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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Virtual Property Discussion

-=-=-=-This is a clip of an entry I wrote in regards to a "debate" about who has rights to what in a game. Several compelling legal arguments were brought to the table stating that the gamers have a right to their virtual items that they purchased in a game. As compelling as the arguments were, they were legally based on a flawed idea.-=-=-=-=-

I argue that if the players ever win such suits and laws are made placing the game owners into perpetual virtual access providers regardless of sustainability (financial and technical) then we will witness a marked decrease in the availability and variety of virtual entertainment. The concept of collecting in a game will evaporate and many items will either encounter a fixed decay rate or come with a note stating they are only guaranteed to be provided for x number of days. I'd prefer it stay the way it is with me knowing it will probably stay there until the server is shutdown.

The concept of feeling ownership in a game, for the player, is inevitable, but not realistic. By that I mean that we truly feel we have invested the time or the money for the item that we previously agreed will always be the property of the game's owner, but we feel that we own it. The reality is we don't own it anymore than we do our own house and plot of land that it is on. There is a larger power that owns the land and if you don't pay that power they will take your land. That isn't how it was supposed to be in the land of the free - we were supposed to have full property rights when we bought our land, but only a very few people do. If you don't believe me, simply don't pay your property taxes.

I understand the unfair business practices argument, but it's only unfair if they promised us in their contract that they'd never change anything once released. They didn't. As a matter of fact this is from the Terms of Service under the "Content Rights" paragraph:
You acknowledge and agree that all Content, including, without limitation, all accounts, characters created, and virtual items or in-game currency acquired and developed as a result of game play, are the sole and exclusive property of Playdom and may be used by Playdom (and/or its affiliates, publishing partners, distributors, licensors and licensees) for any purpose, including for commercial or promotional use. You agree that you may only upload or otherwise transmit on or through the Services Content that does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any third party, and you represent and warrant that any Content you do transmit will not infringe the intellectual property rights of any third party.
As it is their property, they may do with it as they wish, including delete it.

I have 7 years of ownership in Star Wars Galaxies, yet I can't access one item that I have earned over those 7 years unless I renew my account by resubscribing. During those 7 years SOE not only modified properties of items I owned, they even rendered several items completely useless. I had spent over 200 million credits, which took me hundreds of real life hours to earn to buy anti-decay kits to keep my clothes from decaying off my Jedi. With one game update they removed decay from the game and rendered the most expensive items I had ever bought to a useless display item and they reinvented the game from a turn-based MMORPG to a first person click shooter MMORPG. The outcry from the players was tremendous and their forums rocked with the upset players comments. The end result was that SWG lost hundreds of thousands of players and it has been downsizing to fewer servers ever since.

To actually claim legal ownership rights to the virtual items would mean one of two things - either we would have to being paying for our share of the database for as long as we wanted it to run - with that price going up as the player ownership base went down, or we'd have to buy the complete rights to the designs or a permanent license to use the designs from the company at a cost of thousands of dollars per item. Then, and only then could we claim we have the right to their property.

Regardless of the "logic" behind the arguments raised in the articles you shared, ____, they are completely lacking in common sense. One of the biggest failures for America, and many countries around the world, has been a mass movement away from common or natural law and an adoption of admiralty and color of law. Our involvement does not garner us ownership in the game any more than our being a member of the crowd at a ballgame assures that our team will win or that we can take the seat home with us at the end of the game. To gain entry into the stadium again, we must pay again, even if the building was built completely with our tax dollars. Just because we feel we should have entitlement it doesn't mean we do. We are not the ones who risked anything to provide the game.

But there are those who will pursue the legal recourse, sapping billions of dollars from the gaming industry over the years. Billions of dollars that we, the end-user, provide and that could have been used to research and develop better and more entertaining games but instead will be used to line lawyers and government officials pockets so they can debate the moral and ethical dilemmas of ownership of virtual property that was designed and provided by one set of people for the entertainment of another set of people.

Again, I don't agree with their decision or how it was handled, but I will uphold their right to do so.