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When Is a Con Not a Con? 441

Posted by Hemos
from the ethical-dilemmas-of-modern-life dept.
From the journals, here's some food for thought: Does a "crime" committed in an alternate world have any ramifications in the "real" world? Case in point is this article from the Gamers With Jobs site outlining the exploits of one Dentara Rask, a character in CCP's Eve Online massively multiplayer online world. According to the the article, Dentara Rask ran a Ponzi scheme within the game, amassing a large amount of on-line wealth (700 billion ISK), and then bragging about it. The question is posed: since a Ponzi scheme in real life is a punishable criminal offense, what about when it happens in a MMORPG? Assuming there are no rules within the game environment to prevent this, how would you go about punishing someone in the real world for something they did in an artificial one? And can they be punished?
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When Is a Con Not a Con?

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  • by nosredna (672587) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:05AM (#16037814)
    Trying to get any kind of RL punishment for this would be like calling the cops because somebody stole a stack of $500s during a game of Monopoly.
  • by dintech (998802) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:05AM (#16037816)
    Should you also be able to sue Quake 3 players for murder? hmm?
  • by Ingolfke (515826) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:07AM (#16037828) Journal
    Exactly! Also, if anyone thought about this seriously for a long period of time then you shoudl consider getting professional help. You have lost touch with reality.
  • by EXMSFT (935404) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:08AM (#16037834)
    With few exceptions, games generally exist to provide an alternate reality. Enforcing laws from the real world into a virtual world would seem to render the whole point of the game moot. If the game's authors want to enforce certain aspects of normally accepted culture or law into the game, it would seem they would do so.
  • by oohshiny (998054) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:08AM (#16037836)
    He violated the rules of a game. If the game is part of legal gambling, then that may be a crime. But this is presumably not a gambling operation. So, if it's not a gambling operation, then violating the rules is roughly like cheating at Scrabble or Monopoly.

    In any case, the appropriate punishment for virtual fraud is to demand virtual restitution from the virtual character and put the virtual character into virtual prison. That is, unless the virtual world is supposed to be lawless or anarchic, in which case he did exactly what he was supposed to.
  • by MadMoses (151207) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:10AM (#16037843) Homepage
    In-game crime => in-game punishment by in-game law enforcement.

    Or in-game death by angry mob or assassin.
  • by _xeno_ (155264) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:14AM (#16037872) Homepage Journal

    Does it violate the rules of the game? After all, no one gets upset about the mass murder and genocide that occurs routinely on PvP servers in WoW. It's part of the game.

    Assuming there are no rules within the game environment to prevent this, how would you go about punishing someone in the real world for something they did in an artificial one?

    There's a difference, though. There are rules in the real world saying that something is illegal. There are no rules about it in the game world. Piracy is illegal in the real world. (I'm talking about the "arr matey!" kind, not the "RIAA" kind.) But it's permitted in the game world of EVE. Should the pirates be brought to criminal court of piracy in the spaces of EVE?

    This story is just ridiculously stupid. It's a game. Only the game's rules apply. Whatever the rules set out by those who run the game are the only rules that matter.

    Get conned while playing a game? Learn from it and just be glad it wasn't real.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:15AM (#16037874)
    Except these online currencies end up being worth real money, do they not? The market determines an exchange rate to USD, as with any currency. So it could, arguably, be more like stealing the chips from a poker game. As I understand it, Las Vegas doesn't look kindly on that and you can go to jail.
  • by MustardMan (52102) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:16AM (#16037883)
    Well, I mostly agree... but... it's not so cut and dry as you make it seem. Think of a game like second life, where in-game money can be directly transferred back and forth for real world money. If someone ran a ponzi scheme in SL, should THAT be punishable with RL rules? Honestly, I haven't decided for myself yet what I think, but I think it's worth discussing where the line should be drawn.
  • Not quite... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Ruff_ilb (769396) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:17AM (#16037889) Homepage
    The stack of $500's in monopoly has no very little intrinsic value based on labor, because it only takes a couple of bucks to get a whole new stack. Therefore, someone calling the police about a stolen stack of monopoly money is doing it for only sentimental reasons, or no good reasons at all. The amount of labor it takes to get the item outside of the game is much, MUCH, less than it is inside the game.

    HOWEVER, these items in online games have MASSIVE intrinisic value based on labor. If there's only one of such item known in existence, and I've put 400 hours into obtaining said item, I can't simply go and pick up another one at the dollar store. There is no equivalent conversion in the real world, and if someone steals the item, they're essentially stealing 400 hours from my life. Those 400 hours of my life have massive value, both to me, and in the real world, where it could easily translate to $5000 or more dollars.

