Police in China have arrested 2 men for running a World of Warcraft gold farming operation and charged them with “unfair revenue distribution” (presumably a crime against socialism of some kind). The two men ran the operation for 7 months and earned 1.4 Million RMB (just over US$200,000). They had 20 computers and 20 employees and were based in Chengdu’s Shuangliu county.[From Only in China – Gold Farmers Arrested! Earned over US$200,000 in 7 Months – PlayNoEvil Game Security News & Analysis]
Of course, if your local constabulary don’t respond when you dial 999 to complain that there’s been a jack and your friend’s World of Warcraft Guild has been rolled over for a hundred gold pieces, because they’re busy helping people look for their glasses and so on, you’ll have to look for alternative law-and-order structures. I doubt that the Financial Services Authority (FSA) would be much help either, although it enough players got together they might be able to persuade the government to underwrite the gold pieces and have WoW Gold Institutions regulated under the Payment Services Directive (PSD). There is an alternative, though. As in any other frontier community, a long way from centralised authority, virtual communities can choose to police themselves.
disgruntled Alliance players have come up with a clever, though perhaps somewhat EULA-non-compliant hack to enable community self-help (aka murder) as means of silencing n00b bot gold spammers[From Terra Nova: The Bot-Slaughtering Totems of Stormwind]
It’s the Wild West. Economics may work differently in wholly virtual environments, but human nature does not.
There’s a serious point here, naturally. The relationship between politics and economics is complex, but it undeniably exists in the virtual world.
In many virtual worlds, however, it seems to me that the most economically-oriented players look for serious bottlenecks in the developer’s economic design and move very quickly (often using knowledge from participation in a beta-test) to establish a commanding position at that bottleneck.[From Terra Nova: The Cookie Monster Economy and “Guild Socialism”]
So what happens when some players are able to obtain these commanding positions? Are there more or fewer exchanges?
This makes good economic sense, but it is often precisely what motivates a great deal of the actual economic activity of players to disappear from the structured mechanisms built into the economy, for a great deal of production and exchange to disappear from auction houses into the closed world of guilds. This is “turtling”: to protect themselves from being ganked in the open market by monopolizers dominating production bottlenecks, many guilds look to build vertical monopolies of important or crucial production chains from among their members and to reduce production to its base costs. This has the side-effect in some cases of killing any hope for playful exchange in public markets, of creating a kind of “guild socialism” within what is ostensibly a “free market”.[From Terra Nova: The Cookie Monster Economy and “Guild Socialism”]
Just as Adam Smith himself might have predicted from his knowledge of real guilds, or Richard Dawkins might have predicted from his knowledge of reciprocal altruism, players form themselves into groups to maximise the wealth of the groups at the expense of everyone else. Who’d have thought? Of course, these effects are absent environments without money. In World of Warcraft, money is part of the “game”. In Facebook, it isn’t, so some people have been trying to add it. The new monetary experiments already inhabit a kind of shady border zone between the real and virtual.
Overall, the banking and personal finance apps have anemic usage levels totaling just 263 daily users (for apps with more than 1 daily user). That does not include virtual currencies or stock tracking/investing applications (see note 2). In comparison, the most popular general Facebook app, FunWall, has more than 3 million daily users.[From Facebook Financial & Banking Apps Have Only 263 Daily Users (NetBanker)]
The leading stock tracking app, Fantasy Stock Exchange, has 7,990 daily users. The most popular virtual currency AceBucks has 11,300 daily users. It’s early days, and these numbers seem inconsequential, but remember William Gibson’s maxim about uneven distribution. Could the combination of digital money, massively-multiplayer games and social networking contain the seeds of the next evolutionary epoch for e-money?
These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]