Lots of online game players spend a lot of time and effort getting their game characters rare and valuable items.  These are generally referred to as virtual items.  Because of their value, some players are willing to pay a lot of money to get them, or want to make money by selling them.  But for eBay users, buying and selling these items is not allowed.  In this guide you’ll learn what is and isn’t allowed when it comes to listing your game goods on eBay and other places.


Virtual items includes the following: game currency, game items and game accounts/characters.   Basically, if you use it in the game or if it only exists in the game it is a virtual item.   Generally, game developers maintain the rights to all of the in-game items.  (Remember that big list of ‘terms and conditions’ you agreed to when you installed the software?  That was the game developer telling you the game stuff is theirs and not yours.)  No matter how much time you spend playing the game or how much you pay in subscription fees, you, as a gamer, are generally considered a renter of these virtual items, not an owner.  That is why selling or buying game gold from online services can get you banned from the game.   (See this guide for reasons why it’s a bad idea to buy game gold online.  Though the guide covers Runescape gold, it is generally applicable to most online games.)


In January, 2007, eBay began removing all virtual item listings. The sale of such items is prohibited and anyone violating this policy can find their account limited or suspended.

Why is the sale of virtual items prohibited?  The short answer is because it violates eBay’s intellectual property rules, while the longer answer involves the currently complicated legal status of virtual items.   Generally with items like this, Ebay’s policy is that anyone selling an item must be the owner of the underlying intellectual property.  Since it is somewhat unclear who exactly owns a virtual item like a World of Warcraft weapon or gold, eBay decided that it would no longer allow the sale of any of them.

What this means for eBayers is that you can’t sell all that stuff you got in the game.  If you do, your eBay account can be restricted or suspended.

You will sometimes see a listing that advertises an item that ‘just happens’ to offer a free game item or character with it.  These listings are not allowed either.  For example, offering to sell a joke that also includes a free Runescape character with it is against eBay policy.   These listings are attempting to sell otherwise prohibited items by including them with non-prohibited ones.  Ebay can remove listings that contain prohibited content, even if that content is offered as a free gift.


Though trading in virtual items is prohibited, there are some virtual item sales that eBay allows.  The eBay policy against the sale of virtual items is based on their intellectual property rules.   Because of this, if you actually are the owner of the intellectual property, you can (theoretically) buy or sell these virtual items.

The best known example of this is Second Life.  According to eBay Second Life is not considered a game, and thus the sale of Second Life virtual items is not prohibited.  Though this statement seems dependent upon what the definition of a ‘game’ is, there may also be an additional basis to this.  Linden Lab, the company that owns Second Life, maintains that all virtual items created by the players are the property of the players, not Linden Lab.

Either way, eBay has decided that listing Second Life virtual items is not a violation of the intellectual property or virtual item restrictions.  Though this policy is always subject to change, you can currently buy and sell Second Life items through eBay without risking your account being banned or suspended.  (Provided you are not violating any other poilicy.)


Is there anything else that isn’t prohibited by the virtual item policy?  There are some clear areas and some not-so-clear areas.  Take a look at the following list:
GAME CODES :  Some games (like EVE Online), require players to buy time-codes in order to play.  Players can buy time-codes for specific time periods (30, 60, 90 days or longer) and use them when they desire, kind of like a gift-card.  These listings are commonly found on eBay and don’t appear to be included in the virtual item restrictions.
GAME GUIDES :  If you own a game manual or write a guide about an online game, you can sell these through eBay.  Whether you are selling a digitally delivered product like an e-book, or a bound, printed book, such items are not prohibited.  You do have to make sure you comply with all other related eBay policies, especially those that deal with copyright and intellectual property laws.
NON-VIRTUAL ITEMS :  If you have an Everquest figurine, World of Warcraft wall posters, game disks or other non-virtual items, there is no problem if you want to sell them.  You can buy and sell these just like anything else on eBay, but like everything else you have to comply with all other related policies.
SCRIPTS AND BOTS  :  If you write your own script or program intended to be used for someone in a game (commonly called a bot) you can probably sell it on eBay.  Though bots are prohibited by most game developers, if they are not illegal or otherwise in violation of eBay policies, you can list your creations to other eBayers.


Even though most games prohibit the sale of virtual items, there are some places where this happens.  There are lots of sites out there that sell game gold and other virtual-items, and though they are generally thought to be at least unethical if not outright illegal, they do exist.  Buying and selling items on these sites is very risky, and not something you want to try.  (Again, see this guide for reasons why this is a bad idea.)

However, some games allow for legal ways to sell your virtual items.  Sony recently launched a virtual-item auction house for its Everquest games called Station Exchange.  (http://stationexchange.station.sony.com)  Players can come here to buy and sell their Everquest items without fear of breaking the rules or being banned by Sony.  Other games may or may not have (or soon introduce) similar services.  Given the popularity of trading in virtual items, it seems reasonable that game developers will allow for some kind of trade between players.   If you are unsure what the rules are with the game you play, just read them or go to the game website and search for their terms and conditions page.


In the end, it’s up to you to be sure whether or not what you want to buy or sell is allowed.  Even if it is allowed by the game, it may not be allowed by Ebay, or vice versa.  If you are considering selling a virtual item on eBay, the safest bet is not to.  In only a few areas are virtual, or virtual-related items allowed.  And even if you successfully sell or buy a virtual item on eBay, that doesn’t mean it’s allowed, it just means no one noticed.  You can sell multiple items that, even though they are against eBay policy, don’t get you caught.  Never the less, they are against the rules and can result in you losing your eBay account.  You are better off not dealing in them at all rather than risking suspension.

Making sure you know the rules is the easiest way to ensure you don’t run into trouble.  If you always make sure your listings comply with eBay policies, you shouldn’t have any trouble.

–  Good luck.  And good eBaying!

27 October 2007

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