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VentureBeat is quoting market research firm DFC Intelligence as predicting that video gaming will be a $70 billion industry by 2015. That includes console, portable, PC and online games.

Games have vast appeal. A Harvard economist, Lawrence Katz, even theorized this week that video games are so captivating they could have something to do with the continuing drop in crime rates in the U.S. He said the theory hasn’t been tested, but it has been shown that the rate of violent crime drops on weekends when a violent movie opens. So it would make sense that video games keep young men (the demographic most involved in violent crime) busy and off the streets. Story here: “Video Games May Reduce Crime Rate.”

Perhaps the violent gamers aren’t out on a street corner getting in arguments and shooting their friends to death, but the boom in games is resulting in the growth of a different kind of crime – theft of game credentials.

Why? Probably because “that’s where the money is” to use the famous but phony quote attributed to U.S. bank robber Willie Sutton. (Footnote 1.)

Our good friends at Symantec AV company just blogged about finding a server hosting the stolen credentials of 44 MILLION gaming accounts. AND, the information was continuously updated by the botnet of Trojanized machines that stole it. The operators of the botnet could easily turn the malicious fruits of their labor into cash by selling current logins on any of a number of Web sites setup for that trade, Symantec researcher Eoin Ward said. (Blog piece here: “44 Million Stolen Gaming Credentials Uncovered”)

Also, Enterprises based on converting gaming “value” to real money have become a significant industry in third-world countries with estimates as high as 400,000 people working for gold-farming businesses. (See the Sunbelt blog post: “Gaming Trojans: because that’s where the money is.”)

For a while there has been a tendency to ignore the Internet crime associated with games because, well, they’re just games. That is less and less true as time goes on. Symantec said that logins for World of Warcraft game characters with highly advanced capabilities could sell for up to $28,000.

Also, game characters with highly advanced capabilities can accumulate a lot more virtual goods – which can be sold as well.

There is a real loss when thieves steal the value that a gamer has built up over months or even years of playing. Also, like crime everywhere, the money made from victimizing gamers is available to launch other and more far-reaching criminal enterprises.

Tom Kelchner

(Footnote 1: In his second book, Sutton wrote: “I will now confess, by the fact that I never said it. The credit belongs to some enterprising reporter who apparently felt a need to fill out his copy.”)