At first glance, Reuters' decision to set up a virtual bureau in Second Life looks like a publicity stunt designed to demonstrate how clever it is in catering for the growth of online gaming.
But these games, now known by the snappy acronym MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role-playing games), are becoming so lucrative for gamers that government officials in the real world are looking to get a slice of the revenue. In short, this can be a money-making business, and gamers could benefit from up-to-the minute information.
On the opening page of Reuters' Second Life News Service today, Adam Reuters – the virtual journalist responsible for the new service – reports that Second Life users spend up to $500,000 (about £268,000) each day, and the US JEC (Joint Economic Committee) wants a cut.
Apparently, those that cash in on virtual real-estate by converting their assets into currencies used in the real world are already required to inform the Inland Revenue of their cash windfalls, but how well those transactions are monitored at the moment is up for debate. And no system has been set up to monitor the cash that's exchanged within the game itself.
The JEC admits that the law has fallen behind when tracking these deals and, in effect, the US economy is losing out. With vast sums of money changing hands in MMORPGs for various virtual goods, government beancounters are keen to close this little loophole. The possibility that online gaming fans should expect a knock on the door from a virtual taxman should not be discounted!