Playing administrator for the social gaming giant’s Texas Hold’em poker game between June and September 2009, Mitchell moved 400 billion virtual poker chips--worth somewhere between £184,000 (about $296,000) and $12 million. Before he could cash in on all of it by selling the chips for cash, however, Zynga security noticed the unusual activity and busted him.
Judge Philip Wassall says Mitchell could face jail time for the hack, highlighting how seriously governments could take virtual goods in the future, as social gaming companies increasingly establish themselves as businesses here to stay.
The news revives debate over how exactly to categorize a virtual good? Is it like any piece of purchasable property? Does someone who spends money on a virtual good actually own that property?
Last month, mobile gaming company ngmoco faced criticisms for canceling a few of its less popular games because users had actually spent some money on in-game virtual goods. When the games were canceled, users received no refund. Company founder Neil Young told me in an interview that he believes the virtual purchases amount to no more than “components of the entertainment experience,” and therefore, can’t be equated with physical items you buy.
And yet, in this case, the court clearly seems to be leaning toward the argument that virtual items can indeed be treated like real property.
This is something worth watching as social gaming continues to grow in 2011.
Official statement released by Zynga:
Zynga treats game security with the utmost of seriousness. We want to provide our users with the safest and most enjoyable game experience possible. To that end, we have a world class security team which continues to proactively identify and address security breaches with the highest priority. We will pursue these issues vigorously, which could involve criminal and civil prosecutions.