An online computer game is blurring the already blurry line between virtual economies and actual economies in video games.
"Entropia Universe" is a world that exists entirely online and is populated with more than 400,000 registered users, all who trade real-world cash for the in-game currency, "Project Entropia Dollars" -- PEDs -- to finance their various activities.
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Now, the makers of "Entropia Universe" -- MindArk -- are allowing players to reverse the process. With the use of a real-world ATM card provided by the company, the game's inhabitants can now take money out of their "virtual" accounts in the real world.
At a fixed exchange rate of 10 PEDs = $1, a player with 5,000 PEDs can now walk up to any Versatel ATM in the world and take out $500. That's not bad considering it's a video game.
Have Fun, Make Money
"Entropia Universe" whisks players away to the futuristic sci-fi planet of Calypso, an untamed world inhabited by wild beasts and covered in unexplored landscapes.
The game's software is free to download, and players who don't wish to get involved in the economy can stroll around, take in the scenery, or head into the wilderness to hunt, mine or participate in any number of in-game activities to improve their skills.
It's the game's economy, however, that distinguishes it from other, similar games. It's an element that even MindArk's CEO admits is hard to avoid.
"If you just want to have fun and want simply to hunt, you still earn skills and those skills are very valuable to other players," said Jan Welter Timkrans. "You can sell them for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
"Even if you go into the game and want just to have fun, you could still end up making money."
Welter Timkrans says MindArk has always seen "Entropia's" destiny as becoming more than just a computer game.
He says the game has already evolved to the point that some players make a career out of creating, buying, and selling goods, services and property on Calypso.
"We already have hundreds if not thousands of players who work in 'Entropia Universe,'" he said. "We have expert tailors and miners, guys that invest in land -- they all make a living doing this."
Big Bucks for Virtual Property
"Entropia" made headlines in December 2004 when a 22-year-old Australian player bought an island in the game for $26,500. At the time, the sale set a world record for the largest virtual dollar amount spent, certified by the Guinness Book of Records.
Less than a year later, in October 2005, Jon "NEVERDIE" Jacobs snatched the record for himself with the purchase of an Asteroid Space Resort for $100,000.
Welter Timkrans says that large amounts of money are changing hands constantly in "Entropia Universe" and that the sales of virtual pieces of land make up a significant amount of that.
"The funny thing was that on Friday [April 28, 2006], we just had three small land areas for sale that were significantly smaller than the island," he said. "They went for $21,000, $20,000, $13,000 each."
All together, MindArk says the "Entropia Universe" turnover was an estimated $165 million, which is greater than the gross domestic product of some small countries.
A World With No Work
With online games like "World of Warcraft" -- which has 6 million participants worldwide -- it makes some wonder whether one day a job in the virtual world may be more lucrative -- and more fun -- than a job in the real world.
It only confirms, though, what Welter Timkrans says MindArk has always known.
"Since the beginning we knew that economically, we'd eventually have to work in the same way a bank does," said Welter Timkrans about the company's evolution. "People put in their money, and the bank itself invests the money back into the real-world economy."
He says that as technology continues to make our lives easier and as there is less need for us to be part of the manual labor force, entertainment and the ability to work from any location will be an increasingly important part of our lives.