Following up on a rumour that’s been going around I spoke today with a media representative for the company, who confirmed that eBay is now delisting all auctions for ‘virtual artifacts’ from the site. This includes currency, items, and accounts/characters; not even the ‘neopoints’ used in the popular Neopets service is exempt from this decision.
Apparently, eBay wants to stay away from the legal issues that usually come with the ownership of these virtual properties, specifically when it comes to transfers. True, it can be difficult to thresh out what is legal and what is not (at least from the point of view of game terms of service). For one, different virtual communities each have their own policies about the actual “ownership” of in-game items and real-estate, and whether these are legally transferable. Some maintain ownership of anything within their virtual realms. With others, meanwhile, users (or players) legally own items they create, and have the right to transfer these as they please. It’s not always the case, though, where a user is entitled to gain monetary profit from transferring their properties to other users.
In short, it’s an issue of intellectual property, and this is actually in line with an eBay policy oft-overlooked . But this time, eBay wants to play safe by undertaking a blanket rule against all sorts of such transactions, regardless of who actually has intellectual property rights over the virtual goods.
… the company is just now following through with a pre-existing policy, as opposed to creating a new one. The policy on digitally delivered goods states: “The seller must be the owner of the underlying intellectual property, or authorized to distribute it by the intellectual property owner.”
The implications of this move go far beyond in-game economics. Real Money trading (RMT)–or transactions involving virtual property being exchanged for real money–have become a lucrative business for a few years now. This is recognized by economists, as evident in numerous features in the mainstream media (Time, Newsweek, The Economist, etc.; Oh yeah, the fact that I’m an economist, too, probably gives more credence to this statement.).
With eBay banning RMTs, traders will be looking into other means to sell virtual goods, such as independent sites like IGE and the like. eBay stands to lose possible revenues from these transactions, and others will perhaps get the chance to benefit from this market. Also, several game developers and operators sanction trading, and actually market this as a selling point for their games/online services. Being banned from the largest auction site around would probably take a hit on their business model.
eBay or no eBay, RMTs are here to stay. And as real world economics evolves, we have yet to see what the prospect of turning the virtual economy into real-world money (reportedly in the billions or even trillions of US Dollars) would bring about, in terms of new business models and laws.