The panelists for Friday’s symposium, “Real World Implications of Virtual Economies,” teleconferenced this afternoon to plan our discussion. We’re abandoning the usual format of having 20-minute individual conversations and instead, after a very short primer on virtual worlds and their economies, jumping straight into panel discussion and then open audience discussion.
Here’s a tentative outline of the topics we’ll be covering:
- Panelists introduce themselves briefly
- Primer: What’s a virtual economy? MMOs: Drew Harry. Web: Burak Arikan. Second Life: Scott Kildall/Victoria Scott.
- Primer: Virtual property and currency. Drew.
- Primer: Making real-world money in virtual economies. Scott/Victoria.
- Where, in virtual economies, is value generated, and by whom? Who’s capturing that value?
- How is value flowing from the real into the virtual? How is value flowing from the virtual to the real? What do you see in the immediate future of these flows?
- How would you place virtual economies on a historical scale? In what ways do they reflect feudal, capitalist, communist, or other ideal types of historic economies? In what ways are they sui generis? How might a legal regime premised on the physical economy hinder the development of a virtual one?
- Talk about the labor market within virtual economies. What does it mean for participants to be generating “immaterial labor”?
- Is value shifting from traditional products (property) and services to the relationships themselves? What does that mean for participants in the economy — both individuals and the corporate entities? Is “alienation of labor” giving way to the potential for “alienation of relationships”?
- Is our language of “production” and “consumption” outmoded in a virtual economy? If so, what language should we be using?
- What issues arise at the intersection of economics and politics, particularly given that virtual worlds, unlike most modern real-world states, do not have direct accountability mechanisms to their inhabitants?
- How does the real-world business model of the company running a virtual world interact with the virtual economy itself? Have we found the “right” way to match these two systems?
- Normatively, how do you think a fair economy would operate in virtual worlds? What’s missing in them now, and what steps need to be taken to get to a fairer relationship between world-manager and user?