A hacker in Devonshire, England pled guilty to stealing an alleged $12 million in online poker chips from Zygna’s Texas Hold ‘Em on Facebook, and he faces possible jail time.
In in Exeter Crown Court, presided over Judge Philip Wassal, 29-year-old Ashley Mitchell admitted hacking into the online account of the social gaming giant. He stole 400 billion virtual poker chips, which the company values at $12 million. The hacker turned to the black market to fence the virtual cash, netting $85,870 (£53,000) before his arrest. He would’ve made $298,117 (£184,000) if he had a chance to sell all of his chips at the prices he was setting.
While prosecutor Gareth Evans admitted that Zynga had not been deprived of any real goods by the theft, the theft was similar to a real life one in that both an online maker of virtual currency and a national mint can both “print” new money if old money is lost, stolen, or loses value – shedding an interesting light on how currencies actually work in the real world.
Evans also said that it was difficult to place a hard value on what Mitchell stole but countered that had Zynga sold the chips the value would’ve come to $12 million.
“The court effectively found that, even though virtual currency isn’t real and is infinite in supply, it still can deserve legal protection in the same way as real world currency,” Jas Purewal, author of Gamer/Law told Develop Online, noting that he believes that the explosion in online gaming and the sales of goods within gaming is leading to case precedents regarding digital currencies.
Hacker Mitchell appears to have significantly shortchanged himself if Zynga valued the stolen currency at $12 million but he only netted $85,870 and had $298,117 in unrealized sales. Why do you suppose the discrepancy was so great? And how might the U.K. legal precedent help future prosecution of social gaming hackers?