Ownership in the virtual world and the implications for long-term user innovation success

Michael Zhou, Mark A. A. M. Leenders, Ling Mei Cong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


Virtual worlds have become an arena for user-generated innovation enabling a new wave of entrepreneurs to extract real world value from virtual property. Interestingly, virtual world property and revenue generation are understudied and the concept of ownership in the metaverse is distinct and more complex than in the real world. In this article, virtual user innovation and ownership are conceptualized in two layers: (1) the content, and (2) the virtual platform. In-depth case studies of virtual user innovators are used to understand the role of ownership ambiguity in relation to success in a virtual environment. The data consists of transcripts from courts (1279 pages), blogs, interviews and expert commentary regarding six virtual user innovators. The findings reveal that the separation of content and platform ownership and their inherent interdependencies are a source of ownership tensions posing significant challenges to entrepreneurs. Moreover, the virtual world business model favors the platform's ownership rights while undermining other kinds of competing ownership interests. The current structures around ownership rights and control seem detrimental for successful business creation, profitable technology development and long-term user innovation success. The implications for theory and the practical implications for virtual entrepreneurs are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-65
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Ownership
  • Platform
  • Second life
  • User innovation
  • Virtual world


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