Real Money Trading in MMORPG items from a Legal
and Policy Perspective
- Dec. 13, 2004 Ung-gi Yoon1
MMORPGs (Massively-Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games; some of the most prominent titles are Lineage I, II2, Mabinogi, World of Warcaft (WoW)) have recently become an object of social and legal controversies of a previously unheard-of type. The phenomenon of trading ingame MMORPG items for real money has raised thorny issues on the ownership status of these virtual objects. This phenomenon has hardly escaped the people of South Korea, a frontrunner in the development of online games of this genre3 as well as their chief exporter.
Currently a judge in the Busan District Court, I am also a member of Gamestudy.org. MMORPG characters created and played by me include a Mabinogi character named “Ammajeongkal” at the Harp Server and a World of Warcraft character named “Trollvalor” at the Baelgoon server. E-mail:
I earned a MA in legal philosophy.
I wish to acknowledge a number of MMORPG developers, critics, journalists and legal scholars whose advice, direction and support have been instrumental in completing this article. I’m indebted to Soon-seong Kwon (a game producer at Nexon), Kang-yeol Kim (former vice president of ItemBay, a MMORPG game item auction site), Dong-geon Kim (Project Manager at Nexon heading its Mabinogi Development Team), Yong-seok Kim (Professor of philosophy at Youngsan University), Sang-beom Kim (board member of Nexon), Seong-woo Kim (Researcher at Samsung Electronics, specialized in HCI and ubiquitous networking), Jeong-joo Kim (founder and CCO of Nexon), Joo-yong Kim (game producer at Nexon), Ji-yeon Kim (website operator of Internet Self-regulated Forum (R3NET)), Taek-jin Kim (CEO of NcSoft), Jeong-gyeom Kim (computer programmer, MMORPG player (user ID: Aragon)), Hyung-jin Kim (head of the production team for Lineage II), Sang-woo Park (game critic, adjunct professor of media arts and communication at Yonsei University), Kang-jin Paek (judge), Jae-gyeong Song (former board member of NcSoft, developer of Lineage), Hyeon Jeon (President of Online Consumer Association), Hae-sang Jeong (Professor of law at Uiduk University), Sang-min Hwang (Professor of psychology at Yonsei University) and Jun-sok Huhh (video game critic, Seoul National University lecturer in economics). I also wishes to express my gratitude to former and current reporters of Playforum and dirty3 and other forum members, and acknowledge contributors to MMORPG blog Terra Nova, including Richard Bartle, Edward Castronova, Julian Dibbell, Dan Hunter, Gregory Lastowka, Cory Ondrejka, Ren Reynolds and T. L. Taylor whose insight has been an inspiration for this paper. Finally, i would like to extend a special thank you to Judge Jae-hyeok Jeon, a valued friend and colleague and the father of a friend of my son, from whom i received generous help with editing and suggestions, my father for buying me an Apple2, my very first computer, when I was still a kid, and Lord British who initiated me to the world of RPG.
According to an October 4, 2004 article in The Digital Times, NcSoft’s Lineage II, then one year into service, numbers 3 million subscribers with up to 125,000 players logged on simultaneously. Nexon’s graphic MMORPG The Kingdom of the Winds was rolled out in April of 1996 (image omitted).
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1113327
Discussions on RMT (real money trading) in MMORPG items in South Korea, however, have thus far failed to give rise to an impartial, in-depth understanding of the issue. This is partly due to the fact that many MMORPG players have traditionally been teens and young adults in their early to mid twenties, and that MMORPGs were stigmatized as hotbeds of cybercrime.4 The overriding concern with regard to RMT, therefore, have been its immediate social repercussions,5 inciting Koreans to hurriedly take stance on the phenomenon, before...
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