Who will govern virtual worlds?

Who will govern virtual worlds?

Summary: For now the virtual world--characterized by Second Life, World of Warcraft and other games--is governed by game creators, the player community and end user license agreements. The future may look different.

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TOPICS: Legal
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For now the virtual world--characterized by Second Life, World of Warcraft and other games--is governed by game creators, the player community and end user license agreements. The future may look different.

At the Terra Nova State of Play conference in New York, Indiana University professor Joshua Fairfield said:

"Governance in virtual world already in place and it's the real world governance."

Rutgers law professor Greg Lastowka agreed.

"The law doesn't distinguish between the real and virtual."

Those statements opened a flood of questions from the mostly academic crowd. Bottom line: Virtual worlds are virgin territory for law. It's not clear how local community standards will be taken into account, how common law will evolve and what happens when someone is defrauded out of assets. 

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One thing is certain: Real world and virtual laws will intersect at some point. "The goal is to find some militant middle ground," says Thomas Malaby, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, referring to the interests of gamers and the real-world government.

Privacy is another issue. When asked about whether there was privacy within games, the answer from a governance panel was unanimous. There is none. A subpoena could get those records easily enough.

As virtual worlds grow, legal topics will become increasingly important.

Fairfield said courts should be able to use existing laws to figure out virtual worlds. Fairfield said the courts are likely to let game developers do what they want. However, a consumer protection statute could always be enacted later.

One consensus builder was the future role of Congress in virtual worlds. No one on the panel wanted legislators adding statutes. "Congress doesn't do well with technology," said Fairfield.

Topic: Legal

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14 comments
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  • Who should govern depends on how closely the virtual is to the organic

    For examples, let's look at Runescape and Second Life. Runescape
    is designed to be cut off from the economic life of the organic
    world. Your membership is either supported by ads or a
    combination of ads and a fixed fee. Jagex rigorously keeps a
    separation. As far as I'm concerned, Jagex gets to make most of the
    rules. Second Life, on the other hand, invites the economics of the
    organic world into their 'game.' From my perspective, that makes
    them much more open to governance from the organic world.
    palmwarrior
  • Ugghhh

    Human beings are still trying to figure out how to govern the REAL World. Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. After all, all this virtual world stuff is fake. Its not real life.

    Let's make this really easy. The developer of the fake world already has to follow the laws of their native country. From there, they can dictate within the framework of the government rules they have to answer to for creating rules for their fake world. Problem solved.
    ibabadur1
  • The first question to ask

    The first question to ask:

    Should virtual economies have any relationship to real economies?

    It's a relatively unexplored concept:

    Virtual items exist in virtual economies, where the developers may have control over the prices, as well as following their own rules.

    A virtual economy may work completely differently from a real world economy - and if a formal system system is established for trading real and virtual money, it's possible that in-game events could have a significant impact on real-world economies.

    Because of this possibility, many developers of games that represent virtual worlds forbid the trading of virtual items and virtual currency for real world items and real money.

    Most MMORPGs disallow such trading, as the world they create is not supposed to reflect real life; they consider themselve to be games, and not serious virtual communities.

    Then there those that actually allow it. Virtual communities such as Second Life allow and even encourage trading.

    So far, this is new and relatively unexplored. If it is allowed for some troubling possibilities:

    -Overloaded or crashed servers bringing economies to a virtual halt.

    -Hacking and exploiting the system for financial gain. If a virtual economy is to be tradeable for real world money and items, it must be hardened against such things. If a hacker can access the inner workings of a virtual economy, they're only a few 1's and 0's away from giving themselves as much money as they want.

    -The company owning the virtual world must itself be stable. If the owner of the software goes under, a whole virtual economy could be in trouble - and if it's connected to a real economy, so could the real economy it's connected to.

    -Crashed servers, or servers infected with malicious software. Now an economy could be "rolled back" to an earlier date, before the infection. This is something that can't be done in real life, but can be done in a virtual world. The effects of such a rollback if the economies are connected have not been explored.

    So, yeah, tying a virtual economy to a real economy is a bit scary. I'm not sure it's a good idea to tie a virtual economy to a real one.
    CobraA1
    • Too late. The divide has been crossed.

      There are already virtual worlds where currency (in game) is readily converted to $US or $EU. Didn't you remember the guy that paid over $100,000USD for a virtual island. That game is called ProjectEntropia.

