[Dave Birch] A digital identity may map to many online virtual identities (ie, you might use OpenID to log in to World of Warcraft and the government) and it is this mapping that is usually being considered when we talk about managing virtual identities.  But a virtual identity may also be owned by several real identities.  That is, a husband and wife might both have the password to a single OpenID log in, or both have the PIN to the same smart card.  In fact, this arrangement will be common in the business world (ie, several executive officers of Consult Hyperion control the digital ID “Consult Hyperion”).  This is a logical way to organise things.  However, the acid test of new structures like this is: what happens when something goes wrong?

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Who cares about custody of the quids when there’s virtual assets at stake!  A divorcing couple in China are fighting for the  custody of virtual identities in the Zhengtu Online virtual world.  The couple met each other through the game in September 2006 and got married in November. The two jointly own more than 10 Zhengtu Online accounts (each of which is, in essence, a different virtual identity) that are each above level 100.  This, incidentally, makes them a liquid asset as they can be sold for 10,000 Yuan each online. The husband wants all the game accounts and in return is willing to give their newly purchased and renovated apartment to his wife: in other words, he wants the virtual stuff and she can keep the real stuff.  As they say in Yorkshire — or they did in the era when my mother was born in Catterick — there’s nowt as strange a folk.  The dispute?  The wife wants to split the real and virtual stuff equally… how old fashioned.

You’ve never heard of Zhengtu Online? Well, it’s one of those small virtual worlds that we sensible business people don’t pay much attention to.  After all, it has only 3 million players and almost a MILLION concurrent users.  It recently knocked World of Warcraft into third place in China and is currently generating 120 million yuan (HK$121.35 million) a month in profit.  Note that it’s a “free” game!  It does not charge a subscription, but there are loads of “extras” in the game that cost money, and many players spend thousands of yuan a month in the game: hence, the control of the virtual identity that owns the virtual assets is important, whereas control of a credit card to pay subscriptions is not.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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