China Uses Prisoners for Hard Labor, Gold-Farming

May 26, 2011 -

According to a report in UK-based paper The Guardian, China has been using its prison population as slave labor.. in MMORPG's. According to the report, prisoners were put to work breaking rocks and digging trenches in in the coalmines of Northern China. By night prisoners would be forced to play MMORPG's to earn virtual currency, which guards would trade for real-world money.

One prisoner, who served three years at the Jixi labor camp for pointing out corruption in his hometown, described the conditions at the camp in startling detail. Liu Dali told the paper that prisoners were forced to play online games to enrich the guards of the prison. The 54-year-old was a former prison guard who made the mistake of "illegally petitioning" the central government about corruption in his hometown in 2004. Dali says that the online slave labor is probably more lucrative than the physical labor that prisoners are forced to do.

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Playfish Dumps Currency for Facebook Credits

April 19, 2011 -

EA's social games division Playfish announced that it is dumping its virtual currency in favor of Facebook's new currency. All of the company's games will now use Facebook Credits, putting Playfish in line with a recent Facebook edict that all social game developers would need to offer support for its new currency in all of their games by July 1.

Speaking to its fans on the Playfish blog, the company said the following:

"Rest assured, you will not lose any of the Playfish Cash you have bought up to now."

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FBI Raids University of Michigan Students' Apartment over WoW Gold Farming

April 14, 2011 -

The FBI has raided the apartment of two University of Michigan students to investigate what it has called "potentially fraudulent sales or purchases of virtual currency that people use to advance in the popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft." The story comes from Computer World. The FBI thinks the two students are terrorists who are doing "something" in World of Warcraft to further some sort of terrorist plot. It's hard to say what exactly they suspect from the two within Blizzard's virtual world, but they obviously aren't going on a hunch here.

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Playfish Killing Three Facebook Games for Underperformance

April 12, 2011 -

Despite still garnering around 40,000 daily visits, several Playfish games are getting the axe. The wholly owned EA Facebook developer says that it will close several games because they are no longer garnering the kind of traffic they deem as "good." The games, Pirates Ahoy, Poker Rivals and Gangster City will each go offline on June 7. Playfish urges users to spend their "Playfish cash" on its other games.

The firm, owned by Electronic Arts, said the trio of games "are no longer performing at a level in which they can continue to be supported."

According to data gathered by InsideSocialGames suggests that there is still consumer interest in these games. Pirates Ahoy, for example, still has around 40,000 daily active users and attracts approximately 267,000 customers per month.

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Empire Avenue Lands on Facebook

April 6, 2011 -

Empire Avenue is now available as a Facebook App. The financial-social simulation game was developed by former BioWare employees and basically lets players trade in other people via a virtual stock market. Participants buy and sell shares in their friends, family, celebrities, etc. As you earn a higher stock price for yourself and others, you gather virtual currency and achievements. The goal of the game is to be more social and to show your appreciation for the social activities of others that use things such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and more.

Empire Avenue is at least worth a look if you haven’t checked it out already and it being on Facebook makes it easy to jump right in. Plus it doesn't hurt that the BioWare founders have invested in it. Anyway, you can check it out at apps.facebook.com/empireavenue or at its original location - empireavenue.com.


Report: Apple Smurfs Capcom on Smurfing Smurf Berries

February 16, 2011 -

While Capcom's Smurfs' Village is one of the top grossing iPhone games in the App Store, reports are circulating that Apple has called publisher Capcom in for a side bar after numerous complaints from parents about "hundreds and thousands of dollars in transactions" made by their children without their consent. I think some of these parents might call this situation smurfing ridiculous.

According to a PocketGamer report - citing "well-placed sources" - Apple has told Capcom in "no uncertain terms" that its free game is causing a lot of headaches for parents and Apple.

The problem has to do with the game's micro-transaction system that lets players buy copious amounts of "Smurf berries." Some of these parents have apparently been given refunds for what they call "accidental purchases."

