Habbo Hotel: Unvirtual Crime

It's a fair cop.

The BBC reports (brought to our attention by the proper-reporter-blokes at Gamesindustry.biz) that a teenager has been arrest for the theft of virtual items in ludicrously popular chatroom Habbo Hotel. 4000 Euros (which is 2,840 pounds or nearly 190 copies of Peggle) of goods were stolen my a seventeen-year old mischievous scamp who now faces a spell in chokey (Probably). An Artful-Dodger-esque collection of five other fifteen year olds were also questioned.

So, does this open the door for prosecutions against that git who stole your sword of Scarab-slaying +3? Nah, probably not. The key thing here appears to be that the furniture items were purchased with real-world money, making them – according to the police in their Holland headquarters – have real value and equivalent of real world scams. In most games, there’s no official way to buy better equipment, so the same isn’t true. Even in games with a micro-payment system, I suspect that the difference between being scammed in Habbo and them will be the difference between being scammed by a market-stall trader and someone bluffing you in a game of Poker. When you sat down at the table, you accept that may happen. It may be ungentlemanly and be cracked down on by the GM but, I suspect, the police will stay clear.

Of course, this is a debate that’s raged for years with some of gaming’s biggest brains chipping in. I’m sure you have a take.


  1. Piratepete says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head. If its a scam involving cash monies for virtual items then it should be considered a real crime.

    However items bought with virtual money earnt in game is a different issue, as all you have really lost is time/effort/face and so no RL criminal proceedings would work.

    I suppose the argument is that most people earn money through time and effort, so what is the real or virtual distinction?

  2. Will Tomas says:

    I think that’s certainly true, but the situation gets murkier when you deal with elements such as Second Life’s system of buying virtual world money with real cash, rather than Habbo’s rather straightforward money-for-furniture system.

    Personally, I agree with Kieron that there is an unspoken deal you enter into when playing online games that you aren’t operating by legally-enforcible rules. Unless of course you’re swapping child porn, but that’s a different matter entirely. More to the point (with regards your nicked scarb sword) is what attitude Linden Labs, Blizzard, et al. take to this sort of thing.

    Although I’m not sure the poker analogy is entirely apt: bluffing is part of the point of poker. There’s an acceptance that each player is doing it to some degree. It’s not intrinsic to the game when playing in virtual worlds in quite the same way. The bluffs there are more of the imagination (“you mean you don’t look like that in real life?!”) than of the stakes you’re playing for. However, obviously, a healthy scepticism about scams like this should be a given, and encouraged by the companies producing the games.

  3. Jives says:

    “goods were stolen my a seventeen-year old mischievous scamp”

    You might want to replace the word my with by :)

  4. Jae Armstrong says:

    I just had this terrible vision of EVE Online self destructing as the entire playerbase prosecuted each other into mutual annihilation. Thankfully it appears my favourite bastard coloured world is safe for the nonce.

    Although, if we allow that the basic economic resource is man-hours (the anally retentive my substitute person-hours where appropriate), money being an economic lubricant, then any item owned by a person in an MMO aquires value because man-hours have been exchanged for it. Furthermore, given that other people are willing to exchange items they have invested man-hours in order to aquire those items shows that they ascribe them value (and this carries over into the real world, ergo gold farmers).

    So, from this, is it not possible to construct an argument that all MMO objects have “real value”? Not one that’d convince the pigs, I suppose.

    With slightly greater legal weight; juristriction. The entire point of MMOs is that it’s a seperate world from meatspace, with its own rules and regulations. Do real-world police have the authority to prosecute for crimes that occur inside them?

    Although I’ll allow that the Habbo guys have pre-violated their world’s encapsulation by sanctioning “real-world-money-for-in-game-items”.

  5. Doug says:

    At least parts of EVE will be safe. When Goonfleet’s Titan fund was stolen by its then-director and sold on eBay for real-world money, it was quite possibly the second- or third-greatest day in the corporation’s history.

