Player wins MMO lawsuit

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Venkman:
Got this from one of my newsfeeds, but I see Slashdot picked it up as well.

Basically, a player sued an MMO company because their account was banned for long enough that their virtual goods depreciated in real world value.

Quote

Here's something for you MMORPG players out there. This month, an online gamer won a lawsuit worth thousands of dollars against Chinese game operator Shanda. The lawsuit revolved around devalued virtual game equipment and a damaged reputation.

Here's what happened: According to the report, a player of the MMORPG Legend of MIR II earlier this year logged into the game simultaneously from two accounts on the same IP address in order to transfer equipment from his account and another player's.

This prompted the owner of the second account to complain to Shanda, saying that his account had been looted by the first guy. Shanda then proceeded to suspend the account of the the guy accused of virtual theft.

It didn't end there (if it did then we wouldn't have a story at all). The player whose account had been suspended sued Shanda in Hengyang County, and according to the report the lawsuit included "requiring Shanda to unblock his account, and pay compensation of RMB 45,000 (US$ 5,625) for the depreciation of his game equipment during the suspension period, the damage to his character's reputation in the game, and his travel expenses."

The court evaluated the player's equipment through 5173.com and found his claim to have merit. He was awarded compensation of over RMB 30,000 (US$3,750). This decision was handed down on November 15. Shanda has made no comments on the case, and the company has four days left to make an appeal.

The details don't matter to me much really. Like, why would the player who had the second character complain they were looted when it was supposedly the recipient of nice new goods.

But what I do find interesting is that this 5173.com site (which I can't find an English version of) has such clout a judicial body would reference it to track the real world value of a virtual good. And then to actually require the company pay that player back for it.

There's lots of questions and potential ramifications here, but the biggie for me is this:

If an external company can ascribe real world value to a good, and the government validates that, then the control the developer has over that good is reduced. What happens to game balance then? What if an uber sword was deemed too uber and was nerfed? Suppose that sword was already sold to another player? Would that player be able to sue the company for diminishing the value of their purchase because they decided to better balance the game?

What does this do for mudflation? Can that even happen anymore? Or will a good need to stay the same relative value throughout the life of the game?

I am really hoping this is an isolated exception to the general rule, because otherwise there's big trouble ahead.

geldonyetich:
Quote from: Darniaq

The details don't matter to me much really. Like, why would the player who had the second character complain they were looted when it was supposedly the recipient of nice new goods.

They matter to me.  Why did the second account complain that his account had been looted if the guy was just doing a transfer of things to that account?  If there really was a virtual theft here, then what?  We're looking at the same scenario as somebody breaking into somebody's house, getting caught, and then suing the government for catching him and impounding the getaway car, winning the lawsuit for his freedom, his stuff, money in addition that he stole from the bank, and a formal apology to return his tarnished reputation.  Freaking nuts.  I suspect the authorities involved had no idea what was going on and this judgement will be overturned, or else China's litigation system is thoroughly corrupt and this guy was on the inside.

But lets assume that this wasn't the scenario and, in fact, we have somebody who simply sued and won over the possession of virtual items after being banned.
Quote from: Darniaq

I am really hoping this is an isolated exception to the general rule, because otherwise there's big trouble ahead.
I'll say.  As a game operator, what am I going to think about people who are engaging in virtual item acquisition and trade in my game?  Probably something along the lines of, "Crap! I'm making myself legally liable by manufacturing virtual items they are assigning that much worth to!  I really ought to find a business where a lightning strike isn't going to cause me to owe my userbase  millions of dollars over monopoly money!"  Cue the end of MMORPGs as we know it. 

This isn't even getting into the need to ban certain individuals.  If I mouth off to players and end up getting banned, can I sue SOE for the value of the virtual items I lost?  A TOS agreement can't grant a company immunity to theft charges, especially if they were naive enough write in their TOS that the items or land in the game belongs to player.  (I'm talking to you, Linden Labs.)

Merusk:
Or, alternatly, MMO companies say "Fuck China" pull out and don't go anywhere near the Capitol of Crazytown.

As to the 'don't the understand?' question.  Probably not.  Most of this stuff isn't understood completly by the folks playing in them, I don't expect someone involved in the real world more than the virtual to grasp all the nuances.

