Today Rock, Paper, Shotgun as an article on ownership of games, especially on the Steam platform. It’s a good one for anybody holding a virtual library of games on the many available platforms. The simple fact is that we [probably] do not own our games. There’s a lot of uncertainty as discussed by a lawyer that commented within the article, but the issue of a EULA creating a license over property is largely untried.
One reason I like MMOs, is I know that I am a guest from the outset. I don’t own anything in the game. It seems to make things clearer, yet the war over virtual items bound by a license as property is becoming ever more prominent. If virtual items were seen as “owned property” the liability of the MMO developer could be on the bankruptcy level. Niche MMO games could cease to exist overnight at the thought of owing someone thousands of dollars because of a server glitch.
Massively commented that in a criminal case the Dutch Supreme Court decided that Runescape virtual items were in fact “goods” which could be stolen. It is very important to note that Runescape was not a party in the criminal case (although they may have submitted an amicus curiae to the court). I am not happy with this ruling. I would have preferred that the Dutch Supreme Court hung their hat on the thieves affecting the use of the license. A license is property, and just like me stealing the seats in your car, if I can affect the enjoyment of your license there can be criminal and civil consequences.
The coming of Diablo 3 is also one of great interest on this front. Whereas with, for example, EVE Online, where one can use money to buy PLEX to sell for ISK to buy a ship, in Diablo 3 I could theoretically buy someone’s sword for straight up cash. It moves the Dutch thought of “time and energy to acquire” equals property and bring its right back to money to acquire equals property. At the very least the Dutch defendants could not have claimed Diablo 3 items had no tangible value. The cash-driven auction house already been dropped as a feature in the Korean release of Diablo 3, apparently.
It will be interesting to see if any game licensers, MMO or otherwise, change their EULA’s and business practices within the Netherlands based on this ruling. Once Diablo 3 launches it could really redraw the lines in the sand as well.