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Congressman Markey Wants FTC to Probe App Transactions

February 9, 2011 -

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Ma.) has asked the Federal Trade Commission to take a closer look at the marketing practices of applications on Apple's App store and Google's Android Marketplace. Markey's concerns relate to programs geared towards children that may not adequately inform users of potential charges - particularly micro-transactions.

On Tuesday Markey sent a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Liebowtiz (and copied to Google and Apple), pointing to a story in The Washington Post about how in-app purchases on iPad, iPod and iPhone games such as Smurfs' Village and Tap Zoo have caught some parents off guard. The Children apparently used parents' passwords to buy in-game items instantly.

"I am concerned about how these applications are being promoted and delivered to consumers, particularly with respect to children, who are unlikely to understand the ramifications of in-app purchases," Markey wrote in the letter.

Facebook Adds Two New Services to Facebook Credits

February 8, 2011 -

Facebook has added two new services to its Facebook Credits virtual currency called "buy with friends" and "frictionless payments." App developers will be able to implement these features into their games, adding some small measure of enhancement above what can be done currently with proprietary virtual cash. The "buy with friends" service allows users to spam share discounts on virtual items with friends (who are playing the same game) via the news feed. "Frictionless payments" are smaller sized Facebook credit blocks that can be purchased in small increments. This allows users to spend a little bit of money to buy 30 credits or less for the purchase small in-game items.

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OK Law Addresses Virtual Estates

December 7, 2010 -

If you are planning your last will and testament in the state of Oklahoma, you now have to worry about what to do with your virtual belongings. According to a report in the IB Times (thanks EZK), a new state law in Oklahoma gives estate executors and administrators the power to "access, administer, or terminate" social media and online accounts.

According to former state Rep. Ryan Kiesel (D-Seminole), a co-author of House Bill 2800 (before he left office), the law is meant to remind people that, when they are planning what happens to their real-world estate, they should probably figure out what they want done with their virtual stuff as well.

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Can You Balance The U.S. Budget?

November 15, 2010 -

The New York Times has created an online "game" that allows you to tackle the U.S. budget deficit by creating a plan of your own. When you are done implementing the plan, you can see how it actually will affect the deficit - if at all. I haven't tried it personally, but Gawker mucked around with it by moving tax levels back to the Clinton era and getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. They claim that did the trick. Here is the lead-in from the NYT:

"Today, you’re in charge of the nation’s finances. Some of your options have more short-term savings and some have more long-term savings. When you have closed the budget gaps for both 2015 and 2030, you are done. Make your own plan, then share it online."

You can play Mr. -- or Mrs. FixIt by visiting the NYT. Thanks Gawker.

20 comments

EU Dumps €275k into Pedestrian Looking "Government RPG"

August 30, 2010 -

The European Service Network (ESN), operating under a budget of 275,000 Euros (approximately $349,000 U.S.) from the European Parliament's Directorate-General for Communication, is developing an online role-playing game—and social networking forum—that it hopes will capture “the essence of European Parliament.”

Named Citzalia, the online experience was compared to Second Life and will have users create an avatar before being able to,  “navigate around a virtual recreation of the actual Parliament, to create content, and to involve themselves in virtual law-making.”

Survey Says: Women Spend More on Virtual Goods

July 22, 2010 -

According to a survey from VGMarket, women spend more money than men when it comes to social gaming. The survey found that female gamers spent $15 more per year on "first-party purchases" in social games than men, and twice as much on in-game money. Women 25 years old and older in North America spent a lot more on virtual currency and items than men: overall spending was $80 for females and $60 for males, even though 78 percent of 2221 respondents were men.

The original survey also found that 75 percent of respondents had purchased digital goods within the last 12 months; but it only polled users of micro-transaction sites PlaySpan, its subsidiary Ultimate Game Card and Facebook currency service Spare Change. It should also be noted that the survey was commissioned by PlaySpan; later VGMarket removed the 75 percent statistic has now been removed from the survey, because it only sampled PlaySpan customers. While the survey's methodology was slightly exclusionary in its questioning and only offered a narrow look into spending habits on certain services, it's still of interest.

