Piracy vs Control: Various Models of Virtual World Governance and their impact on Player Experience

Melissa de Zwart

Abstract


The recent (February 2009) defection of a key member of the Band of Brothers Alliance in EVE caused a major restructure of the EVE gaming environment, much to the joy of the game’s operators, CCP games. (So much so, that many accused them of having staged an ‘inside job’ to disrupt the stranglehold of BoB). The defection was made possible through the design of the game and the need to maintain corporate structures to effect control over key regions. The defection of Haargoth was catastrophic to BoB, destroying years of player time and significant real money investment in game time. Some calls were made for CCP to intervene, but such action would have contradicted the game character of EVE itself as a piractical world. If such conduct had occurred in the corporate world of any RL nation, clear demands for regulatory control would have been acceded to (see, for example, the demand for repayment of AIG bonus payments made to executives).
In another virtual world, World of Warcraft, the operators Blizzard, have recently announced (March 2009) a new policy regarding add-ons, which will affect the way in which many keen WoW participants will interact with the game. This follows on from the litigation regarding Glider, which divided the WoW community regarding what is acceptable in terms of mods and automated play. Again response to the add-on policy has attracted heated debate in the dedicated WoW community. The relationship between practice and theory regarding treatment of mods and add-ons by Blizzard has been inconsistent and frustrating for many keen WoW players. The legal status of mods and add-ons in other worlds remains unclear.
Finally, the operators of Entropia have just announced that they have been granted a banking licence in Sweden. It remains to be seen how this will impact on the gaming experience and the regulation of that experience by external authorities.
This article will consider the important influence of game design and game governance on the nature of the player’s experience. It will also compare social world environments, such as Second Life. It will consider increased calls for inworld regulation and the impact this would have on the nature of the players’ experience. It will explore the need to acknowledge the particular nature of the world under consideration and discuss ways how this might be respected and protected. It will consider the relationship between real world laws, inbuilt game standards and the players’ own negotiated understanding of the world with which they are engaged and how this may change over time, according to gaming experiences and investment in the game world. It will explore the relationship between the underlying governance structures of the virtual world and the developing nature of that world and make suggestions regarding the possible effects of law reform and standards setting in this area.
This paper will build on work I have been doing on virtual world governance, such as ‘Legal Issues in Virtual Worlds: Governance and Intellectual Property’, a presentation to the OECD Workshop on Innovation and Policy for Virtual Worlds, 11 March 2009, http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/54/2/42347580.pdf; my contribution to the ENISA Position Paper: Virtual Worlds, Real Money, Security and Privacy in Massively- Multiplayer Online Games and Social and Corporate Virtual Worlds, November 2008, http://www.enisa.europa.eu/doc/pdf/deliverables/enisa_pp_security_privacy_virtualworlds.pdf; ‘The dark side of online games : fraud, theft and invasion of privacy’, (2009) 11(9) Internet Law Bulletin 147-151 and ‘Governance and the Global Metaverse,’ (with David Lindsay) presented at the Cybercultures Conference , Salzburg, 15 March 2009, http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/critical-issues/cyber/cybercultures/conference-programme-abstracts-and-papers/session-8-cyber-policy-and-cyber-democracy/.

Keywords


governance, virtual worlds, regulation, laws, standards

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