eBay bans in-game goods

(Valuable item from Ultima Online)

(via Colin Miller) This is an old item, but I’ve just read it. According to Slashdot, eBay has caved-in to increasing pressure from the games industry and has de-listed all in-game items from its database. However, I’ve made a search and you still can find some items. If you want to buy gold, rare items, swords of power and exotic pets, you will have to go to other websites. In many instances, you may have to go to officially sanctioned websites, such as Sony’s Station Exchange, in order to get your goodies. Why? Because this could be another profitable source of income for MMORPG providers.

For those who are not familiar with virtual economies or gaming, there are online games in which players can obtain highly prized rare and/or collectible items through skill and labour within the virtual world (the relevance of the use of such words will become clear). It is also possible to accumulate in-game wealth in the shape of gold or other currency, which can be transferred to other players. Such items have generated an economic boom in which people would spend real money to purchase their online game-only items, fuelling virtual farming, where people from developing countries would be used in virtual sweatshops to produce said currency. Game companies saw the booming market, and started offering their own shops.

How could game developers maintain their official stores as the monopolistic provider of virtual goods? After all, one could undercut the official market by creating an underground economy where virtual goods could be freely exchanged, a traditional black market if you may. The solution to the conundrum was actually quite simple, yet inspired. Claim intellectual property protection over all goods generated in the game through constrictive EULAs, and punish all of those who break the agreement or infringe the company’s IP. By doing this, then eBay could eventually be held liable for serving as a marketplace for infringing materials, hence last month’s action.

Do game companies have a case? I personally do not think so, as some of the clauses could be found abusive in Europe. I also think that virtual items created through the gamer’s skill and labour should be rewarded with their own copyright protection. After all, Microsoft does not own the copyright over anything I write with Word, so why should the game maker get the copyright over what I create within the game? To emphasise this point, Second Life allows gamers to claim copyright over their creations, allowing the use of Creative Commons licensing for some works.

This has been the subject of some literature already of course, but I just wanted to have a wee rant.

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