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The Lawbringer: Mailbag 7.0

Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Mathew McCurley takes you through the world running parallel to the games we love and enjoy, full of rules, regulations, pitfalls and traps. How about you hang out with us as we discuss some of the more esoteric aspects of the games we love to play?

Wow! Did you see all those cool announcements and awesome World of Warcraft news items that we are currently reporting on? Me too. I'm writing this article much earlier than BlizzCon, so you'll have to excuse my lack of foresight. How about we mailbag us some Lawbringer questions?

Albert wants to know what's up with gold sellers stealing gold and why Blizzard can't just track it and remove it. Seems simple, right?
Hello, love your column. I was wondering if you can explain something. When these gold sellers hack someone's account and move their gold, can't blizzard track where the gold is going and just claim it? I mean i assume they have the tools to do anything in game, they are god. Seems simple enough to do, i got hacked, see where gold went, take it back. do it for a few months and done. am i missing something?

Thanks in advance,

Albert
Thank you for the email, Albert. It probably is not that tough to track currency moves and associated transactions, but it's really about the volume of text and transactions that go on at any given time. It must be hell to search through all the records to find this stuff, even if you know the name and server that people are on.

The real issue, however, is who really should be punished for the gold selling industry. Do we punish the players for buying gold and take away any ill-gotten currency? Do we punish the gold sellers themselves and ban their accounts when they are proven to be slinging fraudulent gold? Blizzard has chosen to go both routes on occasion, citing player bans for the disruption of the economy and mass banning gold sellers and hackers.

So, really, it's not so much that Blizzard wouldn't want to take away ill-gotten gold and punish the people profiting off of gray-market gold sales but that it is a logistical nightmare. The CS team already works hard to handle the volume of calls and complaints that come in because of gold hacking. Blizzard would have to hire a whole team of dispute resolvers to deal with tracking down, reading logs, and taking action. Expanding the CS team isn't a great idea for a game like WoW because, once the problem becomes under control in some other way, you have to then downsize the departments you already grew, and that kind of sucks.

Buying something that's not for sale

Here is a cautionary tale from reader Jon that lets you know that it is not OK to purchase Blizzard Pet Store pets with in-game gold (except the new, as-of-yet unreleased Guardian Cub).
Dear Mat,

I wanted to share an experience that I just had, and hopefully you can share it with the other readers so that they don't become the victim of a scam like I did:

I have seen in the past someone in trade chat offering to sell the Blizzard pet store pets for gold, and I had bought a pet before in that method. It worked out and I still have that pet on my account to this day, so when I saw the opportunity to buy another pet in the same manner I took advantage of the offer and bought a second pet. It worked just as before and I had that pet on my account for almost 8 hours. As you can guess I logged out, and when I came back later, it was gone. I immediately opened a ticket with a gm and received a form letter that basically said that I would not be receiving my gold back (4k) as it was a non-supported transaction. In reality I knew that it was a gold seller who I was dealing with, however I honestly thought it was a blizzard sanctioned action as I was buying a virtual item (pet) for a virtual item (gold). The form letter I got back cleared up my misconception that it has to be a BOE virtual item like a TCG code for gold in order to be a sanctioned maneuver.

So long story short, it's not worth it to deal with a gold seller. You may get lucky and not get ripped off like I did the first time, but it will most likely bite you in the behind if you keep at it long enough. Anyway I hope you can share this in your next Lawbringer column as a cautionary tale for the rest of the readers.

Jon
I'm sorry to hear about your situation, Jon. Buying anything in trade chat for gold that isn't something you can immediately trade to someone is against the Terms of Service and should not be done. Remember kids, just because something is for sale doesn't mean you should buy it. What's interesting is the odd message the new companion pet, the Guardian Cub, sends to players who are already purchasing these pet store mounts and companions for gold in game.

After the Guardian Cub hits the store, people will have the innate, new perception that pets from the store are available for gold. It seems odd that we would have to delineate, especially since trade chat will still be full of credit card thieves selling mounts and pets that are not sanctioned to be sold for gold in game. "No, you can sell this but not this" is a hurdle for many casual players and a bit of a leap in logic that not everyone could be clued in on.

In light of the new pet, I hope that Blizzard puts out some sort of public service announcement about buying mounts and companion pets in trade chat and warns people of the credit card fraud that goes along with these purchases. More needs to be said about this particular aspect of the gold selling industry.

Adam and the tax man

Adam Holisky, one of your stalwart editors here at WoW Insider, wanted to know about declaring income for the Diablo 3 auction house.
@adamholisky Am I going to need to declare the income (for tax purposes) off the D3 RMT AH if I make more than $650?
You will certainly need to report income that you make from the Diablo 3 auction house along standard auction site protocol. The most amazing (and probably pragmatic) secret about the Diablo 3 auction house is that it will most likely follow standard auction protocol via the eBay way. I documented this whole phenomenon in my Lawbringer article about the relationship between Blizzard and PayPal, which you should take another look at.

What fascinates me is how this all just works from a conceptual standpoint. It's so simple. Since Blizzard is only acting as the auction facilitator, its reporting responsibilities are much lower than if it were handling the money aspects. Things get a bit dicier when you start talking about realized income.

The very basic definition of realized income is income that you have earned and have available that has manifested benefit to you. When you put money that you have made from Diablo 3 into your "Battle.net Wallet" (or whatever Blizzard ends up calling it), you can then spend that money for real digital products. Is that money realized income even if you didn't get it in cash form?

I went to do some quick research on a potentially similar topic -- gift cards. Are gift cards realized, taxable income? It looks like gift cards are taxable between an employer and employee, when an employer gives an employee a gift card as a gift, as opposed to a gift from one person to another, which isn't taxable because it's a gift. That's all way too simple for the actual answer, so I'll do a whole Lawbringer on it at some point. Until then, yes, there are issues, but I'm pretty sure Blizzard has a way to deal with it, just like it has PayPal taking care a lot of the issues we once thought were going to be hot problems.

Take care all, and I hope you are all enjoying BlizzCon coverage.

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at mat@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Lawbringer

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