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CS5038 The Electronic Society. Lecture 13: Online Games Lecture Outline What are Virtual Worlds and MMOGs How many people are playing Types of Games – mainly Fantasy Genre Example: World of Warcraft (WoW) Where do players come from? Problems with private servers The In-Game Economy

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CS5038 The Electronic Society

  • Lecture 13: Online Games

  • Lecture Outline

  • What are Virtual Worlds and MMOGs

  • How many people are playing

  • Types of Games – mainly Fantasy Genre

  • Example: World of Warcraft (WoW)

  • Where do players come from?

  • Problems with private servers

  • The In-Game Economy

  • Linking to the real economy – how to make real money

  • Example: Second Life

  • Cheating in Games, and company responses

  • Gold Farming

  • Unresolved legal issues

  • Criticisms of online games – addiction problems

  • Non-Game virtual world uses


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What are Virtual Worlds and MMOGs?

  • A virtual world are computer-simulated environments, typically quite similar to the real world (3D with realistic physical laws and societies),

  • Users interact in the world via avatars.

  • Persistence: The world should be active and available 24/7Events should happen even if a user is not connectedPlots continue to unfold(in reality there will have to be some downtime for maintenance)

  • Primary use is games, but also used for education

  • MMOG=Massively Multiplayer Online GameHundreds of thousands / Millions of people interacting via avatarsCommunicating by text or VOIP

  • Note: This phenomenon is quite new, and different to eCommerce, eHealth, eGovernment etc. It is more similar to the beginning of cinema or television.


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How many people are playing?

  • Charts from MMOGCHART.COM


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How many people are playing?

  • Note: MapleStory said to have >50 million players in all of its versions


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Types of Games

  • Fantasy Genre Dominant (94%)Remainder include Sci-Fi, Superhero, combat, social

  • Business Model: Typically pay for client software for a one-time fee + pay a monthly subscription to play

  • ?? $30 billion industry

  • Typical Features:

  • Character development: increasing abilities

  • Economy: currency and trade of items (e.g. weapons / armor)

  • Guilds or clans: organisations of players

  • Game Moderators: supervise the world



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Example: World of Warcraft (WoW)

  • (Currently most popular MMOG)

  • Currently >50% of overall market

  • >10.9M subscribers (November 2008)

    • ~4M China (2006)

    • ~2M North America (2006)

    • ~1M Europe (2006)

  • Initial player cost ~US$20

  • Daily play cost ~US$0.50

  • Different pricing model in China – CD key to access game

  • Piracy less of a problem due to need to connect to servers

    • Reason for major success compared to earlier US games


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Where do Players come from?

  • Extremely popular in Asia:

  • South Korea: 38% play online games (pop.~50M),

    • Advanced Broadband infrastructure

    • More people play the MMORPG Lineage than watch TV

    • Well-funded professional video gaming leagues

    • TV channels devoted to games

  • China:

    • ~20M MMOG players

    • Majority of World of Warcraft players based in China

  • Also Japan, Taiwan

  • Growing popularity in North America and Europe


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    Private Servers

    • Run by volunteers -> free

    • Private servers -> less popular in west than the official servers

    • In Asian countries private servers popular

      • High fees for official servers

      • 100MB/s fiber optic internet connections, ~US$30 a month

      • Costs of running a server in China very low

      • Damage commercial MMOG development

      • Many gamers feel the companies make game progress slowly to make more money

      • Private servers allow faster progression


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    Virtual Economies

    • In-Game Economy:

    • Players can specialise, gaining valuable skills which others will pay for

    • Leads to competitive advantage + division of labour

    • Commerce: magic weapons, houses, goods and services can be bought and sold in game-currency

    • Need for property rights, and protection against crime

    • Second Life recognises IP rights for assets created in the world

    • Game economy mirrors many aspects of real economies

    • For example: problems with inflation


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    Virtual Economies

    • Link to Real Economy:

    • Users willing to spend real time and money for virtual resources

    • Magic weapons, real estate, game-currency and characters are bought and sold on auction exchanges for real money (e.g. eBay)

    • http://www.gameusd.com/ lists virtual exchange rates

    • Examples:

      • Island in Project Entropia sold for U.S. $26,500

      • Virtual space station for U.S. $100,000

      • Level 60 EverQuest characters sell for up to $5,000

        Criticisms:

  • Many regard trading game items for real money as unethical

  • Usually violates terms of EULA (end-user license agreement)

  • Blizzard (WoW) has banned it (but hard to enforce)

  • April 2006: Blizzard banned >5,400 players and suspended 10,700 (for farming, often using bots)

  • Sony launched “Sony Station Exchange” for EverQuest to legally buy&sell


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    Virtual Economies

    • Link to Real Economy:

    • Valuations of secondary market (real money trade of virtual commodities)

    • $400m in 2004

    • $20m in real-world dollars made by dealers in virtual currency and goods (2004 figure) Professor Edward Castronova http://pc.gamezone.com/news/01_05_04_10_11PM.htm

    • Somewhere between $1 Billion USD to $3 Billion USD in 2006.

