I was asked by the eds of PCGamesN to write something about what it means to actually own property in a virtual world, particularly in light of the sale of land-claim beacons in Star Citizen, even though the land itself hasn’t been made yet. It was a pretty chunky assignment, involving tracking down a lawyer who could explain what you’re actually purchasing when you buy a virtual house or spaceship – or in this case, a beacon that you could potentially use to claim a plot of land at some unspecified point in the future. James Chang of the law firm Pillsbury was amazingly helpful in this regard, and I’m eternally grateful to him for his patient and detailed responses to my inane questions.
I also contacted the people behind Star Citizen to get their take on the whole virtual property thing, and it all made for some fascinating reading. Here’s a link to the story:
I have to say, I’m a bit disappointed in the headline that the PCGamesN eds went with – the phrase ‘clickbait’ springs to mind. But yes, the article does explore some bizarre implications of virtual property from Second Life, particularly when it comes to getting on with the neighbours – or at least learning to tolerate them.
Whatever your opinion of the headline, hopefully it might get people reading the story who might not otherwise be interested in the real world rules behind virtual property. And the whole ownership thing really is a rabbit warren when you start looking into it. In a nutshell, you never really OWN anything in a virtual world – essentially it’s more like leasing property, but with a huge bunch of vigorous terms and conditions, and with the developer having final say over basically everything.
I think the quote from a Second Lifer at the end pretty much sums it up: “Your entire virtual property is an illusion.”