Mar 102008

I’m not at SXSW (we have way too much going on here at work!) but there’s a great liveblog of a panel I wish I had been at, on Virtual Worlds News, about “Human and Property Rights in Virtual Worlds”.

Wu: Will games and virtual worlds eventually compete based not on art and storyline, but on who can offer the most rights to players?

I hope the answer is “yes.” What’s more, I hope that at some point there’s a minimum standard accepted industrywide and enforced by an industry trade body. As in, companies join the trade body and as part of that they agree to uphold a base set of practices and policies as a condition of membership.

  10 Responses to “SXSW: Human and Property Rights in Virtual Worlds”

  1. SXSW: Human and Property Rights in Virtual WorldsPosted on March 10, 2008 by Raph

  2. Alas, I wish this was the case, but I fear that consumers will often trade their rights for the latest shiny bauble, and for convenience.

    I give you the iPod as case in point. Game consoles are an example that is closer to home (and thus perhaps we are unable to see the forest for the trees?)

  3. […] Boards. Bookmark to:          Raph’s Website : SXSW: Human and Property Rights in Virtual Worlds Author : Raph Posted : March 10 2008 […]

  4. Here’s another transcript(s) and reviews from other sources ( )

  5. “Terms of Service” seems to be the strongest model. It is property only if an owner can restore a file to a prior state without the server owner’s permission either directly through other services or by legal force which equates to the same thing. The kind or type of file is not the issue. It’s state is. It seems to me it is more analogous to one’s credit records and credit rating than to one’s car.

    BTW: if it is property, and speculate that it has AI or is loaded with a virus, what happens if it does something destructive? Is that similar to parental laws for children?

  6. >As in, companies join the trade body and as part of that they agree to uphold a base set of practices and policies as a condition of membership.

    Well, unless they get some kind of special dispensation because the design of the particular virtual world they’re creating calls for it. I’d hate for a responsible company to have to leave any industry body simply because it wanted to release an avant garde world that consciously fell below the minimum standards to make a point. One of the worlds built on the MUD1 engine, MIST, had arbitrary and unfair acts of capricious gods as a gameplay element, for example.

    If you tell the players in advance to expect to be ripped off, and tell the industry body that this is what you’re doing, shouldn’t that be enough of a defence?


  7. That’s why it has to be an industry body — one that understands things like that.

  8. I’m glad Susan Wu advanced this conversation further, beyond the usual boring round of game gods insisting on EULA and TOS and magic-circle exemptions from real-life law, and real-life lawyers dismissing pixels as merely code that should belong only to game-gods. It’s all good. Good for Susan Wu. And frankly, it seems to have taken Susan Wu to do this. Unless venture capitalists demand that game publishers begin to incorporate more rights into their games, they will not be motivated. They’ll have to be persuaded that their market share is at stake. I don’t imagine this will be easy to do.

    Raph, I don’t think you need to be hasty in setting industry-wide standards. The *process itself* is almost more important than the end result, because getting the process — the institutions for making process always work — is terribly important.

    The Articles of Confederation didn’t get transformed into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in a weekend seminar. It took years. It was painful struggle, with factions, personalities, clashing ideas, power plays, etc. The result has been an amazing achievement, really, even if you become cynical about habeus corpus under Bush — the fact is, you have the tools to remedy what damages the president does do.

    That’s why you can’t merely perceive this virtually analogous effort, Raph, as something “the industry” does. That the makers of games and worlds get together at a conference and decide what rights they will cede to the mortals. King George doesn’t write the Constitution and pass it; Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock and the rest do. There has to be an inclusive process, a roadmap for getting there just as much as any tech roadmap people are always devising for the Metaverse.

    Now *why* am I not surprised that Richard Bartle is hurrying to this thread and throwing up his arms in horror at the thought that someone might curtail or penalize “arbitrary and unfair acts of capricious gods as a gameplay element, for example”. Why does invocation of “human rights and property rights” conjure up this fear…that literature — and that’s what it is, essentially, literature — will be harmed? What’s really going on here?

    Why is it that every time someone makes a pull in the direction of ending unjust and unfair arbitrary acts not even intended as gameplay, the game gods must rush in to defend their freedom of speech to make fantasies? is it that they in fact aspire to more?

    No one is going to touch gameplay that is of this nature *with consent* Richard. But it’s the lack of consent for all the capricious acts of game-god customer service that people really are increasingly challenging.

    I mean, The Sims Online/EA-Land lost my damn land and messed up my sim’s name. Hell, I’ve paid them $9.95 for five years. What the heck! I played fair, and toiled away at the preserve and pizza machines for five long years, and my land was arbitrarily stripped away from me during a server move. My name was changed and a number added by mistake. Isn’t this a tortious act?

    And Raph, I’m not sure I like you making an “industry body” if what it means is that it gets to set up little private understandings with game-gods who are quick to find danger to consensual gameplay at every turn when it’s not really the issue.

    Look, nothing about us/without us. And I sure don’t speak for many people, and the game and virtual world scenes are rather diverse. The process for making a coherent Magna Carta out of such a chaotic scene won’t be easy, either. That can’t be an excuse not to be inclusive of players in deciding about their rights.

  9. 1) I consider players to be part of the industry 🙂

    2) I do agree with Richard that some worlds will have specialized needs; there isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all solution. A world intended for psych research has different conditions than one intended for user creation and commerce.

    3) That said, I think there are commonalities. Among them, you should know what the rules are when you log in, you should have recourse in case of complaint, etc.

    4) the question was “eventually.” I don’t think this happening overnight at all.

  10. Ok, then I create my artsy cyberpunk game “1984 1/2” where there are only 3 known rules:

    1. You are not supposed to retain any rights or power.
    2. Hidden rules may change at any time.
    3. Personal real-life communication is not safe.

    “Human and property rights in virtual worlds” is a vision that begs for blandness. It ought to be enough to discourage personal communication and assert that all creative input is volunteered work for which property rights do not exist. Artists should have the right to create artistic fictional worlds where “anything can happen”. Just like authors do. Authors should be allowed to write a horror novel under the title “Innocent Stories”, surely misleading, maybe somebody will lose sleep over it, but so what?

  11. Cool, people liveblogged this. Thanks for linking to it. I’ll have to write a post about why I wanted to put a panel like this together and why I think this topic and more community awareness of these issues are important for moving the entire industry forward.

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