MMORPG Laws

My pal Casey over at MaisonBisson.com has made a follow up post to my MMORPG Cheating post. I figured it warranted me making another post rather than simply replying to his blog. He writes:

Matt says my attempts to analogize online roleplaying games to more familiar contests like chess or automobile racing are “just silly.” But his response appears to reinforce my point rather than refute it. It is the responsibility of the gamers and gaming organizations to create and enforce rules. People violating those rules are subject to sanctions by the gaming organization first, but it’s hard to imagine how any contestant who follows the rules of a (legal) game can be subject to legal sanction.

I spoke with Casey in person this past Saturday about this exact topic (as we have butted heads on it for some time now). We discussed our differing views and gave examples on each side of the table. Casey stated that my arguments for game law should only be handled with some sort of governing body; much like the Scrabble Association, World Chess Federation, etc. After our discussion I have had a slight change of heart…for in-game happenings.

But what happens when someone from the outside world affects the in-game world? In my article “World of Warcrack and the Future of MMOGs” I explain a case when a non-player logged into her boyfriend’s account and deleted his items. What would be the ruling on cases such as those? Would they warrant arresting, fines, etc? Or should they be written off and have the owner of the character be forced to suck it up and spend another 1000+ hours creating and leveling a new character?

If someone that is not a part of NASCAR goes and steals, breaks down, and sells Jeff Gordon’s car…that person will face criminal charges and/or fines from the judicial system. What about Jon Doe who has a level 60 character in World of Warcraft emptied of all its items by a third party and that third party sells said items on E-Bay or through a reseller?

Its another beast altogether. Casey and I have both been wrong and right with our differing viewpoints. What we have been doing is lumping two categories of MMO offenses together. The in-game offenses and the offenses caused by non-game members to the game members. I was generically stating that ALL actions whether in and out may eventually need to be handled from some sort of legislation…and likewise he had lumped all actions together and disagreed saying that it should only be handled by an game-related governing body (the company that produces the game…or an association from multiple MMOs).

I still hold that as MMOGs become more and more popular these two distinct offenses will need to be addressed…but when and how?

(image found at http://www.abetterearth.org)

Marketing MMORPGs to Women

There is a discussion going on my Crimson Eagles message boards spawned by the article I mention in The Holy Grail regarding marketing MMORPGs to women. A fellow gamer writes:

I think the female population is left in the dust. From a marketing perspective and a financial perspective, itd be superb to get the female demographic into things like WoW, or gaming in general. [..] Advertising would help but I think it may still be a bit premature for girls to become fully integrated into the gaming society. This is more of a mentality issue than anything else.

One research paper I read found exactly what Carmella was talking about. Carmella said guys and girls both give her funny looks when she talks about WoW. This may be partly because girls seem to have the mentality that they perceive themselves to have peer approval for moderate amounts of game while boys think that it is ok to play ‘a lot’ of video games, and that the popular boys played these video games. [..]

Im digressing. On advertising to a specific demographic, I am with Carmella and think shes onto something. Research has shown that girls are more likely than boys to choose fantasy violence games as favorites (Buchman and Funk (1996)). To me that is an awesome finding that would justify advertising WoW to the female population! I think its wonderful to have this coexistence of both sexes in the game. It provides for a better environment in my opinon. The dynamic of play in all senses is defiantly improved and I think it kinda levels the playing field a bit too. [..] Actually, in my opinion i think most girls are better at playing their character than guys (this is contrary to what researchers say when comparing competency at videogames between genders (Blumberg, Sokol (2004)).

In conclusion, I suppose that as time progresses and the male and female socialization stabilizes, a larger advertising initiative would have the most impact.

Carmella, a major female gamer (that is higher level than me in WoW and much more experienced in MMORPGs) responds with the following:

From my own experience, a lot of women dont really know how to react to the game phenomena. Once we organized a [dinner for 30+ folks] in the area. Some men had brought their GF’s around, their first reflex was to come toward me so they could talk about everyday stuff. When they realized I came as a player wanting to discuss strategies, behavior totally changed. I think part of it might come from the old reflex of ‘What is unknown and undiscovered for a person can become scary’.

As we can see, MMORPGs are becoming increasingly more popular to the world at large (World of Warcraft in particular). These games are now appealing to the masses rather than the small sub-groups of geeks that have been pocketed around the country for years. When I play WoW or discuss WoW in a group setting, I find that more and more women 1) have heard of it and 2) have played it.

These games are morphing into more than simply games…but social software and communication tools. As we see them grow, what effect will they have on the female population? The Sims Online is a good example of a game that is marketed more towards the female population than the male. When will we see game companies begin marketing towards women as much as towards men? I feel the time is fast approaching….Men still out number women in the gaming scene, but those numbers are beginning to balance.