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Wii, Gears of War Part of Wisconsin Embezzlement Scheme

July 16, 2010 -

A probe into the misuse of city funds by management information systems employees vendors of the Wisconsin city of Fond du Lac turned up money spent on videogames and will result in criminal charges.

Over $200,000 in municipal funds was spent illegally by four MIS employees and two city vendors, all of whom have been, or will soon be, charged in the embezzlement scheme according to the FDLReporter. Money was spent on items including an infant kangaroo costume, a Nintendo Wii bundle and even an $87 ham. Additional items seized under the investigation included a copy of Gears of War and 16 guns, “three or four” of which were suspected of being purchased with taxpayer funds.

Checks and balances designed to stave off such improper spending were easily circumvented, in part, because MIS employees new their supervisor’s password.

Items that were able to be physically recovered are being stored at the police department and may be sold at auction so the city can recover some money.


Finnish Police Track Stolen Habbo Hotel Goods

June 1, 2010 -

Finnish police are investigating the theft of virtual property in the popular teen hangout, Habbo Hotel. According to a news report published on breitbart.com, significant amounts of virtual property were stolen from some 400 users of the virtual world using "hoax web sites" to trick users into divulging their usernames and passwords.

Armed with that information, the thieves went through the user accounts and stole virtual property. What property was stolen was not disclosed in the report. Doesn't Habbo Hotel warn against this sort of thing like every other virtual world on the planet?

Police have allegedly searched several homes in five Finnish cities, confiscated computer equipment and brought several people in for questioning. The quantity, types and value of the property are not known at this time.

Source: breitbart.com

3 comments

Real Trademarks in Virtual Worlds

October 7, 2009 -

An article on Law of the Level takes a look at whether using real brands on virtual goods in online worlds—by someone other than the trademark owner—could be interpreted as trademark infringement.

A publication of the law firm Sheppard Mullin, the blog was written by Thayer Preece, a lawyer in the firm’s Video Game Industry Group. She begins to answer the question by noting that several real world brands have taken exception to counterfeit virtual goods sold online, especially when the money from these sales line someone else’s pocket.

One way to deal with infringements is to sue. Taser International, Inc. filed a lawsuit against Second Life creator Linden Labs (along with others) earlier this year, which alleged that fake Taser-branded products were being sold in Second Life and infringing on the company’s sales. Taser sought $75,000 in damages but eventually dropped the suit.

Another way to fight the knock-offs is to join the virtual world and pump out your own branded goods. Law of the Level writes that this is the tact Herman Miller took. In response to a number of fake Herman Miller goods offered on Second Life, the designer launched its own official presence in the world and even replaced “fake” Herman Miller products with “real” ones.

What would happen if a virtual world trademark infringement lawsuit made it to court? Breece writes:

At present, there is no legal precedent on this subject. But as the popularity of virtual worlds continues to grow, it seems likely that it will only be a matter of time before the courts make a decision on the issue. In the meantime, it will be up to each brand holder individually to decide how to respond to the emergence of this growing marketplace and its potential opportunities and pitfalls.

6 comments

Don't Sue Me, Bro... Taser Drops Suit Against Second Life

July 25, 2009 -

TASER International has - at least for now - dropped a trademark infringement suit against Linden Lab, which operates Second Life.

As GamePolitics reported in April, the maker of the controversial stun guns, filed suit after it discovered virtual TASER replica items being sold in Second Life as gear for SL avatars (see pic at left).TASER also alleged that its brand would be damaged via association with virtual sex and virtual drug use occuring within Second Life.

Virtual World News reports:

Taser filed a Notice of Voluntary Case Dismissal... and adds that because Linden never filed an answer to the original complaint, the dismissal is "without prejudice" -- meaning Taser could choose to refile at a later date.

