the games content. EBay value of virtual property is often created by making it artificially hard to achieve that property by in-game means. For example the whole UO EBay housing market would crash if there was enough flat space available for everybody. A housing deed is worthless, a placed house priceless, because there is artifical shortage, and the division between haves and have-nots is totally random and unfair. Many Everquest items are valuable because you often need to camp them for many, many hours. It is not that the have-nots would not be able to reach and kill the Frenzied Ghoul, they might just not have the possibility to wait for hours in line until it is their turn, then camp him for another 8 hours until the FBSS drops.

Now you can claim that it is the developers right to decree that certain items can only be achieved by waiting for them for 8+ hours, or by having it given to them out of friendship or for in-game currency. And you can draw artificial boundaries, saying that it is okay if I pay my buddy a beer in real life, and he gives me something in virtual life, but it is not okay if I sent dollars to a stranger via EBay/Paypal and he gives me something in real life. But many players would simply consider these decrees and artificial boundaries as unfair, as crutches to patch up the consequences of bad game design. And many people are quite willing to break rules they consider as unlogical and unfair, even if they are totally law-abiding to lots of other fair rules from the same source.

The solution is not artificial rules against commodification, but games without design flaws, in which the same amount of effort achieves the same reward, without you having to "be lucky" or "be there first" or "be online for 8+ hours without interruption". If everybody would have the feeling that he could achieve a games rewards by fun in-game means, there would be no market for buying these rewards on EBay.

72.

Barry Kearns>That doesn't mean the whole concept of business implodes because businesses can't do whatever they like.

No, but if the restrictions render the business inoperable they would. When new laws came out in the UK restricting gun ownership, a lot of gun shops closed down. Our Olympic shooting team had to go to France to practice.

Minor changes to (or interpretations of) the law with regard to VWs would probably be OK. I can see, for example, a situation where a VW developers was forced by law to reinstate a character that had been destroyed by someone who hacked the server (as happened in China). VW developers could live with that. Some of the more extreme things, though, they couldn’t live with.

>The concept of virtual worlds would certainly survive the concept of legally recognizing a customer's alienable interests in that world

The concept would survive, yes, because some virtual worlds are fine with it. These are not all virtual worlds, however, and other virtual worlds are not fine with it. Adventure-style VWs would have great difficulty not collapsing into social-style VWs. Other VWs wouldn’t even be written: with your rules in place, I couldn’t write a VW that with an “escape from a prisoner of war camp” scenario, because the guards wouldn’t be allowed to destroy prisoners’ digging equipment if they found it.

>Do you honestly think MindArk could choose to just arbitratily wipe out the PED balance that I might have in Project Entropia without compensation, and not have to be held accountable for the property interests of their customers?

No, I don’t, but that doesn’t mean they might not want to. You could have got that PED balance through a bug, deprecated feature, in-world theft, real-world hack, purchase using stolen dollars, who knows? You could have got it from someone else who got it that way. You could have so much in your balance that you dominate the economy, so players leave in droves.

If none of this happens, fine. If it happens but there are no ill-effects, fine. If it happens and cripples the VW, well, there you go.

>Oh wait... do these no longer count as VWs because they aren't Bartle-worlds?

What are you babbling on about?


Richard> It's clear that customers had rights before interacting with a VW operator. Are you now contending that the moment they do so, they surrender all of their rights?

No, they still have those rights, but those rights don’t transfer one-for-one with some equivalent in the virtual world. Just because you have a right to drive a car in RL, that doesn’t mean you have a right to drive a virtual car in a virtual world. A VW EULA couldn’t remove your right to drive in RL, but a VW developer could prohibit your entry to the VW if you couldn’t (or could) drive. Quite why they’d want to is another matter of course, but they ought to be allowed to do it anyway.

>There is no evidence whatsoever that a VW operator CANNOT ever accept or recognize the interests of their players, without making the VW unmanagable and unplayable.

It depends on the interests. Some they can recognise, some they can’t.

>These "doom" pronouncements are as silly as some restaurant owner saying that restauranteurs must be immune from regulation, because if they don't have absolute control over their restaurant, they can't run it or serve good meals, and then no one will have restaurants to go to.

If you think that operating a virtual world is like operating a restaurant, I’m really wasting my time arguing with you here. You simply don’t understand what VWs are.

>So now in addition to speaking for "VW operators", you speak for Greg & Dan's thoughts when they were writing, too?

Er, no, I merely read the paper and reported what I read. You’re the one who put words in their mouths.

>A far more reasonable expectation that might arise out of recognizing property rights in VWs is that VW operators might need to provide "fair notice" for some stipulated (but clearly finite)time period to allow people to realize/convert at least a portion of the values which are present within the world.

They do this right now: the stipulated time is 0 seconds. Anything in a VW could disappear at any moment; there are no guarantees that what is there now will be there for any instant following now. People who trade in virtual objects are gambling that those objects will have persistence similar to what they and other objects have had in the past. They are gambling that the VW developer isn’t going to destroy them for whatever reason. They want to hedge their bets by having the law put some kind of warranty on those objects. Unfortunately, that can’t be done: if you buy a sword and use it to destruction within the warranty period, you don’t get a replacement. There’s no such thing as “fair use”, because the developer determines what is “fair” or not through their code. Basically, if the developer’s code caused your object to break, the developer destroyed it, therefore a warranty would give you a new one with its own warranty – and you could do that indefinitely.

>Expecting the value to remain constant *IS* an unreasonable concept, and anyone arguing that a Sword of Truth must always have the same value is being unreasonable. Values fluctuate.

If I, as a VW developer, changed the code to make the Sword of Truth stronger, its value would presumably go up. If I changed it to make it weaker, its value would go down. If I made it so weak that it broke upon contact with the enemy, its value would sink to next to nothing. You’re going to allow me, as a developer, to do that? To render your objects utterly worthless without going so far as actually destroying them? Cool! I can work with that.

>Hard to claim that you didn't know your Sword may eventually be useless when you were told at the beginning that the game won't last forever.

People are told at the beginning that they as people don’t own objects that their characters own, but nevertheless they do still claim they own them.

>Is it just me, or does that sound like a pretty strong mis-statement of what actually happened in the Black Snow case?

There was no victory because it didn’t go to court, but it looked quite a lot like if it had gone to court then Mythic would have won.

>Does anyone have any pointers to more detailed reference materials where this can be clarified?

The unknownplayer.com references are the most complete, but I think there may be some on Mythic’s site somewhere.

Richard

73.

Tobold>Ouch, that hurt! I still believe you are seriously misjudging the players that buy virtual items, and calling them "arrogant spoilsports" doesn't exactly help.

Not all people who buy and sell stuff are arrogant spoilsports, but I don’t see that a VW developer shouldn’t be allowed to ban those that are. I listed in my white paper several different reasons why people buy virtual items, and for most of them I wouldn’t say that the people who did it were necessarily arrogant or spoilsports. I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I did.

>Nobody is spending real world dollars on virtual items on EBay with the intention of spoiling the game for others.

No, but nevertheless it can have that effect. Some people don’t know it has the effect (through naivety or ignorance); some people know it has that effect and care about it (but trade anyway because they feel forced into doing so); some people know it has that effect but don’t care (these are the arrogant spoilsports). If the third of these were removed from the equation, that would spell relief for the other two.

