Can you sell counterfeits of an imaginary object? Absolutely, if demand exists in a virtual world -- like that of EverQuest2.
According to New Scientist, prices for equipment like the Dark Shield of the Void dropped precipitously after some gamers discovered a way to make unauthorized copies. And when we say "prices," we're not just talking Monopoly money -- armor, weapons, and even characters are bought and sold for real as well as virtual cash.
So are the virtual cops on the case, or is this the online equivalent of Canal Street? Apparently programmers try to catch and correct bugs in the system as soon as possible, but in the meantime gamers themselves play the role of fashion police:
Computer gaming expert and keen gamer Edward Castronova at Indiana University, US, says duplication flaws are not uncommon in online games and notes that the virtual communities in such games can often regulate themselves, agreeing not to exploit such flaws to maintain playability.
"Sometimes social norms can be effective," he told New Scientist. "Everyone may know that a dupe exists but it's like 'who cares?'"
In other words, fighting with a fake Wand of the Living Flame is like showing up at Fashion Week with a knockoff Vuitton.
Could there be real-world legal consequences? Well, software is subject to copyright, so its possible that if hackers copied and modified code there could be a cause of action. In addition, such behavior could violate licensing agreements.
But illegal or simply illicit, the concept of distinguishing a "real" virtual object from a "fake" one is a mindbender.