Players of massively multiplayer online role-playing games spend at lot of time creating their characters. With monthly subscriptions to games like World of Warcraft (paid) and Guild Wars (free) bringing an unending flow of new adventures, players spend hundreds of hours completing quests, accumulating experience, and acquiring gold and items.
As a result, a strong emotional bond between MMORPG players and their characters often forms. So it was unsurprising, then, that more than a little distress was caused by a warning this week from Microsoft that criminal elements are hacking into MMORPGs, stealing MMORPG account information, and selling it on the black market--effectively kidnapping and killing characters.
"Those of you who are working on massively multiplayer online games, organized crime is already looking at you," Microsoft security development engineer Dave Weinstein told developers at the Microsoft Gamefest yesterday, according to Reuters. "For a lot of the customers out there, there is more store value on their MMOG characters than there is on the credit card with which they pay for the account."
In his session, which was appropriately titled "Games as Malware: Why Security Is Your Problem Too," Weinstein outlined a modus operandi all too familiar to MMOG publishers, developers, and some unfortunate players. Taking advantage of chinks in a game's security software, criminals acquire account information and then illegally access accounts. Then, either the account information is sold on the black market or, more commonly, coveted in-game items and currency are stolen and turned into actual cash via online auction sites.
Though most in the audience were aware of such problems, Weinstein underscored the fact that real-world authorities are often unresponsive to in-game theft. "The police are really good at understanding 'Someone stole my credit card and ran up a lot of money,'" he said. "It's a lot harder to get them to buy into, 'Someone stole my magic sword.'"