Sunday, February 04, 2007

Here Come The Suits

One character in Players scrapes a living by winning virtual weapons and treasures in online Massively Multiplayer games and auctioning them off via eBay. Another runs a business that uses teenage labour to set up virtual characters and do all the boring, repetitive labour of providing them with skill-sets and attributes before selling them to cash-rich, time-poor players who can’t be bothered to do the work for themselves. Luckily, I decided to set the novel in the present of its composition, 2006, rather than in the near future; a week before its publication, eBay announced that it is banning the sale of virtual objects, currency, and characters on its site.

This throws a hefty spanner into the burgeoning virtual economy based on trading of objects and money that exist only in digital form, and undercuts the long-established assumption that this real-money trading is an established part of online gaming. In fact, most companies that run online games prohibit RMT in their terms of service, and eBay seems to be not only clamping down on an area where fraud is rampant, but also anticipating legal arguments about intellectual property rights (it’s still allowing auctions of Second Life property, because Second Life’s publisher, Linden Lab, encourages players to trade goods), as well as the interest by some governments in regulating and taxing RMT. With Sony Online setting up its own 'Station Exchange' service and the rise of third-party trading sites like IGE, it looks like the Wild West days of online gaming’s virtual economy may be coming to an end. The cutting edge of the electronic frontier gets civilized faster than Deadwood: one moment it’s all wild-cat prospectors and gun-slingers; the next it’s banks, mining companies and the feds. Any day now, I expect the Mob to move in.


Blogger Martyn Taylor said...

From the number of eBay related phishing emails I get, I think da Mob is already there (although whether it is the Chechen or Yakusa chapter is still open to question...)

February 27, 2007 3:24 pm  

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