Is it a crime to bilk people out of money in a ponzi scheme? Sure. Is it also a crime to bilk people out of 700 billion ISK of virtual cash using a similar scheme in massively multiplayer game EVE Online? That's the question discussed in a recent article on Gamers With Jobs.
The scheme, which uses money from new investors to pay off initial backers before cutting and running, is pretty apparently against EVE's terms of service, which prohibits "obtaining goods from other players through misinformation, confusion, pressure or by taking advantage of basic trust." But the author at GWJ argues that the virtual money can be converted to real game-time cards with a value of $81,667, making the crime a very real one. What's more, the ill-gotten gains could be converted into cash through unofficial channels, and might well be taxable by the IRS.
It may be hard to think that in-game money can be subject to real-world laws, but when people can make their living trading in virtual goods, the wall between real and virtual laws begins to break down. Should financial doings inside MMOs be regulated by the government, or should the feds stay out of the virtual realm?
Real crimes in virtual worlds
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