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Is Second Life game legal in Korea?

Apr 12,2007
A sexy avatar plops herself down at a slot machine in a Second Life casino. Online gambling is banned in Korea.
Koreans will soon be able to get a second life of their own when the massively popular Second Life virtual world simulation begins a Korean-language service later this year.
But some in the local game industry say that Korea has to get its Internet and gaming regulations in order before the arrival of Second Life.
For example, online gambling, which is banned in Korea, is a big thing in Second Life, where players bet in virtual casinos using virtual money but earning real payouts. It is illegal here to make money through games, which is the essence of Second Life’s appeal for many players.
Second Life is a virtual environment developed by Linden Lab, a U.S.-based firm. In this three-dimensional space, players can create virtual characters, or avatars, and buy land to build cities and design products. The site turns over more than a million dollars a day in transactions as players sell things to each other.
The game does not have a storyline or a single purpose, but as in the real world, players can trade items, begin businesses, buy land and hold events. The game was launched a few years ago, but its community ― more than 5.5 million “residents” ― has only begun to flourish in the past two years, attracting players from around the world.
Koreans can play Second Life now, but only in English. Sometime in the next couple of months, however, Second Life will launch software that can change the configurations to other languages, such as Korean. When the interface is available, industry specialists foresee an increase in Korean players.
The hottest issues may be the trading of cyber money and gambling, which is banned here. Linden dollars, the virtual currency used in Second Life, can be bought with regular U.S. dollars ― as in other games ― but the cyber money can also be converted back into real U.S. dollars. Many players in Second Life have started cyber businesses and begun creating offline revenue. Players also trade cyber products offline through game-item escrow Web sites.
In Korea, however, making money for commercial purposes through games is illegal. Revised laws that go into effect on April 20 have stronger restrictions on offline trade of cyber items.
“Individual players can sell unwanted items offline, since that can be seen as a part of game-playing, but if they start making money for money’s sake, it becomes illegal,” said Kim Gyu-yeong, an official at the Culture Ministry.
Korean companies are already planning to set up their own cyber shops in Second Life, according to Kim Yul, head of Linden Lab’s newly-established Korean office. For instance, one firm has bought an island and is building a cyber Gyeongbok Palace. Many Koreans have already opened shops and started commercial activity within the game as well.

By Wohn Dong-hee Staff Writer [wohn@joongang.co.kr]



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