Call 911, He Stole My Magic Sword

from the the-sheriff-of-WoW dept

At a gaming conference, Microsoft warned that multi-player online games have significant security vulnerabilities, and that the growing value of in game assets was a juicy target for criminals. As we’ve seen in the past, MMORPGs are facing more and more real world complications as people invest an increasing amount of money into them. This problem is only going to get worse; as one Microsoft researcher put it, “The police are really good at understanding someone stole my credit card and ran up a lot of money. It’s a lot harder to get them to buy into ‘someone stole my magic sword.'” But before discussing how law enforcement can address the situation, game developers and players should try to define the border between the game and the real world. For example, most people would accept that if your character is mugged inside a game, then that’s part of the gameplay, not a legal issue. But what about counterfeiting gold pieces? What about running a script inside the game that transfers gold from one player to another? Before diverting law enforcement resources to rectify players’ complaints, companies running online games need to strive to develop their own security measures that satisfy their players.

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Comments on “Call 911, He Stole My Magic Sword”

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Anonymous Coward says:

IANAL, But...

this is a VERY interesting topic to me.

Where do the terms of service end and the rule of law begin?

To be theft, for instance, the thing being stolen would have to be recognized to have a certain value. Are we about to see the creation of a “virtual appraisal” industry? Allowing you to receive a defensible fair market value for your magic sword.

Saxis says:

RE: Cyber Crime

If it did lead to giving cyber gear in games a face value, I’ll bet you could make a boatload of money selling “Cyber Insurance”. Of course to prove that said item was stolen/lost, you’d need cooperation with game manufacturers/server maintainers to be able to check the logs. You would probably have to “license” or “register” all items that are insured. Hmm… there’s probably $$’s in my eyes right about now…

TLW says:

People sell in game money online thus creating a value for it. This isn’t legal of course and it would be like saying someone stole my drugs for those that do sell it.

Besides it takes time and the loot is the only compensation you receive for it. I would not be happy if someone stole it…

I think the only law that could be enforced is to have the player banned from the game for bad behavior and that is the job of the game administration not the law.

Tom says:

Re: Re:

People sell in game money online thus creating a value for it. This isn’t legal of course and it would be like saying someone stole my drugs for those that do sell it.

Show me a law that says selling in game money is not legal. It might be against the TOS of a particular game to trade real world money for in game items, but that doesn’t make it a crime punishable under law.

oldbear says:

You clicked "I agree"

If you read(most don’t) the terms of agreement and end-user’s lic in most games – hacking of the kind talked of here is punishable by “the boot”. Blizzard, for one, will cancel your account for using 3rd party programs that them don’t like, for being racist, for doing anything that they believe they don’t like. Why would the police need be involved unless a real-world crime was commited?

john b god says:

Remeber Eddie Guerrero

We should remember the late Eddie Guerrero’s credo “I lie, I Cheat, I steal”

In Mexico we have an old saying “el que no tranza no avanza” meaning “he who won’t cheat won’t advance” and that goes from politics to every day life so mmorpg seems to be the virtual Mexico so virtual problems wont be a an interest especialy since ther is no application againts piracy laws same as for the death penalty

Anonymous Coward says:

People need to remember that these are games. they are bound by the EULA – EVEN IF they are 187 pages long and don’t want to read it.

If they are dumb enough to hack and/or invest real money into the game – other than monthly dues, etc. – then they should pay the consequences.

For other daily spiffs, there are in-game GM’s.

Anonymous Coward says:


EULAs are not contractually binding. They never have been, and it’s been shown time and again not to hold up in court. In the US at least, for a contract to be valid, representatives from both parties must be verifyably present at the time of agreement. No Blizzard Employee over the age of 18 was sitting on the other side of the internet tube and clicking “I agree as well” when I installed my software.

Sorry, but people can (and will!) sue when they think they’ve lost something of value. Even if YOU don’t see it as valuable. Open your eyes to the world you live in, not just the narrow bit that applied directly to you.

Patrick says:

Re: EULA???

Listen: EULA = Agreement = Legaly Binding within the terms of the law (local, federal, etc.) This means if you say yes to a EULA the company who wrote it is in their right to do what they said in the EULA *as long as it doesn’t break the law itself* Besides you spent $500(USD) on a magic sword for a game you play and it gets “stolen” GOOD should have earned it than you could have somthing to complain about. Like a lack of a real life.

Adam says:

Game cheating should never be handled by the real

The day my tax dollars are spent to fund police at punishing someone for stealing non-existant imaginary items from a video game, is the day I officailly declare this world doomed from excessive ignorance.

