Gamer’s Rights and Virtual Property

As previously cited the range of gamers that play MMORPGs vary drastically. From the more ‘hardcore’ players to the ‘casual’ players – the greater amount of time one invests into any MMORPG the more virtual property the gamer will attain, their progression in the game will exceed than that of the ‘casual’ gamer. Gamers with unlimited amounts of time to play can farm game currency by killing mobs or completing quests all day and have dispensable amounts of in-game currency. Furthermore, for those ‘casual’ gamers out-of-game trading was introduced. Gamers could potentially use out-of-game auctions to purchase in-game items or currency (virtual property) with the use of real currency. When the out-of-game transaction has been completed the gamer could log-on to their account (in-game) and meet with the seller and complete the transaction.

In an effort to prevent the sale of virtual property game developers like Blizzard Entertainment have implemented policies in the EULA and Terms of Service Agreement stipulating that any gamers caught using out-of-game auctions for virtual property would be permanently banned on their account. Sony Online Entertainment, Blizzard Entertainment and others collectively reached out to many virtual auction sites, like eBay or Yahoo! and requested that any virtual property content from respective games should not be permitted to be sold on their auction. Most auctioneers agreed to make a policy disclosing the aforesaid. Furthermore, it became very difficult for gamer’s to place their characters, items, and in-game currency up for sale. Although it made it more difficult for gamers to use outside channels of trade the aforesaid has not closed the market. Most gamers still sell items on various Player Auctions without regard to the consequences of potentially losing their game accounts. This behavior seems to illustrate that gamers feel entitled to their virtual property due to the time invested farming these items or progressing their characters.
In the case of Bragg v Linden Research, Inc. 487 F. Supp. 2d 593 (E.D.Penn. 2007), the plaintiff Marc Bragg brought a lawsuit against the game developers of Second Life, Linden Lab, when his account was banned for hacking the Second Life website auction and exploiting the sale of virtual property by buying in game real estate for $300 instead of $1,000. Linden Lab argued that Bragg explicitly violated the Terms of Service of the game and therefore, the unilateral permanent suspension of his account was warranted. However, Braggs argued that due the permanent suspension of his account Linden Lab dissolved his virtual assets. There was no information in the EULA or TOS regarding that the minimum price that land should be sold. Moreover, the court has suggested that since there is no substantial proof that Bragg hacked into the game’s auction or the evident intent to cheat – it is difficult to say that Braggs has done something that was against TOS or EULA rules. The game developers accepted Bragg’s purchase of the real estate for $300, therefore perhaps he did not know it was suppose to be marked at $1,000.
It is difficult to interpret whether the result of this case was just or not. However, what is evident is that gamers take their virtual property quite seriously and it is very important for game developers to allocate that characters and virtual assets attained in game is property of the game developer in order to avoid the aforesaid scenario.