    Saying that monopoly money is analogous to a super-rare item in one of these games isn't really true.
  • by rpj1288 (698823) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:19AM (#16037900)
    The cardinal rule of EVE is this: let the buyer beware.
  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:19AM (#16037904) Journal
    When its Gencon.
  • Duh! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris@nOSPAM.beau.org> on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:23AM (#16037931)
    Listen up folks, it is a GAME WORLD. Nothing you do there should subject you to any sort of sanction in the real one. The whole point is to be able to do things you can't do in reality. After all, in the real world you can't kill people, heck you can't even kill most things. In most games though you wade hip deep in gore. If the game system doesn't provide a 'fix' then exploiting it is just good play according to the rules of the game world.
    Playing for hundreds of hours doing the grind is only one path to success, it is perfectly fair to play smarter, instead of harder. To realize that the in game obstacles might be hard but the stupidity of players is a constant and can be exploited a lot easier. And some people like the interraction with real people more than the challenges placed by the designers.

    Running a Ponzi scheme depends on a steady supply of idiots, something no rule in a game is likely to dry up the supply of. Face it, they should be legal in the REAL world so long as the financials are fully disclosed. It is the fraud (like the US Social Security system) that makes any real world Ponzi scheme immoral. Run it out in the open and any person with a few brain cells still functioning would instantly see it for the scam it is and as for the others... it is immoral to let a sucker keep his money after all.
  • No Punishment (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JumperCable (673155) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:23AM (#16037936)
    Hopefully people learn things in games. Like how not to get swindled. I think they learned a cheep lesson.
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:24AM (#16037941) Homepage Journal
    I mean, seriously how did the "investors" in this bank think that this was legit? Real banks make their money primarily from loans, ie they collect money from savers and loan it out to others at a higher interest rate. However, banks have a lot of legal means to collect on debts. The bank also usually takes collateral.

    A video game bank not run by any central authority doesn't have that power. So suppose they did try to make a legit business out of lending others money. How could they collect? I guess they could take some equipment as 'collateral" but if a player is taking the loan out to buy better equipment what is to prevent that player from reneging on the debts? He no longer needs that old equipment. And there certainly aren't repo men in the game who can take back the property for you(I guess you could destroy it, but you don't gain much). I suppose they could resort to mob style "break your thumbs" type tactics, but they would have to be a powerful player or a player with lots of allies to even do that. Plus, I don't exactly trust "Mob Savings and Loan".

    So what on earth did the players who gave this person money think he was going to do with it? 10% no risk returns don 't exist in the real world(well, aside from hyperinflationary periods at any rate), so it should have been pretty obvious to anyone with half a clue what this guy was up to. Another greedy rube got fleeced(virtually at any rate). Boohoo
  • by Dissman (997434) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:24AM (#16037945)
    Except in EON, buying or selling EON Currency on EBay is punishable by account banishment.
  • Re:Real money (Score:3, Insightful)

    by UbuntuDupe (970646) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:26AM (#16037954) Journal
    Not quite. *Most*, not all, Ponzi schemes are illegal. Governments generally reserve that right to themselves, and conduct them if they believe (not necessarily correctly) that to do so would serve the public interest. See: Social Security, issuing debt.
  • by fhmiv (740648) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:27AM (#16037961) Homepage
    You're probably right about the first claim --- it isn't interesting that someone "cheated" in an online game and amassed an in-game fortune. However, the second claim IS interesting. These ISK's can be exchanged for legal tender, and in the USA, that is called Income and is subject to taxation.

    Law enforcement and the IRS would be uninterested in me stealing $500 worth of Monopoly money because there is no exchange for Monopoly money to US Dollars or any other legal tender. This issue could be different. Consider someone who exchanges US dollars for casino chips to play poker, wins a bunch more chips, and then exchanges their casino chips for US dollars. According to the IRS, they owe taxes on their winnings/earnings. I think Dentara Rask's take in the game could be classified like gambling winnings.

  • Boba style (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EvilXTC (920051) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:29AM (#16037974)
    The best way to deal with something like this is to pretend that it is real (in game of course) and deal with it the way that the game world would. How about bounty hunting? How about military/mafia recruiting players to hunt him down? Keep it a game. If people fall for a scam in a game, get back at him in the game. Don't suspend his account. That's just lame. I'm sure that not many people would continue to risk their characters' well being and those that do have it coming. Also, I think that would make an interesting off shoot for people on level a billion and have nothing better to do than start a war; new game content dynamically created.
  • by suv4x4 (956391) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:32AM (#16037996)
    MMORPG's are in fact actual economy units governed by their own rules.