>Like in the real world, virtual worlds are divided in the haves and the have-nots, with the have-nots often being excluded from a lot of the games content.

And, like the real world, if everyone were turned into a have, there wouldn’t be enough resources to support them all so they’d end up all as have-nots.

>EBay value of virtual property is often created by making it artificially hard to achieve that property by in-game means.

How could it be anything other than “artificially hard” to get them? Could it somehow be “naturally hard” to get them? What do you mean here?

>Now you can claim that it is the developers right to decree that certain items can only be achieved by waiting for them for 8+ hours, or by having it given to them out of friendship or for in-game currency.

I do claim developers have this right, but I wouldn’t say it was necessarily smart of them to exercise it quite as you describe!

>But many players would simply consider these decrees and artificial boundaries as unfair, as crutches to patch up the consequences of bad game design.

Well, that being the case they should go and look for some better-designed game then.

The thing is, this isn’t always bad game design. Sometimes, it’s good game design that only becomes bad when people don’t play by the rules of the game. A developer shouldn’t have to “fix” a game so people find it harder to break the rules – they should be able to chuck people out for rule-breaking.

>And many people are quite willing to break rules they consider as unlogical and unfair, even if they are totally law-abiding to lots of other fair rules from the same source.

There’s nothing illegal in breaking a contract. There are consequences, and your decision to break a contract should take these into account. A company may be offered a huge sum to sell their product exclusively to a single vendor, and decide that it makes economic sense to renege on their existing contracts, paying the penalty clauses, in order to go with the exclusive deal. That’s fine, they break no laws doing that. They do have to pay the penalty clauses, though. Similarly, in a virtual world you can break the EULA if you want, but if the consequences of that are that you lose your character, its possessions and your account, well, you took that into account before you broke the contract, right?

>The solution is not artificial rules against commodification, but games without design flaws

All games have this exact same design flaw: they can’t stop people from not playing by the rules. It’s intrinsic to what a “game” is. All you can do is stop playing with the people who break the rules.

>If everybody would have the feeling that he could achieve a games rewards by fun in-game means, there would be no market for buying these rewards on EBay.

OK, so let’s imagine that Star Wars: Galaxies was designed perfectly. In order to be true to the Star Wars licence, it couldn’t be that everyone was a Jedi, because there aren’t those numbers of Jedi characters in the universe. Therefore, some players will not be able to play a Jedi. Some of these players will want to be a Jedi, and will be willing to pay to be a Jedi. Whatever hoops are needed to be jumped through to get a Jedi, they’ll pay someone to jump through those hoops. They end up as a Jedi, with all the status, kudos etc. that goes with it, purely because they bought their way to it. Now are you suggesting that there would be no market for a Jedi character if it were obtainable by fun, in-game means? If so, I’d have to disagree with you. You may argue that any virtual world that has something like a Jedi in it is imperfectly designed, which is fair enough, but that means no virtual world set in the Star Wars universe (with Jedi) could ever be perfectly designed, in which case you know when you start playing such a game that it has design flaws.

Richard

74.

> Richard: How could it be anything other than “artificially hard” to get them? Could it somehow be “naturally hard” to get them? What do you mean here?

I would define "naturally hard" as the amount of effort you would need to achieve a goal if there was no other player interfering. For example it is naturally hard to collect enough money in UO to buy a housing deed. It is naturally hard to kill a dragon, as you need to level up for quite some time to be powerful enough to do it, and then it might still be a hard fight requiring some skill.

But then it becomes artificially hard to place the housing deed in UO, because there is simply not enough flat space for every player on the server to place a house. You start the game later than somebody else, you put in the same effort, and you can't reach the same result, because somebody else was there before you. It becomes artificially hard to kill the dragon, because somebody has killed him before you, and he only respawns every 12 hours. Your playing skill or the effort you put into the game have no influence on whether you kill the dragon or not, unless you define waiting in a game as effort.

> Richard: And, like the real world, if everyone were turned into a have, there wouldn’t be enough resources to support them all so they’d end up all as have-nots.

What resources are you talking about? We are talking of virtual property here, which can exist in unlimited supply. If players desire the sword of uberness, dropped by the fearsome red dragon, why not hand the damn sword to everybody killing that dragon? The player would have to overcome the natural hardness of the task, level up to whatever level it takes to kill the dragon, journey there and vanquish him. But once he got there, the dragon could be living in an instanced cave, with one dragon per player. Sure, that would decrease the value of having a sword of uberness, but at the same time it would decrease the EBay value of that sword even more.

You talk about breaking the magic circle with commodification, but isn't the magic circle broken as well when the player reaches the dragon cave, is forced by his peers to stand in line until it is his turn to slay the dragon, and has to wait several hours once it is his turn for the dragon to spawn, meanwhile reading a book?

> Richard: Now are you suggesting that there would be no market for a Jedi character if it were obtainable by fun, in-game means? If so, I’d have to disagree with you.

Maybe "no" market is too strong here. But I fully expect the market value of Jedi characters / accounts with FS enabled slots to drop tremendously when SOE implements their proposed changes to Jedi, making the FS slot achievable with some sort of prolonged quest (fun), instead of by mastering random jobs in succession (unfun).

I don't know how you stand towards the statistical results of the "test" carrying your name, but one of the results of it is that most players are "explorers". Meaning that if there is an interesting quest resulting in a reward, more people would like to actually do the quest than buy the reward on EBay.

You get extensive commodification if the quest is only accessible to level 50 characters, but half the level 1 characters in the game carry the reward due to twinking, and won't let you group with them unless you also have that sort of equipment. You get significantly less commodification if the reward you get for a quest at a certain level is only usable by characters of that level and up.

I totally agree that there will never be a perfect game, and you probably never will be able to reduce commodification to zero, as long as you have legal transfer of items. But unlike you I believe that the main motivation of a buyer is "I can't reach this reward in-game, so I'm buying it on EBay". If you design a game in which players do not have this perception of being unable to reach their goals in game, you largely eliminate the buyers, and with no buyers you automatically eliminate the likes of Black Snow or IGE as well.

75.

Richard> The concept would survive, yes, because some virtual worlds are fine with it. These are not all virtual worlds, however, and other virtual worlds are not fine with it. Adventure-style VWs would have great difficulty not collapsing into social-style VWs. Other VWs wouldn’t even be written: with your rules in place, I couldn’t write a VW that with an “escape from a prisoner of war camp” scenario, because the guards wouldn’t be allowed to destroy prisoners’ digging equipment if they found it.

I think your drawing of this conclusion shows that you don't really understand what "my rules" are. You seem to be operating from the premise that if any one aspect or provision of virtual property is realized, then every pitfall you cite will therefore come to pass.

But it's not an "all or nothing" scenario, and therefore a "take no prisoners, brook no quarter" attitude towards virtual property doesn't serve the interests of improving relations between customers and providers.

Let me try to restate what I consider to be the reasonable aspects of virtual property recognition, so that you may argue against those instead of straw-men.

I consider the only aspect of virtual property recognition that would be appropriate to recognize is the alienability of in-game property that developers have already made de-facto alienable.

