Monday, August 13, 2007

GoPets Avatar Bill of Rights

Via GamePolitics.com, an uplifting story of corporate responsibility to counteract yesterday's exploration of corporate neglect. Erik Bethke, CEO of a virtual pet MMO-environment called GoPets, has announced that their site wants the game community's help (academic and practitioner, as well as players, I would assume) in drafting an "Avatar Bill of Rights" that will allow players to retain IP rights and foster user-generated content...as well as create a much more level and democratic playing field wherever political, ethical and legal issues arise. Here's an excerpt of the announcement from Bethke's personal blog:
I am offering a bounty of $5,000 for help in creating a new EULA, TOS, Codes of Conduct, and Privacy Policies for GoPets.

I seeking everyone’s help in drafting a set of instruments (iconic, human bullet points, and legal code). Our mission is to continue to develop the virtual world of GoPets into a platform of living expression and friendship with global reach.

We have long recognized the importance private property in GoPets but so far we have not taken any formal steps to ensure property rights to our citizens and now believe that formal recognition and other tangible forms of human and property rights will accelerate our commercial goals.

The debate in our community of whether or not this or that clause of this or that EULA is of course fascinating to read in the blogs - but we are taking the stance that we will gladly charge ahead of what we are required by commercial law to perform - and instead we would like to reach as high as possible to achieve the natural rights as expressed in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We believe that by doing so that we will attract the trust of more customers to invest more of their time, creativity and money into developing the world of GoPets to greater enjoyment of all.

That sounds both cool and promising. I especially like the emphasis on the UN Declaration of Human Rights as a template. Here are some more details about contributing to the initiative:

- The $5K will be divided up fairly among contributors (fair will be determined by Bethke based on the nature of individual contributions).

- The final product will be placed in a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

- The final format of the "GoPets Declaration of Rights and Obligations of Citizens" should be similar to that of the Creative Commons: icons, human readable bullet points and finally legal code.

- Deadline for final document will be November 1st, 2007 (to coincide with a new addition to the site).

You should also check out Bethke's more recent posting about his research into case law and the shareholder imperative - fascinating stuff, that makes me wonder about the possibility of creating a MMOG where players become shareholders (through game purchase, subscription, or other membership fee), in a players' cooperative of sorts (kind of like Mountain Equipment Co-Op).

I'd heard of GoPets before, but hadn't yet taken an opportunity to visit it or find out much about it until now. After so many months in Neopets, I think I was kind of avoiding the virtual pet scene. The site, though, is pretty interesting and seems unusually community responsive. It currently claims 400,000 subscribed members, and is available in BETA in North America, parts of Asia and Europe. It's also quite focused on media convergence and integration. Not only does it have upcoming companion game on the Nintendo DS coming out this year, but the "game" itself integrates onto your desktop. Here's the description from the site:
Each GoPet is a unique 3D companion that makes its home on its owner’s desktop. GoPets are not restricted to a single computer, however -- when they feel like wandering, they leave home and visit the desktops of other GoPets users. In their travels, GoPets visit their owners’ friends and families, as well as introducing their owners to other GoPets members who share similar interests. These traveling GoPets are messengers and ambassadors – they form the dynamic network of connections that comprises the GoPets social network.

Hmmm...strange isn't it? Sort of like Facebook meets Nintendogs. The game operates on a virtual/real world currency hybrid -- for example, players are awarded the mid-range currency type (pink shells) for contributing UGC to the site, but have to purchase high-range currency (gold shells) with real money (and, of course, "The coolest items can only be purchased using Gold Shells."). Also, despite the centrality of cutesy virtual pets, the site restricts children under 13 years (citing COPPA compliance). You can check out the site for yourselves by trying the free demo. If you do, let me know what you think.

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