    Asking whether game crime should be punishable in real world is like asking whether crime comitted in Belgium should be punished in Australia.

    The game developers have ultimate power over their world. If they want to confiscate those 700mln ISK (whatever the hell ISK is) they can do it with a mouse click, a lot easier than in "real world".

    If game developers want to cooperate with police for creating "interworld" laws that apply in there and give a specialized institution the jurisdiction to enforce those in a game then ok.

    It's not up to the government or whoever to mess into the games' internal affairs however. It's not a lot better than invading an actual country.

    Yes you can convert virtual assets to real, but I can convert dollars to euros as well, this doesn't mean that US should mess into EU's business.
  • Re:Not quite... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Opie812 (582663) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:33AM (#16037999)
    The only reason this stuff is super rare is because some programmer says it is. Why wouldn't you just email the company and tell them you'd been ripped off. All they would need to do is something like: user.add(superRareItem);
  • Re:Not quite... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Des Herriott (6508) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:38AM (#16038037)
    HOWEVER, these items in online games have MASSIVE intrinisic value based on labor. If there's only one of such item known in existence, and I've put 400 hours into obtaining said item, I can't simply go and pick up another one at the dollar store.

    Yeah, but that's 400 hours that you chose to spend on playing a game to obtain an item with no physical reality. It's rarity is irrelevant. You didn't have to spend that time obtaining said item, and the time you spent is - by definition - leisure time.

    Which is why I doubt that any real-world court is going to offer much sympathy, unless the in-game object can be shown to have direct real-world value (as someone else pointed out, Second Life has an official means of converting in-game money to US Dollars). It's hard to argue that an unofficial black market for virtual items gives them any real-world value in a legal sense if that sort of trading is explicitly banned by the game developers.

    Those 400 hours of my life have massive value, both to me, and in the real world, where it could easily translate to $5000 or more dollars.

    If by that you mean that you could have earned $5000 in those 400 hours that you chose to spend playing a game, I suspect a defense lawyer's response might be "so why didn't you?".
  • Re:Not quite... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GigsVT (208848) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:38AM (#16038041) Journal
    An assembled cardboard puzzle with 5000 pieces has a high labor value under your definition. Somehow I think it would probably not be treated as a serious offence if someone stole it.
  • by Znork (31774) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:41AM (#16038056)
    "Except these online currencies end up being worth real money, do they not?"

    No. There is no actual scarcity and no central bank backing the currency, nor any financial controls. The same applies to any items and other 'valuables' in those games; any particular scarcity of any particular item is purely artificial and can be instantly changed at the whim of the company (or any less than honest admin or someone exploiting the game).

    The lack of scarcity based value of course doesnt mean you cant pay to avoid actually playing the game (altho anyone actually paying to not play the game should seriously consider not playing the game for free and doing something else instead).

    "So it could, arguably, be more like stealing the chips from a poker game."

    Casinos back the chips. Most MMORPG's do not back their currencies.
  • by NormalVisual (565491) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:41AM (#16038059)
    As I understand it, Las Vegas doesn't look kindly on that and you can go to jail.

    Because it's not the same thing. When you go into a casino and purchase chips, you and the casino have an understanding that the chips are merely placeholders for real money, and are exchangeable as such within that casino only by the bearer. Thus, if you steal chips from the casino or from another player it's treated the same as if you took actual money, since there was that pre-agreed understanding that the casino will unconditionally buy the chips back at their face value regardless of who presents them. It's rather like stealing a bearer-only check - the check itself is not currency, but it is understood to represent it.

    There is no such understanding regarding currencies in an online game, and the poster that compared it to stealing Monopoly money is exactly correct. The only difference is that there aren't many people willing to pay real money for Monopoly scrip, and thus it has a correspondingly low resale value in the real world. If someone is so wrapped up in some damn game that they're willing to spend real money just to increase their standing, that sounds to me like a problem for a psychiatrist, not the courts.
  • Re:Not quite... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:43AM (#16038067) Homepage

    Except for the fact that, you know.... it's not a "super-rare item". It's not an item at all. It's this tiny little bit of data that could be replicated a million times much more easily than the monopoly money could be replicated-- it's only the game developers who are artificially setting the rarity of that data.

    And there's nothing inherently valuable about that data either. You can't justify its worth by labor alone, since it's entirely possible to spend 400 hours on an endeavor that has no intrinsic value whatsoever. Spending 400 hours picking your nose wouldn't make your boogers valuable.

  • Re:Not quite... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rbochan (827946) on Monday September 04, 2006 @12:02PM (#16038181) Homepage
    I can't simply go and pick up another one at the dollar store.


    Oh, but you can [ebay.com]...

