Game talkArguing about virtual property

 Posted by (Visited 7512 times)  Game talk
Dec 122006
 

I had occasion to quote extensively from Are Microtransactions Actually the Future? in response to a post from Terra Nova which heavily referenced the word “property.” Basically, I cited the part about how all this stuff is just bits and bytes on a server, and the illusion that they are objects is just that, an illusion.

I got back some varied replies I feel compelled to repost here:

Please, make that argument to the SEC, that your stocks aren’t property because they’re data entries. It’s not even a remotely tenable argument in law. Sorry, but economic reality, not tangibility, is the measure of property.

– Joshua Fairfield

No, the stocks are a bad example. There are actual, real stock certificates that represent actual real ownership of part of an actual real company. The database entries are measurements of the trading activity happening faster than the real life items can keep up. But there are real things there.

when I pay my mortgage bill online, that is also “just a reduction of a number in one field” (the field my bank says represents the amount of dollars I have a contractual right to ask it for) and “the addition of some data to another” (the field that my mortgage company says represents the amount of dollars that it has a contractual right to ask me for).

And then if I itemize, I can transfer some of that reduction in numbers in my bank account field to Schedule A and reduce the numbers in the data field on the Form 1040 that says “TAXES DUE” Now THAT’s a transfer I like to see.

-Bryan Camp

No, the mortgage is a bad example too. Again, there is actual real money involved, and an actual house, and actual property values, and so on. Again, the database is just tracking changes in the state of the real market. It isn’t in itself the real market, it’s a reflection of it.

The virtual stuff is not a reflection of anything and that is what makes it different and unique.

If person A wants a web site built and pays a designer to do so, what is he buying? an item, a collection of bytes, or a service? I would say that it’s clearly a service. Why did be buy it? Well, 1. because he wanted it, and 2. because he was unable or unwilling to get it himself.

If person B wants a Blade of Carnage and pays a farmer to get it, is he buying the bytes or the service of acquiring the bites?

Well, I would say that both people are buying something for the same reason and getting the same result. I don’t think the point that the sword is no more than a pointer to an entry in a db somewhere is any more valid than saying hiring someone to move your furniture around in a furnished apartment is silly because they just changed around things you don’t even own. Either way, you pay money, someone else does some work, and you get what you want. RMT is really a service, not a buying of items.

I couldn’t agree more. In the apartment analogy, the analogous claim to “virtual property” would be the renter or the furniture mover claiming ownership of the furnishings when in fact both of them know quite well that they belong to the owner of the furnished apartment — it doesn’t matter that one of them moves them and the other one sits or sleeps in them. It was part of the deal when they walked in the door.

Raph, you’re citing *one point of view on this*. And it is not the game-god incentive view — unless of course you’re willing to concede that game gods like and huckster people into worlds to get them to believe in the emulation of property and IP and then dump them.

– Prokofy Neva

I don’t think there’s any huckstering involved. None of the services that have, well, content provided by the operator makes any pretense whatsoever that these items can be owned by players. In fact, they explicitly disclaim it.

In the case of the worlds where you can upload content, there are two pieces of property to keep an eye on: the intellectual property, and the ownership of the container for said IP. In SL’s case, they explicitly say that you own the IP. But they also explicitly say that they own the database on the server side, which is the container. It’s just one of many possible containers for your IP. But it’s still their container, and they can do as they like with it.

Indeed they *are* objects when an avatar enters into a 3-d, streaming, real-time interaction with them. They emulate objects. They may be bits and bytes but the avatar and the person typing for the avatar treats them as tangible commodities in a commodities-based market system.

– Prokofy Neva

We may choose to perceive the bits and bytes as objects, Prokofy. But we can perceive a house of cards as a house, too.

If each and every thing made can always be snatched back by either server owners or code owners — my table I just bought as an object for $100 is snatchable in some constant, destructive way — then who will play?

-Prokofy Neva

Perhaps nobody. I quite agree that it’s an uncomfortable situation and not at all the desirable way for things to run. But the issue here is not the ownership of the database. The issue here is actually the snatchability.

It is easy to envision a server where every person’s upload is encrypted and concealed from the operators. And where it is easily and transparently transferrable using open standards to alternate platforms. Then your concern would be assuaged — not eliminated, but alleviated somewhat. Your data and its container would both be “yours” and it’d just sit on someone’s server temporarily as a copy, but the real thing is back on your machine where you made it.

I can definitely see that as a way forward.

if someone makes a table and sells me a table, what I have isn’t a license to use his representation of a table like I do Word for Windows, what I have is a table, dammit.

You’re assuming here that the someone who sold you the table was actually doing so. I think there’s three legit ways to look at it:

  1. They sold you the table in good faith and were not thinking about the fact that they sold you something they don’t actually have to sell.
  2. They did know that, but were engaged in a polite fiction that simplifies the actual nature of the transaction, and assumed you too were playing along.
  3. They were exploiting you by claiming it was a sale when they knew damn well it wasn’t really.

What you have isn’t a table. What you have is some new bits and bytes added to your character record in the database. If you played them in an MP3 player, they wouldn’t be a table, they’d be hideous noise. If you opened them in an image manipulation program, they’d be malformed data files. If you transcribed them into Braille, they’d be gibberish.

Depending on the architecture of the server in question, you might not even be able to load them into any 3d modeling software, because they might not even be the description of the table. They might only be a pointer to where the description of the table actually is.

If you don’t like this, or find it fanciful, or find it deeply self-delusional, that you have no moral right to go on making tables in virtual worlds. People take them for tables, set them, put lamps on them, use them and enter into an entire host of 3-d interactive relationships with them. This web and hive of activity and relationship means the object is not just a piece of data.

No, it speaks to the immense power of the medium. And I agree that emotional investment can confer special meaning on all sorts of things, including random bits and bytes in a database. But I reject the argument that emotional attachment confers ownership. It’s just not how it goes.

I could go to a bowling alley, consider a certain lane “mine,” lose my virginity there, scratch my girlfriend’s name into the table, get married to her there, and form a special emotional relationship with the one chipped pin that always tips over and with the blue bowling shoes that I always get because I am a regular.

And neither the shoes, nor the table, nor the pin, nor the alley, nor in fact the girl are actually “mine.” The girl belongs to herself despite her bad taste in associating with me, and everything else belongs to the owner of the bowling alley.

We do not speak of how he does not have the moral right to change the bowling alley into a bingo hall. We mourn, but we do not use those terms.

We take a table for a table and don’t imagine it disappears when we leave the room or can be snatched back by those running the Platonic ideals. So people take the tables in virtual worlds — and game gods deliberately set up the system like that to get people to come and play.