I consider it appropriate for VW operators to declare that identity itself is not alienable, and to therefore make accounts and avatars non-transferrable. This leads to increased accountability and a sense of responsibility in the actions of any given avatar... no one gets a free pass to say "oh, those were the actions of the PREVIOUS owner, not ME."

Therefore, the only aspects of commidification that I consider "in-bounds" are those involving in-game currency or items, or more apppropriately the subset of those things that the developers already allow the players to freely trade between characters.

By allowing free trade in these items, VW operators create an alienable interest which inheres to the person who controls that character... and if identity is not allowed to be transferred, then this is a fixed relationship between the avatar and the charater.

Alienable interests in and of themselves don't create problems for the competitive landscape. Players can typically trade their flowers, paintings, sculptures etc. without disrupting the landscape to any significant degree. I don't see a game becoming imbalanced if someone wants to sell their freely tradable in-game painting to someone else who finds it to be pretty, and we would have a case of non-harmful commodification arising.

Where the problem starts to arise, IMO, is when developers combine the concept of alienable interests (by allowing characters to trade) with the portability of game advantages embodied in certain objects. This becomes manifest to a huge degree when the transferrable power is usable by characters who clearly have not "earned" the ability to use it.

In this case, we see righteous indignation on the part of players who look for a "fair" competitive landscape. Since many people play games in order to compete, the ability to trade competitive advantages to those who have not earned them imbues these items with disproportionately high real-world values. I contend that harmful commodification arises because of the distorting nature of these objects.

Ulitmately, I see this as an in-game design issue, where the in-game ability to transfer unearned power is the corrosive which is damaging game play. This is why I consider purely in-game solutions to this problem to be the "right answer" for addressing the problems that are alleged to arise from item commodification.

I think the friction between those who casually in-game commodify items and some developers arises because the players see that the devs have made the power clearly transferrable, but only the subset of the players that use money are being punished for transferring that power.

An alienable interest is alienable. The solution to alienable player POWER is to make that power inalienable from a practical standpoint within the game... make it so that only those who have earned the power can use it.

When the only alienable interests that are left are those which give no real unearned advantages, you might still see a minor degree of commodification, but this will be fundamentally harmless to the competitive landscape. You won't have herds of players complaining.

Taken from that perspective, let's compare my perspective to the pitfalls you listed.

Pitfall #1 doesn't really strike me as a pitfall at all... you're simply propping up a collection of reasons that players might offer as justification for them recognizing some aspect of property. Representing the player's side in an inarticulate or mis-cast way should not lead the reader to assume that these are the strongest arguments for (at least) a limited form of recognition of player interests, nor that the question is therefore settled in favor of "it's only property if the VW operator says so".

Pitfall #2 shows a whole collection of arguments that are fundamentally inapplicable under the philosopohy I outlined above.

VW operators don't have "a duty to ensure that these characteristics do not change in such a manner as to affect unduly the value of their associated objects" any more than Alan Greenspan has an actionable duty to never adjust interest rates... because that might affect the value of my stocks. It's a generally nonsensical argument for a player to make.

It's therefore irrational IMO to expect that courts would ever find that VW operators would be "obligated to guarantee that virtual objects' values won't substantially change as a result of anything they do".

The remainder of the argument is built upon this flimsy edifice of "this might happen, because players complain!".

As I showed with the example of a transferrable lifetime pass to an amusement park, there are plenty of real-world analogs to alienable interests losing value because of actions taken by a business.

Just as we would expect no victory in a lawsuit alleging damages against Wally World because they shut down a portion of their rides or announced they are going out of business, we would likewise expect that judges would rightfully find that the expectation of constant value was irrational on the part of the purchaser.

You wrote "this may all seem overly-alarmist", and it is. In cases where a concensus of reasonableness cannot be reached by the parties involved in a business transaction, reasonableness often CAN BE defined... it is often defined in this case by the courts.

My outlined philosophy addresses the heart of Pitfall #3. It is the transfer of unearned power that is at the root of the "unfairness" arguement with respect to items, and I submit that identity should very likely not be alienable at all, for the same reason no one else gets to take my driver's test. We are certifying an aspect of ME, and that aspect is not transferrable.

If it's not an alienable interest, then there's no objection to acting against those who treat the interests as if they were. Players who buy and sell their avatars would be akin to someone buying or selling a fake ID.

Likewise with Pitfall #4: It is the unearned transfer of power that is the heart of the resentment. Commodification that doesn't impact the competitive advantage landscape will generally not bring about that kind of resentment. Making identity rightfully inalienable means that there is no "inflation of status" via commodification.

Player camping for rewarding content is a fundamentally in-game issue that calls for in-game solutions, and happens in the absence of commodification anyway.

Fraud is a possibility in commodified transactions, but there are already real-world solutions to deal with that. Brokerages seem to be a good interim solution to the problem, but as we see with the case of GOM, if operators are going to refuse to cooperate with brokerages who seek to reduce the risks of scamming for the player base, it's going to be pretty hard to establish effective brokerages.

Blizzard took a very "agnostic" approach to real-world commodification with Diablo II. They made it clear to the player base that such transactions were wholly unsupported and not recommended, and that players were taking all of the risks upon themselves if they engaged in them. Players knew that they could be ripped off, and they generally factored that into their financial calculus on the time/value computation.

Pitfall #5 is clearly the stickiest of areas, and the hardest to navigate cleanly. My outlined philosophy indicates that commodification of in-game items isn't much of an issue of IP rights, because nothing is being added or removed from the game in this case... a player is simply exercising their in-game ability to move the objects around. Since the VW operator set up the world to make moving these things around a valid concept, this doesn't strike me as an IP issue. Both parties in the transaction have already purchased their access to the world, and the in-game actions that the characters take are already accepted as valid.

All we are left with alienable interests within the world. A player engaging in item commodification is not infringing on a developer's IP, because they are not selling the IP at all... they are selling their own consideration, and that consideration is simply not in the domain of the developer.

Wally World would probably find themselves running into problems if they make their lifetime pass transferrable, and then tried to cancel the pass if they don't like the reasons that a player had for transferring it.

Getting back to your “escape from a prisoner of war camp” scenario, it would clearly be possible to create that under what I outlined, because I don't accept the player arguments in Pitfall #2.
Now, if you want to make it that players can trade their shovels to other players as much as they want, I think you might have problems when you try to stop people from selling their decision to transfer it.

But guards taking the shovels from any prisoner they find with one? Of course that's legitimate, even under commodification. It's a part of the landscape, and that doesn't differentiate between players who trade their shovels for friendship, and those who are persuaded by money.

Richard> Er, no, I merely read the paper and reported what I read. You’re the one who put words in their mouths.

*Boggle*... I quoted them VERBATIM. How is that putting words in their mouths? You, on the other hand, didn't just report what you read... you stated WHAT THEY WERE THINKING when they wrote it.

If anyone was putting words in their mouth, it was you...

Barry> A far more reasonable expectation that might arise out of recognizing property rights in VWs is that VW operators might need to provide "fair notice" for some stipulated (but clearly finite)time period to allow people to realize/convert at least a portion of the values which are present within the world.

