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MindArk | Official Site
MMORPG | Genre:Sci-Fi | Status:Final  (rel 01/30/03)  | Pub:MindArk
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Entropia Universe – CES 2008

Last Week while attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, staff writer Carolyn Koh had the opportunity to sit down with David Simmonds and John K. Bates of Mindark to discuss what's new with Entropia Universe.

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How many of our readers are familiar with Entropia Universe?  This is an MMOG that had hovered on the edge of my consciousness for a while.  When asked by their PR people to make an appointment, I had to do a bit of research.  Then it all came back.  It was formerly known as Project Entropia.  A virtual Sci-Fi world, with a micropayment economic model and in-game currency exchange to US dollars pegged at 10 PEDs (Project Entropia Dollars) to 1 US dollar.

In the Entropia Universe, players are colonists trying to tame the planet Calypso.  The wilderness is filled with dangerous creatures and is rich in ore and minerals.  There are also two space stations and the Neverdie Asteroid that orbit the planet.  The game is free to download and play, but paying for items such as better tools, weaponry and clothing can be a quick boost to faster means of earning PEDs.  Non-paying players can gather fruit and dung, and collect sweat from certain animals to sell for PEDs, or “hire out” to other players by doing jobs such as selling for them. 

Because of the difficulties involved, it is a point of pride for some players to never have paid any money into the game and still made it.  There are also those that have made a modest investment, and then turned a tidy profit; like the high school senior who managed to send his older siblings to college on his earnings in the Universe.

This is the game world which set records for greatest amount of money paid for virtual items - $26,500 in 2004 for a virtual island, $100,000 in 2005 for an Asteroid, and then in 2006, Jon "Neverdie" Jacobs who purchased the Asteroid bought a “Unique Green Atrox Queen Egg," the final prize in a multi-part story quest.  “It still hasn’t hatched yet,” David Simmonds, Business Development Director of Mindark told me. 

We talked about the recent auction of five banking licenses, two of which were actually purchased by real world banks.  As John K. Bates, the US representative of MindArk explained, MindArk would provide secure systems to enable them to lend money and collect interest.  These loans, just like real life loans, are secured by property.  So borrowers cannot just walk away with the real life money or their in-game property could be foreclosed on, just like property can be seized in real life.

As we spoke about real life businesses entering the virtual space, a gentleman sitting nearby said “Hello” and told me that he was a representative of a “maverick” architectural firm planning on entering Entropia Universe to sell their design services and buildings.  He chuckled like he was already on his way to the bank with sacks of cash but wouldn’t say.

MindArk boasts that Entropia Universe is a safe and secure virtual world utilizing a real cash economy.  “We operate like a government,” David said, “We control some things and regulate some things.”  Players cannot create a monopoly or corner the mineral market.  Much like a Federal Banking Agency increasing or lowering the prime rate to boost or slow down economic growth, resources can be hoarded but they will never run out.  “There is no pornography or gambling in our Universe,” he continued.  They have no intention of allowing the seedier aspects of real life to enter their universe.

MindArk was at CES to show off what’s to come.  In late 2008, space opens up.  In July 2007, they signed an agreement with Crytek to build a new platform using their game engine CryENGINE2.  This is the same engine used for the game Crysis.  With that engine comes more realistic avatars and more avatar customization options.  The “make-up” system was demo’ed, showing colors that could be applied to your avatar in free-form design, making it look like a tattoo, camouflage paint or just some cool body art.  At the same time, they have signed on a Chinese company to create a new planet – or perhaps planets – for the Entropia Universe and are in the process of inking agreements with a few other companies for them to do the same. 

What this means is that space is opening up.  There will be more space travel as players learn to build ships suitable for interplanetary travel.  Each planet however will have their own economy, and players may find that the dung gathered on one planet may not be used as fertilizer on another, or they may be prohibited from bringing foodstuff or organic matter from one planet to another for fear of contamination.  “You can’t take your shit with you,” quipped our friendly architect, still listening in.  “It’s very exciting.  Think about the different types of architecture, creatures, even avatars different companies will create.” 

Still in the same universe and utilizing the same engine, players will be able to eventually participate in interplanetary trade.  Which leads us up to the next exciting announcement form MindArk – Space Pirates!  Where there is travel, especially long distance travel, there’s the possibility – or in this case – the surety that travel is dangerous as there are outlaws waiting to prey on the weak and unsuspecting.  When space opens up, players will find the frontier a dangerous space – not to mention the unexplored regions of space.  In a planned series of events spearheaded by Jon “Neverdie” Jacobs, players will be upgrading their current ships.  Perhaps adding armor and weapons for defense as well as offense.  David let slip some ideas but not the details.  Asteroid Neverdie may come under attack and players may be asked to assist in its defense.  There will be prizes to be won and awarded.  Indeed, players could even capture pirate vessels.

With the development of interplanetary travel and trade, MindArk expects different roles that players will take.  Armed shuttle service.  Provision of guards.  Perhaps regular shipping and trade lanes will be established which are safer, mainly due to the number of ships traveling the route.  They expect there will be players who will rally together to safeguard the lanes, But this isn’t something they expect to happen overnight, but overtime. 

I asked how new planet economies might be protected from powerful player unions that may wish to exploit that planet’s resources, and received hints and possibilities.  New planets that open up may not have an operating space port immediately, it takes time for space to be explored, trade routes take time to establish, and I was reminded that you may find you “can’t take your shit with you” and that your super weapon that punches through the thickest hide-bound beast on Calypso may do nothing against say… an acid elemental type creature.

Project Entropia has stabilized and grown into Entropia Universe.  Space is opening up soon.  The community is stable and passionate – indeed, John and David were proud to inform me that the many booth attendants were actually players giving up their time and money to be there to promote the Entropia Universe.  Working a show floor is not an easy task.  I was impressed by the turnout.  Perhaps this is the time to give this game a second look.

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