So insult this concept by calling it a “property meme” all you want, Raph, and dismiss the social and psychological realities that people create around virtuality if you like by your ownership of the code, but I’m here to say this: you cannot get people to play if you keep insisting on this code-as-law and code-as-reality approach. It is insufficient for not only the explanation but the governance of virtual worlds.

At this point, we’re not even talking code-is-law. We’re talking something more fundamental than that. In the way that most virtual worlds are run, it’s best to think of them as bowling alleys.

Raph, okay – take Machinamina. Or modern art. Arrangements of otherwise worthless “bits” into something prized. Peoples perception gives things value. (And spending your time to create things of value is gives you certain rights under some countries laws).

I feel you’re trying to draw an artificial distinction – and when I talk to casual gamer (the REALLY casual ones – java games, fantasy football and such) friends, they can’t see your point. Trying to say “this collection of computer bits has value” and “this does not” SIMPLY because one is in one VW (say, SWG) and one is another VW (say, SL) baffles them.

– Andrew Crystall

Machinima, modern art (and in fact ALL art) is in fact intellectual property fixed into a form. The value lies minorly in the container (though some containers can be very valuable) and majorly in the work contained.

The vast majority of digital “items” (excepting SL and other user-created items) are the company’s intellectual property.

And the SL case is one where the value does indeed reside in the IP, not the container, since the container is SL itself.

It baffles them because the value in SL lies not in the item, but in the DESIGN of the item, which a user uploaded. In SWG, a user didn’t upload it, and the design belongs to the company, and there is no container except SWG itself, and therefore there is no property on the user’s part whatsoever. They are likely baffled because they are also baffled by copyright and intellectual property, which baffle most everyone.

Look, I am no anti-RMT firebrand. But it’s important to look at how things actually work. It simply isn’t a spoon, it’s a rendering of one on screen. It isn’t even YOUR rendering of it on screen. It’s the company’s rendering of it. You just happen to have permission to look at it.

  55 Responses to “Arguing about virtual property”

  1. Original post: Arguing about virtual property by at Google Blog Search: trading commodities company

  2. Original post: Arguing about virtual property by at Google Blog Search: bank people Blog tag: Picture people Technorati tag: Picture people

  3. Very nicely put. Now I believe the people talking RMT and the potential taxation consequences are interested in what you are doing when I pay you $1000 per week to use your favourite “blue bowling shoes” in the same bowling hall.

    Is it illegal for you to accept my offering?

    This would appear somewhat similar to how a music teacher might charge a lot of money for some talking and a few minutes worth of playing together. I dont own the music teacher, If ownership is the deal there then that pick I still have around from one of my old masters got really expensive…

    Im sure the music teacher pay taxes, but not because of value or profits from any kind of IP related stuff. The stuff people pay for through RMT is like the little notation scribbles and words of wisdom a music teacher will teach a student. Some people are a bit funny though and think that all the product of the interaction between the teacher and the student is embedded within the container of the notation scribble and start trading worthless notation scribbles for stupidly large amounts of money.

    In reality when I pay you $1000 for the “blue bowling shoes” I give you a gift of $1000 and you give me nothing in return other than some happy thoughts. Large enough gifts can also be taxed, but they are neither service or barter.

  4. So basically:

    “It’s not a table. It’s a picture of a table. The table is not yours, it is ours. So is the picture. You bought a ticket to look at the picture, but you can trade that ticket somebody else if you want provided you use the the tokens that you collect in-game and not actual money.”

    One of these days i must try summarizing Prokofy Neva’s stuff too but evangelism makes me bored.

  5. […] Raph says “there is no spoon” (when you’re talking about developer-created virtual items and property rights.) […]

  6. Oh, no. It’s a table. It’s a table because I put a flower vase on it, sat down on a chair at it, and even put a radio and listened to some live music and sat and talked and shared with friends. No, I couldn’t stub my toe on it like I do my RL living-room table, but it was an artifact supporting activities and relationships and retaining value just as RL things do. I later sold it for $1000 L at a yard sale and that pays for a six-pack of RL Coke.

    Indeed, the table is a reflection of my RL table — and what makes it extra special with that je ne sais qua is that it is a communal participatory reflection of a table that someone makes and someone buys — now that’s not virtual, that’s experience and value, it’s actually tending to become more real than reality because of the acceleration, connectivity, and participatory quality.

    Try to hear it! These old 19th century paradigms of the old world of “mine” and “thine” are disappearing!

    A RL table is set out for me to buy, far from its maker, and with no modding capacity unless I take a hacksaw to it. But my virtual table can be coloured or expanded on the fly or I can IM the maker and ask him to change the legs to reduce the prims — and this web of accelerated transations and meaning and value makes up a reality that you seem unprepared to except — and what will it take??? Where did his creativity leave off and my modding and reuse and participation begin??? Isn’t that what we’re always being preached about with mash-up stuff?

    Who is to say what is reality and virtuality under these new conditions, Raph Koster? Not your old game dinosaur, these new conditions.

    And…it’s not really about virtuality and its disconents, is it? It’s just that…you want to own stuff. But…I bought it from you, and now…it’s mine.

    >form a special emotional relationship with the one chipped pin that always tips over and with the blue bowling shoes that I always get because I am a regular.

    But that *is* the bowling alley; the bright blue bowling shoes. The bowling alley as it survives in its dark substrate underneath your bright perceived experience — that only appears to remind you of the non-specialness if you stare at it — isn’t really reality, it’s merely the substrate of reality; reality’s skeleton. The chipped pin and the blue shoes are the reality and form the enduring relationship with the girl and the moment that becomes your reality — or did you think reality was going to be the cigarette butts you didn’t even look at stamped out under the scarred table? No.

    You just happen to have permission to look at it.

    Even this standard prop of the game god is eroding with hacking and with open source — isn’t that what you’re always trying to teach us? I don’t have permission to look at it — oh, how yesteryear!; I have a participatory, equal relationship to share in it — the tables are turned (or should be).

  7. Ahh, thank you for writing this. I do see two values where I think you are writing of one: There is a value of the content, and there is a value of the container.

    The cost of the container can be used to artificially boost the cost of the content (by making it more or less available to others), but if the content has no implicit value then the container itself has no value. If the content is of high value, the container *could be* of high value, depending on how it is used – but if the value of the container exceeds the value of the content… oh, well, that’s business. Much like a CD and music.

    A CD can only be sold for as much as the amount that people are willing to pay for the music on the CD. If the music is not seen as having value…. Right. :-)

  8. I see two values there too, Taran. Let’s consider some book scenarios:

    – an ordinary paperback of a mediocre book. Low value on both sides.
    – a first edition of a collectible book. High value on both sides.
    – an extremely old book, let’s say old records of property taxes from the Dark Ages. High container, low content.

    It’s possible to get high content and low container, too, but I suppose it is kind of unusual. A diary probably qualifies.