    (The threatened lawsuit by that ex-director has to be the best day, but that’s another story…)

    Maybe it was the sheer volume of money in the Habbo theft that had the cops involved. Prosecuting somebody over $5 worth of virtual hat in Maple Story is probably not a good use of the state’s time, but $4K might be.

    The jurisdiction question is a good one as well–it’s a federal crime if it happens over state lines, but I routinely play games with people on different continents.

    Blizzard and CCP and the like have enough player management headaches without being responsible for real-world law enforcement. I’m not sure most governments want to be in the business of managing digital realms, either. Plus, does it open the door for taxation of in-game goods? What schedule do I use to report my capital gain on the sale of virtual minerals?

  6. Tr00jg says:

    Interesting article.

    If time=money then all MMO’s should be enforced for scamming. But agree with the above comments. MMO’s are there because its a different world and scenario.

  7. Zeno, Internetographer says:

    The pool has AIDS.

  8. WCAYPAHWAT says:

    Zeno, please, please don’t remind me of of last years habbo raids. lol.

    Question is, how the heck did he manage to flog that much gear? from what i recall, a chair or table or bed or whatever worked out at about one of our lovely aussie dollars. and a pound is what, two-three dollars these days….. This kid wasn’t scamming the stuff because he wanted it, he was proving a point, because, honestly, no one needs 5000 bedside tables.

  9. nevyn says:

    What the ?!? This is absurd. Firstly, an item gets stolen. Obviously there’s some sort of security issue within this online community. Do the guys at this virtual hotel not just replace it? I mean, if you’re allowed to have thieves, fair play to the 17 year old. If you’re not allowed to have thieves, obviously there’s something wrong in the system which needs to be rectified and responsibility should be taken by them due to it being a security issue.

    However, I’m of the opinion that none of this should be taken seriously. I mean, why on earth would you pay someone real money for a chair in a virtual environment? What – it makes their virtual selves more comfortable?

    Go out, smell the roses, run around like a kid, climb trees. Hell, get a few people together and play a game of cricket or soccer or something. Go to the pub, meet some new people, tell jokes, hear jokes, join a club, do something in your community. In otherwords, live life.

  10. Kieron Gillen says:

    So, how do you feel about paying for games over Steam?


  11. Pidesco says:

    I don’t have any problem with buying games online, as such, because I feel that shopping online is the future and want to do it as often as possible. However, regarding, Steam specifically, I feel that games are way too expensive there. When I’m buying a virtual product, without any physical support or worldwide distribution fees, I expect the games to be cheaper online that bought at the store. However, games on Steam are actually more expensive than bought at the store. What the fuck is up with that? The point of buying things online through a download service, at least for me, is to deal away with the publishers role in the purchase thus making the product cheaper, and ensuring all the money I spend goes directly to the people who developed the game. With Steam, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Recently, I though of using Steam to save some money buying TF2 and Portal, as I don’t want the Half Life games, and it turns out that TF2 is 30$, and Portal is 20$. The result is that I still haven’t bought either, and probably won’t be buying them at all.

    Thief 3 is 20$
    Bioshock is 54$ (almost as expensive as my SE)

  12. troy109 says:

    i only have heard of 2 real mafia on habbo, 1st: Cosa Nostra by italians and 2nd:Bratva by russians

  13. Serondal says:

    I’m kind of surprised I’m the first one to say this but. Who the F@#@#$ would buy 4,000 dollars worth of furniture in Habbo Hotle?!!?!?!??!?!?!?! COME ON! WTF ! You have any idea how mucH REAL furny you can buy for 4,000 euros? Why in the name of God would you spend that much money on a horrible chat room game?! I don’t understand, my mind is exploding! You could get a brand new computer and get the sims 2 and get all the virtual furniture you want and have it in blistering home simulation graphics! O.o For WAY less than 4 grand. That’s a good down payment on a REAL home too.