What happens when you give gamers intellectual property rights?

James Grimmelmann has penned a bloody brilliant essay about the issues raised by allowing (or not allowing) players to hold an intellectual property right to objects they create in games. Inspired by the Second Life announcement at last month's State of Play conference, Grimmelmann presents and synthesizes the positions of a variety of the world's leading thinkers on IP, game economics, and playability, and comes up with more questions than answers. There's fodder for a dozen sf novels here — and just when I thought that stories about VR worlds where anything can happen (and hence nothing is interesting) were narratively dead in the water…

# Castronova cares about the game society, but not so much about the platform. He's thinking about these in-game values as things that we ought to encourage, perhaps by giving appropriate economic incentives to game owners. It's okay with him if the owners keep their game platforms locked down. As long as some owners give their players a rule-set that preserves in-game freedom, fairness, and community, it's all good.

# Benkler is more or less the opposite. He'd love to see some games ripped open at the level of the platform — developed by distributed groups and run without a single centralized owner-god-wizard. In his writings on the regulation of communications infrastructure and media concentration, Benkler has consistently emphasized the view that avoiding such concentrations of power at the infrastructure level is the most important act — from it, everything good flows.

# The agoraXchange people want both the platform and the game world to be open. Now, the question above tugs at apotential tension between these two forms of openness. When push absolutely comes to shove, the agoraXchange team will assert control at the platform layer if their core values are threatened in the game universe; otherwise, they walk the walk and quack the quack of freedom at every level.

# Bartle really doesn't care about either form of freedom. My caricature of him lives in what might be caricatured as the "game designer" paradigm: I want to be free to create whatever strange and twisted world I want. If players like it, they'll join and stay; if they don't like it, they'll go somewhere. Now, Bartle is a great designer, and as with the other great designers, his writings involve an exquisite level of sympathy for (and understanding of) players. But his is basically a "game"-centric view: if you build it, they will play. There aren't political questions here, except potentially if stupid lawyers come barging in and start treating games as something other than games.