Richard> They do this right now: the stipulated time is 0 seconds.

No one can realize or convert values in zero seconds, by definition. The stipulation that I was referring to was the possibility (however remote) that some day a judge might say that a VW needs to stay open a bit longer, in order to afford people at least some opportunity to convert. The stipulation would be court-ordered. I think it's a vanishingly small chance that it would ever happen. However, I think it makes good sense to give people an opportunity to wrap up their affairs with something like a 90-day or six-month notice, for instance.

Richard> If I, as a VW developer, changed the code to make the Sword of Truth stronger, its value would presumably go up. If I changed it to make it weaker, its value would go down. If I made it so weak that it broke upon contact with the enemy, its value would sink to next to nothing. You’re going to allow me, as a developer, to do that? To render your objects utterly worthless without going so far as actually destroying them? Cool! I can work with that.

Of course that's allowable! I'm assuming, of course, that the term "you" refers to the entire player base, not just commodifiers. I fully recognize the need for balancing, adjustment and game fixes. I see no problem with Swords of Truth disappearing across the entire world even though I bought one yesterday... that's part of the risk of buying the ephemeral. There's no need for a pretense of "can't destroy them", of course you can destroy them if their existence imbalances the world.

Where it gets problematic is when you try to exercise the power of destruction/confiscation from only a SUBSET of the players, who have motives you don't like... for instance, cancelling the accounts of those who received money to motivate them to trade a Sword of Truth, but none of those who traded their Swords for friendship or obligation.

If you make them alienable by practice, you're going to need to accept the real-world implications of that alienability. Since you clearly have the ability to make them globally inalienable between characters in practice (through game mechanics or rules), you can stop the impact of alienability... instead of confiscating the interests of those who alienate for motivations that you don't like, and letting others alienate freely.

As I said, I'm happy to play in (and will gladly PAY TO PLAY IN) some games where players cannot transfer unearned power. In games where the transfer of unearned power is rampant, I reserve my right to be motivated to make that transfer in either direction for my own reasons, including financial ones.

To the extent that you create real-world values that are alienable, you'll probably run afoul of the law when trying to interfere with someone alienating for financial reasons.

The solution is rather simple... eliminate alienable transfers of unearned power, and you'll see no problems with commodification of in-game chattels.

Identity is almost certainly an inalienable concept, so avatar sales in environments where the VW operator defines identity as non-transferrable obviously aren't covered by that.

I'm not trying to run roughshod over VW operators' right to run their world, Richard... I'm just trying to get some acknowledgement that players should have the right to make their own decisions about things that are DEFINED as alienable by practice, without facing a loss of their assets because a VW operator doesn't like the reasons behind the decision.

That's not much for VW operators to give up, after all. It's barely an inch, yet you seem to react as if it's a mile and then some.

Perhaps it's time to step away from the concept that the operators have to have 100% of the rights and the customers must have 0%. I think that things can get much better if VW operators are willing to give a tiny fraction of acknowledgement that players have some interests in these worlds too under certain circumstances, and that there are reasonable accomodations that operators should make for those interests.

76.

Tobold>I would define "naturally hard" as the amount of effort you would need to achieve a goal if there was no other player interfering.

In other words, “natural” is defined by the designer?

>What resources are you talking about? We are talking of virtual property here, which can exist in unlimited supply.

Yes, but if everyone can have whatever they want, where’s the game?

>If players desire the sword of uberness, dropped by the fearsome red dragon, why not hand the damn sword to everybody killing that dragon?

Why not hand it to everyone who wants it, whether they killed the dragon or not?

>You talk about breaking the magic circle with commodification, but isn't the magic circle broken as well when the player reaches the dragon cave, is forced by his peers to stand in line until it is his turn to slay the dragon, and has to wait several hours once it is his turn for the dragon to spawn, meanwhile reading a book?

No. The sense of being immersed in the virtual world is trashed by that, but the magic circle isn’t.

> one of the results of it is that most players are "explorers". Meaning that if there is an interesting quest resulting in a reward, more people would like to actually do the quest than buy the reward on EBay.

Explorers do the quest whether there is a reward or not, because the quest itself is interesting. When people do it for rewards, they’re more likely to be achievers.

> You get significantly less commodification if the reward you get for a quest at a certain level is only usable by characters of that level and up.

I agree. I wouldn’t prohibit people at a lower level from using an object, though, just make it that they don’t use it well. After all, I’d be useless with a handgun (I’ve never held one) whereas someone who goes to the shooting range after work every day could take out the eye of a kitten at 200 paces. Same weapon, but not the same utility.

Richard

77.

Barry Kearns>You seem to be operating from the premise that if any one aspect or provision of virtual property is realized, then every pitfall you cite will therefore come to pass.

No, I’m not. I explicitly say so in my paper.

> a "take no prisoners, brook no quarter" attitude towards virtual property doesn't serve the interests of improving relations between customers and providers.

I don’t care. If the wrong virtual property laws are passed, there might not be any virtual property to own anyway.

>Therefore, the only aspects of commidification that I consider "in-bounds" are those involving in-game currency or items, or more apppropriately the subset of those things that the developers already allow the players to freely trade between characters.

Yes, this is the ideal situation. It’s what to do when we can’t have this ideal situation where we have our differences.

> I contend that harmful commodification arises because of the distorting nature of these objects.

Perhaps it does. That does not mean that designers should be forced not to have them, though. Plenty of games have objects with distorting natures; indeed, obtaining those objects can be the very point of the game. It should be open for people who design virtual worlds to have such objects in them, because they make the playing experience fun. If commodification makes it unfun, as we agree it does, then I don’t see that they should have to remove the pressure for commodification if that also makes it unfun. Just get rid of those who commodify, and let the rest of the player base get on with having fun.

>Ulitmately, I see this as an in-game design issue, where the in-game ability to transfer unearned power is the corrosive which is damaging game play.

It could be driving the gameplay. Look, if you want to be a game designer, go ahead and design some games, that’s fine by me. Just don’t try to make other designers change their designs because you, as a player, don’t like them.

>Pitfall #1 doesn't really strike me as a pitfall at all...

If courts say there is no such thing as virtual property, it isn’t. If they say there is, it is.

>Pitfall #2 shows a whole collection of arguments that are fundamentally inapplicable under the philosopohy I outlined above.

You’re saying that if there is no commodification, pitfall #2 doesn’t apply. That’s correct. That’s why I predicated my paper on the assumption that there would be commodification.

>VW operators don't have "a duty to ensure that these characteristics do not change in such a manner as to affect unduly the value of their associated objects"

Great. I can remove commodification by changing the in-world properties of any commodified object to make it useless. See how much your Sword of Uberness will sell for if I make it too heavy to pick up!

>I submit that identity should very likely not be alienable at all, for the same reason no one else gets to take my driver's test.

I agree.

>Making identity rightfully inalienable means that there is no "inflation of status" via commodification.

If power were imbued solely in identity, this would be true. Unfortunately, there are secondary measures (eg. powerful objects) and these can also lead to inflation of status. Our disagreement stems from the fact that you think that all exchanges of secondary-power objects for non-game reasons should be banned, whereas I think that it’s often sufficient to ban just the more practical or poisonous forms of exchange.

