Insurance for that +10 Sword of Slaying?
MMORPG and other online games have become so popular that online auctions of game items occur regularly. The fact that one may buy a virtual game item for real money brings up some interesting questions. One such question is: "Will a virtual item sell for enough money that one will be able to insure it?" It may sound silly but sometimes so do the prices that people are willing to pay for that uber sword.
Suppose you've bought your great sword for some large amount, say $1000, and for some reason your computer crashes and you've lost your game files. What do you do? With car insurance, if you have an accident and crash your car, you can file a claim and get some money back. Why not have data insurance for your computer files? Hey, you bought that sword for $1000 after all. How about if a thief breaks in and steals your computer. In the police report can you include that your great sword was stored in the game files? I doubt that the police officer filing the report will take you seriously.
Assume for a moment that you are able to buy insurance for your game item and something happens. What now? Will the insurance company be very willing to pay you money for that lost piece of data stored in your computer? Not likely, they'd probably want you to recover the lost game item in some way. You can't easily just copy a game item or else why did you ever pay $1000 for it in the first place? One can argue though that you simply make a backup of your files, and when something happens, simply restore your character. If you could do this, then what is to stop you from selling the sword, then restoring your files. No game item would be worth any great amount of money then.
Most likely, your game items are stored in a company server somewhere, so losing your computer files isn't all that drastic. Simply reinstall the game and voila, there's your character. So you keep on playing when suddenly there's a server crash and your character files are lost. It's lucky that you know your character's traits and items by heart, so it's just a simple matter of asking the game operators to restore your character, right? Not so fast... if they can create characters, what's to stop them from creating items to sell online, thus effectively collapsing the ebay MMORPG item economy, making your investment worthless?
Even if your files are secure with the game company and employees can be trusted to not sell created items online, where does your trust in the value of your item lie? With the US dollar, we accept its value based upon the basic belief that our Federal Reserve will back up that dollar. It used to be backed by gold, but today I guess we just accept it with faith in our government. With the virtual items, the value is based upon the belief that the game will continue running without problems, making the game companies a sort of Federal Reserve for the game item economy. Once you start considering intermixing economies of virtual and real items, the picture takes a whole new bizarre twist.
Yes, this whole argument is silly and hopefully we'll never see game items selling for outrageous prices. However this is an extreme example of a more fundamental question of the value of information and ownership of data. If our economies continue to grow toward an information age, these questions may have to be answered and the consequences could be messy.