9.18.2005Discussion of the Post article: Virtual Games Create A Real World Market
Kellen's auction is just one example of how increasingly popular online role-playing games have created a shadow economy in which the lines between the real world and the virtual world are getting blurred. More than 20 million people play these games worldwide, according to Edward Castronova, an economics professor at Indiana University who has written a book on the subject, and he thinks such gamers spend more than $200 million a year on virtual goods. One site, GameUSD.com, even tracks the latest value of computer-game currency against the U.S. dollar, an exchange-rate calculator for the virtual world.
After Hurricane Katrina, the operators of EverQuest II assured more than 13,000 members in the Gulf Coast region that their virtual property would be protected and preserved until they could resume playing.
Koster pointed out that it's not necessarily in the game's best interest to imitate the real-world economy, in which the point is to get money so you don't have to do things. In the gaming world, the point is to do stuff. That's the fun of playing.
"The economies in the real world are designed to grow and progress toward an improved standard of living so that eventually you don't have to slay dragons for food -- you go to a supermarket and get dragon burgers.
"We don't want people to get to a point where they just go out for dragon burgers," he said. "That would not make for an interesting game."
To me the biggest problem about "virtual" items is the lack of a legal framework dealing with these items.
So should we standardize vitrual currency?
I actually favour the extension of the "normal" property rights (to a certain degree) to "virtual" items because I see no need to distinguish between the two. No need to create something new to protect "virtual" items.
Considering the roleplaying involved, social engineering "theft" should be no more illegal than virtual murder. If the theft involves real-life chicanery, that's something altogether different.
Yeah, that's what I want to. In-Game stealing is ok with me. Hacking accounts and selling the loot on ebay is not.
So then we are drawing a line between real life and virtual life?
Certainly, it's still a game and games (virtual or non-virtual) have rules. I can "take" your bishop while playing chess like I can "take" your Deathblade playing some online MMORPG. As long as it happens within the framework of the rules of the game it's ok.
Well, the point here is how to distinguish between the rules of the game and the larger context in which the game occurs. Surely trading characters isn't part of the rules of the game, which is why people like Baron complain about the practice. But in the context of the free market, such things do have value and can be traded accordingly. So which rules do we hold as operative? Its not as simple as saying 'when you play the game, follow the rules of the game', because the whole question is how to delineate the game itself.
This isn't just a problem with the virtual world. It would be analogous to the Roman empire saying that only Roman money can be used in its borders, and any place that uses Roman money is part of Rome. So what about merchants on the trade routes to Rome? There are incentives for the trade mechants to accept any type of money, as long as there are reliable ways to convert it to Roman money. Does that make the merchants part of Rome? Either way, they are violating the rules.
The simple answer would be to just standardize the virtual currency so we have reliable conversions to, for instance, USD. So when you are trading geldings (or whatever), you are really trading USD under a different name. This way there really are one set of rules governing all transactions. You seem to think that this kind of regulation isn't necessary, but without it we face the problem of which rules are operative in which contexts, and that seems an intractable problem.
This is an interesting issue. I'm not sure what to make of it.