    • Some virtual countries wealthier than real ones (higher GNP per person)

      • See BBC article “Virtual kingdom richer than Bulgaria”

  • New trends:

  • Companies beginning to use Second Life as a means of marketing

  • Politicians campaigning there

    • Mark Warner (former governor of Virginia + possible Democratic candidate for president in 2008)

    • First politician to give an interview in Second Life.


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    Virtual Economies

    • Some people have made the buying and selling of virtual property their full-time jobs.

    • Case: Julian Dibbell (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3135247.stm)

    • Buys and sells virtual cash, weapons, armour, homes and other artefacts from the Ultima Online game

    • Game developer Origin does not prohibit activity

    • Game has well established economy (less inflationary problems)

    • Real world transactions take place on eBay or Tradespot

    • Producers of economy are the teenage kids

    • Have a lot of time but no money

    • Do the hard work to produce items to be bought and sold

    • Consumers are rich who do not want to invest time

    • Much money to be made from accounts of long time players

    • Selling the items individually can generate large profit

    • Can make profit of $1,000 (US) per week

    • Some players making >$100,000 annually

    • Risky business without real-world laws to protect virtual property


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    Virtual Economies – Second Life

    • Second Life gives property rights to players

      • Allows players to create new objects from primitives

      • Allows them to decide if these may be copied, modified or transferred

      • Residents actively trade their creations

      • ~230,000 items are bought and sold every month

      • In-world currency Linden dollars are exchangeable for hard currency

      • Total value ~$60M (in “real” dollars)

      • ~7,000 profitable “businesses”

      • Avatars supplement or make their living from their in-world creativity

      • Top ten in-world entrepreneurs averaging $200,000 a year

    • Example of Web 2.0 – online collaboration and sharing

    • Business Model: virtual property company

      • Residents lease property $20 per virtual “acre” per month

      • 25,000 residents, or about 3% or the population, lease property

      • Monthly revenues of $1m

    • Companies taking notice:

      • Toyota is selling virtual cars

      • Hopes for viral advertising


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    Cheating in Games

    • Botting

      • External program simulates player actions for common tasks

      • Usually prohibited and is a bannable offense

      • Rarely enforced

        Duping

      • Exploit a bug in the game software to duplicate valuable items

      • Very damaging to virtual economy

    • Sharing

      • Multiple people share an online game character

    • Scams against new players

      • Uneven trades or bad-faith dealing

      • Players misrepresent value of goods or substitute lookalike worthless items


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    Cheating in Games

    • Companies’ Responses

      • May take different viewpoints

        • Ignore cheating

        • Ban it (Blizzard)

      • If a company does not take cheating seriously, game may lose players

      • Cheats also bring subscription money…

    • Technical responses – tradeoff Efficiency versus security

      • More code on server – slower but more secure

      • Example: wall hacks


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    Gold Farming

    • Gold Farmer = a player who farms items for the sole purpose of sale to other players via an out-of-game venue (e.g. eBay)

    • Most MMOGs include terms of service that forbid this

    • China dominant in market, but also in Eastern Europe, Mexico, Philippines

      • ~ 100,000 people in China employed as gold farmers (December 2005)

      • Represents about 0.4% of all online gamers in China

      • Typically work 12 hour shifts, sometimes up to 18 hour shifts.

    • “When I entered a gold farm for the first time, I was shocked by the positive spirit there, the farmers are passionate about what they do, and there is indeed a comraderie between them ... I do see suffering and exploitation too, but in that place suffering is mixed with play and exploitation is embodied in a gang-like brotherhood and hierarchy. When I talked with the farmers, they rarely complained about their working condition, they only complained about their life in the game world.” – Ge Jin, a PhD student from UCSD

    • http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=KH1LGdjZUKQ


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    Gold Farming

    • Ethical?

      • Some players feel that this is unfair and "spoils" the game

      • Others believe they should be allowed to buy items if they do not wish to spend the time to earn them

    • Effect on Virtual economy:

      • Inflation (introduces more money)

      • Skews the cost of a variety of game items:

      • increasing supply of those easy to acquire items

      • increasing demand for the more difficult items

      • Gold farmers make the game more difficult for players to "grind" their way to in-game wealth

    • Company responses

      • Usually banned

      • Significant manpower required to perform investigations

      • Players need to spend large portions of their time on repetitive actions or "farming“ anyway - difficult to distinguish farmers for reselling

      • Termination of a compliant user account -> very bad publicity

      • Termination of a gold farmer’s account -> very little benefit


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    Virtual Crime

    • Virtual gangs and mafia have emerged in South Korea

      • Powerful players mug and steal from weaker ones

      • Demand that beginners give them virtual money for their “protection”

    • Case: Chinese Exchange Student (in Japan)

      • Mugged players in Lineage II

      • Used software "bots" to beat up and rob characters

      • Stolen virtual possessions sold for real cash

      • Arrested by police in Kagawa prefecture, southern Japan

    • Case: Evangeline (The Sims Online)

      • 17-year old boy going by the in-game name "Evangeline

      • Built a cyber-brothel: customers would pay sim-money for cybersex

      • His account was cancelled but no legal action


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    Virtual Crime

    • Case: Li Hongchen (Beijing) sued Artic Ice Technology

      • Hacker broke into game and stole his “biological weapons.”