You can’t sue a game company for a bug in their game that deletes all your fake gold, so why would a security hole that allows someone to effectively do the same be reason for criminal investigation?

What is the line between a computer game and board game like Monopoly, that for some reason someone can steal from the banker, and if you called the real police they’d laugh at you, yet cheating in an online game and all of a sudden everyone thinks this is a hard / interesting subject. Sorry, there is nothing complex here, it is a simple case of trying to mix the real world with the imaginary.

And if you want to use the excuse of “But I pay real money for access to this game and service, which is different from playing a free board game.”, that would be a good point, except for the fact that Monopoly cost money to buy before you can play. And you can’t bring ‘but I buy gold online with real money’ excuse into this either because that is clearly against most MMORPG TOS which puts YOU at fault for any losses.

Playing video games online comes with the implied understanding that there will always be risk of cheaters. You automatically accept this fact once you click ‘I agree’ on MMORPG EULAS. Heck, even without it being written out, it is common sense and a fact of online gaming. As well, leave it to the developers to fix and/or police their own game. It should be THEIR job, as it is THEIR world for them to add whatever rules they want, and should enforce to the best of their ability. They may not stop all cheating, but that does not mean the government should step in, that is just rediculous. Leave it to the GM’s who are paid by your monthly fee, not by the police who are paid by everyones taxes, most of whom don’t even play your imaginary game.

Further, the thought of having local police handle a game which can have cheating conflicts across multiple countries would make policing games difficult even if it made any sense to do so, which again it doesn’t.

Only if the video game was used as an assessory to a real life crime, should the police get involved.

It really is that simple.

Josh says:


“that satisfy their players.”

Funny. I did some GameMaster work for one of the larger text-based MUDs (1000+ simultaneous users). Satisfying a large portion of the player base is possible, but handling the types of users this article is about is inifintely more difficult. Stealing was noticeable part of the game, players had to agree to the terms and conditions whenever they logged, one of the classes/guilds was “The Thief Guild” who needed to train the stealing skill (either from NPCs or other players). And despite this, the moment some people lost a dozen coins, the amount you could get from killing nearly any critter, they’d be screaming for the GMs. You can satisfy most people most of the time, but if you try to go beyond that, you’re risking pissing off everyone.

Adam says:

“Sorry, but people can (and will!) sue when they think they’ve lost something of value. Even if YOU don’t see it as valuable. Open your eyes to the world you live in, not just the narrow bit that applied directly to you.”

Actually, they can’t sue for losing an imaginary sword of magic. Because they never OWNED such an item. The only thing they legally own is the game install software, and the bits of data on their hard drive. In an MMORPG the items your characters have are stored on the developers database. They own the bits, and allow the servers to send the required info so that such items appear in your imaginary inventory once you log into their servers.

Therefor you can not sue for losing a fake item, as you never owned it to begin with. Just as you can not sue a game company for shutting down their game servers, which would mean you lost access to everything you thought had value. It is all just different states of data being sent to your PC. One state makes it look like you have something, another state looks like you don’t.

Don Gray says:

Re: Re:

Just like the “bits” that repesent money in your bank account aren’t real?

I sure would love to have you as a customer at my new bank! I have a great deal going right now… I’ll store the “bits” that represent your money in my database. So if they disappear please don’t complain!

If your mind is unable to make this leap, please explain the impact of someone losing “funds” from their paypal account…

Anonymous Brave says:

This is an interesting subject. Virtual money, magic swords, uber loot and the works are just that; virtual. Not real. They’re actually not even the property of you, but the game license holder. But the time you invest in some of these items could be worth alot indeed. Time does = money after all.

On this subject, read this article from PC Gamer UK:

In short, it’s about a group of people who infiltrates another corporation (=guild) as part of a contract killing, spends a year or so under cover whilst puppeteering events to gain trust and positions of power, then one day deal the lethal blow by emptying all corporate shared items hangars, the corporate wallet and destroying an extremely rare space vessel. Estimated damage; around 40 billion ISK (in-game currency) or $16,500 US Dollars. Gives perspective on things. Incidentally, this article is why EVE Online has such a large amount of UK players.

My opinion though is this: what happens in the game, stays in the game.

Anonymous Coward says:

ok... A lot of missed points here

The “real” problem, as I see it is someone using real-world hacking to obtain somones credentials to the game, and then logging in as them. (this should count as the real world crime of identity theft)

Once you can log in with their characters, you can give the “stuff” (…whatever) to one of your own accounts, or even launder it through a whole chain of accounts.

