OK, so I just got back from the first night of the NYU Law School "State of Play" conference. Speaking tonight were Richard Bartle (great inventor of the MUD) and Raph Koster (Chief Creative, Sony Online Entertainment) -- moderated by the oft-brilliant Julian Dibbell.
These are three very smart guys, but I personally didn't feel like there was much meat in the discussion. It seemed like both Bartle and Koster were focusing on the possible abuses of power by admins, which to my mind is far less threatening than the many abuses that players inflict on each other.
But then Bartle on his way to making a point (I don't remember the original point) said something about, if we were playing the board game Clue, and I offered you $20 to show me your cards, and then won the game...
It got me to thinking, you know, the funny thing about games IRL is that some of them are already legislated and regulated, and that's what we call gambling. And it got me wondering, in a room full of lawyers, why it is that some games are regulated and others are not?
Because, this is pure conjecture, the moral (and, down the line, legal) argument against unrestricted gambling is that people are taking something fixed (like money) and assigning it to a system that is arbitrary (like dice). Now, that's true with the stock market as well, but then, that's regulated too.
So, in the last 5 months, 5.79 million dollars have passed through eBay's category 1654, which are all the virtual goods of Ultima Online, etc. So here's my question: haven't people essentially bet (or invested) 5.79 million dollars, hoping that it will yield a profit within that same market?
Because what's different about that than playing high-stakes craps? One answer may be "game of skill." As I understand it, that's why it's ok to put 25 cents in a pinball machine but not a slot machine, because pinball machines were once demonstrated to be based on skill, not luck. "The trick is to create a game that is both playable, with an outcome that depends more on skill than luck. The law requires that it must be possible for a skillful player to win under normal playing conditions."
So is it just that? That your success in virtual worlds is understood to be purely a reflection of skill? Because to flip it around, if skill isn't part of gambling, what's counting cards all about? Or why do the same guys go to the world poker championships year after year, if skill's not involved?
In short: gambling, and virtual worlds, take cash, enter it into a parallel currency (betting chips, or gold pieces), and multiply or diminish that parallel economy in ways that involve chance. Then the currencies of that parallel economy can be converted back to real cash.
What I was unable to articulate tonight is that I'm not trying to say that online gaming is the same thing as gambling. I just don't understand how it's different.
Kio, if you don't hear me paging you, I'm paging you.Posted by kevin slavin at November 14, 2003 12:39 AM