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

Jeff Cole jeff.cole at mindspring.com
Wed Oct 1 21:38:39 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

From: Crosbie Fitch
> From: Jeff Cole

>> It doesn't matter if virtual sword == real sword.  What matters
>> is that the customer has the exclusive right to that sword, and
>> can freely (or not so) transfer it to another.

> Yup, and as I suggested in an earlier post, one of the solutions
> to this would be to erode the entirely artificial feature whereby
> the player appears to have a lasting and exclusive right to a
> virtual item in their possession.

It's not artificial.  The player, through the avatar interface, does
have exclusive control over the object.  The player, to the extent
that they don't disclose their account name/password, has exclusive
access and control over the avatar.  There's no "appear"ing
involved.  It's not illusory.  The very fact that there is real
world value demonstrates that.

>> It's going to take notice because *real* people are placing
>> *real* value on the *real* rights to exclude others and freely
>> transfer *virtual* objects.  The value may well disappear if the
>> developer powers down the servers, but that doesn't matter.  When
>> the market becomes sufficiently valuable, the law will provide
>> remedies to the *real* participants.

> And that's the whole problem. A MMOG provider will face the
> prospect that, simply by creating virtual objects in a virtual
> world that players can manipulate (and value), they must grant
> rights to the players and be obliged to guarantee some degree of
> integrity for those virtual objects and the environment in which
> they're modelled - and all this before any money is involved!

You skip many steps there.  Just because a player values in
real-world dollars the ability to exclude others from some item
doesn't impose upon the developer the responsibility to maintain
that value.  There has to be more.  The "more" can arise through the
mutual agreement of a contractual relationship (that is, the
developer could *agree* to maintain the value).  The "more" might
also arise under law as some sort of fiduciary duty, but that would
require a different relationship than merely player/developer.

>> But that's not what you're discussing.  You're discussing one
>> *player's* ability to give another *player* a *virtual* object.
>> The avatar is merely a client or an interface.

> Yup. I'm trying to say that a player doesn't exchange anything in
> the virtual world. The player just makes a deal on eBay to get
> their avatar to perform a certain action within a certain virtual
> world. Co-incidentally, within that virtual world, two avatars may
> exchange items. NB I'm not saying there's anything wrong in
> that. Players have only exchanged money in return for performance
> of an action. It's dangerous to say that they've also exchanged
> property.

It's no more dangerous.  The word "property" is merely a convenient,
single word to describe a bundle of rights, the two most important
of which are the rights to exclude and freely transfer.

> The problem is that if people start believing that MMOGs are like
> share dealing systems simply because they observe a similarity
> (despite the fact that the MMOG only tends to be modelled in a
> similarly reliable fashion), it then establishes this, then
> lawyers work on this basis, and before you know it, MMOGs turn
> into dealing rooms systems, indeed they're obliged to operate as
> such.

<shrug> That isn't the way it works.  But, oh well.

> I'd suggest that this idea is broken as soon as possible by
> deliberately introducing unreliability in terms of item durability
> and the ability to retain exclusive control.

Sure.  See how many people play the game.  You're certainly free to
develop it.

> I'm trying to highlight the care with which one needs to specify
> things. If you blur distinctions between fiction and reality then
> you're bound to get into trouble.

Oh, so thick with irony.

Mere grammar will not deter the law.

Yrs. Affcty,
Jeff Cole
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