If I were to say, steal your username and password for your bank account, and transer all your money out of it, would you then agree that the money didn’t really exist, it was jsut some 1s and 0s in a database, so you don’t have any recourse? I highly doubt it.

The problem is a real one. And it only gets worse as mmos gain in popularity. Do you think Duran Duran would like it if someone logged in as them in second life and decided to “burn” their island and proceed to sling racial insults like kool aid at a jamboree?

But its just a bunch of 1s and 0s in a database right?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ok... A lot of missed points here

Me again (forgot a point).

Although I do think there are real world problems here, I do think it’s of the utmost importance for the game publisher to provide a secure environment.

I’ll take Blizzard for an example here.

They can’t MAKE kids use long strong passwords, but they can try to inform them. And they do.

They can’t MAKE kids not share their accounts, but they can try to inform them why they shouldn’t.

However, if they did something stupid, like transmit the account credentials in plain text during the act of “logging in” then there would be hell to pay. It wouldnt need to come in police action tho. They woudl pay merciless for their lack fo security by paying subscriptions getting cancelled left and right.

TLW says:

People sell in game money online thus creating a value for it. This isn’t legal of course and it would be like saying someone stole my drugs for those that do sell it.

Besides it takes time and the loot is the only compensation you receive for it. I would not be happy if someone stole it…

I think the only law that could be enforced is to have the player banned from the game for bad behavior and that is the job of the game administration not the law.

Bobloblaw says:


I don’t know about other MMORPGs but the only cheats I’ve ever heard of in WoW is people buying gold, and the people they buy gold from have to play the game to farm for materials and sell them legitimately in order to make the gold that they want to sell in the first place. There is no way to “steal” gold or other items from another player in WoW, even if you kill someone you don’t get to loot another player. I’ve never heard of a single instance of someone being robbed in the game. Of course if someone gets ahold of your username and password, that’s another story…

One of the reasons I like WoW so much is that they’ve purposely made it so that you are protected from other players. In fact if you are on a regular (non-PVP) server you may never get killed by another player ever, and you never lose your items no matter what.

I used to hate playing Diablo online because you would get ganked by someone before the load screen even disappears, and they would loot all your items and gold. That kind of game is stupid and anyone who plays it hopefully knows the risks. And if a game allows you to be looted then you have no recourse, either go get your revenge on them or don’t play the game!

Ryan says:

Imaginary, eh?

Of course, one could argue that intellectual property (an idea in one’s head) is also “imaginary”, and stealing this property should be punished. There should be no question that a “crime” has been committed. The question should be, “Who punishes the assailant and compensates the victim?”

In the case of MMORPG theft, I believe that the TOS offers sufficient punishment for the offender. For the victim, it should be as simple as keeping an inventory log. Of course, the burden of all of this should be merely on the parent company. I say this now – No law enforcement dollars should ever be spent to recover in-game MMORPG losses.

As for the people who purchase in-game collateral (gold, items, characters, etc.) with legal tender, they have already committed a violation against the parent company of the game. While we shouldn’t celebrate such losses, we should also not compensate someone who “stole” this property in the first place. Unfortunately, there is often no way to trace the transaction to determine whether the item in question was sold or given to them.

Some in-game items do take tremendous amounts of time and effort to attain, for the people that go about it as the game intended. In the end, though, it is still just a game and should be treated as such.

He who Knows the Know says:

One key thing missing here guys

Everything written in here for the most part, has fully valid points. But there is one thing that is being forgotten. Games like Seccond Life, and Project Entropia, not only allow you to use REAL currency to buy in game currency, but also allow the reverse to happen.

So what happens when this virtual “Magic Sword” actually gets stolen, sold, then turned into $3000 US dollars.

Suddenly its not so “virtual”, and on top of that, their is actual federal currency involved on both ends of the deal.

Riddle me that!


Joe Smith says:

You knew I was a snake


People go to online games to engage in conduct without consequences. What a surprise, they encounter other people who also want to engage in conduct without consequences.

This is an issue to be dealt with by the companies running the games. If the company can’t produce a satisfactory result, players go somewhere else.

Bladez says:

Cyber Crime

Amusements of the lesser fortunate should not concern those who value the truth behind the honor.

If you play a game and you medallion of eternal life is stolen, LEARN from it. If you account is hacked then you can take your problem to the game provider.

This is just more “oooh, did you see this guy complain about that guy” bull (insert explisive)

Obvious Man says:

Will (hopefully) never happen.