4 comments

Sold Your MMO Character? Sweden's Taxman May Want a Cut

July 20, 2009 -

If you're a Swede who has unloaded an unwanted MMO account for a few extra Kronas, the taxman would like a word.

On the other hand, if you're an American who has sold your account to a Swede, the taxman would still like a word.

GameCulture points out a Stockholm News report detailing efforts by Swedish tax officials to come to grips with e-commerce. To that end, the Skatteverket is even taking a look at small fish like gamers:

The Swedish Tax Agency hold that you have to pay tax for selling an avatar from a computer game. The agency has investigated the trading in avatars during a 14 month period and found the advertised sum of avatars for sale by Swedes to be 662 million SEK. But no one has ever declared any income for trading in avatars to the Tax Agency.

But even U.S. citizens could be subject to Swedish taxation on such virtual transactions, according to the Economics of Virtual Worlds blog:

[Note that] a sale has taken place in Sweden if the seller is a Swedish trader who sells [to]... a private person in Sweden or another EC [European Community] country. A sale from a foreign trader to a Swedish trader has also [legally] taken place in Sweden. The same applies if a trader from outside the EC sells services to Swedish private persons.

Thus, even U.S. citizens are subject to Swedish taxes in virtual worlds, as long as one of the participants is Swedish. The implication is that if similar tax rules are adopted around the globe, U.S. citizens could end up owing taxes to Sweden, Japan, South Korea, and other nations (depending on which and how many worlds they are part of) – all because they played some games...

Skatteverket states that gamers should send invoices to each other. It’s unreasonable stuff they’re talking about. The [game] users [typically] don’t know who they’re interacting with...

32 comments

Is Gold Farming Really Banned? Confusion Over China's New Virtual Currency Rules

July 1, 2009 -

Earlier this week GamePolitics covered a story by Information Week which reported that new Chinese regulations on virtual currency would outlaw gold farming.

But there appears to be confusion about whether the practice of gathering in-game MMO currency and then re-selling it for real cash will be affected by the new regulations.

incgamers disputes the report, citing the University of Manchester's Prof. Richard Heeks:

This [new Chinese law] therefore is not about what gold farming clients do: use real money to buy these virtual currencies; it’s the mirror image.  And it’s not about the major trade in gold farming such as World of Warcraft, which relates to other types of virtual currency.  And it’s not about buying/selling in-game items.  And it’s not about the power-levelling of avatars. Bottom line: it’s not about gold farming.

In any case, Dean Takahashi of Venture Beat writes, a ban on gold farming may be difficult for Chinese authorities to enforce:

The practice of trading virtual goods for real money is easy to make illegal, but hard to enforce. The gold farmers may not be affected... because of a technicality. Most of China’s gold farmers, who operate in sweatshops with dozens of fellow farmers, operate on servers on foreign soil. The government can only control what goes on with domestic servers...

The New York Times, which did not challenge the notion that the rules would impact gold farming, quoted Indiana University Prof. Edward Castronova, an authority on MMOs. In lauding the Chinese government action, Castonova offered what, to some, may seem like an alarmist view of in-game currency:

This action shows that at least one government is concerned about the way virtual worlds challenge its control of society. As virtual currencies take over more and more purchasing power, control over the effective money supply shifts from the central bank to the game developers.

8 comments

Report: China Bans Gold Farming

June 29, 2009 -

If you are planning on buying gold for your World of Warcraft character, act quickly. The price may be going up soon because of an official crackdown which should affect availability in a negative way.

Information Week reports that on Friday the Chinese government enacted new virtual currency regulations which, among other provisions, make gold farming illegal: 

The ruling is likely to affect many of the more than 300 million Internet users in China, as well as those in other countries involved in virtual currency trading. In the context of online role playing games like World of Warcraft, virtual currency trading is often called gold farming...

The trading of virtual currency for real cash employs hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and generates between $200 million and $1 billion annually, according to a 2008 survey conducted by Richard Heeks at the University of Manchester.

He estimates that between 80% and 85% of gold farmers are based in China.

