Public Choice

, Volume 164, Issue 3–4, pp 401–421 | Cite as

Virtual world order: the economics and organizations of virtual pirates

  • Carl David Mildenberger


This paper investigates how order may emerge in anarchy using a novel empirical approach. It analyzes the predatory and productive interactions of 400,000 users of a virtual world. Virtual worlds are computer-created environments that visually mimic physical spaces, where people interact with each other and with virtual objects in manifold ways. Notably, the paper examines the behavior of users acting as virtual pirates. The paper finds that even in a largely anonymous and anarchic virtual world private rules of order mitigate the most destructive forms of conflict. This is true even though the virtual pirates are found to be conflict-loving rather than conflict-averse. Although the costs of conflict are dramatically reduced in virtual worlds, private rules that limit violence spontaneously emerge. An important part of the paper’s contribution is methodological. The analysis of the problem of order in anarchy serves to exemplify the power and usefulness of the new approach.


Anarchy Piracy Virtual worlds Conflict-aversion Private rules Ordered anarchy 

JEL Classification

P16 P48 D74 C90 Z13 



I would like to thank Doug Allen, Simon Lapointe, Chris Mantzavinos, Antoine Pietri, Ian Smith, Leonard Randall, David Skarbek, and Petros Sekeris for many helpful comments on earlier versions. Special thanks go to three anonymous reviewers who substantially improved the quality of this paper by their intelligent and insightful comments and suggestions. Without the support of CCP Games’ chief economist Eyjólfur Guðmundsson writing this paper would have been impossible.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of St AndrewsSt AndrewsUK

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