Sony Station Exchange and GMs responsabilities

So, yeah! I’m still trying to write about intellectual property rights within MMORPGs. I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that reputation is a commodity in MMORPGs, both for the game developers and the gamers themselves, and I’m wondering if it is this reputation that is or should be protected within intellectual property rights! Firstly I’ve used Eriksson and Grill’s DiGRA 2005 paper “Who owns my avatar? – Rights in virtual property” for inspiration to illustrate the different interests game developers and gamers have in intellectual property rights. From their excellent paper:

“Two main interests are discernible in connection to the game producers:

  1. Subscription interest – virtual trade may decrease a game producer’s income from subscriptions. If new players buy advanced characters for real money they won’t have to spend time in the game (which they consequently would have to pay for) advancing their own avatars. The subscription interest is also affected by the fact that the game producer may get a bad reputation by letting people with more money than time buy themselves into the game, resulting in gamers leaving the virtual world
  2. Control interest – developers have an interest in remaining in control over their creation. In part, this may be a purely creative interest, quite separable from the subscription interest. Often, producers wish that their virtual world should remain a game only. The recognition of ownership rights in the virtual world of their game may thus conflict with their wish to control that world. Producers therefore try to establish norms implying that trade in virtual property with real money should not exist”

So while I’m actively trying to evaluate and explain what they mean with(or at least my understanding of) these two interests and also in an ecstatic frenzy because ‘reputation’ is making such great sense in this messy head of mine both for the game producers and gamers themselves – it suddenly hits me!! What’s going on with Sony’s Station Exchange?!! Here the game producers are actively participating in virtual gaming property auctions instead of tactical warfare against gold farmers (read: WoW), how’s their gaming community doing? How’s Everquest II’s reputation doing since they allow trade? Have they maybe managed to find the perfect solution? It’s my understanding that you have to choose to play on a Station Exchange server to be able to exchange Everquest II goods (yeah…it’s also my understanding that EQII is the only Sony MMORPG hooked on to SE). But why haven’t I heard anything about this? Maybe I’m not using the right acronyms in my searches. The only articles I can find are after it’s first month survival.
Anyways! I was thinking about using the famous Mystere example from Everquest to enhance my argument that upholding ones reputation is an intellectual property right (at least as long as your a game developer). In case you don’t know it; Mystere created a piece of fanfiction and published it on an independent website (not Sony/Verant). Apparently it was a rather dark, brutal and uncomfortable piece of fiction, exploring the darker side of the “dark elves, an evil race Verant chose to place in the EQ world”. So when Sony/Verant discovered this they immediately banned Mystere from the game and actually managed to remove the fanfiction from the independent website! According to a spokesman from Sony/Verant, Gordin Wrinn, they did this to protect their game’s reputation:
“We make determinations based on information at hand regarding who is or is not having a positive effect on EverQuest’s community. If we determine that one person’s actions make EverQuest a game that other people do not want to play based upon those actions, we will exercise our right to refuse service to the extent necessary to provide a reasonable and enjoyable gaming environment” – completely stolen from T.L. Taylor’s “Whose Game is it anyway?” (2002).
I know, I know! It certainly does seem odd that Everquest can claim such things when they adamently ‘borrow’ from Tolkien, but don’t worry, it’s been discussed!!
So in my confusion about Sony Station Exchange, I decided to pay them a visit and see if I could find some interesting facts and figures (I honestly haven’t yet, but it always takes me forever to find the simplest things) and I came across the blog!! And oh my, what an interesting read!

EQ Game Master, John Smedley wishes there was a virtual jail and he’s upset that the good stuff GMs do doesn’t get recognised. Like “You don’t hear about them making sure someone gets help after making a suicide threat in-game. You don’t hear about them personally calling a player after a hurricane to make sure they are ok…but I wish you did”. Awwww!!! On a personal note, I really do feel for the GMs! They must go throught a lot of crap! I can only imagine! I’ve seen some complaints from gamers that have given me chills. I suppose that’s what we’re on about as well, though! GMs have way too much crap to deal with! There has to be some way of protecting the magic circle at the same time as some form of organised democratic governmental force can resume some order.

The big shocker of this blog however was his revelation about the Mystere incident:

“…we couldn’t tell the real story, which involved one player accusing this banned player of something that, if true, would have crossed major real-life moral and legal lines. I personally spoke with the person accused and there was enough that made me uncomfortable to decide the right thing to do was to keep this person out of our games altogether. The “fan fiction” story this player wrote certainly was a part of this decision, particularly when combined with the accusation made in-game. But the reality is that it came down to a judgment call about potentially inappropriate behavior in our game. We have to make these sorts of calls each and every day and I think that for the most part we – as an industry – do this right. ”

This is it though, isn’t it? It’s not exactly fair to impose such decisions on a Game Developer’s sense of judgment, is it? I’m sure they usually do what’s ‘right’ – but when you’re regulating worlds that have a population of over 6 million, you need to have some other democratic organisation. I would love to believe that GMs always do an excellent job, but I also think they’re overworked – and do you want someone making moral decisions about you when they’re overworked? To be honest, this ‘confession’ uneased me more than it calmed me!

Right…I’m gonna have to go back to work now and come back to some of this later! But seriously, if anyone knows anything about how Sony Station Exchange and Everquest II are doing, let me know! Hmmm…probably should stop by PlayOn, shouldn’t I?!!

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