29 comments

Sweden, South Korea Eye Taxation on Virtual Items

December 15, 2008 -

Following China's lead, Sweden and Korea are working to clarify tax regulations to include in-game trade of virtual items, according to the BBC.

To be clear, we're not referring to the transfer of goods  based on real money sales of in-game gold and other items. That's a cash business and already subject to tax laws.

The theory - at least in Sweden and Korea - seems to be that since some virtual items are readily exchangeable for cold, hard cash, swapping such goods may trigger a taxable event. Professor Edward Castronova of Indiana University, noted for his research into virtual game worlds, is not a fan of the idea:

I think it's an extraordinarily dangerous development. It's as if every time I played soccer in my backyard and scored a goal, I would have to pay the government three euros. It takes away the game's contribution to human happiness.

But Loyola Law School prof Theodore Seto explained the legal rationale for taxation:

You can exchange your Lindens for dollars or Euros on a floating exchange rate any day at any time, without limit... It's easier to tax virtual transactions than it is to tax real-world transactions. The neat thing about it is, all transactions can be recorded. In the real world, we don't have that...

 

If 'gold' is not exchangeable for currency, and it's contrary to the rules, and they make it technically difficult to make the exchange, then I think we should treat the events in World of Warcraft as games. By contrast, Second Life actively markets itself as a venue for making real money.

10 comments

Dutch Virtual Theft Case Involved Real-world Violence

October 22, 2008 -

The Associated Press reports that two Dutch teens have been convicted of stealing virtual game items from a third boy. All three played Runescape, a popular online RPG. At issue is ownership of two virtual items, an amulet and a mask.

While the ruling was the subject of some mirth in the U.S. gaming press, Antal Princen, a Dutch reader of GamePolitics, wrote in to say that there was much more to the story. The AP simply mentions that the victim was coerced, but Antal says there was some nasty real-world violence involved:

[The media reports] omitted a few important details: The duo not only stole the virtual goods, but actually beat the other kid up and threatened him with a knife. They extorted an amulet and mask. In Runescape they're worth a lot of money and in real life people buy them for real money, which is one of the reasons the judge said it was theft.

 

The boys were convicted for "violent theft". They lured the victim to their house, caught him in a chokehold and kicked and hit him. They used a kitchen knife to threaten the victim. Both thieves showed no regret and didn't acknowledge they did something wrong, which is never good if you find yourself in a Dutch court... The lawyers will appeal.

Indeed, Antal directed us to Dutch website Parool.nl, where we were able to translate the story sufficiently to confirm Antal's account. That being the case, the issue of whether one can steal virtual goods seems to take a back seat to the sheer thuggery of the would-be amulet robbers.

GP: Dank u wel to Antal Princen for the report!

28 comments

Warhammer Online's Gold-Seller Hate Makes No Sense, Writer Argues

October 3, 2008 -

I've been playing Warhammer Online since it launched about two weeks ago and I'm thoroughly enjoying life as a squig herder. Might jump over to The Order on another server though. That Dwarf engineer looks like fun, too.

Right now my greenskin is a bit short on in-game cash to buy gear, but it looks like I'll have to make do. That's because WO developer Mythic is aggressively targeting gold sellers. In fact, Mythic co-founder Mark Jacobs recently wrote, “I HATE GOLD SELLERS WITH EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING.”

Decaf, Mark...

Over at Gigaom, Wagner James Au argues that Mythic's approach doesn't make much sense:

When launching a big-budget online game, it doesn’t strike me as a very good idea to risk alienating nearly a quarter of your user base right out the gate. That, however, is likely to be the consequence of an extreme anti-gold selling policy at Mythic Entertainment...

 

In a study by Nick Yee, a PARC research scientist... 22 percent of players surveyed reported purchasing game gold, with those ages 35 and over most likely to do so... let’s face it: If you have kids and a mortgage, you only have so many hours a week left over to play games.

