Project Entropia Q&A with Marco Behrmann
Recently, the Sony Exchange has put a spotlight on the sale of virtual items for real world cash. A pioneer in this respect has been Project Entropia, an MMORPG where everything is for sale if you have the cash. Our own Richard Duffek had a chance to catch up with Marco Behrmann, the Director of Community Relations and Concept Development Manager at MindArk - the makers of Project Entropia.
|MMORPG.com:||Can you tell us a little about yourself? Who are you, what do you do on the team, what, if anything, have you worked on in the past?|
My name is Marco Behrmann, I am 31 years old, and have been in the computer game development business since 1998, at a studio called ComputerHouse, were I was the lead designer on a high-profile CRPG-project. Prior to that a friend and I founded Sweden’s today largest Pen-and-Paper Roleplaying Games company, called Neogames, with several number one hits on the market. In 2001 I took on a position as market director with a lifestyle magazine, and in the beginning I was recruited by MindArk, and when they presented the idea and vision I immediately knew that this is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I haven’t regretted the decision once.
At MindArk I have two distinct roles; one is a director of community relations, meaning that I am the ambassador between MA and the community. The second role is as concept development manager, meaning that I am deeply involved in the design team and the ideas and works therein. It is a stressful but highly creative position and an extremely rewarding one. While other projects usually lasts for a few years with one big release, we have some ten releases per year, which feels really cool.
|MMORPG.com:||Project Entropia is one of those games that tend to slip under most people’s radar. Can you explain to some of our readers who may have never heard of the game what PE is all about in your own words?|
Project Entropia is a virtual universe with a real cash economy. It is set on the distant colony of Calypso, the first habitable planet mankind has ever found. The players take the roles of colonizers that strive to build a new world together, under the threat from various enemies that wants to destroy the colony.
This means that Project Entropia is a large multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). The normal way such games operate is by purchasing the client software in a store and then pay a subscription fee every 30 days, while the internal game economy is just that – a game economy.
Project Entropia is the opposite. The client software is free to download over the Internet and there are no subscription fee associated whatsoever. The “real cash economy” means that the internal Project Entropia economy is linked to the real world economy, by using a currency called the Project Entropia Dollar (PED), which have a fixed exchange rate to the US Dollar (10 PED equals 1 USD). You as a player use PED to acquire virtual land and equipment in Project Entropia to invest in your avatar’s growth and abilities. A unique aspect of Project Entropia is that a player may elect to transfer PED back into real life currency, thereby enabling them to earn real money while playing an online computer game.
As Calypso is a recently discovered planet, the colonizers – the players – need to establish their own economy and build their society. This requires a lot of cooperation and specialization – one man cannot make it all. This means that the players need to collaborate when it comes to advancing the level of development; it is better to have a specialized miner searching for minerals and an expert tools manufacturer making tools.
|MMORPG.com:||Recently Sony Online Entertainment announced the inception of their new “Station Exchange” program where players could buy and sell ingame items for real world cash. Seeing as PE has done this from the beginning how do you feel about a company such as SOE who has always been so adamantly against said actions reversing their stance and embracing it?|
It was to be expected. When I was at E3 last year representatives from Sony approached me about the concept of Project Entropia. When they understood our unique idea they were baffled. Then they realized that this is the way of the future. I see the Station Exchange as a very small move towards the concept Project Entropia already have proved working, and based on the all the spies from the other big MMOG-developers who lurk in Project Entropia, I’d say this is only the beginning – in a few years time, the subscription business model will be a minority.
|MMORPG.com:||Project Entropia operates a little differently in that it isn’t merely just a broker system of one player selling to another but you actually selling to the player. What is your opinion/stance on the more standard secondary market? Players listing items for sale on ebay or buying/selling through broker companies such as IGE?|
We have the position that the players of Project Entropia are free to use the system as they see fit, as long is the follow the rules of conduct. After all, they are the ones playing Project Entropia and who invest money and time into it, so why should we impose strange rules onto them? One thing to remember though is that any trade activities performed outside the confines of Project Entropia is not guaranteed or secure, and if you get scammed, MA cannot help you. A vast majority of our players realize this and use the tools we supply to them within the virtual universe instead of venturing outside.
|MMORPG.com:||Do you see this as something that all companies are eventually going to have to accept? No matter how much they may hate or disagree with the secondary market, it exists in every game and no one has ever been successful in stopping it so why not embrace it such as SOE is doing?|
Yes, I do, more or less. Right now they are losing money on this, revenues that goes to other actors on the market. When they understand how much they are losing on that, they must re-think their strategy. Fortunately for us, we already have Project Entropia and we are turning a nice profit and have an extreme growth rate, so that is evidence enough that we are on the right track.
