One of the topics of a panel discussion as well as keynote and lecture at the 2008 ION Game Conference was that of the blurring of lines between Virtual Worlds, Online Spaces and traditional MMOGs; how they were integrated and how to integrate them. John Bates of MindArk who develops and publishes Entropia Universe brought up the topic in our interview.
“Entropia is not about quests and missions,” he said, “but an ongoing storyline and events that take place during this storyline.”
Entropia has a single world and it’s not just a virtual world, but also an exploring, tradeskill and adventure game as well. Parts of it are akin to Second Life, but players can also explore and adventure in this world, then come back to the cities and enjoy the social aspect of the game. Like Second Life, Entropia has a monetary system which has its in-game currency pegged at 10 PEDs (Project Entropia Dollars) to 1 US dollar.
“Entropia may be the bellwether of where things are going,” said John, “We have both the adventure gaming aspect as well as the virtual world aspect in our game. If you’d rather be off hunting creatures, you can do so.”
John believes that gamers do enjoy the social aspect of gaming, citing the example of the number of Halo3 players that “crashed” Xbox Live in their enthusiasm.
“We don’t just provide a space for you to go do your own thing, we have content updates every six to eight weeks.”
Buzz Erik Lightyear was present as a volunteer with Entropia’s ambassador program – a program which players can apply and be accepted to. A pool of players that MindArk draws from to help man their booths at shows and act as “Ambassadors” to meet and greet the public.
I spoke at length with Erik who has been playing the game since beta and has stayed with the game since its Project Entropia days to the current Entropia Universe. I asked him why he enjoyed a game such as Entropia. “What’s the hook?” I asked, “What made you first play the game and what made you stick with it for five years? Why are you still playing it?”
“I’m playing a game,” was his answer, “that actually gives me something back for playing it. I’m not paying to play. I’m profiting from playing.”
Entropia Universe is free to download, and free to play. It has a Sci-fi setting which first attracted Erik and he played it like he played EverQuest, World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy. He explored the world. He killed creatures and gathered raw ingredients to sell. Then he tried crafting and was hooked when he received his first “Hall of Fame” for the creation of a high value object which are broadcast globally and received congratulations from friends as well as strangers.
“You also get these fireworks over your head, so even if players filter out the Hall of Fame globals, they still see the fireworks and will congratulate you.”
Most players of the game are hunters, and Erik soon discovered that players were willing to pay him for better equipment. The more he crafted, the better his skills, and more blue prints opened up to him to create even better equipment.
“I put some money into the game at first, for better weapons and equipment. I harvested my own raw materials, but eventually, I specialized. I’m a dedicated craftsman now and I buy the raw materials in the auction house or from hunters that regularly supply them to me.”
Sound a little too good to be true? Entropia does have money sinks. There are auction house fees, shops have monthly maintenance fees and armor and equipment decays. Money does not make money. It takes a business savvy player to quickly figure out the most profitable items in terms of time, effort and demand. One can however, sink in a lot of real life cash into the game to make a lot of cash in return. A player relying to newbie armor and weaponry to bootstrap themselves may take a bit longer to establish a viable return the monetary sense than a player putting down more real cash. For example, you can’t kill a dinosaur with a pop gun, and as in any other game, the tougher the critter, the more valuable it’s hide.
“What about the barrier to entry?” Entropia is five years old and I believed that the barrier would be high for new craftsman to break into the market. Erik did not think so.
“Sure, there is competition, but most players are hunters. There’s always a demand for low level armor that the more skilled craftsmen will not make anymore as the profit margins are low. But for the new craftsmen, it’s a perfect niche for them to fill until their skills ramp up.”
“Is playing Entropia your job?” I wanted to know. “Do you do this full time?”
“It’s a game,” said Erik. “I’m having fun with it. I can walk away from it, explore new areas when they are patched in, enjoy doing things or just hanging out with friends. Shops and the auction run 24 hours and I don’t have to attend them. All transactions are secure and automatic.”
I probed a little further, “Does it pay your rent?”
“Well,” Erik volunteered. “I drew about $10,000 last year.”
Substantial chunk of change for a part-time job that you are having fun with, I’d say. Erik obviously loves the game. “At the end of the day,” he said, “What do you have from playing a game for years? In playing Entropia, I have money.”
Entropia Universe is growing. New planets will soon be launched and a publicity blitz planned once the CryEngine2 platform is ready to be rolled out and new planets announced.
“Now is the time to come in and look around,” said John Bates. “It doesn’t cost you a thing to try it out. You may like it, and you may become an online entrepreneur, earning money for having fun.”