by guest blogger Lauren Zachry

Have you ever “needed” to build a castle in Minecraft? Buy more vegetables for your garden in Farmville? Or level up faster in Candy Crush? You may have decided to use real dollars to buy virtual currency because you did not want to wait for your daily refill. Whether it is Linden Dollars, Facebook Credits, or coins in Farmville, you became a consumer of virtual currency.

Once you purchase a virtual item, is it really yours? What happens if the game you play goes under? With virtual games coming and going on a regular basis it is important to know what you risk with each purchase.

In most virtual worlds the game developers own everything purchased, even if real money was used:

• Many of the games only give you permission to use the virtual items. For example, when you check the box for  Zynga’s user agreement, you agreed that they own the farm, pet, or castle you purchased and that you are leasing it from them. This type of agreement is common and similar agreements are included in games such as World of Warcraft.

• Even if you “make” an item in a virtual world, such as building a business or house, the developers own the rights.

When buying virtual currencies, your options for recovery are limited. Some consumers have sued when virtual games shut down, but in general there is little that individual consumers can do to protect themselves. Sometimes companies decide to return the remaining virtual currency into real dollars, yen, or Euros when a game is cancelled, however it is not required. For example, Facebook converted Facebook Credits back into local currencies when it did away with the payment method.

Just as giving you your money back when a game is cancelled is not required, do not expect the company to give you back your money if you stop playing the game. You should think of each purchase as buying a piece of entertainment that you can never quite own and never quite give back. Every virtual purchase is a little like watching a movie or eating a piece of cake, you have the memory of the experience and nothing tangible remaining.

Have you used your mobile phone to purchase virtual credits? Please click here to share your story!