  9. “We do not speak of how he does not have the moral right to change the bowling alley into a bingo hall.”

    This touches on the biggest issue I have with SL, and why I’m astounded at the investment some people have in its world. No matter how much I feel like I own my kitschy 3D table, it’s stored on their servers in a proprietary format. When SL becomes obsolete, as it inevitably will, what happens to my table? The illusion of reality breaks down, as all I really “own” is a database record containing the unique ID of the original table.

    I don’t mind that; I’m prepared to spend some amount of real-world cash for added value. But I’m under no illusion that I “own” anything.

    Would a subsequent virtual world honour SL’s notions of ownership? It seems terribly unlikely, since future virtual worlds will have different economic models, not to mention entirely different software architecture and data formats.

  10. And when that virtual table is manufacturable, what then? The stock certificate may refer to a real bricks and mortar store, but is the value in the bricks and mortar or in the location? Similarly, if I sold a virtual 3D item which was representational of a a real Thing, what is the real value of that Thing? If it’s food, I understand the inherent value – I can consume it. If it’s gold, that value is not easily understood – I can’t eat it, I can’t easily form it, it has little practical value to me. I can only look at it. Yet the gold is worth more than the food.

    I’d submit that part of the problem with placing a value on virtual things is that we seem to have a screwy means of assigning value to *real* things. Five thousand cash for rhino horn, anyone?

  11. When it is manufacturable, I think it’s simple.

    In the event that it is the intellectual property of the world operator, you have a straightforward issue of whether they are going to let you have their CAD file, whether you’re going to pirate the design, or what.

    In the event it was uploaded by an end user, if you retained your IP rights, go nuts. SL was just a nice prototyping environment, the end. The fact that it was “contained” briefly in something you didn’t own (e.g. their database) is no big deal. And the actual resultant table is all yours, the end. You have both the physical object and the IP rights in the design.

  12. The Economics of Patents and Property Rights (PDF) provides an excellent discussion of whether “intellectual property” qualifies as property in the sense of physical property. I like how the authors boldly state, “we do not see a continuity between rights in physical and intellectual property.”

  13. Think you mean “je ne sais quoi”, Prok. If you’re going to be pretentious, it helps to get it right. As for “more real than reality” – that’s way up there with your “emotional bandwidth” comment for vomit-inducing saccharine idiocy.

    Rent a holiday cottage sometime. Put some flowers on the table. It doesn’t make it your table.

  14. Raph, you missed my point. If I have the manufacturable CAD and upload it to a virtual world and *then* I sell the virtual item (which is a digital file containing everything necessary to rapid manufacture it; say a polymesh convertable to .stl), there is a link back to a real thing just like that “real” company you cite as an example (which, btw, includes in it’s valuation quite a number of unreal things: patents, trademarks, agreements, licenses, aso).

    Consequently, implying that a link back to something “real” is a worthwhile litmus test doesn’t seem sufficient to me. That CAD data and a relatively straightforward input to a CNC could yield a “real” thing faster than trying to get something “real” out of a company (especially one that only exists only on paper). And beyond that, even the value of that real thing is questionable.

    What is “an actual real company”?
    What is “actual real money”?

    Those are virtual things. I can’t touch, see, smell or otherwise sense a “real company”. I can’t actually detect the inherent value of “real money” other than in determining how many BTU’s is provides in heat should I burn the paper. Hence, your comment – “The virtual stuff is not a reflection of anything and that is what makes it different and unique” – doesn’t necessarily hold. I can create virtual stuff that is a reflection of something more real than what you use to qualify the term. That’s a problem imo.

  15. If IP is not that important, the “work and effort” of creation.

    if ownership of the “table” resides with the end-user, and the container and access method is not that important, but the content therin is.

    if your experiential social interactions convey ownership to items, that are entries, which reside on a database, that your SL clinet via Windows using TCP/IP protocols calls to across a network, of switches, routers and backbones (the channel by which you access the data stream contained in a database on a server owned and operated by linden labs)

    if you by virtue of access, and voluntary purchase of items, gain privledge of ownership over the IP, in a system designed to have open access and modding, then why the HELL are SL store owners all bent out of shape about Copybot?

    Was it because they were robbed of IP? or revenue generated by using a service? Or was it because someone using the very system, a very open system, designed a means of efficiantly and rapidly accessing and duping content, thereby effecting a virtual economy built not around IP but around access.

    If you want ownership of a VW invest in the company, not access to the service, the differance is one is an owner and one is a customer, you may have a great social and meaningful almost real experiance as a customer, you may even make money off the service, or spend money while using the service, but this does not convey ownership.

    The reason this does not convey ownership is companies are in the business of selling you a service or product, the amount of satisfaction determines your continued use of said product or service, but not equity.

    Otherwise:
    Bill Gates owes you some money for using Windows
    Your ISP owes you money for using thier bandwidth
    The IEEE owes you money for using an approved protocol
    Cisco owes you money for routing and switching packets
    Al Gore owes you money for using his internet
    SL owes you money for using thier client, databases, servers, and datacenter.

    And Raph, Sony and Ebay owe me money for using SWG, and Ebay….

    I’m sorry the great communal proletariat of SL users will have to deal with real world economics, IP and copyright laws for some time Prokofy.

    I think it’s cool that your such an advocate for SL and it’s community, but your fighting 900 years of Common Law doctrine, and the common law exists whether or not there is or is not a “spoon”.

  16. @csven

    “Those are virtual things. I can’t touch, see, smell or otherwise sense a “real company”. I can’t actually detect the inherent value of “real money” other than in determining how many BTU’s is provides in heat should I burn the paper.”

    If you come to my office I can show you a real document from a real state agency that says “Articles of Organization” stamped and sealed with real ink. Because of this document (and the real law, which you cant touch, see, smell or otherwise sense), if you steal my IP I can sue you, obtain a judgement against you and take your money, that has no inherant value obviously, and your real car, that you obviously dont need, and maybe your shoes as well. Because you can always log into SL and buy yourself some new shoes, and a new car using your linden dollars that also have the same value to you….

  17. >Think you mean “je ne sais quoi”, Prok. If you’re going to be pretentious, it helps to get it right. As for “more real than reality” – that’s way up there with your “emotional bandwidth” comment for vomit-inducing saccharine idiocy.

    Of course “quoi,” der! Akh, kto ego znaet. Who owns the qua that was corrected to quoi now, Cael? We both do.

    Raph’s containers are simply blown apart because of the velocity and permeability of virtual worlds. I’m being blamed for refusing to accept his ownership of his programmed pixels and told I’m pwned and don’t own my table; five seconds later he tells me my table will be CopyBotted and all he sold was a licensed experience of a table for a short duration; but I’m here to say that my shared participation in the table made it my property. My holiday cottage is my holiday cottage, even when I merely rent it.

