New York Times on Gold Farming
The New York Times carries a story today on gold farming activities in virtual worlds. “Gold farming” is the term used for acquiring virtual wealth within multi-player games like World of Warcraft and then selling it to other players for real cash. As the Times notes, it is a growing industry, despite the fact that the sales are usually in violation of the software contract of the games.
I mention this because exploring the legal issues raised by these environments has been a pet project of mine, and it has been interesting to see the popular media attention increasingly given to multi-player games as their demographics expand. In many ways, the predecessors of World of Warcraft were part of the impetus for the debates in the 1990’s over the growing importance of cyberlaw as a field for legal inquiry. For instance, William Mitchell’s City of Bits, about the construction of digital social spaces, is a book from 1994 that is well worth reading today.
If you want a crash course on the economics and society of virtual worlds, I’d recommend Virtual Worlds by Ted Castronova, Unreal Estate by Julian Dibbell, and this blog. For some thoughts on the legal dimensions, Dan Hunter and I have published two articles on point: The Laws of the Virtual Worlds and Virtual Crime. Among other writings on the topic are Virtual Property by Josh Fairfield and Virtual Liberty by Jack Balkin.
Even Judge Posner thinks this stuff is cool.