A 17-year-old Dutch teenager was arrested by very real police for allegedly stealing over $5800 worth of virtual furniture to trick out his pad in online world Habbo Hotel. Five other teenagers were questioned in connection with the virtual crime spree, according to the BBC.
Habbo, which attracts more than 6 million users in over 30 countries each month, is comparable to Second Life in that people use the service to create a virtual likeness to inhabit an online world. A lot of real money changes hands in Habbo in order to purchase virtual goods used by people to personalize their online experience. That real money was involved is what got the police interested in the theft.
“It is a theft because the furniture is paid for with real money. But the only way to be a thief in Habbo is to get people’s usernames and passwords and then log in and take the furniture,” said a Habbo spokesperson.
It might be easy to draw a comparison to another type of oft-discussed virtual theft: downloading of copyright songs and movies. But there are some clear differences. First, unlike piracy, where the original is left intact and it is really a copy being stolen, the people who paid for the virtual goods in this case were left without any pixels. And second, the virtual thieves’ methods were a bit more nefarious — they lured Habbo Hotel users into giving up their passwords by creating fake Habbo sites.
According to the BBC, virtual theft is a growing problem. “In 2005 a Chinese gamer was stabbed to death in a row over a sword in a game,” writes the paper. “Shanghai gamer Qiu Chengwei killed player Zhu Caoyuan when he discovered he had sold a ‘dragon sabre’ he had been loaned.” In August, Business Week ran an article discussing whether virtual currency exchanges that trade in real money, like the one operated in Second Life, required real world regulation following the theft of the equivalent of $10,000 from the Linden Dollar Exchange.