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
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 http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=10824
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
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
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
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?
sweat shops, or new economy entrepreneurs? Fox News – WoW sweat shops Anshe Chung @ Business Week
who gets to make the rules? UO farming rig Internet Gaming Entertaiment PunkBuster
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?
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
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?
Are these places going to be countries or country clubs? -- Prokofy Neva, upon being banned from a 'public library' in SL
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
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
Freedom of the press Video removed from YouTube http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5387867190768022577&q=Anshe+Chung
To what extent should the press be able to report on incidents in a VE without being sued for copyright infringement? Question
Freedom of expression Participants unable to represent their environments machinima game guides (Kopp v Vivendi) Image: Tristan Pope
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
Freedom of association Naked gnome protest http://www.cesspit.net/drupal/node/491
Freedom of expression – political protest Protest at Le Pen's Front National's SL HQ NWN
Freedom of expression – political protest Neighbouring land used to erect protest signs NWN
And the protest degenerates into days of violence NWN
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
Fantasy Westward Journey http://www.zonaeuropa.com/20060709_1.htm
Fantasy Westward Journey http://www.zonaeuropa.com/20060709_1.htm
Fantasy Westward Journey Around 10,000 protesters http://www.zonaeuropa.com/20060709_1.htm
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” http://www.zonaeuropa.com/20060710_1.htm
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
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.
Blizzard changed their mind and apologised. Is this a situation where we would have expected the law to intervene to prevent private censorship? Question
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
“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
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
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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