Square-Enix Lawsuit has Virtual Ownership Implications

In a class action lawsuit filed against Square-Enix back in June of 2009, a Final Fantasy XI player accused the company of deceptive and unfair advertising strategies as listed below. On Dec 23rd of this year, the lawsuit was dismissed by the judge who concluded the claims were “without merit“.

This case narrowly focuses on Defandants deceptive advertising, unfair advertising, and fraudulent concealment to conceal certain critical information about their online games. The deceptive advertising, unfair and undisclosed business practices, and concealment concern, among others:

1. Licensing of the online games software disguised as a sale
2. Monthly fees (“fees”) to play online games
3. Penalties for late payment fees
4. Interest charges for late payment fees
5. Charges while the online game account is suspended
6. Termination of the right to use the online game for late payment of the fees
7. User restrictions and conditions related to the online games
8. Termination of game data for late payment of the fees

However in a press release sent out by Square-Enix it stated,

The District Court ruled, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed, that Square Enix’s business practices and click-through user agreements were both fair and legal. Both Courts confirmed that Square Enix owns all of the character-related data generated during gameplay.

While this case was not a direct challenge of who owns the actually gaming account, it does state that Square-Enix owns all the “character-related data“, which in itself if a huge win for MMO publishers. This in itself doesn’t close the debate as to who owns the actual account, but it is a step forward for MMO publishers and a defeat for those players who argue they own their accounts and characters.

The big showdown between the companies that run these virtual worlds and the players the inhabit them is unavoidable and I hope within the next few years we’ll have a court case that once and for all will determine who is the rightful owner of these virtual characters and property.