Monday, September 04, 2006

ponzi scheme in a game

Ask when you own your property and the question comes boomeranging back: if someone puts together a pyramid scheme (a.k.a. a Ponzi scheme), but that person does it in the context of a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (an MMORPG) using in-game currency, is that person breaking the law? There's an interesting slashdot article that raises just that question. It seems a player in the MMORPG called EVE may have created a Ponzi scheme, gotten 700 billion in-game currency units, and bragged about it afterwards, at least according to this blog entry.

The federal statute that governs wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. section 1343, states:
Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. If the violation affects a financial institution, such person shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.
(emphasis added).

There are two questions I find intriguing here. The first is whether in-game currency is "money or property." If it is, that could affect the ability of the company that runs Eve to, say, turn off their servers without the players' consent (or without compensating the players for any property they'd lose.) The second is whether the intent the statute requires means the person must intend to get in-game currency, or must intend to get real-world property. In other words, even if in-game currency isn't property, is it still a crime because the person intended to get in-game currency?

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