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When Is a Con Not a Con? 441

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 Flying pig ( 925874 ) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:21AM (#16037920)
    I believe that, when the State of Israel had its first criminals, Ben-Gurion was actually pleased because it meant that Israel was becoming a real country, not just a club of highly educated idealists. In the same way, this is perhaps a sign of the growing capability of games. (Though please note I am not in any way comparing Israel to role playing games...)
  • by ichigo 2.0 ( 900288 ) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:35AM (#16038015)
    There is no way that this money can be converted back into RLC (real life currency.) If there was a way, and he did, then he could easily be punished under fraud/racketeering laws. But again, IANAL.

    Yes, there is []. ATM the bid on 1 billion ISK ~100$, so 700 billion ISK is about 70000$!

    What was the name of that MMORPG that would let you move game currency into the real world and vice-versa?

    Second life.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:41AM (#16038055)
    He quit the game IIRC, cold turkey, after pulling off the online scam of the century.

    It was funny how he left too: he chanced upon this n00b in a new tiny ship I think, and asked him, Hey, kid, want some money, and dumped all the loot on this kid. His farewell to the game was almost like, Who was that masked man?
  • Re:Why not? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by spiffyman ( 949476 ) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:42AM (#16038062) Homepage
    And while we're at it, why not convict all those gamers of multiple counts of murder? They've killed so many people online, it's not even funny. Of course, we'd have some interesting questions of law. Is killing a troll as bad as killing a human?

    This is one of the most insightful comments in this story. Not because murder is a real issue in MMOs, but because the government will really have to answer these questions at some point. You disagree with me and think that MMOGs are not worth the time right now, and that's fine. But eventually something will come up that has real-world value to you, me, and everyone else. The issue then will be how to handle crimes committed in these spaces. My guess is that it will have multiple stages.

    First, incidents of serious theft will become more common as people figure out they can score big with relatively little consequences. RL time and money spent on acquiring currency or items will be invalidated by these acts. Victims will get pissed. Then those victims will (finally) decide to pursue legal action. A lawyer will eventually take the case, and after a period of time involving subpoenas and warrants, someone will get hauled before the court.

    Here's where it gets interesting: the courts have to decide whether the alleged theft is illegal under current law. I'm guessing that a whole lot of judges are going to laugh these things off, and only a few will buy in - judges haven't proven terribly tech-savvy up until now, and there's no reason to think they will any time in the next 20 years or so. Cases might be relatively easy to win if the judge will allow them to go forward, since evidence will ordinarily involve usernames, passwords, IP logs, and often direct admissions in-game that the theft has been committed. So you'll end up with a whole lot of case law both for and against including these things as crimes.

    What next? At some point, there will be petitions and lobbying asking Congress (or state legislatures) to clarify the law. There will be a battle over exclusion or inclusion, and politicians will have to make the call. Judging by their past performance, including many dismal failures, my hopes are not high.
  • by forgotten_my_nick ( 802929 ) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:43AM (#16038076)
    Generally any kind of scam in game works against the player. Especially in Eve.

    For example most players won't deal with people under a certain number of skill points as the points are created over time (not gametime). This means players with lots of money generally have to have the skills to show they are a legtimate character and not someones ALT.

    It is possible to create an ALT by just buying a second account but it costs money. You also tend to leave a trail unless you have been planning this for sometime.

    This is the third biggest Scam I have seen (I'll let someone supply the links).

    Search for "A Great Scam by Nightfreeze"
    1. Scammed loads of money out of people by pretending to buy a blueprint. The overall scam itself was brilliantly done and the guys where asses for doing it but at the end his friend got greedy and the leader of the scam deleted his character (after giving the cash to some newbie). []
    2. I don't know what caused this to happen but it was a paid hit. The person was killed, and thier corporation looted on a scale not seen since Enron.

    So in the end you should be dealt with in game. I have seen other players steal from corps only to have thier clones turned into corpses scattered through the system to the point they have to quit the game.

    If anything this is really a learning experience for players. Would you prefer to be scammed out of virtual cash or real cash? Remember that next time you need the wallet inspectors in game.
  • Black,White,Good,Bad (Score:1, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Monday September 04, 2006 @12:32PM (#16038371) Journal
    It's interesting that every comment on this story addresses the issue of whether the Eve-thief should be punished in the Real World or not.

