More than Just a Game – User Expectations v Operator Interests


Trade in virtual goods is currently governed by social conventions. This has resulted in a complex network of social contracts being established outside the formal legal system. The size of informal secondary markets has transformed virtual environments from games into transaction spaces. This has been encouraged by operators and their marketing strategies. The design of virtual environments leads users to expect that virtual property will reflect the real world property system. Although users speak about ownership, the law may not authorise them to alienate virtual goods through the secondary markets. Therefore, transactions are carried out in the context of legitimate expectations based on implicit social conventions. Property law theorists tell us that the law develops by recognising and formalising social conventions. An analysis of those social conventions and contracts can therefore indicate how and to what extent formal law should be adopted in virtual environments and what categories of (property) law can best address these new challenges.