Friday, December 01, 2006

Byte: Getting the press

Everyone in the mainstream press seems to be creaming their pants over Second Life at the moment. From my own company's Glorious Leader's plan to use it as a basis for a 3D intranet to replace corporate instant messaging and video/telephone conferencing, to the claims of a Second Life player that they're the first online gamer to have virtual assets worth more than one million dollars. Even The Economist has done an article on it.

The game does certainly does have some vociferous supporters, but everything I've read about virtual-to-real economy-based MMORPGs like Second Life or the lesser known Project Entropia leaves me with the impression that they would bore me senseless. Games should be oriented around having fun, not making money. And I'm not sure I like the idea of having virtual economies crossing over with the real world, either; because then some bright spark at the Treasury is going to think "Where's our piece of the action?" and start taxing transactions whenever you buy or sell something in the auction house in World of Warcraft. It's a slippery slope I don't think gamers should really risk falling down.

Okay, so you can argue that Second Life isn't really a "game" and that different rules should apply for MMORPGs where there is a designed tie-in from the real world economy to the virtual one, but I don't think that's going to cut much ice with the Treasury or the IRS in America when they're looking at the amount of (virtual) money being spent in online transactions, translating it to real money (because "unofficial" exchange rates do exist for MMORPG currencies such as those in Everquest and WoW) and then sticking on their rate of sales tax or VAT...

Would players just accept it as part of the cost of playing online? How would the government extract their cut from the system? How could such a ruling even be enforced? So many unanswered questions... This is one of the more interesting ways in which new technologies and gaming are muddying the boundaries between the real and the virtual world. How can we ensure that fun stays fun, instead of becoming yet another way for our governments to bolster their coffers?

I'll have to put some more thought into this. I'm sure there's a good feature just begging to be written on this subject...
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