We have not heard very much from Entropia Universe in the past year and the reason is that there wasn't that much to talk about besides the work on the new game engine.
"We've been quiet because we've been hard at work," said David Simmonds, Business Development Director of MindArk. "We rolled out the CryEngine2 in August of 2009 and have been getting all systems up to date."
CryEngine2 is the same game engine used for Crysis and development for Entropia Universe was announced in 2008 and sneak peeks shown of its capabilities. To jog our readers' memories, Entropia Universe is 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. It made headlines by setting records for the most amount of real dollars paid for virtual property. $26,500 in 2004 for a virtual island, $100,000 in 2005 for an Asteroid, with a new record made at the end of 2009 for $330,000 paid for the sale of a space-station, the Crystal Palace.
"It's a testament to how far we have come as a form of entertainment," said John Bates, the US representative for MindArk of games and in particular, MMOs. In 2005, the majority of comments from gamers in reaction to the $100,000 sale were "Crazy!" these days, even the mainstream comments were more of the "I wish it were me" variety. Money making opportunities are available in Entropia Universe just as it is in other virtual games with currency exchange values of in game dollars, such as Second Life. It is a business, according to players I have interviewed, and just like a business, you can make money from it or lose money from it. The successful ones work hard at it and reap the rewards of their hard work. David Storey was the player who paid $26,500 in 2004 for Treasure Island and reports show he recouped his investment in 12 months. Erik Novak, aka Buzz "Erik" Lightyear who won the auction for the Crystal Palace Space Station is known as one of the top crafters in Entropia and his new property contains:
How long it will take him to recoup his investment is anyone's guess, but like professional gamers on the competition circuit, it is true work, not something that will simply generate revenue just by sitting there. Erik is now a landlord, an event organizer, a big game hunt park manager of four differently themed hunting parks and when space flight returns, a space station manager.
Even though MindArk has been concentrating on CryEngine2, Entropia Universe has been far from idle. With partners doing different things in the Universe, the first two planets are to be released within the next two to three months and more to come in mid-year and in the fourth quarter. These are the partnerships come to fruition, the ventures made with various companies.
Later adopters of MMOs often feel disenfranchised or unable to get into the mainstream of things because earlier adopters have progressed to the top end and in crafting or hunting, dominate the market. Not so in Entropia.
"We have many areas and many environments in Entropia," said David, "and new environments are opening up all the time, so at any point in the development time stream, there are new areas that players can specialize in."
"The newbie can still be uber," John chimed in, "Our focus is diversity. Diversity of opportunities and experiences."
These experiences range from Mafia to Stone Age planets and anything else you can imagine. Some experiences are imminent and others are being worked on. Other things they are working on include communication and creating a link between mobile phones and Entropia.
The diversity does make it confusing for newcomers to the game and so a new quest system has also been implemented to get start new players off. A tutorial so to speak, and similar to many other game tutorials, familiarize players with the Entropia Universe with FedEx and Hunt quests.
An event system is also imminent, which allow players as well as MindArk partners to more easily make events in the game world. Last but not least, I was treated to in-game footage of an environment created for a Space Agency. Built on CryEngine2, it looked really fabulous with swirling space dust reminiscent of a frozen snow environment. MindArk was not saying which Space Agency, but you know, they did make a presentation to NASA a couple of years back, and how many Space Agencies are there anyway? Yes, indeed, NASA is making an educational MMO. http://ipp.gsfc.nasa.gov/mmo/ although I must say that the in-game footage I saw far surpassed that on the NASA site.
"We will never have a finished product. We're always improving and making Entropia better," said David, "there is no end game in Entropia."
This is one of those status updates without a ton of solid information but hints of what is to come, and all of it is imminent, so we can expect to see a solid swath of announcements in the next few months as new systems and planets come online in Entropia Universe.