      The rules of that game are set by the service provider, so precedent has already been set. You can't steal from other players within most zones and what you can steal is strictly limited in the PvP zones. The game promotes co-operation and trading, so as a whole it's not too bad.

      I wish that Law professors would just stay out, but I suspect that won't happen.
      Dazza_z
      • I already knew that

        I already knew that, it's just that the concept has been largely unexplored. Whether it's beneficial or detrimental in the long run is an unanswered question, and only time can give us the answer to that question. Second Life itself allows conversions to and from its virtual currency.

        "I wish that Law professors would just stay out"

        If its currency is tradeable, then it's subject to economics just like everything else. Theft, extortion, and other crimes can have a real impact just like in real life. Laws are going to be needed.

        If you don't want laws, then play something that isn't connected to a real economy.
        CobraA1
        • I already do.

          That's the good thing about the games. I already chose which games I've played. I play many MMORPGs: ConquerOnline, WoW and Project Entropia, to name a few, although I'm not a rabid player and do find time to have a life with family and friends. The thing is, they each have a different set of rules governing them and that's part of the allure. If I want real reality, then I go outside.

          Where the games impact on the real world, then off course you're subject to the real world laws:
          1st there's the provider, who pays taxes, deveoplers.
          2nd There's the players themselves. If you earn money from PE then you should be subject to tax, as a real person. Not your avatar, however. That's handled in the game economics and EULA.

          It begs the question, however, "who's tax should you be paying?". If you're playing a chinese game from Fiji, then I think the US/EU/etc... should butt out. Of course if it's a US citizen playing a chinese game, the rules change. I think it gets back to the whole net neutrality issue.

          The thing is, people play games for a variety of reasons; one is release from the real world. They don't play a game to be subject to California civil code 012345Z. They want to be /i"Gonard the Barbarian": a mighty ogre warrior and slay all those who oppose them/i and if that's what the game is about, then let them.
          Dazza_z
  • New Darwin Award Goes To...

    What in Gods name are these people thinking? The fact that this is not a joke IS the joke. Virtual worlds are governed by the creator who supplies the law of the land (user agreements upon purchase). Whether the virtual world is free to join or charges a fee, as long as the creator has a user agreement, the user will comply or leave (be deleted). Are lawyers again looking for money? Politicians? Sorry if I don't believe that we should regulate fantasy worlds, or tax them, or sue over them. A question like this on December 1 (which is world AIDS day), we are fighting a war, and idiots can sue McDonalds for millions of dollars for spilling their own hot coffee on them selfs. I think we have higher priorities as a society.
    comptek22@...
    • Talking about jokes

      The problem is, they're connecting it to our very [b]real[/b] economy by allowing conversion to/from their virtual currency.

      I'm not laughing - I happen to value our economy.

      If you want to be free from our laws, then don't connect to our economy. Plain and simple.

      I'm all for letting virtual games that are [b]not[/b] connected to our real economy to do whatever they please. As long as their impact is small and they try to stay out of our real world economy, then I don't mind.
      CobraA1
  • Good God, why would anyone want the government involved in this...

    They can't handle the real thing.
    BitTwiddler
  • The reason...

    ...the state does not distinguish between real and virtual is because the state itself is virtual.
    Omch'Ar
  • Real politicians are bad enough...

    ...why in the world would anyone want virtual politicians and virtual government bureaucrats screwing things up in virtual worlds?
    Henrik Moller
  • Message has been deleted.

    everythingliberal@...
  • 3D REAL ENVIRONMENTS

    The situation will be very complex when the next big thing hits.That is ,of course. realistic environments generated in a multi-user gaming platform. We will be overwhelmed with the issues ofcopyright and advertising propriety rights,avatar ownership and legal rights. Take a look at the tip of the iceberg here is a fly through of an environment crafted for an engineering project showing high resolution graphics and a scale replication of a furnace producing copper http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVk3SE8oLIc It is possible right now for up to 32 people to experience this environment simultaneously and ,by using stereovision head-sets achieve realism never even dreamt of by the bst of the futurists
    joe133952
  • <b>Creators of the Virtual Real Worlds</b>

    Obviously the originators of the virtual real worlds will govern as they can control the environment and objects that populate the world. Originators will control the Servers which can bar and eject users from virtual worlds; The demand for new virtual worlds will be massive as new experiences are very addictive. However, the best 3D engine will win the virtual real world 3D engine competition.

    see http://www.mellanium.com for information
    Tele3dworld