    The real issue is whether immoral behavior is OK just because it's in a game. I'm not talking about role-playing here. If you're playing the role of a violent barbarian who cuts the heads off of innocent peasants, that's one thing. But in this case, a player represented himself as a decent person, with a corporation and business plan that would help others. He lied about what he was doing and stole a bunch of money. Hurt the enjoyment of hundreds of other players. He is garbage, knowing that he could do something to hurt others and not be punished for it. That is despicable.

    Real world or vurt, bad is bad. I don't believe for a moment that this player should be punished in the real world. But as a dedicated player of Eve, I want to see this player attacked and punished at every turn. I hope that his plans and desires (game-wise) are thwarted, every step of the way.

    Fair is fair.
  • Re:Not quite... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thesandtiger ( 819476 ) on Monday September 04, 2006 @12:39PM (#16038420)
    Yeah, but that's 400 hours that you chose to spend on playing a game to obtain an item with no physical reality.

    Why should the physical reality of a thing be even remotely relevant here? Lots of things that have no physical reality beyond being a magnetic charge on a HDD platter somewhere are considered EXTREMELY valuable. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that the vast majority of the world's money does not physically exist.

    Let's instead look at how value is created: People agree a thing has value. If lots and lots of people agree that a thing has value, the value of a thing will tend to increase. If only a few see any value to a thing, the value is likely to decrease. In the case of money in online games, aparrently enough people see value in it that selling these online currencies for "real world" currencies takes place.

    Honestly, given that many /.ers spend much of their time creating non-physical thingsof value, I'd have expected better. Instead it's as if people are channeling all the twits from the early 80's who liked to mock people for wasting their time with those stupid computer thingies.
  • by orkysoft ( 93727 ) <.moc.xoblaerym. .ta. .tfosykro.> on Monday September 04, 2006 @01:33PM (#16038719) Journal
    Look on the bright side, as a consequence of your loss of virtual money, you might be more on your guard against such too-good-to-be-true offers which would lose you real money. Consider it a lesson, a very cheap lesson at that.

    Really, some day you'll look back at this and laugh.
  • by blugu64 ( 633729 ) on Monday September 04, 2006 @03:17PM (#16039233) Homepage
    Now think about this!

    You put $100 in the bank...Bank loans $90 out ($10 in reserves)...
    Now how much money is there around?

    $190 even though there is only $100 in Cash. ;)

    now imagine that the $90 winds up in a bank, which in turn loans out $81 (less $9 reserves)
    Now there is $271 in circulation!

    100 of your dollers in a bank account, the other guys $90, and the third guys $81. All three of you can spend your money/with draw it, whatever. It is in circulation, but there is only $100 actually hard cash. In this example I used a 10% reserve rate, the Fed controls the amount of $$$ in circulation by adjusting this percentage, which also controls inflation rates(Higher reserve = Value of $$ is higher, and Inflation is lower).....point is Economics is Fun!

    (sorry about going slightly offtopic)
  • by Subacultcha ( 921910 ) on Monday September 04, 2006 @09:00PM (#16040924)
    What's funny to me about this is that this is a Role-Playing game, so people should expect that some people playing the game may be playing a role of someone actively trying to rip you off. A big part of these games is about imagining yourself in this alternate world. People expect others might try to kill them and generally deal with it when it happens. When someone rips you off in the game, why would you take that any more seriously than if they killed your game character?

    I remember when Ultima Online came out, a friend of mine was totally excited about the possibilities of role playing an evil character online. It was essentially just an offshoot of his playing a thief in D&D when we were growning up. In fact, I believe one of his goals was to actually create a Ponzi scheme in the game. I remember he eventually gave up on the game because no one really wanted to roleplay like he did. He and I both were disappointed as MMORPGs became more like online theme parks, where safety of the customer was paramount, than a kind of wild lawless game world.

    I think a lot of the problem with this kind of thing is that many people see it as just a form of cheating. And honestly, it was the cheating that was going on in UO and others that caused the people running them to turn the game into something that was more safe for neophyte players.

    It would be interesting to see a game that emphasized to the player that other players may do bad things to you from time to time, and any form of redress has to take place through action in the game world and not by banning the person from the game.

"Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love." -- Albert Einstein