EVE Online – Outsider’s Perspective on Virtual Property Ownership

Now, it’s worth pointing out that I haven’t been following this issue all that closely. It’s one of those little fringe items that I hear about and think is interesting food for thought for reasons above and beyond the circumstances that lead to them.

I am of course referring to the somewhat controversial decision to open player structures to destruction and looting while having previously promised that they would be safe from such actions. Without a system in place to adequately warn people who’s items are at risk, it’s a bit of a dick move.

Eve is also unique in that many headlines like to report item losses/finds in USD amounts. A value that is, at best, only implied by the exchange rate of Plex and Isk. That doesn’t mean those values are wrong, but you cannot convert these things back into USD. While they are assets, in a sense, they are not assets from an investing standpoint. They’re like…. durable consumables?

That aside, one of the things they teach when you’re taking a business degree is that property ownership and property rights are one of the foundations upon which capitalist business thrives. If the government, or someone with a lot more guns than you, can come along and claim all your effort as their own, there is little incentive to build in the first place. This is also one of the main arguments against communism.

Eve seems to be facing a similar issue. If “assets” that were previously promised to be safe are now being offered up to grabs without the owners’ consent, well, the net effect would be to discourage trust and entrepreneurship. In this specific case, though, Eve as a game has always had a lawless/”trust nobody” sort of tone to it. I would say that anyone who played Eve long enough to be familiar with it should probably have realized that this was inevitable. At the very least, it’s consistent with how I’ve personally interpreted the tone of the game and the community.

There is another angle to this, though. I spend a bit too much time thinking about game economies and how decisions like this impact them and the pros and cons flowing out of that. I would bet that if you added up the total item value of all owned items in an MMO, you would find that the majority of it resides unused in banks and storage. It could be said that these unused “assets” are wasted in that state when they could be producing some ethereal form of macroeconomic value. At the very least it’s “unused capacity” which is typically regarded as bad in the real world.

If that is our premise, then it would make some sense why the developers might wish to release those valuable and unused assets back into the mix. On top of that, it created a sort of player-driven treasure hunt as people went in search of valuable loot. At the expense of others, of course, because this is Eve.

Is any of it worth it, in the long run? I don’t know. I think maybe it’s okay to have virtual environments where people can hone their business acumen and/or exert their power over others in a way that is less destructive to the greater fabric of society. To the people who have lost items of value though, that sense of loss and violation is just as real as if the property had been “real.” I’m not even going to attempt to compare one to the other. It’s hard to overlook human suffering, and I’m sure there’s plenty of that to be had here.

Y’all take care, and remember, all those other usernames are people too.

Posted in EVE

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s