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Governance in Virtual Environments Nic Suzor QUT Law School Institute for Creative Innovation.

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Presentation on theme: "Governance in Virtual Environments Nic Suzor QUT Law School Institute for Creative Innovation."— Presentation transcript:

1 Governance in Virtual Environments Nic Suzor QUT Law School Institute for Creative Innovation

2 virtual environments  Multiplayer  Real time simultaneous  Immersive  Persistent

3 suspension of disbelief, not virtual reality picture: AlexPGP @ flickr

4 evolution picture: kgeiger @ flickr

5 evolution

6 picture: stuartp @ flickr

7 evolution AA store, built by Aimee Weber

8 narrative environments vs social spaces Game style worlds  World of Warcraft, Lineage (I & II), City of Heroes, Everquest (I & II), Star Wars Galaxies, etc.  Strong central narrative Social spaces  Second Life, A Tale in the Desert, Project Entropia, There, etc.  No central narrative – free form

9 Who cares about games?

10 subscribers care about games

11 publishers care about games market value for MMOs in the West hit $1bn for the first time in 2006 (screendigest) WoW accounted for 54%, revenue: USD$471m

12 economists care about games  Castronova on Everquest in 2001:  Nominal wage USD$3.42/hour  GNP per capita USD$2,266 77 th in the world, between Russia and Bulgaria  Project Entropia, Second Life  real currencies, real exchange rates  booming virtual real estate business

13 It's not just about property

14 Castranova: 20% of Everquest players live in Norrath and commute to Earth to support themselves

15 Not just money! Social relationships  people live, love, learn in these spaces  play, trade, socialise – no real limit to motivations of participants

16 “Virtual worlds are entitled to respect because real people care about them and come together in them.” -- Grimmelmann

17 What are the rules?

18 what are the rules? Governed by contract (EULA, ToS)  Blizzard may terminate this Agreement at any time for any reason or no reason. In such event, you must immediately and permanently destroy all copies of the Game in your possession and control and remove the Game Client from your hard drive. Upon termination of this Agreement for any reason, all licenses granted herein shall immediately terminate. (WoW EULA, cl 6) The virtual world is the property of the platform owner  a (mostly) benign dictatorship

19 What are the problems?

20 near-term tensions  Real Money Trades (RMTs)  Virtual crimes  Virtual liberties  Intellectual property – copyright  Privacy

21 Tension: Real Money Trades MMORPGs are boring Time-poor players pay others to grind for them  money, items, status Game-based worlds often prohibit RMTs  seen as a breach of the magic circle  potentially harms subscription model – removes grind, and lowers barriers to exit  players dislike both 'eBayers' and 'farmers' eBayers obtain benefits without labour; farmers cause inflation

22 RMTs (cont) Blizzard banned 114,000 EU accounts in April 2007 Actively encouraged by other worlds  Everquest, Ultima Online – centralised trading  Project Entropia, Second Life – fluid economy Selling property of the publisher, or buying the labour of the participant?

23 sweat shops, or new economy entrepreneurs? Fox News – WoW sweat shops Anshe Chung @ Business Week

24 who gets to make the rules? UO farming rig Internet Gaming Entertaiment PunkBuster

25 what happens if the rules change? Expect virtual environments to adopt a services based economy  power-levelling, custom designs, etc Economy based primarily on artificial scarcity  vulnerable to inflation, flooding by platform owner or participants Detinue and Conversion of virtual wealth? Suits against platform owner for unfair competition?

26 Should we ever prevent platform owners from making changes which affect perceived value? (Bartle warns that admins must have the power to make changes) Question

27 Tension: Virtual liberties Freedom of expression Freedom of the press Freedom of association As more of our interactions occur in these virtual environments, who controls our relationships? Public activities in private spaces Who has rights of exclusion?

28 Are these places going to be countries or country clubs? -- Prokofy Neva, upon being banned from a 'public library' in SL

29 Freedom of the press Anshe Chung, self proclaimed Second Life millionaire, has had a lot of publicity over the past year Second Life's first Property Magnate Organised a Q&A session for CNET in December 2006

30 Freedom of the press Anshe claimed copyright in videos of the attack, and made a DMCA complaint against reporters Complaint withdrawn after advice from the EFA that the videos were fair use

31 Freedom of the press Video removed from YouTube

32 To what extent should the press be able to report on incidents in a VE without being sued for copyright infringement? Question

33 Freedom of expression Participants unable to represent their environments  machinima  game guides (Kopp v Vivendi) Image: Tristan Pope

34 When everything a participant can see is a digital copyright work, it becomes impossible to represent their environment without infringing copyright. Should we allow people this ability? Question

35 Freedom of association Naked gnome protest

36 Freedom of expression – political protest  Protest at Le Pen's Front National's SL HQ  NWN

37 Freedom of expression – political protest  Neighbouring land used to erect protest signs  NWN

38  And the protest degenerates into days of violence  NWN

39 Community reactions SL Left Unity group “will be manning a protest [...] until FN go or are ejected. Wherever fascists are we will ensure they get no peace to corrupt and lie to decent people.” "With this persons we can't debate or ignored. We can't because it's not acceptable." "They're a bunch of losers, [...] We're gonna tighten security and come back." - FN Officer Wolfram Hayek

40 Fantasy Westward Journey

41 Fantasy Westward Journey

42 Fantasy Westward Journey Around 10,000 protesters

43 Fantasy Westward Journey High level alleged ringleader locked up in a permanent prison, guild disbanded Playing for 2 years, leader of a top-five guild, spent AUD$6500+ on points and equipment Avatar name translates to “Kill the little Japs” Guild name to “The Alliance to Resist Japan”

44 Examples demonstrate the power of protest in virtual environments If it weren't for issues with server load, do we have an obligation to allow non-violent in- world protests? Question

45 Virtual liberties – discrimination Tired of intolerance, Sara Andrews wanted to start an in-game guild which was friendly to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered players:  “OZ is recruiting all levels, but especially 50-60s! [...] We are not "glbt only", but we are "glbt friendly"!” Response from Blizzard:  Please remember that it is up to our sole and absolute discretion whether or not to allow certain types of language in the game. While some language in and of itself may not be offensive, it may incite certain responses in other players that will allow for discussion that we feel has no place in our game. As such, I am afraid that I am unable to reduce, reverse or otherwise amend our previous decision.

46 Blizzard changed their mind and apologised. Is this a situation where we would have expected the law to intervene to prevent private censorship? Question

47 Tension: Virtual crimes Fraud? online gaming? tax evasion? Money laundering?

48 Virtual crimes Extortion? Griefing?

49 Who decides when an action in a virtual environment is a 'crime'? Should criminal law ever regulate purely internal actions, or should these be within the control of the platform owner? Question

50 How do we decide what to do?

51 Evaluating potential approaches Essential tension: allowing virtual environments to develop vs regulating to protect legitimate interests

52 If you don't like it, leave... Solution

53 Limits to a contractual solution EULAs and ToSs are one-sided Virtual worlds are designed to encourage high switching costs Play is constructed in a way that benefits the subscription model

54 “if you don't like it, leave”?  right of exit dependent on low switching costs  high switching costs important for continued subscriptions  Very difficult to leave an environment which is designed to attach you property, status, social relationships

55 Evaluating potential approaches In the next few years, courts and legislatures will be asked to make decisions in these matters The decisions that will be made will shape the development of future virtual environments

56 How do we know when to regulate and when to let these realms develop for themselves? The wisdom to know the difference

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