    All flesh is grass, anyway.

  18. BTW, apparently creators have a “kill copy” command they can put on some of their items in SL. I’ve heard architects threaten this when people copy their houses to rent out when they make them copyable merely because they break when being placed so often. But…if they put permissions on something and I buy it and it’s mine and they can’t take it back, why is that any different than my RL table? The RL craftsman may have a design copyrighted — he owns the design. He doesn’t own the actual instance of his design implemented in my particular copy.

    Gosh, Raph, where are you with your ‘first use doctrine’ defense? I feel you are backsliding here.

  19. >When SL becomes obsolete, as it inevitably will, what happens to my table? The illusion of reality breaks down, as all I really “own” is a database record containing the unique ID of the original table.

    Well, I will always have the memories of my table, and anything I learned about how to make or use tables — that you can’t take away.

    And, hey, I could have bought an expensive car and thought I owned it until the repo man came and grabbed it when I didn’t make my monthly payments.

    It’s all relative.

  20. Great writeup, Raph. IP is a very tricky subject, says the person that just helped edit a book on business and legal issues. If it were easy to understand, the lawyers would starve! ;)

  21. […] Reading recent discussions here and on TerraNova with Prokofy and other SL users, as well as this post over at in The Grid prompts me to some thoughts on the “culture gap” between SL and the rest of the MMOsphere. […]

  22. @ Allen

    If you come to my office I can show you a real document from a real state agency that says “Articles of Organization” stamped and sealed with real ink.

    Let me ask you…

    What is the real worth of an “Articles of Organization” parchment stamped with a Nazi seal? Nothing.

    What is the value of many agreements signed between white settlers and the American Indians? Nothing.

    What is the value of a Palestinian deed to land inside Israel? Nothing.

    What is the value of a lease to a stretch of beach signed between a U.S. hotel chain and the pre-Castro government? Nothing.

    Because of this document (and the real law, which you cant touch, see, smell or otherwise sense), if you steal my IP I can sue you, obtain a judgement against you and take your money, that has no inherant value obviously, and your real car, that you obviously dont need, and maybe your shoes as well. Because you can always log into SL and buy yourself some new shoes, and a new car using your linden dollars that also have the same value to you….

    I disagree. Not “Because of this document” and Not because of the law. It’s worth is derived solely because of the people’s willingness to follow the law. Without that, you have nothing.

    What’s most amusing to me in your comment is that there are Real people who have bought Real cars using the so-called Real money they converted directly to from Linden money. Now how is it that Real money can be exchanged for Virtual money if the two are irreconcilably different? Simple. Real money is a virtual concept and derives its worth from the same thing that gives Linden money its worth, “Articles of Organization” their worth, and even some baseball’s their million dollar worth: the people’s willingness to assign it that worth.

  23. Argh, I just lost multiple screens of answers.

    Short forms, since I am not retyping it all:

    Csven, I do not see where our disagreement lies. Ease of instantiatin a new physical copy does not change my opinion one bit, nor does it change the mechanics I described? If anything, seems like a perfectly straightforward case.

    Prokofy, you don’t really claim to own the holiday cottage under the law, and you know it. :)

    And the table example — the “kill copy” thing is weird and has no analogue except perhaps restrictive music licensing. But the table example, again, fits perfectly in the framework I described. You didn’t buy a table — you bought something kind of like a music recording: the data that can reproduce a table. In SL’s case, you didn’t even buy a COPY of it (not like you can take it, transfer it elsewhere, etc) — you bought a PASSWORD to it. It’s like you bought the right to click on a streaming video. The video and the table belong to whoever made it, and the space where the video exists belongs to YouTube, er, Linden.

  24. Raph, perhaps you should implement a “Save” function? ;)

  25. Csven, I do not see where our disagreement lies. Ease of instantiatin a new physical copy does not change my opinion one bit, nor does it change the mechanics I described? If anything, seems like a perfectly straightforward case.

    I was asking how your comment – “virtual stuff is not a reflection of anything and that is what makes it different and unique” – applies to virtual stuff that *is* a reflection of something.

    Your answer seemed to assume that the Thing I uploaded stayed with me.

    In the event it was uploaded by an end user, if you retained your IP rights, go nuts. SL was just a nice prototyping environment, the end. The fact that it was “contained” briefly in something you didn’t own (e.g. their database) is no big deal. And the actual resultant table is all yours, the end. You have both the physical object and the IP rights in the design.

    I’m not saying that at all. I’m asking what happens if I create a manufacturable CAD file, upload it, and *that* is then sold as a virtual good which could be used to generate the physically real thing. Unlike standard virtual content, this is a clear reflection of something “real” (as real as an mp3 or mpeg file) as well as a relflection of something tangibly real.

  26. Well, I will always have the memories of my table, and anything I learned about how to make or use tables — that you can’t take away.

    Patience. We’ll learn how to extract, delete, or otherwise manipulate memories in a brain soon enough.

  27. “Patience. We’ll learn how to extract, delete, or otherwise manipulate memories in a brain soon enough.”

    The “Memory Molecule” was discovered a few months ago – physorg link.

  28. Argh, I just lost multiple screens of answers.

    The Void has taken ownership of your text. You get 5 arghs of frustration in return. These may be exchanged for random acts of violence at Ye Olde Sikopath Shoppe. Pwned. Please come again.

    Disclaimer: Arghs of Frustration is trademarked as a currency unit by the Disunited Conglomerate(s) of Chaos. Usage without consent may result in imaginative retribution. Please wreck havoc responsibly.

  29. […] SL cultural gap The SL cultural gap: “Reading recent discussions here and on TerraNova with Prokofy and other SL users, as wellas this post over at in The Grid prompts me to some thoughts on the ‘culture gap’ between SL and the rest of the MMOsphere. […]

  30. Csven, yes, it’s actually not the case of the virtual-only item. It’s a lot like selling blueprints in the real world. The fact that the blueprint is downloadable from a server versus on a CD versus in paper — who cares? It’s immaterial. We’re back at a very standard model.

  31. We’re back at a very standard model.

    Only we’re not back to a standard “virtual world stuff doesn’t represent anything real” model, because this model isn’t really a virtual world/videogame model, it’s a real world model handling real world-related things that happen to be in a format that can go into a virtual world.

    No one confuses iTunes for a virtual world, yet that’s what this is like imo. People purchase their mp3 digital file and download that to their PC, transfer it to their iPod and create soundwaves using the digital file as input.

    That’s more virtual than what I’m suggesting.

    With a 3D file, people could purchase it inside a 3D space (instead of a 2D net-connected application window) and download to their PC, then transfer the file to a small RP machine and create a physical thing using the digital file as input.

    Is the iTune’s mp3 an illusion? It’s just bits and bytes too. And people can’t even touch the output.

