The Business of 'Avatar Rights'

Illustration for article titled The Business of Avatar Rights

The rights of 'avatars' — more to the point, the people who control them and their virtual assets — is an interesting and murky part of legal issues, EULAs, and player-company relations. Court cases have been tried over 'illegal' seizing of assets, and with the amount of time (and money) that people pour into their online characters and assets, we can expect to see more and more real-world legal problems related to virtual issues. But are companies on the ball?:

The essential issue recognized by the "Avatar Rights" movement is that players ascribe substantial value to their game characters and virtual assets. The willful denial of this fact, in some sense, has helped enable the growth of gold farming and criminals who target online games. Because developers don't consider the value that players put in their virtual "stuff", customer service is often not responsive to player complaints about lost items. Also, the game systems are not built to easily log, track, remove, and restore these items in case of loss or theft. In some sense this is ironic, the same game companies that argue vigorously that the virtual items have no value, at the same time are extraordinarily reluctant to restore players characters or virtual items after alleged theft. The argument is typically made that the players are abusing the system by allowing their items to be stolen (or, actually, selling them) and then making a complaint to the game operator. If the items have no value, then restore them.


Short, but interesting, musing — with references — on the 'avatar problem.' The Quixotic Quest for Avatar Rights [PlayNoEvil]

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I don't play MMOs, but this is a fascinating debate. These items are not unlike stocks and commodities, even if they only exist in a virtual world. The difference here is that the developer could simply pull the plug on its servers, erase the world's existence and the value of all these items. I wonder, if the developers claim that all of these goods are their property, perceived value and all, and they make users sign a EULA agreeing to that, do the players then become employees creating work product? Probably not, but who knows what a creative lawyer might try to claim in a lawsuit.

I can't wait to see how this all plays out.