Continuing my wanderings through the great halls of Gen Con, I found my way to the Entropia Universe booth. Here’s an MMO that takes a rather unique stance on a subject that most multiplayer games frown upon: farming virtual stuff for real money. In fact, Entropia Universe embraces this “pay for playing” mechanic enough that players can (theoretically, at least) never spend a single real-world cent to while away countless hours in the game world, and they may even come out ahead in real-world dollars. I have to admit, it sounds intriguing.
So how do they do it? First, there’s no fee at all for playing. Players can download the client and jump right in, joining forces with others to colonize the fictional frontier planet. Second, the idea of “free” is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, players don’t absolutely have to spend real-world money (which is converted to in-game currency at a 1 to 10 exchange), but if they want the coolest toys, they’ll most likely want to make some sort of investment. Now, that investment can be real-world cash, or lots and lots of game time. Entropia Universe is a game about farming stuff—either hunting the local fauna for valuable prizes, mining for minerals, or just running odd jobs for other players for a bit of in-game cash.
Part of what seems intriguing about Entropia Universe is the thought of these economies springing up in game. I saw instances where players would team up to gather resources—PC miners would hire PC bodyguards to fend off the local wildlife while they gathered valuable goodies from the ground. One of the guys at the demo decided he wanted to be in in-game barber, so he kitted himself out with the virtual tools necessary to coif his customers. After a while, he became bored with this, and he sold his barber’s tools for a tidy little real-world sum.
Entropia Universe has an active in-game clearing house, where players can sell their virtual goods for virtual or real-world cash. There is also a very active auction/market in place, where players can expect to get much better deals for all their labors. In addition, should players finally wish to leave the game, they can actually sell off their personal character skill increases (something called “chipping out”, I believe). I don’t really understand all the particulars needed to maintain liquid real-world assets or all the legal hoops that need to be jumped in order to carry these transactions out, but Entropia Universe has been going for a little while now and there seems to be a fairly solid player base, and subsequently an interesting study on economics.
As for the game itself, it looked and played much like a run-of-the-mill MMO. There was talk that the game would soon be receiving a face lift and adopting the Crysis II engine, so players will have a bit more to ogle as they go about their virtual-world jobs.
Honestly, this all smacks of a bit too much work for my play time, but I know there are folks out there that are thrilled to enter these virtual economies and set themselves up as merchant princes, mercenary hunters, or daring prospectors. And you really can’t beat the price.
Check out www.entropiauniverse.com for more details.