  32. A better analogy might be a photo. You take a photo with a camera. You print it out. You scan it and upload the scan. You sell the scanned file within the world to someone else. They download it and print it out.

    Two physical copies. Copyright still rests with you. You sold the means of replicating the original via its digital description. The new “container” of the IP belongs to them, e.g. they own the photo print they made. You keep ownership of your original copy.

  33. Is the iTune’s mp3 an illusion? It’s just bits and bytes too.

    You don’t own the music contained within the MP3. You purchase the rights to listen to the music contained within the MP3. You license the music within the MP3 for personal use.

  34. >Who owns the qua that was corrected to quoi now, Cael?

    The French.

  35. A better analogy might be a photo.

    I disagree. A photo is effectively a two-dimensional thing and increasingly a digital-only thing. A physical table will likely never be “used” by switching on a monitor as can be done with a photographic image.

    Copyright still rests with you.

    Not necessarily. There’s no reason to assume that someone wouldn’t simply open source it. So you have a digital thing distributed as an open source thing not only inside a virtual world but between virtual worlds (where counters change) that is also a reflection of a physical thing that can be fabricated from each virtual dataset.

    The new “container” of the IP belongs to them, e.g. they own the photo print they made.

    Yet the container of that IP is arguably of greater value than the digital file that represents the IP; especially, as I pointed out, if the object is a 3D physical object instead of an effectively two-dimensional photograph.

    You don’t own the music contained within the MP3. You purchase the rights to listen to the music contained within the MP3. You license the music within the MP3 for personal use.

    I’m unaware if iTunes does not permit open source content to be distributed for free via its store. Assuming it can’t, I’d ask that you imagine it did since that’s not a technical issue, it’s most likely a profit issue. Thus unencumbered, the point still stands.

  36. A photo is effectively a two-dimensional thing and increasingly a digital-only thing. A physical table will likely never be “used” by switching on a monitor as can be done with a photographic image.

    At least not until we have self-assembling nanite clouds that make the table when you press the button on the wall?

    I don’t see any fruitful distinction here. Who cares if it is two dimensional? Let’s say it’s an etching plate instead of a photo. Looks 2d, is actually 3d. The chain of logic is identical.

    There’s no reason to assume that someone wouldn’t simply open source it.

    Yes there is. Copyright is the default state; open sourcing takes an act of will. :) So copyrighted is the first place to go. If you want to add open source into the chain, it happens imemdiately after copyright vests in the original creator. Then the rest of the chain happens, and the open source quality is transitive. What’s the issue?

    Yet the container of that IP is arguably of greater value than the digital file that represents the IP

    So what? We have many cases all the time where containers are more valuable than IP, and vice versa. Someone encrusts a Nintendo DS with diamonds for Paris Hilton, versus someone modding it to live inside a cardboard box. A rare edition of a book versus the Penguin paperback edition. Again, what is the paradigm shift?

  37. At least not until we have self-assembling nanite clouds that make the table when you press the button on the wall?

    We can do this now.

    I don’t see any fruitful distinction here.

    If there’s no fruitful distinction, Raph, then why suggest the photo is a better example in the first place? I believe there *is* a worthwhile distinction: an object that exists three-dimensionally is a better example in that people do not have a viable and direct digital alternative. People can look at a photograph on their monitor or on the print. For many there is little difference. However, they can’t sit on their virtual chair unless they use their imagination to inhabit an avatar that is displayed on a two-dimensional monitor.

    Yes there is. Copyright is the default state; open sourcing takes an act of will.

    So does creating something.

    Just because it’s the default state for many people, doesn’t mean the assumption should be made that it will stay in that state. We’re discussing a topic that is pushing some boundaries, so imo, artificially setting boundaries doesn’t make much sense anymore than assuming people won’t use a product in a way it was never intended makes sense (and yes, product developers *do* attempt to imagine how their product could be used outside of its intended function). If anything, this is where I find the game devs with whom I’ve corresponded stuck: they want to enclose their virtual worlds in impenetrable boundaries the same way that a product development group wants to control how people use the product being developed and sold. For them, the world is the code; the code are the rules; and they set the rules by which everyone *must* play because they write the code. That mentality dismisses the actions of consumers, who, btw, are becoming increasingly likely to do exactly what is *not* intended by the developers. People violate rules. Period. The product development teams on which I’ve been concede in the end that they can’t control how a customer will use and abuse their creation; yet those game devs to whom I refer resist giving up that sense of control over the worlds they create. I find that odd especially since handing out SDK’s for mod development is an unremarkable practice now.

    So what? We have many cases all the time where containers are more valuable than IP, and vice versa. Someone encrusts a Nintendo DS with diamonds for Paris Hilton, versus someone modding it to live inside a cardboard box. A rare edition of a book versus the Penguin paperback edition. Again, what is the paradigm shift?

    Those examples are, imo, pretty bad. Note that those are all examples of REAL objects. At issue is the value of a Virtual thing and its place relative to Real things. Recall that it was you who put the qualifier out: “virtual stuff is not a reflection of anything and that is what makes it different and unique“. That qualifier fails. Virtual stuff CAN be a reflection of something. Furthermore, the virtual thing inside a virtual world or a game can be the originator of a real thing. On top of that, the virtual thing can have a value that is as legitimate as other supposedly “real” virtual things – like paper money. And the IP that’s potentially wrapped up in the virtual thing *may* or may not be of lesser value than the real thing derived from it.

    My point is that Real and Virtual are much more interchangeable than you’re allowing, and can breach the qualifier on which you’re depending. That in the “real” world we have integrated virtual things for centuries. IP is a virtual concept. Money is a virtual concept. The paradigm shift is that never before have the real and the virtual been so easily and closely interchangeable. It’s been generations since people have had to give this any thought. Recall that at one time people didn’t trust money because to them it really was just paper.

    People have forgotten that the paper in their wallet is a real thing with little inherent value (it’s just paper) that most often represents a virtual thing of much greater value (their time in someone else’s employ). Almost no one actually tries to convert their cash to the standard upon which it’s based; when they do, it’s newsworthy. And in my experience rarely do people truly think of money as representative of their labor; they assign it the value that’s printed in ink (if you find a $100 bill, do you think “I’ve just come into the representation of $100 worth of someone’s labor? Not likely, imo. I’m more like to exclaim “a $100 bill!” and immediatley think about wha physical goods I can acquire in exchange for this piece of paper).

    The virtual concept of money has been integrated into our reality. It’s the reason people have so much trouble with music and movies; they have largely perceived the container as the Thing; and purchasing the container means to many of them owning the Thing. Intellectual property is so poorly understood by the public because comments like Morgan’s – “You purchase the rights to listen to the music contained within the MP3” -are relatively new to the masses. These are new considerations for non-creators. It’s why CopyBot was so interesting to many of us: it opened up the masses to a reality faced by creators. This is new. This is the paradigm shift.