|MMORPG.com:||One of the biggest concerns a lot of players have with the system is that even though the company (be it SOE or Mindark or anyone else) still actually owns the items or currency in question; and therefore are entitled to change it or alter it or even remove it from the game as they see fit. What is the policy regarding this in Project Entropia?|
At the moment we own all items in Project Entropia. The player owns the value they have accumulated. We are very reluctant to change the stats for any item in the virtual universe, as such measures would bring instability to the ingame market, which is just plain bad. We are a business and our main priority is to have pleased customers for the long haul. Anything else is just plain stupid.
|MMORPG.com:||With so many games being cancelled lately, this could have devastating repercussions. For example a game that embraced selling ingame items and currency for real world cash one day getting cancelled for one reason or another. Is this something the player is just going to have to accept as a risk? In other words let the buyer beware?|
Yes, that is a definite risk. Therefore you should beware of the ventures you embark on. A small company with a lot of debt may not be the smartest option to throw money at, risk-wise. MindArk is the only company today that is making a profit and has history to prove our case.
|MMORPG.com:||There have been major news releases lately about some big money land purchases going on in the PE world. Can you give us a little background to how all of this is going on?|
In December 2004 we sold a 6000 acres virtual island to a very nice young gentleman from Australia, by the name of David “Deathifier” Storey. He bought the island for $26 500. His is currently in the process of developing the land and is selling house lots to other participants. The last time I spoke to him he was satisfied by the progress of his investment. It is a better investment than playing with stocks on the real stock market. We have also been selling apartments to create a vibrant real estate market within the virtual universe. The value is around $135 000, and it have been a great success. The number may seem big, but considering that the total economy turnover in Project Entropia the first four months alone is some $59 000 000 (yes, 59 million USD), it is quite modest.
|MMORPG.com:||It seems like after the “Land Grab” event it would be harder for a new player to get a foothold into the game these days. What can you tell us about how someone new to the game can compete with people who have been there longer and were able to participate in the “Land Grab” and such events?|
Actually, round two of the land grab is in progress right now, so everyone can join the event. I’d say it is much easier to get a foothold in Project Entropia today compared to one year ago, as the system is much more streamlined, there are a lot more activities to take part in, and there are system in place that allows for an easier experience overall.
|MMORPG.com:||As a member of the team what is your favorite aspect of Project Entropia?|
The fundamental vision of creating a virtual universe. The constant upgrades to the system, varying from small to huge systems, are very fulfilling to see and take care of. The great backing from a very mature and excited community is a important aspect for me personally and for the continuing growth of Project Entropia. The growth rate right now is remarkable, with over 100% per year. The team we have here in Gothenburg is also very closely knitted and we encourage ideas from anyone – we have ideas printed down to last us for at least a decade.
|MMORPG.com:||What do you have planned on the horizon for Project Entropia?|
Project Entropia is here to stay, and we strive to have the best quality, the largest and the most entertaining virtual universe available to everybody connected to the Internet. In maybe ten years time we want to be able to present a virtual world superior to the real one.
|MMORPG.com:||In your opinion with all the choices on the market today, and even more coming out soon, why should a person new to MMORPGs pick Project Entropia over all the others?|
Project Entropia is great fun, have a great community, and a constant, free, upgrades, and because we respect the player. We feel that by supplying Project Entropia free of charge and void of subscription fees, we give the player the option to decide for him- or herself. Also, when you have spent countless hours in a game, committing mentally, monetary and emotionally, we want to be able to give something back for that commitment. That is why you could withdraw your virtual money into real cash within the system. That is why you are not bound by having to buy a client and then pay a subscription fee regardless of your level of participation. Don’t forget that the best customer a subscription-based developer may have is one that never plays…
|MMORPG.com:||It seems to me that the more “hardcore” players of Project Entropia view the game almost more like an investment or job than a game. Some have even said if you want to get ahead in the game you have to look at it that way. Would you agree with these opinions? How easy or hard is it for a casual player to do well in PE?|
As in real life, you have to make decisions in your life. As Project Entropia works with the same logic, it applies equally. If you are smart and observant, you will gain knowledge and by utilizing your knowledge, you can become successful, very successful.
|MMORPG.com:||Any time real money is involved the threat of scammers and such increases. Why should a new player feel safe in Project Entropia? Can you give someone who may be considering trying out the game for the first time some hints on what to avoid?|
First of all – make informed decisions. If a deal is too good to be true, it usually is. Spend some time, talk to people, get to know them, seek help from the guides available on the community fan pages, and ask for assistance in the many official forums we have around.Also, you should act like you do in real life. If a perfect stranger asks you for the keys to your car in real life you would never give it to him or her, would you? But if someone asks to borrow your rifle in a MMOG, you are often easier persuaded – don’t be.
|MMORPG.com:||Can you tell us a little about the current events going on in PE and what events we might see coming sown the pipeline soon?|
We have several big plans, but they are currently secrets, as many of our competitors are watching us so closely. Some tidbits can I release though – we have a very powerful event system coming to allow for participants to create their own events – ranging from contests to arena fights. We are also trying out our new dungeon system, which is very exciting.
|We would like to pass along our thanks to Marco for taking the time to answer our questions!|
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