[MUD-Dev] BIZ: Who owns my sword?

Jeff Cole jeff.cole at mindspring.com
Wed Oct 1 18:30:57 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

From: Marian Griffith
> From: Jeff Cole wrote:

>> The objects in question are "real" because a sentient person has
>> the right to control, and exclude others from controlling, such
>> objects.

> You are already making a lot of assumptions here :)

> Point is that players do not 'own' their game characters any more
> than they own their play token or streets in monopoly.  They use
> them to play a game.  Ownership within the game (of the so-called
> virtual objects) is subject to the laws of the game world.  Or In
> other words, to rules of the game. Allowing somebody else to take
> over a character is similar to allowing another player to take
> over from you in a game of correspondence chess.  This change does
> not create a liability in the host of either game.

> Any other position will eventually lead to ridiculous claims.  If
> you try to mix up the laws of the game world with the real world,
> you effectively equate game actions with real actions.  Murder in
> the game is not punishable by a court outside it.  Harassment is
> punishable, but the context in which it occurs is immaterial for
> the nature of the crime. Within the game, game laws apply, but if
> actions spill over in reality then real laws apply.

Much like the harassment example, the real world value represents a
"spill over" into reality.  The developer's attempt to contractually
prevent (through the EULA) a player from performing certain actions
within the game that--but for a real world interaction--would
otherwise be perfectly within the game's "laws," is also a "spill
over" into reality.

> This position also protects the game developers from idiotic
> liability and unfounded claims of 'property being stolen when the
> game was nerfed'. You can not sue the fifa for changing the rules
> of soccer.  A mud is a game, and the game rules are subject to
> change. If the rules change you can either accept them or stop
> playing, but you do not have any kind of 'right' to play by the
> old rules.

Exactly.  But you do have the "right," within the context of the
game rules, to exclude others from those items in your inventory;
and, you have the "right" to freely transfer them to another player.
One player, for whatever reason, valuing an item in real-world
dollars does not obligate the developer to maintain that value--at
least, not without a much more involved relationship between
developer and player.

> This is as far as I am concerned, the only sensible point to take
> with these issues, and one that does not require any new law to
> come into effect.  There is of course no telling what law makers
> and lawyers will do with it.

Regardless of your position, if the market for such items becomes
sufficiently valuable, then it will get addressed.  And, at least
within the US, it isn't going to be statutory (at least not at
first), it will be application of the common law (precedential law).

That's where people on this list get confused: the law already
exists, it's just waiting to be applied.  If you tell me that you
will give me your supa-dupa-sword in exchange for me giving you $X,
and then I give you the money but you do not give me the sword, I
have a claim against you for breach of contract.  If I can prove the
elements of a breach of contract claim, the law will award me the
damages I can prove (here, $X).

>> People and companies regularly offer property that they have yet
>> to acquire (and which they might not ever acquire) as security
>> against loans.

> True, but it still requires property they could legally acquire.
> With game objects that is debatable still.  You sure can not use
> your ownership of a monopoly street as security, even though the
> game says it is worth $40.000

Actually, there is no legal reason why you couldn't use your
ownership of a monopoly street as security.  It's just that it
doesn't provide much security.

Yrs. Affcty,
Jeff Cole
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