0

I've done some reading about gruesome tales of folks spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on video game currencies only to have their accounts irreversibly stolen or lost due to a bad in game scam/trade, but are unable to take legal action because virtual currencies are not considered legal entities. Take for instance Warframe's platinum currency, Rockstar's virtual dollar or league of legend's Riot Points. Legally speaking, these "in game currencies" aren't recognized as personal property. But that doesn't change the fact that people place real dollar values on 60,000 Platinum or 50,000 riot points.

Now, I have to be guy to push this grey boundary. Suppose a stranger and I signed a contract in the real world (suppose the United States in a state of your choice) stating I'd pay him some in game currency for some real life service. If we ignore the EULA, TOS situation, if I received this real life service and refused to pay the in game currency would I be in legal trouble?

As per usual, not considering scamming anyone I'm just a curious guy.

  • 1
    unable to take legal action because virtual currencies are not considered legal entities Citation needed to show that wasn't merely the police being reluctant to bother prosecuting. – Greendrake Feb 1 at 8:09
  • 1
    I removed "theft" from the tags, and added contract-law, because the conduct described is not a theft, as mentioned in my answer. – David Siegel Feb 1 at 16:13
4

Of course you'd be in legal trouble, the contract is still valid.

I also don't know why you don't consider virtual goods to be goods. Take this example: You buy a 1 year subscription for (example) netflix. The next day they cancel your subscription but don't give you the money back because its not a "real good". This should make it clear that virtual goods are goods too in the eyes of the law.

Question is if police/lawyers care about it as much as for "real" goods.

  • 1
    Actually, in the Netflix case, it might be a theft of "services", rather than a theft of "goods", but most criminal statutes recognize theft of services to be a crime (in Colorado, by defining them to be a "thing of value"). But, in the Netflix example you give, this would be a breach of contract by Netflix subject to a civil lawsuit, rather than theft, because it is also a failure to perform a promise with no proof that there was not an intent not to perform when the promise was made. A "good" is generally defined in the law as "tangible personal property" that is (or can be) bought or sold. – ohwilleke Feb 1 at 16:33
  • You're right! Clearly I didn't think too hard about this question. Thanks for educating me. – npengra317 Feb 7 at 20:29
2

I don't know where you got the idea that

Legally speaking, these "in game currencies" aren't recognized as personal property.

They aren't recognized as money and you can't use them to pay your taxes or buy your groceries. But then you can't use collectable baseball cards to do either of those things, but they are personal property, you can sell them, and then use the money from the sale for whatever you choose.

A contract does not have to specify money, or even a thing with a generally agreed value (such as a share of stock). A contract could be made to exchange, say web site design services for a specific used car. It would be just as binding as a contract that specified a specific dollar amount.

In the situation in the question, where A agrees to perform a service for B, and B agrees to transfer to A 10,000 quatloos in the "Galactic Trading" game, the contract is valid and binding unless there is some reason, not mentioned above, why it would not be. If B defaults on the contract obligation, A could sue, and would be awarded whatever the Judge or Jury thought was the fair dollar value of the 10,000 quatloos, plus any damages that the failure had caused (and that A could prove). Or A might be able to get a court order requiring B to transfer the 10,000 quatloos.

In-game situations are different. In-game agreements may not be considered contracts, and in any case players usually agree to be bound by whatever in-game methods of resolution are provided. This is not unlike an arbitration agreement in an out-of-game contract. But that is not the situation in the question here.

Oh, I should mention. This is not a "theft", any more than failure to pay a bill is a theft. it is a breach of contract, and may result in a civil lawsuit, not a criminal prosecution.

  • 1
    It could be theft (or at least criminal and civil fraud) if there were an intent not to perform the promise when the promise was made, but not, as you note, for merely failing to perform a promise intended to be kept when made. Also, FWIW, many modern theft statutes (including Colorado's) cover taking without permission or through deceit or by duress or force, a "thing of value", a term which includes, e.g., contact rights. So, while not performing a contract for payment in game currency is not theft, theft of game currency by, e.g., stealing someone's password, could be criminal theft. – ohwilleke Feb 1 at 16:25
  • It is also worth noting that bank deposits are for most legal purposes defined as contract rights you have vis-a-vis a bank, and not as property. So, virtual currencies and bank deposits have a more similar legal status than most people realize. – ohwilleke Feb 1 at 16:27
  • 2
    @ohwilleke The legal status is not comparable. I have an account at a certain credit union. Everybody agrees that I own the money. If the credit union were to shut down, I'd have a legal claim to my money, and the Federal Government would step in and make sure I get it back. If the money was removed by stealth, I'd have a legal right to recover. Arvolin's gold pieces are explicitly the property of the company running the game Arvolin is in. If the game closes down, there goes the gold. If a player hacks in and drains Arvolin's bank account, no legal consequences. – David Thornley Feb 1 at 18:12
  • @DavidThornley The legal status is similar in kind (which is what matters for these purposes) even though the practical credit risk involved is very different. If you have (real) coins in a safe deposit box, that is property which is treated a particular way under the law (e.g., if you wanted to seize it with a judgment you would use a writ of execution). If you have an account at a credit union, the credit union owes you a contractual debt to pay you the amount in the account upon demand; it isn't actually "property" (e.g., if you wanted to seize the account, you'd garnish the credit union). – ohwilleke Feb 1 at 18:28
  • 3
    "Arvolin's gold pieces are explicitly the property of the company running the game Arvolin is in. If the game closes down, there goes the gold." True. "If a player hacks in and drains Arvolin's bank account, no legal consequences." Not true, although cumbersome and possibly impractical to enforce. Also, certainly, the game company is not federally guaranteed like a credit union bank account. – ohwilleke Feb 1 at 18:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.