  • by raehl (609729) <raehl311@@@yahoo...com> on Monday September 04, 2006 @12:05PM (#16038204) Homepage
    OK, people are missing some very key pieces of information here.

    - No ISK was stolen from anyone. *ALL* of the ISK belongs to CCP, the company that runs the game. It is bits on their servers and part of the user agreement is all of the in-game objects belong to CCP, not the players, and this is something you therefore must agree to when you play.

    - When you play the game, everyone agrees to play by the rules. One of the rules is that the vast majority of in-game schemes are LEGAL. Player A took a legal action, and as a result of legal action A, the game master (CCP) reallocated the in-game objects from other players to player A. If you were the other players, tough, you played the game, you 'lost'.

    - It is just plain logically silly to accept that players can blow up each other's ships and not accept that players can convince other players to hand over their in-game money. What's the difference? I'm flying around and somebody blows me up, you wouldn't suggest I call up the cops and file a vandalism report would you? So if someone convinces me to give them in-game money, and then doesn't pay me back, that's suddenly a crime?
  • by raehl (609729) <raehl311@@@yahoo...com> on Monday September 04, 2006 @12:07PM (#16038216) Homepage
    If I dig a hole, and it takes me 2 hours, how much is the hole worth?

    If I refill the hole, and dig it again, putting in twice as much labor, is the hole now worth twice as much?
  • Re:Not quite... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 49152 (690909) on Monday September 04, 2006 @12:11PM (#16038242)
    >Except for the fact that, you know.... it's not a "super-rare item". It's not an item at all. It's this tiny
    >little bit of data that could be replicated a million times much more easily than the monopoly money could be
    >replicated-- it's only the game developers who are artificially setting the rarity of that data.

    Exactly the same argument can be used with real-world money like the US$ or any other modern currency. It's rarity is only decided by the amount the national treasury / government decides it can allow itself to print. In the old days the amount of money used to be linked to the amount of gold the nation owned so that the rarity was physical and very *real*. But now its entirely artifical. Perhaps some nations still use a gold based currency but I dont think any of the major ones does.

    Most money today are even not physical objects anymore but just bits and bytes in bank computers that can be replicated very easily.

    >And there's nothing inherently valuable about that data either. You can't justify its worth by labor alone, > >since it's entirely possible to spend 400 hours on an endeavor that has no intrinsic value whatsoever. Spending
    >400 hours picking your nose wouldn't make your boogers valuable

    This I agree with completely, and I think you hit the nail quite well regarding the "worth" of game items/money.
  • by bigbigbison (104532) on Monday September 04, 2006 @12:15PM (#16038255) Homepage
    Did you know that in this game you can also kill people???? Won't someone think of the children??? If it is legal in the physical world to "kill" someone in the game, then why would it be illegal in the physical world to steal "money" that has no official worth in the physical world? It may be a violation of terms of service punishable by banning, but it certainly doesn't seem like an offense that should be prosecuted by any government in the offline world.

    From what little I know, this type of activity seems par for the course in Eve online. I remember reading about an event that occured last year [blogcritics.org] where a group infiltrated another group [klaki.net] and basically acted as undercover agents. They got into the highest ranks of the group then killed the CEO, destroyed ships and took over some assets.

    Call me crazy, but that sounded pretty cool to me. It sounded much cooler than any scripted or planned event I've heard about in any other online game. So does this latest event. If you have created a game where the players can create such interesting events rather than have to artificially create them, it sounds like you've done something right.
  • by Asmor (775910) on Monday September 04, 2006 @12:16PM (#16038265) Homepage
    Simple question: Do you think that virtual income, ISK, gold, etc, should be taxed? If not, then there should be no punishment for this other than what the game developers decide to do.

    Fuck, this is supposed to be one of the draws of EVE! It's a game where the devs don't hold your hand and baby you! Anything can happen.
  • by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Monday September 04, 2006 @12:21PM (#16038298) Journal
    Isn't the same true for money, to a certain extent? For instance, while it's highly illegal, a banking establishment could simply add money to a computerized account balance. Less trivially but perfectly legally, the United States (or any other country) could decide to print a whole mess of money.

    No. There are rules about this. Money in a bank is real money, usually backed by some government, and limited in supply. If the bank were to just add more money to your account, they would be taking it from someone else. Unless that person (or entity) agreed to them transferring funds from their account(s) to another, that would be larceny. A crime. The U.S. could print more money but usually doesn't as like any precious material, the more of it there is, the less it is worth. This would destabalize economies.