>*Boggle*... I quoted them VERBATIM. How is that putting words in their mouths?

You said “I think my position is rather aligned with the observations made by our TN moderators”. Those weren’t observations, those were conjectures.

>No one can realize or convert values in zero seconds, by definition.

Correct. They should therefore understand that anything they buy is absolutely “as is” and could disappear instantly. They should factor this into the prices they wish to pay for a virtual object. If you can’t realise or convert values, that means you’re buying nothing but faith. If more players understood that, perhaps commodification wouldn’t be quite as much a problem.

>The stipulation that I was referring to was the possibility (however remote) that some day a judge might say that a VW needs to stay open a bit longer, in order to afford people at least some opportunity to convert.

And I was saying that your argument had other implications that you were choosing to ignore.

Me>To render your objects utterly worthless without going so far as actually destroying them? Cool! I can work with that.
Barry>Of course that's allowable! I'm assuming, of course, that the term "you" refers to the entire player base, not just commodifiers.

Why not just commodifiers? If they’re allowed to trade for out-of-world reasons, why can’t the developers smash their objects to nothingness for out-of-world reasons too?

>There's no need for a pretense of "can't destroy them", of course you can destroy them if their existence imbalances the world.

As a commodified object, your particular sword imbalances the world. I therefore should be allowed to destroy it.

>Since you clearly have the ability to make them globally inalienable between characters in practice (through game mechanics or rules)

But changing the rules can spoil the game. I don’t want to change the rules, I want to get rid of the rule-breakers.

>instead of confiscating the interests of those who alienate for motivations that you don't like, and letting others alienate freely.

As I’ve said before, some rule-breakers are easier to deal with than others, and some cause more damage than others. Commodifiers satisfy both of these criteria.

Some players use love to buy them money. Some players use money to buy them love. Ideally, we should have neither, but we can’t get rid of the first one because we can’t tell love from altruism. We can get rid of the second, so let’s do it.

>The solution is rather simple... eliminate alienable transfers of unearned power, and you'll see no problems with commodification of in-game chattels.

Simple in theory, difficult in practice.

>I'm just trying to get some acknowledgement that players should have the right to make their own decisions about things that are DEFINED as alienable by practice, without facing a loss of their assets because a VW operator doesn't like the reasons behind the decision.

Those things are defined as alienable for characters, not for players.

>That's not much for VW operators to give up, after all. It's barely an inch, yet you seem to react as if it's a mile and then some.

It’s one of those “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” things.

> I think that things can get much better if VW operators are willing to give a tiny fraction of acknowledgement that players have some interests in these worlds too under certain circumstances, and that there are reasonable accomodations that operators should make for those interests.

Some VW developers are like that. SL gives players more rights than other VWs do. While I like it that VWs such as SL exist, I don’t want every VW to have to be like SL, though.

Richard

78.

If Barry and Richard keep issuing a new volume of this each day, I'm *never* going to catch up. Just wanted to note that Simon has taken note of the Gamespot coverage of the paper over at Slashdot Games and there are some reactions in the comments over there -- which I also have not read.

79.

Barry> I contend that harmful commodification arises because of the distorting nature of these objects.

Richard> Perhaps it does. That does not mean that designers should be forced not to have them, though. Plenty of games have objects with distorting natures; indeed, obtaining those objects can be the very point of the game. It should be open for people who design virtual worlds to have such objects in them, because they make the playing experience fun.

Since the context I established for "these objects" was that they embodied transferrable UNEARNED power, this sounds like you're trying to make the case that twinking is the point of some games, and the ability to twink is what makes it fun.

Is that your position? Can you give an example of a competitive commercial game where twinking leaves the game fun for all, but commodification doesn't?

I contend there are no such games that are commercially viable, nor will there be.

Richard> If commodification makes it unfun, as we agree it does

No, we don't agree that commodification itself makes it unfun. Some of us believe that this is a stalking horse, and it's the twinking that makes it unfun... the commodification is simply a side-effect of the problem that is truly making it unfun for many. Since item commodification is only a subset of twinking (twinking for certain reasons), the twinking problem will always be at the root of this "unfun" aspect.

If anything, I think commodification allows many players to restore the competitive abilities that twinking took away. From that perspective, I think commodification in response to rampant twinking is not unfun at all... it is a rational response to a competitive landscape that is distorted by twinking.

Richard> Just don’t try to make other designers change their designs because you, as a player, don’t like them.

I'm not trying to force anyone to change a design... I'm trying to point out that there are NATURAL CONSEQUENCES to certain design decisions, and that developers should either live with those consequences or design differently, rather than trying to stomp on the rights and interests of a subsection of their player base that makes the natural consequence obvious.

I'm not saying anyone has to design their game in a certain way, and I'm definitely not saying that every game must contain the same kind of property as all others... what I'm saying is that VW operators shouldn't be immune from the real-world implications of what they CHOOSE to design, nor should frustrations that arise from the imperfect realization of their visions serve as an excuse to infringe on the rights of some of their customers.

Richard> You’re saying that if there is no commodification, pitfall #2 doesn’t apply. That’s correct. That’s why I predicated my paper on the assumption that there would be commodification.

I'm saying nothing of the kind. I'm saying that just because the courts might recognize a rational argument that players own their own decisions (they have a right of self-determination and dispensation), that doesn't automatically imply that the irrational argument that property must have constant value will be ALSO be accepted.

In other words, commodification is not always some monolithic package of whatever nightmare attributes you might think up... it's possible to have limited forms of commodification that are far more palatable than just accepting into law any ridiculous argument that any player might make.

Richard> Why not just commodifiers? If they’re allowed to trade for out-of-world reasons, why can’t the developers smash their objects to nothingness for out-of-world reasons too?

For the same reason that other business owners can't arbitrarily destroy or confiscate the alienable interests of a fraction of their customers for personal reasons... it's an unfair business practice (and likely a restraint of trade issue in this case as well).

We wouldn't find it OK for motels to confiscate the luggage or car keys of those who use hotel rooms for extra-marital love affairs, even if we find such behavior personally repugnant.

I suspect contract provisions in a motel agreement that tried to codify such behavior would be struck down in a lawsuit by someone trying to get their stuff back, too.

Richard> As a commodified object, your particular sword imbalances the world. I therefore should be allowed to destroy it.

Nonsense... the sword imbalanced the world when you gave it the ability to give unearned power, and it is precisely as imbalancing as the same-model sword that a guildmaster just gave to a newbie member.

Richard> Those things are defined as alienable for characters, not for players.

Since characters don't think, nor do they make decisions or make financial transactions either, the value of that character and their chattels inheres to the player who controls it.

The chattels themselves clearly cannot be exported from the game world into the real world and retain their value, so were are left with the INTERESTS in controlling the behavior of the character, and the ability to instruct the character to dispose of their chattels as the player sees fit.

The VW operator defines (through the physics of the world and the rules enforced thereby) how the character may perform actions, and whether it is possible to assign the associated chattels to other characters... but that does not imply that the DECISIONS and motivations of the player who operates it are therefore the property of the VW owner.

They clearly are not. Players own their decisions and motivations. Since the power of alienability arises from the ability to make decisions regarding the disposition, the alienability of the INTEREST in the chattels inheres to the player.