      • Court ruled that weapons had indeed been his property

      • He had invested time and money in acquiring them

      • Arctic Ice was forced to pay damages and recreate all weapons lost

    • Case: Qiu Chengwei (Shanghai) killed Zhu Caoyuan

      • Qiu obtained weapon in game and lent it to Zhu

      • Zhu sold weapon for 7,200 yuan (real money)

      • Qiu went to the police to report the theft

      • Police said weapon was not real property protected by law

      • Zhu promised to pay, but Qiu lost patience and attacked Zhu at his home


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    Virtual Crime and Real Police

    • Example from South Korea

    • Some countries like South Korea have special police investigation units for "virtual crimes“

    • 40,000 cyber crimes reported in the first six months of 2003

    • 22,000 related to online gaming


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    Unresolved Legal Issues

    • Clicking “I agree” on an end-user license agreement (EULA)

      • Could mean property rights are lost

      • Game and contents remain the intellectual property of company

      • Attorney Greg Lastowka (US): “In the US, I think that you’d have a hard time making a case in court for the loss of virtual property because of license agreements.”

    • Power seems to be in the hands of game companies

    • Case: Peter Ludlow, Sim citizen & Professor at University of Michigan

      • Started a newspaper, The Alphaville Herald

      • Documented crime and prostitution in Alphaville, largest Sims city.

      • Ludlow promptly kicked off the game(continues to write outside of game)

    • Case: Earth and Beyond (Electronic Arts) shut down September 2004

      • One player had just bought an avatar for $3,000

    • Players sometimes organise uprisings or boycotts to reclaim their rights


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    Virtual Crime

    • Stealing Players Accounts

    • Most common technique is via trojans which steal account details

    • Trojan is disguised as a program to give a character special powers (e.g. invisibility)

    • Trojan distributed through games' chat rooms or by e-mail.

    • Trojan secretly collects user’s login and password information

    • Information sent back to the hacker

    • Hackers then sell the virtual items (gold or weapons), for real world cash

    • Player accounts can be worth up to $10,000

    • Player accounts also stolen by in-game nontechnical attacks

      • Pose as a game administrator (staff of game company)

      • Ask naïve player for account details

      • Alternatively: offer hints on cheats or offer membership of gang


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    Virtual Crime

    • Stealing Players Accounts

    • Also done via hacking company servers

    • Case: September 2006:

    • Hackers break into database of "Second Life"

    • Accessed 650,000 player accounts

    • Information included real life names and contact information, and game passwords, credit card information was encrypted

    • Developer asked players to change their log-ins

    • "I reported that my SL account had been hacked on Sunday. Of course, the only reporting that could be done was a message to Customer Support and Live Help as the individual was selling off my first land and deleting my inventory ... I know of two other accounts that were hacked ..."


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    Virtual Crime

    • Identity Theft

    • ~250,000 characters created in Lineage (Korean) using stolen identities

      • Characters likely put to work in gold farming in China(Korean ID number required to sign up to play Lineage in Korea )

      • Most Ids stolen from non-players

      • Used to sign up without their knowledge


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    Game Criticisms

    • Addiction:

      • June 2005, it was reported that a child had died due to neglect by her World of Warcraft-addicted parents

      • A player has also died from playing non-stop without eating or sleeping

      • August 2005, China introduced restrictions on how many hours gamers can play


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    Virtual Worlds – non-game uses

    • Managing a city or a country

    • Form support groups for cancer survivors

    • Rehearse responses to earthquakes and terrorist attacks

    • Build Buddhist retreats and meditate.

  • Second Life examples:

    • Peter Yellowlees, psychiatry professor

      • Leases a virtual island in Second Life for $300 a month

      • Simulates schizophrenic hallucinations

      • Understand schizophrenia by visiting virtual island

    • Therapists help autistic children

    • Also for long-distance learning.


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    Summary

    • What are Virtual Worlds and MMOGs

    • How many people are playing

    • Types of Games – mainly Fantasy Genre

    • Example: World of Warcraft (WoW)

    • Where do players come from?

    • Problems with private servers

    • The In-Game Economy

    • Linking to the real economy – how to make real money

    • Example: Second Life

    • Cheating in Games, and company responses

    • Gold Farming

    • Unresolved legal issues

    • Criticisms of online games – addiction problems

    • Non-Game virtual world uses


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