Dealing with Multiple Truths in Online Virtual Worlds

Dealing with Multiple Truths in Online Virtual Worlds

Jan Sablatnig (Technische Universität Berlin, Germany), Fritz Lehmann-Grube (Technische Universität Berlin, Germany), Sven Grottke (University of Stuttgart, Germany) and Sabine Cikic (Technische Universität Berlin, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-515-5.ch009
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Abstract

Virtual environments and online games are becoming a major market force. At the same time, the virtual property contained in these environments is being traded for real money and thus attains a real value. Although the legal issues involved with this virtual property have not yet been decided, they will have to be soon. It is foreseeable that the next generation of very large virtual worlds will carry the possibility of multiple truths existing at the same time. Under such circumstances, it will be impossible to physically protect virtual property. In order to protect virtual property, virtual environment systems will therefore have to conform to certain requirements. We analyze what these requirements are in order to either prevent cheating or at least prove a digital offence has transpired. Along with greater security, this will also simplify end user support, which is one of the major cost factors for online games.
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The Real Value Of Virtual Property

The question may come up how relevant the trade of virtual property really is. Does it pay off to invest real money and programmer time into the protection of non-real objects? Though we could also argue for the ideal value of virtual goods simply because many real persons have interest in them, we shall only argue here in terms of money.

Several efforts have been made recently by designers of virtual worlds to support the trade of virtual goods for real money. One extreme case is Sony’s Station Exchange (http://eq2.stationexchange.com)1. Via this service, users exchange game items for US$ in a protected environment. US$1.87 million have been transacted there in the first year (Robischon, 2005). Users pay for the service – the provider retains a provision – demonstrating the demand for protection in virtual economies.

Another example is Second Life, where the virtual economy is backed by a bank of issues. The exchange rate between its virtual currency Linden Dollar appear similar to “real” exchange rates on the news posts of agencies like Reuters, where it is rated as a stable currency.

Also, disputes about virtual property begin to reach real world judiciary. Some cases on virtual property were already decided in China (CNN, 2003). In May 2006, the provider of Second Life, Linden Lab, rejected a claim by attorney M. Bragg for compensation of a loss of virtual property he had invested US$2000 in before a legal court of the United States. Interestingly, the accepted amount in dispute – US$8000 – was the estimated market value of the property (Craig, 2006). Though the heavy public discussion for the case in- and outside of the Second Life community saw much more sympathy for the party of Linden Lab in this case, Linden Lab eventually settled by fulfilling all demands (Reuters, 2007b). Appreciating the 17-month reasoning of some of the most influential experts in the field, the result can be read as: A priori, virtual property IS (natural) property in an economic and political sense.

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