    The point is, unless the crime can spill over into the real world, the so called 'crime' in the computer game is only in the computer game. The only way the crime could spill over into the real world is if the game money had a real world value in term of dollars and not just hurt feelings. Since the game company does not back the game currency in the real world, no harm was done and this wouldn't be a crime. That is how I understand it.

    IANAL

  • by Cruise_WD (410599) on Monday September 04, 2006 @12:32PM (#16038368) Homepage
    Precisely - a major point of games is their ability to let you do things without the RL consequences.
    Allowing events within a game to have RL consequences means by definition it no longer is a game.
    If you need stronger deterrents against certain in game behaviour, then they should be enforced in game.

    This is largely why most MMO's ban the RL sale of currency and items - it adds a coupling from the game out into RL. This destroys the game aspect as much as a link in the other direction - it is now work. As some have already pointed out, if someone steals my money I earned through work, then yes, it is a crime. In an MMO's case, however, if they explicityly restrict such linking between game and RL, then any link a player adds becomes they responsibility of that player, and them alone. If one of the players affected by that scam was trying to amass in-game currency for later sale, well, that's what happens when you disobey the rules.

    Remember kids, real-life and games don't mix! :P
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Monday September 04, 2006 @01:16PM (#16038635)
    There's no difference between "real" money, monopoly money and this "super rare item". They are all bits of data which reside on computers somewhere. They can all be replicated a million times at the press of a key.

    There is NO SUCH THING AS INTRINSIC VALUE. There is only supply and demand, this applies to "real" money just as much as it applies to monopoly money and "super rare items".

     
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 04, 2006 @01:42PM (#16038766)
    But surely it wasn't stolen. Theft involves depriving the item's owner of the item.

    The item in question belongs to CCP Games who still possess it. How is that theft?
  • by Tweekster (949766) on Monday September 04, 2006 @02:19PM (#16038958)
    They are willingly engaging in a game where scams are not only allowed but actually encourages it. You are not signing away your rights anymore than you are giving away ownership of money when you put in on the roullette table in vegas.

    It all comes back to this... It is simply a game, where this type of activity is encouraged.

    in another game where this is against the rules, you could atleast make the claim about ownership and giving up rights, but not here
  • by RsG (809189) on Monday September 04, 2006 @02:42PM (#16039080)
    Paying for items in games is silly, but if you enjoy the type of game that is more enjoyable with a better standing and you have more money than time, why spend the sparce resource to get where you want? Why care when others do so?
    Oh, I can think of a few reasons.

    Inflation comes to mind. This is a classic problem associated with bad game economies, and worsened considerably by gold farming (or equivalents). UO is a good example.

    Fair play comes to mind as another example. The reason doping is against the rules is because it destroys the (admittedly unrealistic) notion that sports are supposed to be fair - that winning or losing are a measure of skill and dedication, not a measure of how many steroids you've shot up. By that same logic, game devlopers make powerleveling and goldfarming services against the rules (in the form of the EULA or TOS) based on the notion that the success in the game should be free from outside influences.

    So the rules say that in game currency cannot be exchanged for RL currency, for the reasons above. That means that legally, it's very hard to hold the thief in TFA responsible in a court of law. Any halfwit lawyer would point out that what the player did was wholly within the confines of the game, and that only through "black market" services could the in game money be considered real money. Since that market isn't recognized by the game's admins, and participating will get you banned in a hurry for cheating, there is no way to legitimately translate game currency into RL currency.

    This should be a problem for the admins to deal with. Unfortunately for the people who lost money, they seem to have adopted a "buyer beware" policy, which makes it unlikely the perp will be punished. However unfair that may be, the problem ultimately isn't a matter for the courts.
  • Ridiculous! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dcs (42578) on Monday September 04, 2006 @04:06PM (#16039485)
    Is there anything in the game against a guy playing an evil mastermind of crime? Hey, guys, you don't mind going around killing orcs or whatever, but you do mind when something happens to YOU? Ok, it was something that REALLY sucked, and, guess what? You *let* yourself be sucked, by the rules of the game. It's a GAME, and you LOST.

    You feel cheated? Did the guy use some kind of software to take illegal advantage in-game? Did he use exploits in the game? Did he do anything except play by the rules of the game? If he didn't, guess what?, he didn't cheat. He deceived all of you fair and square. Furthermore, I bet there were plenty people advising against putting your money there because there was no guarantees.

    Next, whiny boys will start complaining to the FBI that they were killed on Counter Strike. Multiple times. With head shots.

  • Ridiculous (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FurryFeet (562847) <joudanx@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @10:51AM (#16044556)
    And PKs should be prosecuted for murder! Yeah, that's the ticket!

    To whoever posited this, please, step away from the keyboard and try to get hold of a life. A real one.

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