Of course, I'm not a lawyer, but that seems to logically follow as far as I can see.

Richard> It’s one of those “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” things.

Ah, I see. The mating call of zealots everywhere.

Richard> While I like it that VWs such as SL exist, I don’t want every VW to have to be like SL, though.

Neither do I, and it doesn't logically follow that accepting a very limited form of recognition of player rights would mean that every VW would have to be like SL.

An infinite number of different games are possible under such a recognition, using almost any theme and structure imaginable. I can't think of a game structure that's not possible under such a ruling, in fact.

Some VW operators might want to recognize the implications of their design choices, and might want to design their games to take that into account... but that's a natural part of dealing with other people who have rights, too. They don't *have to* redesign, of course, but they also don't get to wish away the effects either if doing so impacts the rights of others.

Not all business visions can be realized and viable if the vision includes intrusion upon the rights of others, after all. We don't assume, however, that businesses should therefore never be regulated because the loss of some possible business visions is too high a cost to bear.

The landscape of rights in a real-world free society circumscribes our allowable actions. VW operators should not be immune from the provisions that everyone else must cope with, just because they run a VW.

If you want to make it a strictly non-commercial venture, you'll probably have significantly greater freedoms in your VW. But to the extent that you make it a commercial venture, you should expect that regulation is going to quite likely affect your business in some way.

It still boggles me that people would complain about the effects of commerce intruding on their commercial venture... I guess it takes all kinds, though. =P


80.

Greg> If Barry and Richard keep issuing a new volume of this each day, I'm *never* going to catch up.

Sorry, Greg... I should have reviewed the comments in reverse order. =/

I'm certainly willing to take a break if Richard is... ;)

81.

Barry Hearns>Since the context I established for "these objects" was that they embodied transferrable UNEARNED power, this sounds like you're trying to make the case that twinking is the point of some games, and the ability to twink is what makes it fun.

That’s not what I meant to suggest. Although I do think that it should be open to designers to allow whatever forms of twinking they like, I believe that in a game-like context any twinking is bad. My argument was from the standpoint that some twinking is worse than others, and some is harder to stop than others. Any locusts on a farm is bad, but 1,000 aren’t as bad as 1,000,000,000.

>No, we don't agree that commodification itself makes it unfun. Some of us believe that this is a stalking horse, and it's the twinking that makes it unfun...

I concur – it’s the effects of commodification that are the problem. However, I don’t think we really gain much from making a distinction between the action and its effects, as the two are inseparable.

>Since item commodification is only a subset of twinking (twinking for certain reasons), the twinking problem will always be at the root of this "unfun" aspect.

Yes, again we agree. We agree that these game-like VWs would be better with no twinking at all. We disagree in that you think that if one form of twinking is allowed, all forms should be. I think that just because we can’t get rid of all twinking, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get rid of as much as we can, particularly if that gets us down to manageable levels. I also feel that if a VW designer wants to make a VW that is in favour of one form of twinking but not in favour of another, that’s within their rights (even if I don’t think the resulting VW would be all that great).

>I'm not trying to force anyone to change a design... I'm trying to point out that there are NATURAL CONSEQUENCES to certain design decisions, and that developers should either live with those consequences or design differently, rather than trying to stomp on the rights and interests of a subsection of their player base that makes the natural consequence obvious.

Stomping on the (perceived, if not actual) rights of a subset of their player base is, in developer terms, “living with the consequences”.

>I'm saying is that VW operators shouldn't be immune from the real-world implications of what they CHOOSE to design

They’re not. They will lose the patronage of commodifiers if they come down hard on them. It will cost them money to police their rules. They have to take all that into account when deciding whether it’s worth pursuing commodifiers or not.

>it's possible to have limited forms of commodification that are far more palatable than just accepting into law any ridiculous argument that any player might make.

As commodification is a form of twinking, you’re saying that it’s possible to have limited forms of twinking, too. Developers might agree, and point out that the way they limit twinking is to stop the commodification variety of it. This, to many players, is far more palatable than just accepting into law any ridiculous argument that any player might make.

>We wouldn't find it OK for motels to confiscate the luggage or car keys of those who use hotel rooms for extra-marital love affairs, even if we find such behavior personally repugnant.

No, but we would expect them to recover their TV sets if a guest in one room sold theirs to a guest in another room.

>Nonsense... the sword imbalanced the world when you gave it the ability to give unearned power

I, as developer, decides what imbalances the VW, not you, as player.

>Since characters don't think, nor do they make decisions or make financial transactions either, the value of that character and their chattels inheres to the player who controls it.

No, they don’t. In a game of D&D, your character may own a ring of 3 wishes but that doesn’t mean you, the player, owns it. The DM could take it off you on a whim. Likewise, a character in a movie may own a bazooka, but that doesn’t mean the actor playing the character owns it.

>The VW operator defines (through the physics of the world and the rules enforced thereby) how the character may perform actions, and whether it is possible to assign the associated chattels to other characters...

Those same physics enable certain characters to take stuff off you if they like. It’s the software (ie,. the physics) that lets my admin-powered character disintegrate your sword. Part of what gives your sword its value is the software that controls it, and that software enables my character to obliterate your sword: you should factor that into the equation of what you feel your sword is worth.

>Since the power of alienability arises from the ability to make decisions regarding the disposition, the alienability of the INTEREST in the chattels inheres to the player.

Those objects are only alienable with respect to characters, not players. Players may claim interests in their characters’ alienable objects, but they can’t from there say that those objects are alienable for them. If I sell you my interests in a virtual sword, it doesn’t even mean my character has to hand it over to yours – you may “own” it, but unless my character hands it to yours you can’t do anything with it.

Me> It’s one of those “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” things.
Barry>Ah, I see. The mating call of zealots everywhere.

Not just zealots. In fact, not even mainly zealots.

Your “foot in the door” approach is the mating call of scammers everywhere, but that doesn’t mean you’re one.

>Neither do I, and it doesn't logically follow that accepting a very limited form of recognition of player rights would mean that every VW would have to be like SL.

It doesn’t logically follow that it wouldn’t, either.

>An infinite number of different games are possible under such a recognition

It’s nevertheless still a subset of the infinite number of games that are possible without it.

>I can't think of a game structure that's not possible under such a ruling, in fact.

Well the ones we have at the moment would seem to fit, unless by “structure” you mean something a lot more vague than I do.

>Not all business visions can be realized and viable if the vision includes intrusion upon the rights of others, after all. We don't assume, however, that businesses should therefore never be regulated because the loss of some possible business visions is too high a cost to bear.

We nevertheless do recognise that for some businesses the cost really IS too high to bear. We then have to decide whether we want those businesses to exist, or whether to close them down. As I explained earlier, we want hardware shops to give access to customers who live in plastic bubbles, but the cost of giving access is too high. Should we close down all hardware shops?

>VW operators should not be immune from the provisions that everyone else must cope with, just because they run a VW.

If those provisions make running a particular kind of VW impossible, and this particular kind of VW is deemed to be worth persevering, then yes, they should.

Under your suggestion, even those virtual worlds that outlaw ALL twinking, whether through friends or through commodification, would have to allow people to buy and sell stuff. Those are provisions that everyone has to live with, so why should the VW be any different? Because the VW is different!

