According to Korea Times, MMO publisher Nexon “is preparing to repay users who own paid items” in ZerA, an unsuccessful Korean MMO that is due to be closed in January. The game was launched in 2006 and peaked at 40 000 concurrent users. According to Korea Times, ZerA took three years and 10 billion won (approx. 7.5 M USD) to develop. Plans to launch in Japan were dropped after lukewarm reception in Korea.
Earlier this year, game publisher Electronic Arts refunded users who had purchased virtual currency in EA Land, the successor of The Sims Online. EA Land was closed down soon after its introduction, but not before many users had purchased “simoleons”, a currency which EA had suggested would become exchangeable back to real money at a later date. EA apparently offered the refund only after demands from disappointed users.
I don’t know how much legal liability the operators had for the assets they sold in the above cases. Players probably signed away many of their rights when accepting the terms of service. Most likely these are just examples of two different kinds of customer relations management in that situation: pro-active care vs. reactive handling.
Let’s assume that either for legal reasons or simply because of a need to maintain good customer relations, an operator decides to refund the users of a virtual item platform it is about to close down. How far back in time should the refund extend? EA Land only existed for five months, so EA simply refunded all currency purchases (note that they also had non-refundable revenues from game time cards). How about platforms that have existed for some time, perhaps deriving most of their revenues from the asset sales?
With services like MapleStory and Cyworld, where assets have a limited duration, the operator can simply stop selling new assets and wait until the old ones expire before shutting the service down. What about services like Habbo, where items have perpetual duration? What is a reasonable lifespan that a user can expect an item to have?
If I don’t remember wrong, some years ago Habbo terms of service used to guarantee a two-week lifespan for items. Today they seem to be less explicit on the issue (and interestingly, the UK, Finnish and Japanese versions of the TOS seem at a glance quite different, perhaps reflecting local regulatory differences). In any case, I would think users would find 14 days too short. I am looking forward to details on Nexon’s ZerA refund.
(Korean Times story via PlayNoEvil)