The Holy Grail

I’m a geek…I play World of Warcraft and am part of a guild. A lot of time has gone into the game. What does a lot of time mean? Well, lets just say I am nearing 1,000 hours! So that brings me to the point of this post…I was directed to this article at Tom’s Hardware that details what the true ‘Holy Grail’ is all about. Here’s the gist:

The Grail I speak of is not the cup of Christ that bestows eternal life, but rather something sought after by young men the world over. I speak of the Attractive Female Gamer. A woman who not only possesses the desirable attributes necessary to attract members of the opposite sex, but who also shares the deep love that some of us have for videogames.

Yup. So true. To a gamer geek (specifically of the mmorpg variety), a woman that has the same interests is a truly blessed thing to date/marry yet exceedingly rare! Now, as the article states, a woman that enjoys Solitaire, Bejeweled, Minesweeper, etc is NOT what we’re talking about here…its the woman that plays MMORPGs and fully understands it.

“What’s the big deal?” some of you may ask. Well, when you live with a woman, her needs can conflict with the needs of the game. We all know the game needs to be played. How else are we going to procure the “phat lewts”? So imagine a woman who not only understands the needs of the game, but is as much a slave to it as we are. She knows the reward that comes with countless hours at the keyboard. She understands that sometimes you just have to eat dinner at the computer because your party is counting on you to heal. She will burn a vacation day in order to play when the server is less crowded. In short, she gets it.

My wife (at least for a time) was the Holy Grail for a looong time. She played WoW as much as me and we often wandered around the world of Azeroth together earning m4d l00t and picking on n00bs. Sadly, her work schedule has drastically changed causing a damper on our gaming co-existence. Hopefully, given time, she will dive back in and understand my drive to play once more! So if you’re a male gamer and you find yourself dating/married to such a woman, know that she is a rare jewel to have and you should pamper and promote her gaming as much as possible! If you are a female gamer…you are a blessing to society and should be extremely vocal in your circle of friends and promote the ideas of slaying Onyxia and running Molten Core!

MMORPG Cheating

My friend Casey over at MaisonBisson posted an article (Wide World of Video Games) where he shoots down the ideas of laws that are being built around MMORPGs and the reasons behind them. I don’t entirely agree with his statement:

One argument is that these games occupy players time and cost money, so in-game theft results in real-life loss. Baloney. Chess and Monopoly occupy great deals of time, but try telling the cops I rooked your knight. Money? A huge number of Americans invest time and money on building and racing cars on the approximately 1800 racetracks around the country. Real time and and hard-earned money are lost when cars crash, but the track has its own rules[…]

First, comparing Chess and Monopoly to MMORPGs is just silly. Yes they are both games, but they aren’t even the same caliber! Thats like saying a helium-filled balloon is the same as a state fair. You can get enjoyment from both a baloon and a state fair, but there is a huge cost difference, a difference in the level of participation by large numbers of people, activities in one that don’t exist in the other, etc.

Secondly, the racecar analogy falls through the roof once a little background info on racing is dug up. Yes, cars cost a crap ton of money to construct, fund, and race and it is expected that you will inevitably break something and/or crash. Its all part of the game. But what happens when that crash is intentionally caused by another player? You see, when once racecar driver causes an accident on purpose, there are repercussions…fines anywhere from $100-10,000 to both the speedway AND the ‘targets of destruction’, suspension, loss of championship points (whatever those are), permanent banning, etc. Check these references if you wish :

In an MMORPG, you purchase and play the game (within the rules) and assume others will do the same. But what happens when someone cheats -using bots, hacks, etc- to best you at something and take your hard earned items? When I say hard earned, those items can have 1000+ hours of play time behind them, 5 months of paying $15/month, etc.

Should there be repercussions for MMORPG cheating? Perhaps. I’m not sold either way but to write it off so quickly is just ludicrous. As MMORPGs grow in popularity and become a larger beast in our society, the world will be faced with larger numbers of people that will want justice for in-game theft, in-game cheating, etc. How will society draw the line and where will we put it?

World of Warcrack and the future of MMOGs

[[innerindex]]WoW Dude I began gaming in the early 90’s. Looking back at what gaming was then compared to what it is today causes me to do a double take. Things have changed so much so fast. Of particular note is the Online Gaming industry. What started out as geek-only text-based fantasy games has morphed into a globe encompassing communication/entertainment mega-games….Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs). Before I explain my awe when it comes to these games, I’ll start out with a short definition and a little history.

What are MMOGs?

