Liveblogging From State of Play, Session 4

On Virtual Economies

Julian Dibbell’s introduction: maybe virtual economies were not so important, or not as important as we thought in the way that we thought they were. Maybe RMT doesn’t have to be quite the battleground that it was. Virtual economies don’t have to be radically autonomous to be richly interesting and playful.

Stephanie Rothenberg

Sweatshop education through reenactment in Second Life, film “Invisible Threads”

[Comment: the problem here is that the reality of MMO games trumps the polemical intent of their project, I think. Not the RMT sweatshops, but just think of pizza-making in The Sims Online, and how quick some players were to turn their leisure into a sweatshop-style operation. But I readily confess to a strong bias against serious games that are crafted as polemics–I think they’re an inefficient way to make a critique and end up reinforcing the image of left critique as cheerless (e.g., taking play and making play ‘serious’). Plus it’s hard not to end up as condescending towards the people you’re meaning to polemicize–they haven’t gotten our message yet, so we have to use a game! Not usually thoughtful as Bogost is about what makes a game persuasive, often just a translation of a polemical text into a mechanically simple game structure.]

Margaret Wallace, Rebel Monkey Properties

CampFu, casual teen-oriented game. Designer trying to talk about how they think about putting an economy into the gameplay.

[My thought: I’m really struck here at how unvarnished or undisguised the instrumentalism of design thinking about an economy here is: that it is designed to make players do something which is not the economy itself (“engagement”) is the word here, but not fun in and of itself. But what’s not clear to me, and Juho Hamari’s interesting work earlier in the meeting really seems to be saying interesting things on this subject, is whether they’re actually right about whether economic design is instrumentally effective.]

Andy Schneider, Live Gamer. New startup. Talking about RMT. Live Gamer proposed to integrate with an MMO rather that be outside of it, sort of a new covenant with developers. Average transaction size $45-50, greatest volume is Fridays. Live Gamer also works with GoPets’ secondary market: [ME: parents, lock up your credit cards.] [Schneider doesn’t really talk about the other big side of this, I think: the more the developer directly benefits from the cash value of items, the more you are tempted to design straight to that premise, so that cash differentially buys what in-game labor time now buys.

Ted Castronova

Fusion of real and virtual work spaces and labor value was inevitable; markets will seek more efficient solutions, less trouble, lower transaction costs.

We need to think about the policy and social consequences of the current state of economies in virtual worlds, however, to not merely let markets dictate this. Also argues it is in the self-interest of the game industry to be worried about the merging of the real and virtual; among other things, taxation will be extracted directly per transaction once the state is finally aware that this merger has happened. If it’s kept fuzzy, maybe the state’s presence or role can be kept fuzzy.

Need to actually make active decisions now, policies, not leave it to developers, create serious covenants between players.


Curious exchange later: James Bower of described himself as training children for civic and political life through Whyville, and compared it to a Greek city-state. Knowing something about Greek city-states, I’m thinking this is a less wholesome comparison than he thinks. But Ted Castronova really pushed back on him, and noted that it’s an odd thing for someone in an autocratic position to be seeing themselves as preparing kids for democratic citizenship. Bower said, “Yeah, it’s a Greek city-state, and I’m Zeus”. Well, it’s an old metaphor with virtual worlds, actually, so not that odd.

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