    What is also new is the idea that the digital file being sold in, for example, There, could be fabricated. I can do it now. And if its function is simple (no floating hoverboards, please), it will be a useable Real thing. That’s new. And it goes well beyond what the public is still grappling with when someone tells them they’ve not *actually* purchased the music but have licensed it.

    In the end, what I’m saying is that drawing lines in the sand between what’s virtual and what’s real is a losing proposition. I rarely read Bruce Sterling, but did catch this from his last column for Wired yesterday:

    If you’re under 21, you likely don’t care much about any supposed difference between virtual and actual, online and off. That’s because the two realms are penetrating each other…” (Link)

    Couple this with O’Reilly’s recent observation that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to discern layers of virtuality – radar.oreilly.com/archives/2006/12/which_one_was_m.html.

    I say, rather than try to account for what is Real and what is Virtual, why not simply accept that it doesn’t make any difference anymore; that we’re wrapped up in both.

  38. If there’s no fruitful distinction, Raph, then why suggest the photo is a better example in the first place?

    Well, because I thought we were doing comparisons versus items that originated purely digitally and have no real world analogue.

    Just because it’s the default state for many people, doesn’t mean the assumption should be made that it will stay in that state.

    I’m not making that assumption. I just started with a chain that was the base case.

    Those examples are, imo, pretty bad. Note that those are all examples of REAL objects. At issue is the value of a Virtual thing and its place relative to Real things. Recall that it was you who put the qualifier out: “virtual stuff is not a reflection of anything and that is what makes it different and unique“. That qualifier fails. Virtual stuff CAN be a reflection of something.

    I think we’re talking past each other here.

    At issue originally in the TerraNova post was something like a WoW sword. This is not something that is a reflection of a real world object. It may mimic the appearance of a real world object, but in actual fact, its functionality is nothing like that of a real sword. A real world object derived from it might have the functionality of a real sword but wouldn’t have any of the game-specific functionality that the WoW version does.

    I went to real objects only because, well, you & Prok did. Real objects are a different case from the WoW sword. Virtual items that are in fact blueprints for real objects are a different case for the WoW sword, and in fact arguably actually “real objects” in and of themselves.

    That is the distinction to which I was referring.

    In the end, what I’m saying is that drawing lines in the sand between what’s virtual and what’s real is a losing proposition.

    I read Bruce’s quote too. But we’re talking about law (or were originally) and law and public perception have little in common.

    Look, I agree that the whole area of fabbing from digital assets is incredibly fascinating and opens up whole new giant worm cans. But I don’t see it as breaking this essential paradigm — the WoW-style items are simply not user property, because they are purely database entries.

  39. Actually, I posited a question that appears to cause problems with some of your assertions. For example:

    All the issues of RMT and microtransactions typically get caught up in the question of what a virtual item is. So let’s settle that issue once and for all. A digital item is made up of database entries. It’s bits and bytes living on a server. It may have been made the same folks who operate the server, or it may not have. It may have been uploaded by someone who pays for the privilege of manipulating the data on the server, or it may have been uploaded by someone who gets access for free.

    My example of uploading a digital CAD file meets the qualifications you set in the above comment.

    You then say this:

    Purchases of new outfits for your golfer, new Live Arcade games, or new furniture for your house are no longer truly “microtransactions.” They are the reduction of a number in one field, and the addition of some data to another. It may be data that says you have access to a given other field in a database, or it might be a change in the records that state that you have access to download something — at which point the download system can go ahead and verify that, then initiate the download.

    But in fact, that CAD data is actually more than a simple change in the number of one field. So your comment –

    When one person sells another an EverQuest sword, what is being traded is not actually an item (as in a retail supermarket) or even a stand-in for an item (as in markets for precious metals or pork bellies) or even bytes representing a bet on future price trajectories (as in futures markets), but rather moving some bytes from one column to another that have no analogue whatsoever.

    – starts to break down. I could, in fact, fabricate that EverQuest sword. It could be fabricated using a metal rapid-prototyping system and it would be, more or less, a good physical representation of the EverQuest sword.

    You then say this:

    In fact, in the case of EverQuest, you are not even moving a copy of the sword’s information. You are only moving a pointer to the sword’s information, because in practice, there is only one sword defined in a template database. Each local copy is an illusion; your inventory says “you have Sword X.”

    Fair enough. But it wouldn’t take much for each sword to be a unique object. If, for example, some dimensional characteristics were tied to fields inside a user’s account (their age, DOB, days logged in, whatever), the shape could be modified. The file would be parametric… which happens to be a feature of the file format for Second Life which allows that kind of functionality. Now things aren’t so simple anymore.

    Okay, so much of the rest of that post are concerned with copyright. Only *you* negate it after much discussion:

    Well, everything I have said till now is based on following the letter of the law. But in practice, here’s something we do know. The law doesn’t work. Copyright, since the days of the Stationers’ Guild, is premised on social consensus — it is completely unenforceable against anyone outside the law or who does not share the same social framework.

    That’s the same argument I’ve been using.

    You then open this up to my question (posted originally above) by saying this:

    In particular, since anything that can be seen by our senses can be reproduced, for better or worse, all digital forms of enforcing copyright are doomed to fail.

    Exactly. And that means I can replicate those virtual items and they can either be representative of Real things or originators of Real things. The path goes both ways.

    Furthermore, if as you assert (and I agree) that copyright is “doomed to fail”, then it makes no sense to assume that I wouldn’t open source it; find new business models that allow this work.

    But here you say something curious:

    In the end, microtransactions are an ancillary business model because there are copies of everything everywhere. Microtransactions from the server side depend on the notion of monopoly.

    I’m not sure that this is true. Microtransactions could function without that particular monopoly and instead rely on other kinds of monopolies and perhaps Convenience. You said it: “The reason iTunes can make money is not the content, it’s the service“. Well, the reason some of the new online music services work is because they’re convenient, not because they have a monopoly. It’s more convenient (and cost effective and secure) to use iTunes rather than downloading a potentially virus-laden file off the net.

    So now look at your list of “truisms”

    – “RMT is not about IP.” (yet you raise IP in this discussion)
    – “Microtransactions work as long as providers have monopolistic or cartel-level control over the data.” (not necessarily; Microtransactions in some instances depend on monopolistic control. If I open source a file, the transaction may not actually happen within the framework of that database.)
    – “In a digital world, it is impossible to maintain said control. Everything can be copied.” (agree, and I’m fine with that and in fact that could enhance profit.)
    – “Copyright only functions as long as everyone agrees to it.” (again, agreed, only it’s not necessary to maintain copyright to profit from creating something that could claim copyright.)
    – ““Broadcast” unidirectional services are going, going, gone.” (which means that what I’m suggesting is even more likely.)
    – “Providers can still make quite a lot of money even if they give up on the notion of control, if they instead embrace the idea that what people really want access to isn’t the bytes that look like a chair, it’s the service.” (I agree. But there’s more than one way to play the game and different ideas about what constitutes “service”.)