Massively Multiplayer Online Games (a.k.a. MMOG, MMO, MMORPG) are pay-to-play games where a player interacts with an evolving game-world and hundreds (to thousands) of other players at the same time. Within these games, players typically wander around killing monsters, collecting/crafting items, creating organizations, and often times Player Killing (hunting down other players and killing them for experience, loot, or simply just for fun). In addition to the above…MMOGs tend to be highly addictive! I, myself, have been prone to spurts of MMOG addiction :)

A Brief History

I suppose the best way to fully understand these MMOGs is to see where they come from. Back in the ancient days of 1977, the first MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) was born. These geek-only games of sweetness gained popularity due to their ability to connect like-minded fantasy buffs to interact with eachother in a text-based reality, however, the popularity remain primarily in the geek community due primarily to the fact that most MUDs contained no graphics beyond ASCII art. While cool to some, many people found them fairly boring…I mean sheesh. read?!. (I was one of those geeks that played MUDs… EotL to be exact)

It wasn’t until 1997 when Ultima Online launched that MMOGs began to really take off. Ultima Online reached 100,000 users fairly quickly which spurred a whole industry of MMOGs with a variety of gaming engines, rules, and monthly price ranges. Some of the most popular: Asheron’s Call (AC), Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC), EverQuest (EQ), Ultima Online (UO), and the fairly new World of Warcraft (WoW).

Why Are MMOGs So Popular?

Oooo Doggy. Good question. MMOGs aren’t just games for geeks anymore. As the games become more advanced and appealing to the eye, more and more people are buying the games and paying the monthly fees. All types of people! Geeks, teachers, athletes, construction workers, housewives, etc!

  • Its a Role-Playing Game.

    MMOGs allow us to be an object of our own fantasy and participate in a world with very loose rules that allow us expose us to experiences when we want to experience them. In WoW I have the freedom to create a character that walks around being a bastard to people: swearing at them; stealing their items; player killing defenseless characters (griefing). While at the same time I could make a second character that is the perfect angel. Always willing to help those in need; an active contributing member of a guild; a good party member. I could make a third character with a whole different personality. Thats the beauty of it, you can play how you want with minimal fear of Real Life retaliation. You are simply a character on a screen, nothing more. When you get tired, you simply log off the game and you are back to your real life. A co-worker of mine directed me to this essay that explains this mode of thought:

    If you don’t understand the gravitational pull of an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), I’m going to enlighten you with just a dozen words: you get to pick what you look like and what your talents are.

    That’s the real beauty of it. The first thing you do in the MMORPG World of Warcraft is design your own body and decide what your strengths will be. You pick your race. What could be more seductive than that, the ability to turn in all of the cards you were dealt at birth and draw new ones from a face-up deck? If you have friends who’ve gotten sucked into the WoW black hole and you don’t understand why they never talk to you any more, this is it. I remember being a chubby teenager with bad skin and astigmatism and pants that didn’t fit quite right. What would I have given to be reborn as a strapping warrior with rippling pecs and armor of hammered silver?

    On that kid’s screen now is a dozen noble warriors of exotic races, brandishing elaborate weapons and charging a gigantic demon across a fire-scarred mountaintop. The dwarf next to him is controlled by an accountant planted at his own computer in Cleveland, two babies sleeping in the next room and his pregnant wife on the sofa. The robed priest in the back casting healing spells is actually a 250-lb. ex-gangster, playing from the computer lab of a maximum security prison in Pennsylvania. The elf on his left, sprinting and drawing his mighty magical bow, is the digital body of a wheelchair-bound 12 year-old girl in Miami.

  • For some its the social aspect of the game. For example:

    I get my kicks from MMOGs for this very reason. Most MMOGs have some ability to create in-game organizations (in WoW they are called Guilds) and from these organizations grows in-game politics. Bylaws are often created; characters vie for rank; hierarchies are established; there are inter-guild events and disputes. It may seem silly at first glance because its “all a game,” but more often than not these organizations are taken very seriously by their members – despite the fact that they may have a guild name like “Vicious Chickens of Bristol” – and many Real Life friendships can be won and lost. So whats the draw? The ability to socialize with people from around the world and organize under one purpose. People are simply drawn to structure and conflict. I am. I love it :)

  • Yet another reason for MMOG popularity is the story.

    MMOGs typically have a wonderfully rich background story that explains the hows and whys of the virtual world. World of Warcraft (yes, I’m using WoW as the example again because I love it so :) ) has a very wonderful story line that allows its characters to participate in quests that unfold the WoW story to that user. The quests can be anything from a short delivery quest where you take one item from point A to point B, or it can be a whole chain of quests that build up an epic plot, OR it can be a comedic side story that gives an amusing reward. In WoW there are hundreds of quests and every few months many more are added/tweaked. The world is constantly evolving giving those that thrive on storylines plenty of story to keep them active for months and months on end!