Yes, China's litigation system is thoroughly corrupt.  Their whole country is corrupt to the point everyone nationally and internationally was shocked when a high-ranking Party official was actually brought up on charges over the summer. 

Now, if this were a US ruling, or happened in the WTO court, things would be far more interesting.  As things currently stand, the fallout from those little South American countries telling the US "Hey buddy, you can't do that" on internet gambling is more salient than this ruling is.

CmdrSlack:
Quote

If an external company can ascribe real world value to a good, and the government validates that, then the control the developer has over that good is reduced. What happens to game balance then? What if an uber sword was deemed too uber and was nerfed? Suppose that sword was already sold to another player? Would that player be able to sue the company for diminishing the value of their purchase because they decided to better balance the game?

What does this do for mudflation? Can that even happen anymore? Or will a good need to stay the same relative value throughout the life of the game?

I am really hoping this is an isolated exception to the general rule, because otherwise there's big trouble ahead.

I think you're really mixing questions here.

As far as using an outside source to obtain numbers for damages goes, it really depends on the facts -- and we don't have enough info from that story to really be sure.  It's not unheard of to use an external source to estimate the value of an item.  For instance, if we're talking about stocks, you'd certainly use the numbers provided by one of the major stock exchanges.  What about a situation where your landlord "loses" a bunch of your belongings, many of which are antiques/family heirlooms?  Wouldn't you want to get an appraiser in there (or better yet, use an appraisal that you had done before the stuff disappeared)?  Certainly a judge or jury is not automatically more qualified to make those determinations of valuation.

So let's say that this website they used is an RMT service or something similar.  Wouldn't those guys be in the best position to state what the market value for a specific item was over a specific set of dates?  Take, for example, the now defunct Gaming Open Market.  At one point, it tracked the value of the Linden Dollar to U.S. dollars very much like you'd see at a board of exchange.  If you had to value the Linden dollar for a specific amount of time to determine lost USD, wouldn't you want to use a third party service as opposed to the defendant's own estimates? 

Keep in mind that this assumes the U.S. court system.  As stated above, Chinese courts are often Crazytown.

The other question stems from what impact this decision would have.  I have no earthly idea how Chinese courts handle precedent.  However, if we took this situation and pretended it was happening here in the U.S., its impact would depend on the issues argued and how they were decided.  For instance, simply saying that a plaintiff is harmed due to the depreciation of his virtual assets doesn't really tell us much.  Was the cause of the harm his banning or not?  In this case, it seems that the guy was harmed because he could not convert those virtual assets to real currency for the period during which his account was banned.  It would set no real binding precedent (at least in the U.S.) that says, "Game developers, you cannot change items after they are released to the gaming public, for it may damage their value."  Moreover, I really dobut that such a scenario is likely in the United States.  Not only can such a claim be avoided via creative drafting of an EULA or TOS, but it is just really bad public policy to set a precedent that would implicate the rights of IP owners to such a large extent. 

My guess is that when this stuff really hits the U.S. court system (and I think it will...hell, there's already some cases out there), we'll see people throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks.  Barring a major revolution in the EULA As King regime, I don't think much will stick...unless lawyers get creative and look to the theories they always brush aside to make their cases.  I think the biggest, best and most likely target is Linden Lab. 

At the end of the day, we'll see this stuff slowly gain legitimacy, but never to the point of tying the hands of developers.  All hassle will be on the harm end -- and even then it'll be tough going. 

Venkman:
Quote from: CmdrSlack

For instance, simply saying that a plaintiff is harmed due to the depreciation of his virtual assets doesn't really tell us much
Yet, isn't the question being asked at all indication of at least real value being ascribed to a virtual good? It almost doesn't matter whether the asset caused harm or good to the plaintiff. The fact that it is causing "something" at all is where I wonder for the future.

I'm totally projecting of course. It's not about this one ruling. It's about the stepping stone this could be. First you ascribe value. Then that value has an impact. The person impacted is not tied to the company that generated the asset. Yet because that asset impacts that person, deeper questions about the handling of that asset must be asked. Simply requiring those questions being asked by a political or judicial body means the developer themselves no longer maintain full control over that handling.

So, ascribed value could eventually prevent proper game balance. That's the leap I made.

As to referencing 5173.com, yea, really don't know anything about it. Just a reference source for a court case. What made me wonder is the fact that this is an independent site tracking the financial value of a virtual asset, legitimized by reference by the court.

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