An article from The Atlantic (which is a literary and political magazine; not a gaming publication) discusses recent video game innovations such as Real Money Trading, and how any company that incorporates that feature into their game, as D3 has, requires a strong DRM and EULA to control the system.
Could a company offer such an intricate economy without requiring digital rights management? “Probably not,” John Walker, a writer for the British PC gaming site Rock, Paper, Shotgun told me. “So the question is: Do we actually need this in the first place?”
“I think there’s two choices to be made in that situation,” he explained. “One is the publisher can say, ‘Let’s not do a real money auction house if it requires bringing our game to this level.’ Or customers can respond, ‘Well, I’m not going to buy that game if I’m going to be treated that way.'”
Walker’s comment gets at the heart of the issue consumers face today: If they don’t like one aspect of a virtual world, they can either stomach it, or leave entirely. And as virtual worlds become progressively more complex, the gaming company’s power necessarily expands. Just this year, players of Star Wars: The Old Republic were banned for dancing in the game. It was actually a clever form of cheating, but the controversy nevertheless drew many Footloose comparisons. And sometime next year, Bethesda will release The Elder Scrolls Online, an massive multiplayer online counterpart to Skyrim—a game that lets you get married, buy a house, and work an unsatisfying minimum-wage job chopping wood for gold. I don’t know why anybody would play a game to do these things. But once a virtual online world begins facilitating these sorts of interactions, the developer will essentially have all the same domestic powers that a real-world government holds over its people.
Check out the whole article, since it covers a lot of related ground, while never quite coming to a definite point. That’s not surprising, as this is an evolving field and a complicated issue, and by embracing it in Diablo III, Blizzard has pushed the conversation into a much more mainstream arena.
We’ve seen a lot of commentary about this topic, though I wouldn’t call it “conversation” since much of the time it’s just people blinding hating or blinding defending, depending on their view of RMT, or always-online DRMs. If it’s possible to move past those symptoms to view the larger disease, what would the conversation look like? What would have to be in a “gamer’s bill of rights?”
Currently, our rights begin and end at “don’t play it if you don’t like it.” The companies creating these games claim full ownership and the ability to make any sort of changes they see fit, at any time, with or without notification or consent of the players. Video game economies and communities are not democracies, and it’s hard to imagine how they could function if they were… and yet so many fans are united in hate over RMT and DRM that you wonder if we’ll see this state of affairs changing over time?