Thursday, December 27, 2007

Reminder: Vote for Law of the Game!

There are only a few days left to vote for Law of the Game in the ABA Journal's Blawg 100. The voting ends January 2, 2008, and I would appreciate any additional votes between now and then.

Click here and vote for Law of the Game.

Have a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wisconsin's Game Tax - Sin vs. Luxury vs. Lunacy

The proposed "Game Tax" from Wisconsin state senator Jon Erpenbach has gained quite a bit of attention, and accordingly, I thought it was worth addressing a few key points. First, I'm sure many folks are wondering why they should care about a tax in a state in which they don't live. The simple answer is that tax ideas seem to spread. If Wisconsin adds such a tax, it will only be a matter of time before a dozen other states follow suit. In short, the long term picture is not pretty for gamers if one state begins taxing games.

The second question is what type of tax is this? There are two likely candidates, those being the "Sin Tax" and the "Luxury Tax." The concept of a sin tax is that because the government wants to discourage a behavior and because that behavior has a proven, clearly demonstrated, and direct negative impact on society, the government taxes the item to both discourage the behavior and offset the negative impact. For example, cigarettes are taxed because they are linked to lung cancer. Alcohol is taxed because drunk drivers kill thousands every year. Video games, however, would be taxed due to an unproven link to a theoretical change in behavior for a small number of users. The link is not nearly as defined as, say, drinking to drunk driving.

The other possibility is considering it a luxury tax. The idea here is that some things are just so extravagant that people should pay extra, or from a different viewpoint, that the people who want to buy certain things are well enough off that they can afford to pay more taxes. A good example of products often hit with a luxury tax are expensive cars. The assertion here would be that video games are a "luxury item," and therefore are so unnecessary that gamers should have to pay more for them. However, given that books, music, movies, and all other forms of entertainment are not subject to such a tax, it does not follow that any aspect of the "video game" so separates the medium from other forms of entertainment as to draw the line there.

This would appear to be nothing more than another cheap shot at a scapegoated industry for the basic purpose of continuing to fill the already bloated public coffers, which serves to continue to perpetuate the problem of government over-spending. Far be it for me to dictate public policy in Wisconsin, but a video game tax is simply not a logical answer to the issue presented. I'm certain there are many other ways to fund the "keep non-violent juvenile offenders out of adult prisons" program.

[Via GamePolitics]

Thursday, December 20, 2007 Holiday Podcast

If you have a few spare minutes for some holiday cheer, please check out the Holiday Podcast. It's full of nothing but personal holiday greetings from many people in the game industry and blog-o-sphere, myself included.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Real Money Transactions Can Lead to Gambling Problems

Worlds in Motion has an article up detailing a new surge in the efforts to legitimize real money transactions in MMO games. Generally, the idea is a good one, as RMT can provide the players what they want, as demonstrated through the vibrant black market, while the legitimization gives the developers what they want. In fact, RMT based games are widely successful in other parts of the world. However, given the current state of US gambling laws, increased RMT in MMO games where gambling exists could put the MMO providers on thin ice. Second Life has already seen attention for gambling, and other worlds may not be far behind.

The tricky issue to deal with is the conversions between the virtual goods or currency and real currency. This is something I've discussed at length in my SSRN Papers. From a broad perspective, if a game either lacks gambling or lacks RMT, then there should be no cause for concern. However, when both elements are present, it becomes more problematic. Second Life (while gabling was still permissible), for example, as a direct currency exchange, could be viewed no differently than online casinos. In fact, even if gambling were using a more barter-like system, where, for example, weapons were wagered in fights, there could be a gambling issue assuming the weapon has a real world value, for example, from the ability to buy or sell it for real currency. The even more complex situation arises where the market price can fluctuate, especially given the prospect of reporting winnings or losses for tax purposes.

Obviously, this issue could take a number of turns depending on what the developers end up implementing in future games. It will be interesting to see if more developers place outright bans on wagering to avoid the issue entirely.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Involuntary Hiatus is Over; Happy Holidays

My sincerest apologies, readers, for the hiatus that just ended. It's rare that I have so many projects operating as such a pace where I simply cannot find any time to blog, but as the year draws to a close, many clients want to wrap up ongoing projects. However, I seem to have things back under control, and so my blogging should be back to normal.

I will also (hopefully) be able to make a pretty big announcement in the very near future.

And please remember to keep voting for Law of the Game until Jan. 2!

Most importantly, please have a happy holiday season.

Happy Holidays from Law of the Game