According to New Scientist, eBay has banned auctions of some “virtual booty”:
Auctions of virtual gold, armour and other digital booty amassed in online computer games like World of Warcraft have been banned by Ebay. The internet auction house, based in California, US, announced on Tuesday that it had decided to prohibit the sale of virtual riches, weapons and other items, due to “legal complexities” regarding ownership.
Yes, it seems that people can take in real money by selling virtual game stuff. And it seems that eBay's lawyers have decided that the legal (I presume under trademark/copyright law) status of these items or transactions is something they don't want to get in the middle of.
What's also interesting is that they've limited the restriction to game goods, and that the Second Life virtual world isn't affected by their decision:
Ebay will, however, continue to allow auctions of items amassed in virtual worlds such as Second Life. In this world players can build items and buy and sell virtual property and land, but there are no conventional game objectives. “Right now, Second Life is not considered a game so we are not applying the restriction to it,” Durzy explains.
I suppose that, in a way, selling these things isn't really different to selling, say, new plug-in “levels” for older-style video games — a software module that adds a new place to shoot demons and rack up points in Doom, maybe. It's the scale of it that makes my head throb, understanding what people are willing to pay for the ability to advance their status in an online game. That understanding leads to the realization that to some it's more than a role-playing game, and is approaching real roles in what is, to them, a significant part of their lives.
We don't, in general, think it odd that someone would spend a significant amount of money and effort to become known as the best golfer, or the best yacht racer. Should we think any differently about an aspiration to be the best World of Warcraft player? I'm not sure.