Saturday, March 19, 2005

World of Contracts

Some weeks ago, a friend suggested I try the online game, World of Warcraft. I never played a game that required monthly fees before so he said I could just play on his account when he’s not using it. After I got into it, he said that when he hit the maximum level, he’d stop and sell me the game for about $50 (the price of the software).

This was not a problem for the majority of our arrangement. My friend took evening classes and played to the wee hours of the morning; I would play in the afternoons and while he was at class. He got it weekends (when I work).

Last week my friend decided his schedule was too screwed up and reset it, staying up for 31 hours straight. Instead of waking up at four or five (and go to class soon after), he was waking up at 11 or noon, about the time I do. Our schedules now severely overlapped.

I didn’t think much of it because he was only a couple of levels away from the max (level 60). I was even thinking about paying more than the fifty bucks for the game as he suggested he could sell the account on ebay for $100.

Everything changed a few days ago. In the kindest way possible, he said he was tired of sharing the account and because he’s starting a new character, he won’t be getting tired of the game anytime soon (Blizzard’s will also be offering hero classes to advanced levels soon).

So I now have to buy the game, set up an account and—worst of all—create a new character from the ground up (I was at level 36…the timer told me I’ve spent more than a total of nine straight days getting there.)

Reliable contracts are a key component of a functioning society, but how broadly should we define contract? Does it have to be written? If not, how formal does the verbal promise need to be? Could implied contracts count? On one hand, making it too casual obviously opens the door to abuse. On the other hand, de-formalizing contracts could help us get rid of those pesky lawyers.

So question becomes this: what—if anything—does my friend owe me for breaking contract?

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