By Casey Lynn
Contributing Writer, [GAS]
The MMORPG/virtual world Eve Online is no stranger to unsavory behavior; inside the game, having your stuff stolen is pretty much par for the course (watch out for those space pirates!). But as soon as it’s not part of the “game” anymore, things get a lot more serious. Like the trusted banker who absconded with hundreds of billions of other players’ intersteller kredits – and traded them for about $5000 in real money to pay off his real debts.
The 27-year-old Australian player’s character was one of those in charge of the game’s largest player-run banks, and when a black market website that trades real money for virtual cash offered him the deal, he took the money and ran. And it was a one-way trip – exchanging game money for the real thing is against Eve Online‘s rules, and so he was banned from the game. However, the effects on the game’s economy seem to be very real; not only did a lot of players lose their (virtual) money, but word of the robbery sparked a panicked run on the bank.
However, judging from past financial scandals in the game it’s possible that some of the stolen kredits were based on real money. Whereas it’s against the rules to exchange kredits for cash, you can exchange kredits for game time – which can be bought with cash. So players can basically exchange virtual money for real money amongst themselves (just not with outside sources like the black market website mentioned above). In fact, not long ago, some players lost some very real money due to an in-game ponzi scheme. A player-run bank offered high returns on investments, and some optimistic players “bought” kredits in order to invest them in the bank… and then those who found themselves in the wrong end of the pyramid were left in the dust when the player running the bank took off and just left the kredits sitting there with no way to access them. The defrauded players complained to the game producers, but they said their hands were tied – the other player hadn’t technically broken any rules.
And the embezzler in the more recent situation? He says he’s not proud of it, but he’d do it again if he had the choice. So what is it about losing your virtual money this way as opposed to losing it to space pirates that makes it seem so much worse? Some legal and game scholars have posited that it’s all a matter of consent – i.e., knowing what you’re in for. For example, when I play an MMORPG I might expect that if I’m not careful a pickpocket might get some of my loot, but I don’t expect someone to hack into my account and transfer all of my stuff to their character.
Still, I think the moral of this story may be that a virtual bank certainly isn’t any safer than a real one. Maybe you should hide your virtual pennies under your virtual mattress instead.