What MMOGs Have Become

MMOGs have become an addiction and a communication powerhouse.
I’m a World of Warcraft addict. I play a Human Priest (named Heuric) and help run a guild called the Crimson Eagles. The scary thing is, is the fact that I get so excited even talking about the game (whether verbally or typing). It has become a very real part of my social life. And before you can ask the question, I’ll answer it: No, it is not my only social life…I spend maybe 5-15 hours a week in the game. Seem like a lot to you? Well, I’m considered an almost non-active member in my guild. There are people I know that spend almost all their time at home playing these games…sometimes more than 40 hours a week!

You see…weekends allow for game play times of 10+ hours straight! I have been known to do this and have also been known to forget to eat because of it. Yeah. I often suffer from the “five more minutes….I just need to kill 3 more” syndrome. Well sometimes I don’t miss just one meal…I sometimes may miss 2 and on a couple of rare occasions I have missed 3. Remember when I said that I am considered pretty inactive? Scary huh? Thank god I have a wife that keeps me in line :) (I only miss meals when I’m home alone)

Its an MMOG addiction. And I’m not alone. There are over 3 Million people in the world that own and play World of Warcraft…and thats just one game!

Ten years ago when I wanted to talk to one of my friends, I’d call them up on the phone. 7 years ago I’d e-mail them. 4 years ago I’d instant message them. Now…I log in to WoW. There they all are, running around PKing in Alterac Valley; questing in Searing Gorge; trading in Iron Forge; raiding in UBRS; or grinding in the Western Plaguelands. (all locations in WoW). Despite the fact that they are all doing their own thing, I can type or pop on a headset microphone and and talk to them. We plan get togethers, discuss work, news, politics, religion, etc…right there in game.

MMOGs have become a source of income (and I’m not talking companies)
WTF!?!?! Yeah. People can play for money. While generally frowned upon by both the companies that produce the games and by the average player, the buying and selling of accounts, items, and in-game currency has become a very profitable business. Here’s an article at TechAngel that talks of a man that makes ~$1,800 a month! In this article at 1up.com they explain how game profiteers are establishing Gaming Sweatshops in China, India, Mexico, etc where people are forced to play outrageous hours farming in-game currency for measely wages ($0.59/hour).

This is bad on multiple levels…first and foremost, the workers work long hours for very little money and are placed in situations where if the quit their jobs they’d lose their homes too. Its also bad for in-game economy. (yes, these virtual worlds have their own economy) These gold farmers jack up the prices of items causing many under-handed players to resort to purchasing money on E-bay and various game currency reseller sites…just to purchase a rare item in game! Its amazing to what lengths someone will go simply for the satisfaction of attaining certain items and a certain in-game status.

Where are MMOGs going?

They aren’t leaving any times soon, thats for darn sure. I can speculate that they will continue to grow in popularity and be taken more seriously. Even now we are seeing how serious some are taking these ‘games.’ MSNBC has an article where one man killed another because an in-game sword was stolen…Its a sad story that shows just how real some people believe these to be:

Qui went to the police to report the “theft” but was told the weapon was not real property protected by law.

“Zhu promised to hand over the cash but an angry Qui lost patience and attacked Zhu at his home, stabbing him in the left chest with great force and killing him,” the court was told.

More and more online gamers were seeking justice through the courts over stolen weapons and credits, the newspaper said at the time the case went to trial.

“The armor and swords in games should be deemed as private property as players have to spend money and time for them,” Wang Zongyu, an associate law professor at Beijing’s Renmin University of China, was quoted as saying.

As these incidents occur (and mark my words…more will come) what laws will be birthed because of them? Southeast Asia tends to be on the bleeding edge of gaming/tech culture and obsession. It is here that many of the ‘firsts’ occur (such as the murder mentioned above). Because of these incidents they are attempting to prevent them with some interesting laws:

What laws will carry over world wide? Will there be Real Life implications for what we do in game? Only time will tell…and I will be watching the clock with curiosity and a wary mind.

UPDATE (9/7/2005):
It seems that Slashdot has a post going on how WoW is now the 800-pound gorilla in the room…the big question from the New York Times:

WoW is now the 800-pound gorilla in the room. I think it also applies to the single-player games. If some kid is paying $15 a month on top of the initial $50 investment and is devoting so many hours a week to it, are they really going to go out and buy the next Need for Speed or whatever? There is a real fear that this game, with its incredible time investment, will really cut into game-buying across the industry.’ What is the Slashdot opinion on World of Warcraft’s impact on the gaming industry?