Legal Issues Seeping Into Virtual Worlds

from the can't-keep-up dept

Just in dealing with websites there have been all sorts of legal questions about jurisdictions and do offline laws apply in an online world. Now the issue is becoming even more complex as more and more "virtual world" games are showing up - and actions in those virtual worlds may seem very much like actions in the offline world. So the question is whether or not those actions are just "part of the game" or are they real actions with legal consequences. It's a very fine line. We had mentioned this issue a couple months ago, but now some folks are holding an entire conference focused on the legal questions presented by online gaming. Some think that the virtual worlds will be a good "testing ground" for new laws and rules that could be applied in the real world. However, others are simply focused on how offline laws carry over into the online virtual worlds. If someone steals from you, is it theft? If someone defames you, can you sue? The biggest issue, it seems, is when real world money crosses over into the virtual worlds. Once money gets involved, so does the law - which could present problems for the crop of new games focused on bringing in real money. In many cases, it seems that the company creating the virtual world really is that world's government - and they make the laws that apply within the sandbox of the virtual world. Still, many people will undoubtedly try to pull things out of that sandbox and into the very real world court system.
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  1. identicon
    Oliver Wendell Jones, 13 Nov 2003 @ 12:42pm

    Project Entropia

    Project Entropia is going to have to be really careful about this.

    Project Entropia is a futuristic MMORPG that uses real world currency as in-game currency. If you need X credits to buy a new gun or armor, you whip out your credit card and transfer funds from your real world bank to the in-game bank and then go buy a gun (a cheap gun costs something like $2 real world money).

    If you kill another player and take his equipment, you can sell it at the store for in-game money then go to the in-game bank and convert it back to real cash in your real world bank.

    For one, if there are really expensive items in the game (i.e. a space station that cost $10,000+ real world money) I can see it possibly being used to launder money. Likely? Probably not, but it could happen.

    Worse, I can see gangs of extortionists killing other people for their items, or offering them 'protection' in exchange for half their items, or something similar.

    I played Project Entropia for one day (free download, no startup fees) and put $10 real world money in my bank and bought a gun, some bullets and went hunting. After going through $8 worth of bullets I had found enough 'loot' that I could that would let me buy another $0.50 worth of bullets. I realized then that this was a glorified jackpot machine and that I could keep shoveling money into all day hoping to find the one monster that would drop an immensely valuable item so I could cash out.

    There are (theoretically) highly valuable items that can be found, and when someone does find one a system-wide message is sent out, just like the flashing lights and ringing bells when someone hits a jackpot in Vegas.

    It's been over a year, I wonder if the $0.50 I left in their bank has earned any interest?

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