Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Virtual "Seizure" Has Actual Value

Let's say you have a Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker. And let's say you bought this item for $100 US. If Blizzard repossess this item (i.e. takes it from your inventory), does this cause you an actual financial loss? Or, in the alternative, let's say you manage to somehow get an Ashbringer (despite theoretical impossibility, it happens), do you have a monetary loss if Blizzard takes it, merely because you could have sold it for $1,000 US?

According to a story from Pacific Epoch, it would seem that is the case in China. The jist of the story is that Shanda Interactive has been forced to apologize to a gamer and pay that gamer 5000 Yuan (just under $700 US) because they removed six virtual item from his account in the MMO The World of Legend. The items were removed pursuant to an investigation in stolen good sales in the game, and after police ordered Shanda to return the items post-investigation, Shanda failed to do so.

While I wouldn't go as far as to say this sets up a virtual "search and seizure" precedent, it does present a greater case for actual value of virtual goods. And while there's no such thing as "international precedent" that would bind courts in other countries to the decision, it does provide a perspective that US judges could look to when deciding their own virtual asset cases. It also seems to paint a further picture of inevitability to the idea of virtual assets being assigned value in the US officially by either the courts or the IRS, those being the two most likely to make the first statement in the arena.

[Via PlayNoEvil, Thanks Cameron]


Cameron Sorden said...

It's an interesting case, for sure. And a troubling one, too, if the industry can't take an active role in guiding the shape of virtual property legislation over the coming years.

Also, I think that that last backlink is broken... the blogger URL slipped in there. ;)

Doug said...
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Doug said...

I agree with Cameron's comments. I also believe that these sorts of virtual-property issues should (and to some extent, have) spur companies to create innovative solutions to fend off potential problems, since it is doubtful that this is an area of the law that Congress will address in the near future.

For example (and forgive me if I have my facts wrong), most (but not all) of the epic items in end-game World of Warcraft are "bind on pick-up," meaning that once a player picks up the item, it is not at all transferable to another player. This eliminates the possibility of players auctioning off those goods, and prevents hackers from "stealing" such items and re-selling them for real dollars. There are some holes in the scheme, however, as many of the higher-end items *are* transferable as long as they haven't been equipped by a player. Thus, while there will be no real-dollar market for top-tier items, there still exists a viable market for items of slightly lesser quality.