    You then make this claim:

    The value is in the service, not the content.

    I don’t quite agree here. If the content and the service are effectively the same thing, it gets more difficult to make that claim.

    Lastly, in that post you add this edit:

    The mistake is to rely on copyable stuff for revenue.

    That’s actually funny. I can imagine a business model where relying on copying is *necessary* for revenue.

    I’ll leave it at that. Let’s just say that we should expect business models that are unique and unprecedented. There’s still room yet for new ideas.

  40. I would like to get off the table for a second.

    A recent Pew study (can’t find the link; sorry) said that kids/teens in the US today spend 8 hours a day (6ish real-time +2 of parallel processing overlap) consuming various media; everything from reading (which was around 40 minutes) to TV (4 hours; often in the background), to movies, IM, email, magazines, and the Web. Consumption of media is that which they do most. It eclipses sleep and school, dwarfs family time and sports and clubs, forget about live interaction with peers. If it’s not mediated, it’s not as likely to be in their flow.

    My point? While the container vs. content discussion is interesting, and while the ideas of copyright are always fun, and while we can talk about fabrication of physical objects from VR models… we should consider that the “life of the mind” — the importance of the content — has begun to eclipse the containers in aggregate, if not in specific instances.

    I always enjoy Prokofy’s posts; they are directional. They point towards a set of ideals that I think we need to be reminded of. I don’t always agree, and think there could be some more… restraint… but, then again… we have plenty of restraint in our worlds and not so many Prokofys ;-)

    I don’t think a virtual table is a table. I think it is different. But in my line of work as a writer, I long ago learned that “different” is almost always judged by observers/readers to mean “better” or “worse.” Not true. Different may be better/worse. Or just different. In this case, that which is virtual is, when taken with no context, simply different than that which is real. To say otherwise is foolish.

    But… the virtual can be either better or worse, eh? And to make that argument, I’d like to leave the table and embrace virtual items that have no equivalence in real life. Perhaps a “virtual” dragon. Or a furry. Or a giant cat-head growing out of the ground. Any kind of fantasy object, avatar, etc. that could not possibly exist in real life.

    How do you relate its value to an RL version? You can’t. The “content” value of something like that lies entirely in the imagination and appreciation of the user. One user may say, “Faugh!” and scorn the dragon. One may love it to distraction. Either way, the value is completely unrelated to physical reality. There is no “native container for dragon.” It is pure content value. Pure mediated value. My dragon may have the head of a sheep and sing Bing Crosby tunes. You can’t tell me “That’s not a dragon!” Because there’s no such real thing to compare it to. It was all in my/your/our minds to begin with.

    Now… Back to the table. Which has some unmediated value that may accrue from real reflections of actual tables that exist in real life. In a virtual world, however, I could make my table lighter than air and float above the floor, free of gravity. Is it still, Prokofy, as real as a real table? What if I give it ten legs and the head of a spider and make it scurry around and tip off any drink you put on it? At what point has its “table-ness” become so occluded by my tampering that anyone (besides me… and I’m free to call a hat a table) would be hard-pressed to call my table a table?

    I own all the copyright on the entries on my blog, and they are stored in an SQL database that my web host owns. I own all the digital images I create and store there. The container, as Raph says, does not define the content. And the fact that one thing (data) is a stand in for another (virtual representation of an object) isn’t legally a big deal either. Words (spoken, written or digital) are not things, and yet can be judged to cause harm in an assault or libel case. If I told the judge, “Your honor… how could I cause harm? Those were just database entries?” I’d be cited for contempt.

    Symbols are not objects. They are different. Sometimes more important, sometimes less. If I mouth off to a guy with a few stars on his shirt… no big deal. If my friend, Jason, who’s a captain in the army does so… those symbols mean a whole lot more than just “pretty, pretty, shiny, shiny.”

  41. I need bullet points, seriously. What is this discussion about?

  42. Don’t sweat it Morgan, it’s a Terra Nova™ thread.

    I kid, I kid… :)

  43. @Morgan…. Need bullets? I guess Tufte was right about the effect Powerpoint is having on our culture… ;)

  44. I don’t even use PowerPoint. I use Acrobat. ;)

    Jokes aside, I really can’t figure out what exactly this discussion is about. At one end, Raph’s talking about bits and bytes. Then there’s some RMT stuff in the mushy middle. Then we have Prokofy claiming the Matrix is real, again. A few other people are presenting what-if scenarios about… things… gah!

    Is it a debate about whether “virtual property” counts as physical property? Is it a debate about whether “virtual property” counts as “intellectual property”? Or is this entire discussion concerned with the philosophy of the propertization of virtual worlds?

  45. Look, I agree that the whole area of fabbing from digital assets is incredibly fascinating and opens up whole new giant worm cans. But I don’t see it as breaking this essential paradigm — the WoW-style items are simply not user property, because they are purely database entries.

    I agree with you that the WoW-style items are not user property. I think the only reason they are not user property is not because they are a database entry but because the EULA you sign to play the game explicitly assigns ownership to the developer. Until EULAs are challenged in a court, the EULA is binding. Let’s not even think about the international implications of the EULA being challenged in a court.

    I’ve always contended that if the IRS steps in to collect taxes on revenue earned from RMT that the ownership can of worms will be opened big time. Right now we live in a veritable house of cards with respect to ownership over virtual items because the IRS or a politician looking for new tax money could run through our ideas of IP and ownership like a bull in a china shop. The EULAs never been tested in a court of law. Right now the EULA dictates the default and I agree with the way you’re looking at the ownership issue but once a government body wants to levy a tax, I am sure people will come out and fight that initiative based on ownership.

  46. I really don’t think it is solely because of the EULA. Because of looking at it as database entries, there is zero basis for seeing it as ever being the user’s property. The EULA doesn’t explicitly assign ownership of the WoW sword to Blizzard, because there’s never even a question — of COURSE the person who created the art, defined the stats, and so on owns the IP inherent in the creation.

  47. Raph, I think you should forget the art. Users already have the right to view the art if it sits on their HD. Basic copyright law doesn’t cover personal viewing, it covers copying. I think one should try to frame this in terms similar entertainment. This isn’t primarily an IP issue.

    Bowling hall: Let’s say you pay per ball, then a friend comes along and asks if he can throw your ball. It isn’t the player’s ball, but it seems fair that he could let his friend throw for some compensation. Now, what if your hall has a scoring system, should you then be able to demand the right to sell your score to a friend? Obviously not, it would compromise the tournament, the game. This should hold for MMOs too.

