Star Citizen and the legal perils of virtual property

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:

What Star Citizen can learn from the Second Life players who break into houses and have sex

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.”

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  1. I own a ship in Star Citizen. Too bad I don’t own a PC that can actually run the game whenever it comes out…

    1. Well it doesn’t look like it’s going to leave alpha any time soon – so that should give you a few years to save up for a new PC!

      1. I think I have unlimited lifetime insurance on it too for being such an early backer. That WAS my plan, to get a new PC when it came out, back when I did it in…2013? Nowadays I’m struggling to come up with a single other reason to bother upgrading, because one game just isn’t enough to justify that expense…

      2. Yeah, they’re not cheap, are they? I guess it depends on how much you’re bothered by having fancy graphics, as most of the big releases come out on all formats these days.

        That said, most of the games that interest me are the weird indie ones on Steam, and they don’t need much in the way of graphical power. But I still just can’t relax into playing games on my PC – just reminds me of working too much. Perhaps if I plug my laptop into the big telly I could convince myself it’s a console…

      3. Well, you could do that easily enough, but there isn’t much left anymore that isn’t on consoles too or on it’s way to them. Fancy PC graphics means less and less every year too. By next generation there probably won’t be any gap at all anymore. It just doesn’t seem like the good investment it used to, back when there were a ton of amazing PC-only games.

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