Thursday, April 6, 2006

The virtual "property" promise

I don't play MMO's. Hate'em. I've tried and tried, but just doesn't do it for me.

However, I do follow the goings-on in and around them, as it's facinating stuff.

Terra Nova had a question posted, spawned by the Oblivion "buy yerself some horse armor" thing:

Oblivion now allows you to buy armor kits for your horse using real world currencies, in a way that is almost exactly the same as real money trades (RMTs) which have been occuring in MMOGs for years. In 1000 words or less, discuss whether either of these types of assets are property for the purposes of any legal systems, paying particular attention to why few people would think that the Oblivion armor kits are property, but the same is not true for virtual assets

I posted an answer I am rather fond of and would like readers to tear apart for the sake of good bloggy discussion. Here it is:

I do not think they are property. It's a purchase of a promisory note of sorts. A promise of a service that will be delivered, in a certain way, under certain conditions.
At the end of the day, there are bits on a server somewhere, on a hard drive. And the hard drive still belongs to the owner of the physical device.

However, by offering a service (an MMO, virtual world, whatever) the provider has made a contract with the player. That service agreement had obligations from both sides. Part of the terms of which might include some detail about how people may or may not exchange such promisory notes with one another. The note is a negotiable instrument.

In other words, player 1 says to player 2 "you give me 100 of those 'gold coin' promises, and I'll give you 1 of these 'horse armor' promises."

Just as a dollar bill in the real world is promise from an institution that it will provide a certain value or perform a certain function, so to is the case here. In this case, the service provider (game owner) has an understanding of what functionality it will provide in the game software for a "gold coin promise" or a "horse armor promise".

That's my two cents worth (where 'cent' here is a promise of a very amateurish attempt at a legal point of view on the subject :-)

OK. comments?


Darius Kazemi said...

I think that treating virtual property as a service and not a product is a very good way of thinking about the problem. It's also a succinct way of putting it; I've always searched for a good way to put it, and you've hit the nail on the head.

kim said...

*promise of service*. There's a difference. Just like a UK 'pound sterling' was originally a promise from an institution that they'd give you a pound of sterling silver.