Real Politik

[Note: This post originally appeared on Terra Nova.]

June 7, 2007

Almost exactly a year ago I asked whether virtual world makers with significant economies and RMT should “‘open their books’ about how their economies operate, given how much control they have over the conditions and mechanisms of those economies.” Today, via the New York Times, comes this account that suggests that the makers of EvE Onlinehave answered in the affirmative.

In the wake of recent concerns over corruption (Nate provided many of the key links in this post), CCP has announced that they will hold elections among their players for an oversight committee, one empowered to visit CCP’s  offices and “audit” their operations. Scott Jennings chimes in, as do Endie and Mark Wallace.

Like many of you I eagerly await Nate’s take on the recent developments for EvE, but what does this mean for virtual worlds more generally? The broader issues generated by the power that virtual world makers wield over the the deep architecture of increasingly high-stakes economies are not going away. The analogy to gaming (gambling) commissions is apt, not because these virtual worlds are, effectively, virtual casinos (well, some of them might be), but because of the underlying principle that informs that policy-making; i.e., when a group of people puts real capital on the line in a broadly contrived environment there is a compelling public interest in ensuring that the conditions conform to some notion of fairness.

CCP’s solution is intriguing, striking even, because it breaks from a largely unspoken assumption that the relationship between players and developers should be distant — or, at least, heavily managed and regulated (by the developer). We’ll have to see how this solution unfolds in practice, of course, but for the moment at least it suggests a new ethic surrounding these environments with regard to accountability and political legitimacy. CCP may have opened its doors in the name of transparency, but is letting those who are not gods (in Richard’s formulation) check the gods’ work the direction in which virtual worlds must move?

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