Virtual objects, virtual pets, virtual lives have been common gaming currency since the inception of MUDs and MMORPGs (massively multi player online role-playing games). Virtual property has been around for even longer. But, who owns my avatar? In 1999 Linden Lab’s were on to something, when Second Life recognised a gamer’s intellectual property. They even invented Linden Dollars. Warcraft in 2004, Flyff, and dozens of other games have created virtual economies by exchanging virtual goods in the context of a ‘game’.
Avatar chasers, lawyers, the tax man and gambling regulators have been observing these economies for over 10 years, yet rest well behind the curve. And the secondary market for virtual objects within the context of these games has been largely ignored. If you can’t transfer your objects to other players for a fee, it seems you’re safe from big brother, but that’s no fun. Where are my bragging rights? On the other hand if you start selling what you earned, things start to look more like commerce/gambling. Still the secondary markets for virtual game currency is alive and well. Do a search for World of Warcraft Gold. It looks like I can get 10000G for about $10 in 5-15 minutes (I’m not sure why the time element is important). The site I’m looking at even as live 24/24 help in 4 languages.
Was this a partial precursor for Bitcoin? Did some technically savvy gamer say, I pass half my day earning virtual currency that I can only spend in my virtual world, why can’t I earn virtual currency and spend it in the real world? That feels like what I do at my day job anyways. Gamers are at ease with a virtual currency.
Now, with the breakout of Bitcoin into mainstream media, and a greater number of people taking Bitcoin seriously, we’re likely to see a real economy response. The genie might be difficult to put back into it’s lamp but I have no doubt, that those threatened will bring forward rules and regulations sooner or later. The global financial crisis, endless QE, rumors of bitcoin cash machines, and real life capital controls are likely to make both sides of this story anxious.