Thursday, November 08, 2007
Selling your time
It's still "Termination of Service" day here at Tobold's blog. Some frequently cited major bannable offences in most MMORPGs are selling / buying of virtual currency for real money (called RMT, real-money trade), selling / buying an account, or powerleveling, that is paying somebody to level up your character on your account. The legal position on account selling and powerleveling is relatively clear cut: the player only has a single-user license for his account. For account selling or powerleveling people must necessarily give their account password to somebody else, which is against the terms of service, and thus bannable.
The legal position on RMT is a grey area in most jurisdictions. It rests on the assumption that virtual items are part of the intellectual property of the game company. Thus the game companies claim that you can't legally sell something that doesn't belong to you in the first place. Some people try to get around that problem by claiming they aren't actually selling the virtual item (which doesn't leave the game and thus remains the property of the game company), but are selling their time. That doesn't stop the game companies from banning gold sellers, because "selling time" here is just semantics. What actually happens is that the buyer sends cash, and the seller sends gold, which very much looks like a sale.
In spite of being bannable offences, RMT and powerleveling are still going on in large scale, it is a multi-million dollar business. So I was wondering what would happen if the game companies got a better grip on it, and could really manage to completely suppress all gold sales and powerleveling. Would there be a way in which companies could offer services which help players advance faster in the game for a payment of real money without breaking the EULA and TOS as they exist now?
And I think the key here is the selling of time concept. Powerleveling is only not allowed when it involves sharing accounts and passwords. But if a player paid somebody else with a level 70 character to run behind him and help him leveling, no violation of the EULA or TOS would take place. In a similar vein the gold farmer could also group with the gold buyer, put the group loot options on free for all, and receive cash for running around for one hour with the buyer collecting all loot. I remember that at the time of the opening of the gates of Ahn'Qiraj there were several servers where powerful guilds encouraged other players to contribute resources by holding a lottery in which the winner would get a spot on a Molten Core raid with first dibs on all loot useable by his class. If such raid spots would be sold for cash, I don't think it would break any existing rules. And even if the game companies added new rules, such a transaction would be nearly impossible to detect. You can't ban people for not pulling their weight in a raid, after all.