Tuesday, April 10, 2007

World of Warcraft and prostitution

The current story about World of Warcraft making the round through American newspapers isn't quite the publicity that Blizzard was looking for: On Craigslist, an internet site for free classified ads, a woman is offering that if a guy were to buy her an epic mount for 5000 gold, he could "mount" her. This being the first documented case of real world prostitution for virtual gold, the story spread like wildfire through the internet. Of course she claims that this isn't prostitution, she just sees it as a way to get a mount both for herself and her WoW character. :)

I don't see virtual gold prostitution taking off. There are too many servers, with players on any one server living in too far an area. The woman has to find a "john" playing on the same server, having lots of gold, *and* living reasonably close. But of course the story could lead to some interesting political and legal fallout, as especially US politicians are likely to jump on any connection between video games and sex. Video games are often considered to be "for children", although in this case it seems that the woman has a much clearer idea about the typical demographics of an MMORPG than any politicians.

Lets forget about legalities for a minute. Lets assume that the woman was making that offer in a state or country where prostitution is legal, and lets forget that trading virtual items for real world stuff is against the WoW terms of service. I googled for "WoW gold" to see what the going rate for gold on a US server is, and found 5,000 gold offered for about $600. I am neither an expert in buying WoW gold, nor in paying for the services of prostitutes. But the fact that you could get a woman to sleep with you for $600 isn't especially shocking to me. It's probably more on the high end of the price scale. "Man pays woman $600 for sex" wouldn't get a headline in any newspaper, not even in the US, unless the guy is a celebrity.

But now we add the legal aspects, and the story gets interesting. If you were to give 5000 gold in WoW to your girlfriend as a present, that would be perfectly legit under the terms of service. And of course having sex with a woman you barely know is also totally legal, unless you pay her. So for the "mount for mount" offer to be illegal, the prosecutor would have to define World of Warcraft gold as a legal currency or equivalent to one. But that would have huge ramifications on the whole "is virtual property covered by real world laws" discussion. If the law would consider the guy sending 5000 gold to the woman a payment in the legal sense of the word, then suddenly all the gold in World of Warcraft is legally considered money, and tons of laws about liability, theft, and taxes apply to it. This is exactly what MMO game companies have been trying to avoid for years.

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