>It still boggles me that people would complain about the effects of commerce intruding on their commercial venture...

Different types of commerce. In the UK, the computer game Driv3r was released this week, several days after it was released elsewhere in Europe. This was so that the promoters could concentrate their efforts on a territory at a time. Unfortunately, some of the copies that went for sale in Europe were shipped by cross-territory stores to the UK and sold before the main UK launch. This gave the companies that did this a competitive advantage, and spoiled the launch of the main product somewhat. Both are types of commerce, but one type affects the other. DVDs have zone codes on them to try stop this sort of thing for movies.


> I'm certainly willing to take a break if Richard is... ;)

We’re going to fall off the front page anyway next time there’s a new topic, so it’s OK by me. I’ll let you have the final word if you want it: if you reply to this post, I shan’t reply to yours.

Richard

82.

"Barry Hearns>"

That's twice now you've done that. It's quite annoying. My last name is Kearns. With a letter "k". That one between J and L both in the English alphabet and on a standard keyboard. You've spelled it right plenty of times before, but very recently you've started in with this mis-spelling. That makes me think it's deliberate.

I imagine you'd be a bit bothered if I started addressing you as Richard Fartle, so please show me the courtesy of respecting my name in the future.

In deference to Greg, I'll save my rebuttals to the points you raised in the most recent round until he's caught up. It goes without saying that there are more than a few points there with which I disagree.

83.

I think it would be great if we made a collaborative compilation of the for/against of each point. The girth of this issue has caused numerous backtracking, and we would benefit from having some structure.

84.

Barry Kearns>That's twice now you've done that. It's quite annoying. My last name is Kearns.

I apologise - I hadn't realised I'd done that. Normally when I reply to posts I type them directly into the box, but the responses here have been getting so long that I did it in Word instead. Because of Word's cut & paste exactitude, I don't paste in the name or it gives me a table rather than just the text. I type the name in separately. Somewhere between reading your name and writing it, I managed to convert the K to H; I think it's because Barry Hearns is a name occasionally heard in the UK (he's a boxing promoter). No slight was intended, and I'm sorry if one was taken.

As it happens, I'm quite used to people misspelling my own surname.

Richard

85.

> Me: If players desire the sword of uberness, dropped by the fearsome red dragon, why not hand the damn sword to everybody killing that dragon?

> Richard: Why not hand it to everyone who wants it, whether they killed the dragon or not?

You know the answer to that one, but I don't mind spelling it out: Getting the sword for killing the dragon is the game, the fun. People do not mind having to kill the dragon, just the opposite, they want to kill the dragon, however hard it is in in-game terms. If you need to assemble a group of 50 players to kill the dragon, people will organize groups of 50 players and not complain. The sword is the reward. It is desirable by itself, but even more desirable as memento of a heroic deed. "This is the sword I took from the dragons hoard" is just so much better than "this is the sword my guild mate gave me" or "this is the sword I bought on EBay".

The process of having to kill the dragon to get the sword pits the players against the game, it is predictable. Yes, the "natural" level of difficulty is determined by the developers, which are human, but they won't change the difficulty level of the dragon every week.

What people resent is the unpredictable influence of other players on their game. One player goes to the cave, slays the dragon, gets the sword. The next player, having the same amount of skill, comes 5 minutes later and now has 8 hours of forced downtime until the dragon respawns. Obviously he considers that as unfair. He also develops some negative feeling against whoever "stole" "his" dragon. Hadn't he reserved dragon-slaying time on www.reservethedragon.com (of which the other player was blissfully unaware)?

Note that this negative feeling is due to having somebody else having killed the dragon. You could well decree (as a developer), that the SAME player can only kill the dragon once per day, and that the chance of him dropping the sword was only 10%, if you feel that this is necessary to make the sword rare and valuable. And the players would have much less of a problem with that, because it still lets them organize a dragon killing session with their friends for next Saturday, without having to fear that Saturday is somebody elses dragon killing day as well.

If the player sees a clear in-game path to his goal, he is going to take that path. If he gets repeatedly frustrated in his efforts to achieve the sword by other players having always been there first, and him unable to spend 8 hours in front of the keyboard to reserve his place in the dragon slaying queue, he is going to buy the sword on EBay. And the people in the dragon slaying queue will increasedly be third world workers paid by Black Snow et al., trying to corner the market on dragon swords. Take away the direct and unfair competition for the sword, and the market is gone.

86.

Tobold>You could well decree (as a developer), that the SAME player can only kill the dragon once per day

I favor Blizzard's answer to the problem in this case: soulbinding (though I'd significantly raise the lower limit of what gets soulbound). The most powerful items become keyed to the individual who first touches them. This is readily explained by in-game lore so it doesn't manifest as an invisible barrier, while the above might. It also completely eradicates any farming or selling of the items.

87.

As I understood Blizzard's system (according to what I read on the board) soulbinding only happens when the item is first equipped.

I guess that means that you can still farm and sell items, but they won't keep recirculating in the item economy.

They also seem to be adding features to accomodate the buying and selling of items. It seems like it would make little to spend a lot of energy developing a robust trading system if no one uses it because there's nothing to trade.

Not neccessarily a fact, just an observation.

88.

MM>As I understood Blizzard's system (according to what I read on the board) soulbinding only happens when the item is first equipped.

I'm pretty certain that, as it is now, all quest items are soulbound when they are acquired. Crafted items however, are bind on equip, of course.

89.

Greg wrote (on July 1st):

"Barry,

I'd like to comment but I still haven't caught up with this thread and the GOM thread."

Were you planning on commenting, Greg, or have you decided to just let this fall by the wayside?

I had been withholding my additional comments while waiting for you to catch up.

90.

Sorry -- had no idea that you were waiting for me to say something.

But yes, I finished reading Richard's paper and the thread -- I've actually not got much to say. It's a good paper, Richard. For the most part I agree with the thrust of the conclusions, except for part 5, which is an area I tend to be very picky about-- but I'll take those issues up with Richard some time. Actually, Dan and I have something coming out on SSRN before too long and there are plenty of similarities in our approach/issues.

I do like your initial point, Barry, that twinking and eBaying and gifting look exactly the same. But Richard is right that it is perfectly acceptable to ban extra-game actions by contract when they influence game play. And Will is right that there are good reasons for game companies to take this conservative approach to virtual property issues. I take it that you agree this type of extra-game regulation *can* be done legally by game owners, but you think it should not be done, because it is unethical.

Law and ethics can influence one another, but it would be a real mistake to conflate the two. The debate between you and Richard isn't much of a legal argument, but it seems to be an argument about ethics. The interesting thing about your perspective, Barry, is that it is so unusual. I think many people equate eBaying with cheating.

91.

Greg wrote:

"I do like your initial point, Barry, that twinking and eBaying and gifting look exactly the same. But Richard is right that it is perfectly acceptable to ban extra-game actions by contract when they influence game play."

One of the points I've been trying to make is that there are certain out-of-game actions that simply should not fall into the purview of VW operators... and the current tactic of confiscation employed by some VW operators may be leading us all to a train wreck - one that is largely preventable, IMO.

