Whose game is it anyway?
Nov 05, 2008 00:00:57

This last week Raph Koster's blog pointed to an Associated Press article that has wider implications. These are implications that, to my mind leave me asking "whose game is it?" - But have me coming up with more than one answer. For those of you who may have missed it, here is the article:
"Dutch youths convicted of virtual theft

A Dutch court has convicted two youths of theft for stealing virtual items in a computer game and sentenced them to community service. Only a handful of such cases have been heard in the world, and they have reached varying conclusions about the legal status of "virtual goods."

The Leeuwarden District Court says the culprits, 15 and 14 years old, coerced a 13-year-old boy into transferring a "virtual amulet and a virtual mask" from the online adventure game RuneScape to their game accounts. "These virtual goods are goods (under Dutch law), so this is theft," the court said Tuesday in a summary of its ruling.

Identities of the minors were not released. The 15-year-old was sentenced to 200 hours service, and the 14-year-old to 160 hours"
"" Associated Press

On the face of it, anyone who has ever read an End User License Agreement (EULA) will think they have an immediate answer: The game belongs to the developers.

But maybe not...

Mark Jacobs has made it known far and wide that the very bane of his existence as a game developer is gold farmers; in fact he has launched an all out war on them in Warhammer Online. Blizzard bans more players for gold selling than some communities have residents. But with all those efforts made by both EA and Activision/Blizzard their efforts are just a matter of the proverbial Dutch boy putting his finger into what may have become an ever widening hole in a dike with millions of dollars on the other side.

Beyond the legal implications, however, the article got me thinking about some practical implications as well when it comes to the question: whose game is it?

What about the situation where a game developer like Mythic decides its game is supposed to be about Realm vs. Realm but the players decide they want something different out of the game? The blogosphere is rife with articles blasting players for not playing "the right way".

Consider some games like Ryzom where players were not only able to create their own content but were then able to upload it to the games main servers where other players could access the player created areas. Games like Ultima Online (UO) have a long history of user created worlds, albeit not exactly with the willful tolerance of EA. Not only was I a gm for such a world I spent a good deal of time designing content and live events for a "private shard" as they are called.

In any successful organization there comes a time when it will grow past its original founders as so many corporations do once they go public. However, virtual worlds are unique. As players we spend a good deal of our lives in them. We invest a good deal of ourselves in them. Even when the latest greatest MMO hits the shelves many games still have a devoted and loyal player base. I had one dear friend that told me she would be the last one there to "shut out the lights" when EA finally closed down their UO servers. There is little doubt in my mind that once she shuts out the light on EA's servers she will be turning them on somewhere else.

See you online,

Julie Whitefeather

Submitted by Brent on Nov 05, 2008 00:00:57 CST (comments: 4)


'Who's game is it?' by Seritaph
Submitted on 2008-11-05 11:29:05 CST
Good for the Dutch government. Let's make examples of those two miniature con artists. Sure it's virtual goods, but it's obviously something of value to someone (or many someones) or they wouldn't have bothered to try and take it. Crime is crime, and should be punishable.

As far as the game itself being property, well if I paid for the client, it's mine. If I buy something in a store, let's say a hair dryer, can the company the created and manufactured the product come take it back claiming ownership? No, a trade or barter was made. I give you these slips of paper with numbers on them, you give me that cool thing you made...fair deal? Should be, you set the price!

MMO's are a bit more tricky though in that character data and items are stored on the servers, and that's the part you're renting with your monthly fee. But you're not renting to own, you're just renting. But I still have temporary ownership as long as I continue to rent, right? Like an apartment. And someone can't come in and steal the apartment, can they? Because once again, I bartered an agreement of money for services. Sooner or later though, when I decide to end the agreement, I have to give the apartment back, and give up my temporary ownership.

But part of the game is still mine, that being the client. Kind of useless like a telephone with no active phone line. But the phone is mine to use. Perhaps I get creative and figure out how to connect one phone in one room to a phone in another room and get them working.

'This question comes up once in while...' by Beauturkey
Submitted on 2008-11-05 22:26:59 CST
..and the answer really is that simple. If the EULA says the game owns what you make (using, of course, the tools and devices made by the developer) then they own it, and you cannot do with it as you see fit unless it fits within what they see as fit.

Just like music. No, it is not legal to give out your cd's as free MP3's unless, of course, the owner of the music (the artist, the record label) says you can.

This is as simple as black and white, to me. If they say you don't own it, and you "sign" that agreement then you don't, period. This is not the same as a paint brush company claiming that they own my works of art because I used their paintbrushes to paint it. We are talking about players logging on to their servers, downloading their code and using that to make items or virtual goods within their world space.

We own nothing, and I like it that way. I like it when the companies make money.


'Generic Post Title' by Julie
Submitted on 2008-11-06 09:48:36 CST
@ Beau: regarding "This is as simple as black and white, to me. If they say you don't own it, and you "sign" that agreement then you don't, period." - this may be true from a gaming standpoint but not so from a legal standpoint. Real world case in point (I was a paralegal in the military and studied tort law) You can't waive your own liability. What does that have to do with anything you might say. Those little labels you see on products where the makers of the product say "we are not responsible for..." are sometimes not worth the ink it took to print the words. Likewise, as we can see with the Dutch case law in the associated press article, simply because a EULA said something that didn't make it be the way the gaming company wanted it to be

@ Seritaph: I tend to agree with you on this one and I liken it real estate law. Think of it this way. The analogy can be drawn where someeon rents real estate. The owner may have rights in a given property but when they lease the property they give up some of their rights. Those rights are then conveyed to the leasee in the form of Leasehold rights.

On the whole game companies may not want players to own products because it opens a pandors box from a legal standpoint. Keep in mind, however, we are talking about case law from another country. Still most large companies that produce mmos are international in nature and this will have a definate affect on them.

There are many players, however, like Seritaph that not only feel that it is time to take those who con other players to task but as we have seen in the news there have been people who take it so seriously they have killed other people over it.

Yes, this is an extreme example, however the overall point is this. I like the creation of a game to that of the creation of a good business: if it is very good it will grow and eventually grow and develop a life of its own. Not in the biological sense, obviously, but in the sense that those who help the product grow make it theres. In the end it seems to me that if a developer wants an mmo to be successfull they have to keep in mind that they can't tell the players who to play but rather they have to let the players tell them what it is they want out of a game.

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From the desk of Julie Whitefeather


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