 

So if Mythic succeeds in driving away gold sellers, it seems inevitable that it will succeed in hurting Warhammer Online’s retention, too. For surely players who like to buy their way out of difficult quests but no longer can are likely to get frustrated and leave for another game.

GP: I've fessed up in the past to buying WoW gold, which led to the most hate mail I've ever gotten. In my case, though, it's pretty much what Nick Yee found in his research. Kids + mortgage + job = less time to play.

 
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james_fudgewell I hope he called the police so they can let us all know.09/21/2014 - 9:07am
quiknkoldIt's pretty gnarly. Depending on what it is, it could be worse than white powder or a fake bomb.09/21/2014 - 9:06am
james_fudgeI just looked it up on UPS.com09/21/2014 - 8:56am
james_fudgeand expensive for an American to ship to London.09/21/2014 - 8:55am
E. Zachary KnightThat is pretty scary. Would have been worse if it were a fake bomb or white powder.09/21/2014 - 8:49am
quiknkoldThere's some more tweets regarding it with more pictures09/21/2014 - 8:09am
quiknkoldMilo Yiannopoulos was mailed a syringe filled with clear liquid. He claims it's anti gamergate harassment. Mentioned on his twitter twitter.com/Nero/status/51366668391625523209/21/2014 - 8:07am
Andrew EisenNow, having said that, what sites are you reading that are claiming that if "you self-identify as a Gamer, you're immediately the problem" or that gamers are "obligated to stop harassment"? Or was that hyperbole too?09/21/2014 - 1:03am
Andrew EisenFirst of all, ONE person in the Shout box suggested an obligation to call harassers out on their harassing but only after YOU brought it up. Plus, Techno said "when you see it happening." If you don't see it, you're not under any obligation.09/21/2014 - 1:02am
Sleaker@Craig R. - at this point I don't even know what the hashtags are suppsed to be in support of. what does GamerGate actually signify.09/21/2014 - 12:21am
Sleaker@AE - Hyperbole for the first 2, but it seems like some of the comments in the shout are attempting to place blame on fellow gamers because they aren't actively telling people to stop harassing even though they don't necessarily know anyone that has.09/21/2014 - 12:16am
Andrew EisenSleaker - Who the heck are you reading that is claiming "all gamers are bad," we "need to pass laws or judgement on all gamers," that if "you self-identify as a Gamer, you're immediately the problem," or that gamers are "obligated to stop harassment"?09/20/2014 - 9:44pm
erthwjimhe swatted more than just krebs, I think he swatted 30 people http://krebsonsecurity.com/2014/05/teen-arrested-for-30-swattings-bomb-threats/09/20/2014 - 9:31pm
Craig R.Btw, the guy who swatted security expert Brian Krebs? He got picked up recently. It can be done.09/20/2014 - 8:55pm
Craig R.Such things are not done in a vacuum... hence why the 4chan and other logs show what fools you've all been, tricked into doing the trolls' work09/20/2014 - 8:49pm
Sleaker@Technogeek - How do you call someone out that anonymously calls in a SWAT team, or sends threats to people?09/20/2014 - 7:04pm
Technogeek"It also doesn't mean you're obligated to stop harassment from all gamers that are doing so." I'd say you're certainly obligated to call them out when you see it happening.09/20/2014 - 5:17pm
SleakerNow if you disagree with anything in my last 2 posts then we obviously have a difference in world view, and wont come to any sort of agreement. I'm fine with that, maybe some people aren't?09/20/2014 - 5:09pm
SleakerIt also doesn't mean that just because a news outlet says that Gamers are the problem and you self-identify as a Gamer, you're immediately the problem. It also doesn't mean you're obligated to stop harassment from all gamers that are doing so.09/20/2014 - 4:59pm
SleakerJust to re-iterate: People getting harassed is wrong. Just because someone is harassed by so called 'gamers' doesn't mean that all gamers are bad. nor does it mean that you need to pass laws or judgement on all gamers.09/20/2014 - 4:56pm
 

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