    Collectible Cards: Let’s say a MMO is marketed as an item oriented game where you can exchange stuff. Players may then claim that they have the same rights to trade items as they have with their MtG cards. Just because these items are exchanged through a computer network shouldn’t matter.

    Multi-installment interactive story: The creator of a MMO sells his game a s a storyline that will unfold over 3 months. The progress is controlled through the aquisition of in-game items. Some players that has played through the storyline then sells his character and items to other players, as a net result players quit 2 months early and never get to experience the artwork as intended. In this case it is quite obvious to me that the reselling player is causing damage to the author, both in terms of art and income.

    In my view, what right users should have will have to depend on the context. (in terms of morale, not law) So the issue might not be virtual or not virtual, but what kind of system is it trying to be? What does it present itself as?

  48. It’s an IP issue because what is being sold is access to streaming data, not even a downloadable. In the WoW/EQ case, anyway.

    The bowling hall example is probably the most apropos. What’s clear there is that the player can’t sell the bowling ball itself, it isn’t his.

  49. They stream the screen image? If not, copyright only covers works of a certain complexity and with a human author behind it. I simple sentence like “place texture y on top of texture x” isn’t copyrightable. Output of an algorithm probably isn’t covered at all. (This is all technical though, and beside the main point: MMOs try to be “your life”, not just a game, that’s where the pressure comes from. Remember: over time law follows morale.)

  50. …we should consider that the “life of the mind” — the importance of the content — has begun to eclipse the containers in aggregate, if not in specific instances.

    I enjoyed Andy’s post as it starts to approach where I feared to tread when I started blurring distinctions… namely, how real is reality, and do these distinctions even make a difference anymore?

    Go Andy!

  51. 8. Selling of Items.

    Remember, at the outset of these Terms of Use, where we discussed how you were “licensed” the right to use World of Warcraft, and that your license was “limited”? Well, here is one of the more important areas where these license limitations come into effect. Note that Blizzard Entertainment either owns, or has exclusively licensed, all of the content which appears in World of Warcraft. Therefore, no one has the right to “sell” Blizzard Entertainments content, except Blizzard Entertainment! So Blizzard Entertainment does not recognize any property claims outside of World of Warcraft or the purported sale, gift or trade in the “real world” of anything related to World of Warcraft. Accordingly, you may not sell items for “real” money or exchange items outside of World of Warcraft.

    and

    11. Ownership.

    All title, ownership rights and intellectual property rights in and to World of Warcraft (including without limitation any user accounts, titles, computer code, themes, objects, characters, character names, stories, dialogue, catch phrases, locations, concepts, artwork, animations, sounds, musical compositions, audio-visual effects, methods of operation, moral rights, any related documentation, “applets” incorporated into World of Warcraft, transcripts of the chat rooms, character profile information, recordings of games played on World of Warcraft, and the World of Warcraft client and server software) are owned by Blizzard Entertainment or its licensors. World of Warcraft is protected by the copyright laws of the United States, international copyright treaties and conventions, and other laws. All rights are reserved. World of Warcraft may contain certain licensed materials, and Blizzard Entertainments licensors may protect their rights in the event of any violation of this Agreement.

    Not only is ownership explicitly granted, its also noted in more than one place in the EULA that this is the case. They even go so far as to extend the traditional employee automatic assignment of ownership to the end user. They own all transcripts of what I say in a chat room. Any UI AddOns I have zero claim to once they are incorporated into the WoW UI. All the YouTube videos featuring WoW are theirs as well. This sort of broad sweeping legal speak is usually routinely contested and shot down in courts as unconstitutional. Witness the Right to Work laws and other such contracts that were deemed too restrictive. This is why I think EULAs haven’t truly established ownership to the point where the IRS or politicians can begin to think about how to levy a tax.

    Under these terms, not only is every sword in the game theirs but so is every YouTube video of a WoW encounter theirs. I’m sure the author of these videos would take exception to the fact that Blizzard owns all of their creative efforts by default. Eventually the EULA gets tested properly in a court of law and then we can begin to discuss how to tax the whole thing. Unfortunately, politicians and such will trample all over this new market long before it has a chance to properly sort itself out.

  52. Of course EULAs are bogus, but that’s not the point. Everything Raph says about the bits and bytes is true. The idea that you somehow own “the table” in the virtual world is ridiculous in the extreme. “The table” doesn’t really exist. It’s not *property*, so it can’t BE owned in that sense. Some bits in a database somewhere might change to say that Joe doesn’t have a Glowing Sword anymore and Fred now does, but neither Joe nor Fred gained or lost any assets in the process. It’s a “transaction” in the comp-sci/database sense but not in the financial sense. If I give $100 to a gold farmer and he gives me in-world gold in exchange, it’s financially equivalent to me giving $100 to some bum on the street and him giving me nothing. Except that if a thousand people gave that bum $100 each, and he didn’t report the income (thus evading taxes), the IRS might never notice or track him down. Both the bum and IGE are legally supposed to report that income to the IRS and potentially pay tax on it.

    Now the bits and bytes might be an embodiment of some {copyright or patents or trade secrets or trademarks} which might be ownable by somebody, and possibly even taxable as an asset (I’m not sure about that part). That’s why operators try to cover themselves as much as possible in EULAs and Terms of Use with clauses like the ones Kressilac quoted above.

  53. Your bowling alley analogy may be even better (though less timeless) than my usual old chess-at-a-friend’s-house analogy. I feel like some people just skim past that and don’t hear it. It’s not an outdated mode of thought. I can’t walk out of my favorite pool hall with the eight ball. No matter how many times I sink that puppy, I don’t have any right to it. It’s merely a prop that I have been granted use of for the duration of and within the context of my play.

  54. […] A player-created (virtual) corporation in the MMOG Eve Online announced that it would be going public. That’s right: selling shares for what amounts to about $75K — not on NASDAQ, but selling shares all the same. Not a milestone in terms of value (virtual “property” has sold for greater amounts, even in Eve Online), but a conceptual milestone all the same. And how would shareholders in this Eve corporation feel about Raph Koster’s views on virtual property rights? […]

  55. If you work for a company for 20 years and they give you a gold watch, it’s yours.

    If you farm mobs for 20 hours and get an epic, why wouldn’t it be yours?

    It’s a reward for time invested. The company who gave you the watch can’t stop you from selling the watch. Why should the game company stop you from selling the epic?

    I’m not a big supporter of RMT, I do consider it a little bit of cheating, but I see all this anti-RMT “you don’t actually own that” as legislation getting in the way of people doing what they want to do. If people want to sit there and farm gold for hours upon hours, they should be able to. And if other people want to pay them real money for time they invested, why should the game company want to stop them? I don’t understand.

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