Government should regulate online games....
Ever since broadband internet access became commonplace, the popularity of local online gaming has grown by leaps and bounds. Only a few short years ago, internet/gaming cafés offered mostly single player titles, as well as multiplayer games playable over a local area network (LAN), such as StarCraft, WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos, Command & Conquer: Generals, and the ubiquitous Counter-Strike.
Nowadays, while most of these games still have a following, a lot of players have simply grown tired of playing with or against AI allies and opponents, or even with or against human opponents on a local network. They want to play with or against players from literally all over the place, not only with people located in a single establishment. That's precisely what massively multiplayer games are all about, and the proliferation of high speed internet access has made it all possible.
In the Philippines, the rapid proliferation of online games is nothing short of phenomenal, with an estimated 6.3 million online gamers by 2008.
Leading the charge are popular MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing game) such as Ragnarok, RAN Online, Tantra Online, Fly for Fun, Grenado Espada and Perfect World, among others, as well as casual online games aimed at less hardcore players such as O2 Jam, BattlePosition and Pangya.
Unfortunately, the growth of local online gaming hasn't been smooth sailing all the way. While the demand may be high, especially among the middle and upper class segments, some online games have been hounded with technical issues, inadequate hardware and bandwidth, poor customer service, and worse, allegations of unfair commercial practices.
Of course, that leads us to the question: in case of issues or problems with online games, which local government agency has jurisdiction?
Strangely enough, the answer isn't as straightforward as we may want it to be.
To cite an example, I've recently sent a letter-complaint to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) regarding what to my mind constitutes unfair trade practices by IP e-Games in its MMORPG RAN Online. I got a reply from their legal department informing me that it is the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) which has jurisdiction over my particular complaint. When I forwarded my letter to the NTC, they informed me that it is the DTI which has jurisdiction.
The NTC also recommended that I coordinate with the Cybercrime Division of Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police (PNP-CIDG). The email NTC sent to me listed the PNP-CIDG's website as http://www.cidg.pnp.gov.ph/. Curiously, when I tried to load that website, I got redirected to the website of Enchanted Kingdom instead. Enchanted Kingdom is an amusement park located in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
The question on my mind is: Why is the URL of the PNP-CIDG pointing towards the website of an amusement park? Is it deliberate? Or is the PNP-CIDG itself a victim of online vandalism? Your guess is as good as mine.
To further muddle the issue of jurisdiction, other agencies which may have jurisdiction include the Commission on Information and Communication Technology (CICT), or perhaps even the National Computer Center (NCC).
So, which agency really does have jurisdiction in cases of possible consumer rights violations involving MMORPGs? It seems that at this point in time, a definitive answer may not yet exist. Online gaming is a relatively new business, and as such, government agencies may have to play catch-up before it can exercise any regulation over them. Existing laws and regulations simply may or may not address the issue of online games, and local authorities may or may not understand the business models of this type of enterprise, but one thing is sure: Government will sooner or later have to step in to curb any possible abuses made by proprietors of online games.
Not a few online games have already closed shop. The once popular Rush on Seven Episodes (R.O.S.E. Online) has shut down its operations last July 31 after three years of operation. The local server of Gunbound has shut down and is currently in the process of migrating its local users over to the Gunbound International Server (GIS). There are allegations of online fraud, particularly the illegal sale and/or theft of characters and/or virtual items. There are numerous complaints of poor service from otherwise popular games such as Tantra Online, and RAN Online. Taking into consideration the huge investments in time and money by players in building up their characters in these games, what protection is afforded them? How are their rights as consumers watched over?
This are questions which need to be addressed sooner or later, with more and more online games just over the horizon.
Suffice it to say, I'm sure we haven't heard the last of this issue.
That being said, I'll post the text of my letter-complaint in a succeeding entry. Stay tuned.