Thursday, July 30, 2009

Virtual Assets, Real Money

A favorite topic of discussion for many of the authors of this blog is virtual game worlds and virtual property. According to a recent online survey, about 10% of Americans spent real world money on virtual goods last year, the average tab being about $30. Granted, the survey results may be a bit skewed, since the participants were polled online, and thus more likely to be involved in virtual worlds and more comfortable with online transactions.

However, despite its limitations, this survey adds insight to consumer spending behavior that is projected to lead to about $1 billion in sales of virtual goods worldwide this year. So, why spend real money for intangible digital items that you don’t really own?

Well, the central goal of almost every player in a virtual game world is to acquire virtual assets that increase an avatar’s abilities or status within the game world. Virtual game worlds and avatars also offer opportunities for complex and long-term social interactions. The combination of virtual good acquisition and social interaction has spawned numerous virtual and real-world marketplaces for virtual goods. Often, the most valuable virtual items are time-consuming or impossible for players to acquire merely through gameplay. As a result, players turn to markets within and without the virtual game world to acquire in-game items with real world money.

Not surprisingly, the increasing real world value of virtual goods has begun to trigger real world legal disputes by and among players, publishers, and other parties involved in virtual game worlds. A good example is the Blizzard v. MDY case we’ve been covering. The traditional legal system has only just begun to adapt to the problems inherent in assessing the proper real world rights and remedies in the context of virtual world conflicts. Look for more on this topic in upcoming posts.