Friday, June 08, 2007

In Space, No One Will Hear You Vote

Interesting story in the New York Times, about a battle between players and administrators of the niche "massively multiplayer" spacegame EVE Online. The players of the game, which provides no protection for players' in-game property besides what they gain from their own alliances, feel that the game has been rigged in favor of a certain "corporation" by friends and allies in the company that designed it. This matters, actually- the in-game currency of "isk" can be bought by players in exchange for the game cards that let you play month after month, so the in-game spaceships and equipment have a real-world value, value that can be destroyed in the blink of an eye.

(Yeah, that whole thing, that I mentioned a little while ago.)

The way they're dealing with it? Oddly enough, considering the way that corporations usually handle this sort of thing, it's with a bit of democracy.

This specter of corruption has emerged most recently not in some post-colonial trouble spot but in the virtual nation of an Internet game called Eve Online (population 200,000) where aspiring star pilots fight over thousands of solar systems in a vast science-fiction universe every day.

So now, in a sociological twist, the company that makes Eve, CCP, based in Iceland (population 300,000), says it will tackle the problem the way a democracy would. In what appears to be a first, the company plans to hold elections so that players can select members of an oversight committee.

The company will then fly those players to Iceland regularly so they can audit CCP’s operations and report back to their player-constituents. And taking cues from transitions to democracy in the developing world, CCP says it will call in election monitors from universities in Europe and the United States.
I think this actually points the way to where "virtual worlds" are likely to go. As players become more attached to their in-game avatars, a simple producer/consumer relationship doesn't appear to be quite enough. Blizzard has had a heck of time dealing with their restive fanbase, and they're quite religious about the idea that in-game items have no real value. With the exploding notoriety of "Metaverse" style experiments like Second Life that do allow for items to have real value, players appear to stop being simply consumers, and start becoming stakeholders.

And if corruption rears its ugly head, as it did in the case of CCP, the only way to solve it may be to bring the stakeholders in.

The other bit that interests me is the "meta-game" aspect of it. I don't know much about EVE, don't play it myself, but I do know that the players relish the aspects of it that aren't seen in-game... forums, IRC chats, discussion boards and the like. The wars between different fleets and corporations in-game rage throughout these outside environs, and it would appear that this meta-game may be spreading to the mainstream media as well. "Goonswarm" (which is an in-game fleet of fans of the humor site Something Awful) scored a major victory by having CCP's troubles published in a venue with such credibility; CCP can't simply ignore this, as current and potential investors might well be paying attention to this story in a way they didn't before. "Players" are, slowly, becoming a sort of citizen.

An odd story, I know; but damned if it isn't interesting.

No comments:

Post a Comment