Bureaucracy has infiltrated damn near every business including the police. In many cases, there’s far greater chances for you to escape getting a speeding ticket because a cop may be sitting in a car or bike writing out paperwork before s/he even gets started checking traffic. Why the hell would anyone want to overtax the system with even more excess bullshit from an online game when you know you should get help if you’re putting significant money into it?

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

This obsession people have with calling currency in online games “fake” always annoys me. What makes it fake? Is it that you can’t go down the street and buy a soda with it? What if I handed you 100 Iceland Kronurs (about $1.50 in U.S. Dollars), and asked you to get me a soda? Would the cashier take the money? Probably not. Does that make Kronurs fake money? Not in the least. Money has value because people percieve to have value, and no other reason. Iceland has a population of about 300 thousand. World of Warcraft has about 5.5 million players. To those 5.5 million players, their gold is very real to them. They can use it to purchase goods and services they want. And since there are more WoW players then there are Icelandians (sp?), doesn’t that mean WoW gold is a more commonly used currency than the Kronur? Fake indeed.

As for the other issues at hand, selling in-game money is not illegal, only banned by most TOS. If your items or gold are stolen due to an in-game feature, no crime is committed, you were aware of the risks. If you gave away your password to some scammer, it’s your own fault. But if someone hacks into the game server (a very real crime), and steals/deletes your items, I think you deserve recompense.

He who Knows the Know says:

Oy vey

“Why the hell would anyone want to overtax the system with even more excess bullshit from an online game when you know you should get help if you’re putting significant money into it?”

It is statements like this that make me believe most people never stop and think about anyone but themselves.

Because, OBVIOUSLY, all online enviroments that are not traditional web pages are games.

Belive it or not, where not just talking about games for kids here. Enviroments like Second Life, can be considred a game, but it can also be a basic platform for basically any buisness existing on the internet today, to come through in a more dynamic way than simple flat webpages.

I know it’s hard to understand for some people, but things change, morph, evolve, into other things, or into other areas often.

In 15 years, I think MMORPG’s as a whole are going to be radically different, in game play and economics. It is allready starting to happen. Eventually there won’t be so many people “playing” in virtual enviroments, as there will be “working” in virtual environments.

In summary, just because YOU think there is no economic viability, or point in something, does not make it true. Also just because you don’t see the value someone gets from playing a game, does not mean it does not exist.


He who Knows the Know says:

Why is everyone ignoring this

There are “games”, “environments”, “communities”, whatever you want to call it, that are BUILT FROM THE GROUND UP TO EXCHANGE REAL CURRENCY INTO GAME CURRENCY AND BACK OUT AGAIN!

In my oppinion, THIS, is where the actual issue lies. Not in these quasi – legal instances where it was never part of the buisness plan in the first place.

These games that arent even designed to have real money value placed on the in game items, its pretty much open and shut.

To me it is obvious this IS a legit issue, but not in the way most of you are all addressing it!


rijit (profile) says:

What was this topic about?

Oh yeah. The reason companies like Microsoft make statements like “Microsoft warned that multi-player online games have significant security vulnerabilities, and that the growing value of in game assets was a juicy target for criminals.” is because most of the property they sell to people is intellectual/virtual property, nothing physical to it. The more they blur the line between each, the more monetary value they create for their products. Kind of like a reverse supply and demand, supply the problem and demand the government/law/etc fix it. The more laws in place to protect their intellectual/virtual properties, the more money users are willing to spend, knowing if something does go wrong, the law, not some game company, will step in to fix it. Just an opinion, on to the next post.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you can sell a virtual item online, (say, ebay) for real money. Then that virtual item has an actual, tangible, monetary value. The fact that you can sell it proves this.

It’s no different than an insurance company selling you a piece of paper that says you have coverage. That piece of paper isn’t worth anything. But it’s a tangible representation of an agreement that can be worth quite a bit. Hell you can buy an insurance policy entirely online with no papers at all. What did you get that was tangible? What did you get that had, real, monetary value? An insurance policy. The ONLY difference is that there are real world laws enforcing the insurance policy.

An online-in game item can very easily have real value. More to some, less to others. Don’t discount people losing stuff in games, just because YOU don’t care about the game, or the stuff.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think the concept of a virtual society has been explained in enough books that people would know by now that it is not healthy and does not work.

Online life and real life HAVE to be separated.

I know enough people who waste their lives on a stupid MMO.

Next thing you know, google will have its own virtual currency to buy stuff online with… Then you can buy a virtual house for your virtual little self that has a customizable virtual hair style… AND hell lets go virtual fishing instead of ACTUALLY going fishing!

No thank you… I think ill live in a virtual world when I can’t walk anymore.

Down with MMOs!

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