IBM, the most prolific earner of U.S. patents, received a patent last week on a new method of paying avatars for work in a virtual world. The method is designed to crack down on avatars who collect "virtual unit dollars" without doing their jobs.
According to the patent (8,128,487), avatars can get jobs drumming up interest in events like "a party of a virtual nightclub" or "a virtual fashion show."
[A]ttention and popularity has value because it can increase the visibility of a theme or branding of a particular region. Advertisers need viewers, and one way to increase viewers in a virtual environment is to attract a crowd.
The problem with putting avatars to work in a virtual world is that some of them are just seat fillers, collecting pay without doing anything.
[V]irtual environments pay participants or avatars within range of an event a flat fee regardless of any actions taken by the individual. . . .
This, of course, is unfair to the more diligent avatars.
[A]n avatar who is assisting others, chatting, and bringing new viewers to the region is compensated exactly the same as someone who places their avatar in a region and does nothing. . . . The value of an active participant who engages others in the community and takes part in the event is generally much greater than the value of an inactive camper, but such active participation is not recognized or rewarded.
Like a real-life manager who surveys cubicles to see who is typing and who is at the water cooler, IBM's patented system checks for "chat activity, keyboard activity, and mouse activity." This kind of activity, or its absence, helps determine how much the avatar should be paid.
Once the avatar has been paid, IBM's system can "convert units of the virtual universe money into units of actual currency" and deposit it in "a real-world bank account of the user."