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Of Gods and Men

February 15, 2007

I’ve been interested in “online games” for a while now, both because I think they’re amazing creations, but also because of the complex interactions that they create between people, markets, and notions of property. Oftentimes these interactions (market economies, guilds, etc.) are meant to mimic or emulate what we’re used to in the ‘real world’. However, there’s a big difference in that all items, markets, and information are completely and utterly controlled by the hosting company and game developer. Some games like “second life” attempt to give players control of their assets, but this situation is rare.

Money and wealth in these games are pretty similar to money and wealth in the real world. You get more of it, and your sphere of influence is increased, both in what you want to accomplish in the game world, and in how people respond to you in the social world. What most companies do is artificially “limit” how wealthy or powerful you can be inside these games… this effectively ‘caps’ what a person can do, and arguably limits the economy. For some games, this is fine. Having a powerful or meaningful economy is not what they’re about… but that’s changing.

Several years ago EVE online launched. It’s a space based trade and warfare game with essentially little to no ‘caps’ on any of the economic or social organizational schemes. Furthermore, the entire player base is in one ‘world’, rather than a platform of separate worlds isolated on different servers. What this does is create the potential for massive growth, and for individuals to hold incredible power over others in the game. Soon enormous corporations were formed, and wars were fought over in game resources and facilities. Deals were made, friends were betrayed, and tables turned as the stakes in the game grew higher and higher. In fact, one of the most powerful methods to gain advantage in the game is in spying on people or engaging in social engineering outside of the game.

This article talks about one individual and his experiences doing this, and some of the observations he made. His most interesting observation has been on how the developers have been unfairly helping some of the people in the game. While one could see the spying and social engineering aspect of the game as par for the course in any market economy, the “deus ex machina” aspect of devs interfering directly with player affairs is almost like something out of Greek mythology.

While the infraction basically amounted to “insider trading”, the implication is interesting. Can game companies keep developers from interfering? What happens when the developers can make more (real money) by interfering in the game than they can through their day job? It’ll be interesting to see what kind of market strategies emerge when the actions of both “God and Men” must be considered.

From → Informatics

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