November 14th, 2007 by Benjamin Duranske
Reuters UK is reporting that Dutch police have arrested a seventeen-year-old Habbo Hotel user for the theft of almost $6000 worth of virtual furniture from other users of Habbo Hotel, a virtual world for teens.
An Amsterdam police spokeswoman confirmed a report that the teenager was accused of stealing 4,000 euros (2,844 pounds) [$5857 US] worth of virtual furniture by hacking into the accounts of other users.
Four other 15-year-olds have also been questioned in the case, which was instigated by the Web site. They are suspected of moving the stolen furniture into their own online hotel rooms.
Habbo does not have an active currency exchange and discourages RMT, but does sell “coins” for about $0.20 each, which can be used to purchase virtual furniture and items (some are expensive rares), and play online games.
A few things jump out here. First, for better or worse, more and more countries are taking virtual property seriously, even in closed worlds that do not acknowledge RMT. It’s just a matter of time before this happens in the U.S., and it is starting to look like the U.S. is falling behind. There must be “magic circle” protection for spaces that make an effort to remain play spaces, but when companies are exchanging real money for tokens, furniture, custom avatars, and the rest — sometimes a lot of money — the law has to recognize that the result of the transactions have real value.
Second, Sulake Corporation apparently got involved themselves — the case was “instigated by the web site” according to Reuters. Two years ago, I’d have bet on 10 comments against them for it. Now? I suspect they’ll be mixed, at most. I think virtual world users are finding they appreciate a little hands-on governance when it comes to theft, gold farming, griefing, hacking, and all the rest of what makes virtual worlds and games less fun. Personally, as far as I’m concerned, good for Sulake; this is a seventeen-year-old who allegedly stole almost $6000 worth of other kids’ — mostly younger kids’ — allowance money. Seems a fine place to draw a line.
And finally, RMT reality check. Six grand? In a virtual world for teens? How is that even possible? How much can this stuff be worth on a per-item basis, and how much pixelated junk can you fit in a Habbo Hotel room anyway?
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