PAX East 2011: Law In Games panel hits home for WoW

PAX East is home to all sorts of panels and discussion, ranging from sexism in video games to mechanics and motivations in the games we play. Legal issues are present in all things, and video games -- even World of Warcraft -- are no exception. Two of the biggest topics at the panel, hosted by prominent legal minds in the video game industry, were End User License Agreements and damages in game as part of tort law. All in all, it was a very interesting panel of Q&A from some of gaming's smartest minds.

EULA discusses are always hot, considering how important the license is and whether or not a stronger EULA benefits players or just the companies that produce and publish games. The lawyers on the panel, Greg Boyd, Ross Dannenberg, and Seth Krauss, Dan Rosenthal and Tom Buscaglia, all believe that a strong EULA is necessary due to the nature of protections that video games require. The panelists tried to drive home the point that the majority of game players and buyers never really interact or are effected by EULA provisions, which is usually the case.

I've talked about WoW's EULA and Blizzard's own push for a stronger EULA with MDY Glider v. Blizzard. The big thing to take away from the EULA discussion for World of Warcraft is that the EULA's enforceability is not always based on what the provisions say but the company's ability to enforce those agreed-upon provisions. Whether or not a stronger EULA is good for the playerbase or not isn't so much the question when the issue is stopping the misuse of the game world and, essentially, cheating.

One audience member asked a question about one day blending tort law into offenses that happen online, using the Eve Online Titan ship debacle as an example. Eve Online has a currency system that allows for money to move in and out of the game world, and after one very famous Titan-class ship was sabotaged and destroyed, a lot of people lost a lot of time, effort, and money that could potentially be exchanged for real dollars.

The biggest problem with tort law being applicable to online worlds, the panelists commented, is that some kind of harm must be proven against the plaintiff, which is somewhat of a more difficult proposition when you're discussing spaceships and armor on an orc. Combined with the fact that players enter a world where these types of actions are essentially fair play, it is somewhat hard to paint that picture. Nonetheless, one day we will see it happen. It's just a matter of when.

Another audience member wanted to know whether the ESRB was doing a good job as a ratings board to keep video games properly categorized to keep mature games out of children's hands. The panelists thought the ESRB was doing a great job a majority of the time but occasionally will make a mistake. As for the alternative to self-regulation, no one in the industry really wants the government saying how it should be.

World of Warcraft is in a unique position with the ESRB, and the panelists indeed copped to the fact that the online nature of MMOs and other online-centric games have a bit of a loophole when it comes to ratings. The disclaimer, even present in WoW, is that the rating and content may change based on online play. Games like WoW are judged and rated based on their content in the box, not what people could potentially say or do with their avatars online, free from content restrictions.

With the Supreme Court currently looking at Schwarzenegger v. EMA, video games are hot in legal circles right now. PAX East was very lucky to have these great minds available to discuss some of these issues. It's safe to say that video games are in safe hands -- it's always a treat to see these types of minds as gamers first.