Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Legal Trouble

I have found several conflicting stories about a court case in Korea involving Lineage 2 accounts having been hacked awhile back. It turned out that NCSoft, the game’s developer, had forgotten to encrypt the database log file that contained user names and passwords.

Some of the news stories out there seem to be blurring another story of Lineage I accounts having been hacked and yet another story about how stolen identity information was used to create a large number of Lineage accounts.

The issue I wanted to talk about is the resulting Korean court verdict last week that has ordered NCSoft to pay an equivalent of $530 to 5 players who have sued NCSoft over the issue. NCSoft will probably appeal the verdict and you can read about at the Korea Times.

They mention how it is a lose – lose situation for NCSoft. If they go along with the verdict it just opens the door for other players to sue over the same issue. Some of the confusion that blurred multiple stories together implies that 8500 accounts were hacked! But in the linked story you find out that no, it just made your account information data vulnerable on the any machine you played on between May 11th and May 16th. So if you were a Korean player who logged into the game using an internet cafĂ© (which is very common in Korea) you user name and password were stored in an unencrypted file on that computer.

NCSoft has pointed out that the 5 players who won their case did not prove any practical damage. Now that could mean several things. It could mean that nobody got a hold of their account information and they are just suing because it was vulnerable during that time period. It could also mean that yes, their accounts were accessed by somebody else who stole in-game items and/or cash from their characters but they can’t prove it. I don’t know what kind of logs NCSoft keeps that could track player character transactions in the game, but the players would have no way of presenting any sort of evidence to prove what items they may have acquired or what has since happened to them.

But this court case does set a precedence. MMO game developers are worried that the law may eventually recognize a real world value for virtual items. This is why game companies frown on buy and selling of in-game items and character for real world money. If those in-game items are worth money, player could then sue the developer when anything happens to those items. For example lets say the developers think that SwordX is overpowered and tune it down, or nerf it as we say, then the player would have a argument for suing the developer.

“SwordX sold for $50 dollars and now it only sells for $10 because you nerfed it! You owe me $40 plus compensation for my time that I spend acquiring it!”

Or how about when an item duping bug is discovered that has had a negative effect on the game’s economy? The entire player base now has grounds to sue you for the resulting economic depression caused by the faulty game code and design that allowed it to happen.

If you don’t think it’s a serious issue on the horizon take a careful lock at the State of Play site. At first glance it appears involve social issues in MMO games, and their news blog sister site Terra Nova is place where a lot of actual game creators hang out and discuss game issues. But notice who sponsors the State of Play conference and listen to some of the past talks. It’s sponsored by several law schools and the issues they are talking about are player’s rights… make that player’s legal rights in MMO games.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that. I kind of like the stuff being debated at the State of Play conferences because it may make these virtual worlds we play in better places. But it is a dangerous path ahead for developers. There are many players who would be willing to cut off their own nose to get a pocket full of money. A lot of people wouldn’t care that they may not only be causing the developer of the particular game they are playing to have to close the game down but that other developers may not make new games of that type for fear of falling into the same legal pit.

I have a few thoughts on some possible future scenarios for MMO games in this regard that I may jot down in the future but I think that is enough rambling for now.

No comments: