Video Game Property Insurance Protects Virtual Goods
My beautiful virtual house, ruined! A scene from the upcoming online game Guild Wars 2.
Virtual property theft or loss is no joke to online gamers who may spend countless hours earning virtual gold, weapons and even houses. Such incidents have to real-world arrests and even the occasional murder, as well as disputes between gamers and game operators. Now a Chinese insurance company has decided to get in on the action by offering perhaps the world's first virtual property insurance.
The new service aims to cut down on conflicts between victims of virtual property theft or loss and online game operators that run virtual game worlds, according to China Daily. That explains why online game operator Gamebar joined with the Sunshine Insurance Corporation in Beijing to come up with the virtual property insurance plan.
More than 300 million people in China play online games, and so complaints about virtual property theft or loss unsurprisingly come up from time to time. But the nonexistence of such insurance or legal protection for virtual items has led to tragedy in the past.
An enraged Chinese gamer killed a fellow gamer for selling his virtual sword in the online game "Legend of Mir 3" in 2005, the BBC reports. Initial attempts to get the police involved had failed because China had no laws to protect virtual property.
By contrast, South Korea has a special unit of its police force dedicated to in-game crimes. South Koreans reported 22,000 cases of virtual theft to the police in 2004 alone.
Virtual theft often has added real-world complications. Two Dutch boys were convicted of stealing virtual game items from a third boy in 2008, but they used the threat of real-world violence, according to GamePolitics.
Disputes over virtual property theft have even reached messy divorce hearings. A Chinese woman attempted to claim her share of virtual property from her former husband because they had shared the same game account, but a Beijing court denied her claim in December 2010, according to China Daily.
It's likely that the new Chinese virtual property insurance would simply cover the estimated value of any given game items, and would leave any related real-world crimes or complications to the traditional legal system. The China Daily story did not go into detail about the specifics of the insurance being offered, but it's easy to imagine similar insurance spreading beyond China.
There is one existential question that still remains unanswered; would virtual property insurance cover virtual game characters as well? A Japanese woman was charged in 2008 with allegedly breaking into her online game husband's account and murdering his digital avatar, because she had become infuriated following their virtual divorce, the AP reports.
Japanese police ended up arresting the woman, but on account of hacking rather than virtual murder charges.