There's a blurring of lines that's taking place in how the whole concept of commodification is being represented in Richard's paper.

To quote: "The key word in the discussion that follows is commodification - the transformation of previously noncommercial relationships into commercial ones."

One of the key insights that I don't see being made clear is that the commercial relationship (for the subcategory of commodification that I've been discussing) does not have the VW operator as a party. This is a case of two PLAYERS making their relationship commercial.

It's clear that this sort of relationship cropping up (in reference to some player's interests in a VW) offends the sensibilities of some VW operators. I simply don't think that sense of being offended is an acceptable reason to confiscate the values of the associated players.

If a player is causing their character to perform in-game actions that are inherently disruptive, then I think it's clearly acceptable to make that a deniable offense. But we are talking about in-game actions there... and if VW operators wanted to consistently enforce against the IN-GAME actions, then I'd have no issues at all. Twinking would become the bannable offense, and everyone would be on an even playing field.

But when they allow twinking and gifting, and the associated major transfers of unearned power, they are making the in-game actions inherently acceptable. Once they do that, then all we are left with is the out-of-game motivations for performing the twinking. Frankly, those motivations should be none of the VW operator's business, IMO.

As a society, we generally don't allow confiscation of other people's property based solely on finding someone's outside activities offensive. However, that's the defacto standard that's been put into place in many existing EULAs.

There are exceptions to that rule... we see them in "morals clauses", which is why I brought that subject up.

Part of the reason for trying to start that side-discussion was to (hopefully) lead to the eventual demonstration that morals clauses were certainly appropriate in cases where someone is REPRESENTING an organization, but that we probably wouldn't find them acceptable in our more ordinary customer/provider interactions.

I know that I wouldn't find it OK if Wal-Mart was going to force all customers to sign a contract before entering the store, which allowed them to confiscate the credit balances of any customer who did something away from the store that the executives found distasteful. If it were only Wal-Mart, that would be one thing... but what happens if the other major retailers then follow suit?

Personally, I think the whole concept of referencing these in-game items and currency as "property" simply confuses the issue.

These items exist only inside the VW, and by the nature of the VW their existence has only an ephemeral meaning (at best).

These items are not being bought and sold. A "sold" item is not brought into existence or removed from the world because of the outside transaction. Nothing is created or destroyed in these in-game sales. There are not one more (or one fewer) Swords of Foozle-Whacking in the game as part of the outside sale itself.

These are only created or destroyed as a function of the in-game actions of the characters... and such in-game actions are at the very heart of what makes many of these games interesting.

Instead, these things are just MOVED AROUND, and players are already permitted to move these things around in VWs that employ code that makes such movements powerful (twink-heavy VWs).

What, then, is being bought and sold? A player's interest. A player is selling their CONSIDERATION, and a player's consideration is not something that a VW operator should ever try to lay claim to as "their property".

It clearly is not. I own my decisions, my consideration, and my motivations.

Greg> "I take it that you agree this type of extra-game regulation *can* be done legally by game owners, but you think it should not be done, because it is unethical."

I think today that this is "legal" only in the sense that no one has yet mounted and followed through on a significant legal challenge of these types of EULA provisions.

In a case of conflicting interests such as this, I personally do *NOT* look forward to the prospect of significant litigation and legislation as a means of effective resolution... I see that as the "train wreck" that I referenced earlier.

I hold little hope that litigation or legislation would leave the landscape better off afterwards. Law is often a blunt instrument that can do much more harm than good, especially given the wide variety of different VW environments we see.

What, then, are we left with? My hope is that, instead of the "take no prisoners" approach that Richard seems to advocate, we might see VW operators moving towards more reasonable accomodations for the interests of some of their players. Self-regulation and a bit of reasonable recognition might prevent the heavy hand of external regulation from hampering us all.

I don't think reasonable accomodating has to be the death knell for VWs, either. I consider myself to be, in many respects, an advocate for one of the very mildest possible subsets of "player property rights".

I think if VW operators make clear that there is a good reason that identity should not be alienable, there's a strong defense that prevents character transfers... and such transfers themselves would be a legitimate reason to eliminate the character. I doubt that avatar sales would be upheld as a legitimate (and hence salable) transfer of interests, so that's out of the picture.

That leaves items and currency. I have no problem whatsoever with the concept of making any given type of object non-transferrable between characters, or restrictions that constrain the benefits that lower-level characters receive from high-level items.

The only thing that I'm advocating is that VW operators recognize that if (and only if) they make valuable things transferrable, people will transfer those things for whatever motivations they might have... and those reasons belong to the players involved, not the VW operator.

If players transferring these things creates balance issues, then address the balance issues via in-game mechanics. But if VW operators persist in creating valuable tranferrable interests for the players, and then confiscate those interests because they don't like a player's reasons for showing consideration, I think they are simply ASKING for the hammer to fall... and I doubt anyone will be happy with the results.

Greg> "The interesting thing about your perspective, Barry, is that it is so unusual. I think many people equate eBaying with cheating."

I think a great many of the players out there who eBay today would be willing to give it up in exchange for elimination of the fundamental cause in their games... the transfer of unearned power. That transfer is the root "cheating" aspect. That's why there is so much animosity against twinkers. eBaying just becomes a special case of twinking.

VW operators have a variety of tools at their disposal to accomplish that goal, given that they control the underlying physics of their VW.

VWs that have no significant transfers of unearned power also have no problems with harmful item commodification... and represent a fundamentally "more fair" environment to all players as well. Accomplishments mean much, much more when you know that everyone earned them.

When the competitive landscape is already grossly polluted by rampant twinking, it's a fairly logical and rational step (for many) to "keeping up with the Joneses" via eBay.

I think my perspective might be a lot more common than you might suspect... I'm sure a great many eBayers simply don't express their opinions publicly because of the confiscatory penalties that are often in place. Instead, they keep their heads down, and try to fly under the radar.

I'll save responses to Richard's more recent postings for another time.

92.

Barry --

Thanks for the response.

93.

Until twinking can teach you how to heal, pull, kite, crowd control, group, navigate, manage aggro, motivate, lead raids and develop winning strategies, skilled players will continue to recognize that it is not a threat in any way (and these are just PvE skills). The same is often said of eBaying or macroing, and to borrow another sentiment from those topics, if getting a sword+5 from your friend causes you to win the game, the game is trite and meaningless.

Not allowing player trading is an especially hamfisted way of fixing something that isn't a problem. Not allowing players to interact might decrease griefing too, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea. The social interactions and economy that arise from player traded goods is incredibly important to many gamers. There can be no clear deliniation between twinking and the majority of guild activities such as pooling resources and selling to guildmembers at discounted rates. This is socialization, human interaction, and it's the reason we pay $12 a month instead of just playing KOTOR or FF X. The decision to not twink to the point of abuse, if you believe such a place exists, is a personal one that is made for the same reasons I don't have my roommate play the game for me.

I've appreciated your perspective on the similarites between twinking and commodification, which I think was well thought out as well as tenaciously argued. That these similarities require developers to respond in the same manner is not a point I'd concede just yet. I don't see twinking as promoting grief play in the same manner that say Adena farming is so notorious for, so I would expect developers to respond proportionally.

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