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Entropia Universe: My Surprise

Red Thomas Posted:
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Entropia Universe released in January of 2003.  I’d just joined the Army and hadn’t finished my training yet, so I completely missed the game.  I remember hearing about it before I left for Basic and I was interested but…  Let’s just say that you develop other priorities once you get off that white bus.  Sleep being right at the top of the list.

By the time my mind was working again, and I actually started getting time to care about games, Star Wars Galaxies and PlanetSide were out and eating up all of the small amount of free time I had.  Thus, while EU released right in the peak of the MMO Golden Age, it flew almost totally under my radar.

My editor forwarded me an email from the PR company that handles Entropia Universe saying that they’d just had their 16th anniversary and planned to release an update.  I was asked if I’d like to cover it, and I agreed.   I have my interview and a glimpse at the update later this week, but I wanted to take a head of time on my own.   I like to see what the new player experience is like in a game and to get a feel for it on a non-press account first.  I find it helps me find better questions, and it’s just a good way to ensure you have a more holistic game experience.

I have to say, I was really impressed.   I can’t say it’s a game that everyone would like, but there are aspects to Entropia Universe that I think are superior to even more modern games.  There’s also the very unique revenue model that we’ll need to talk about a bit.  The game is a bit dated, but with a solid player-base after sixteen years, you have to acknowledge that they’re doing something right.

The tutorial missions were straight forward, but I don’t think they introduce some of the more complex mechanics as well as they could.

So Many Positives

I was a little leery going in.   Entropia Universe has been out for a while and while the graphics aren’t terrible, they are a little dated.  There’s no immediate server count to give you an idea of how many people are still playing, so I wasn’t sure at the time how interesting I’d find the game.  I immediately found a few things that caught my attention, though.

For one, the score is really well done for being as old as it is.  With a poppy sort of synth, it has that late-80’s sound that’s become popular again in the last couple years as Synth Wave.  It fits the futuristic feel of the game very well and provides great ambiance.  I have a soft spot for EDM, and Trance in particular, so the EU soundtrack was right up my alley.

The profession system and skills system are two other things that the developers really did a great job with in Entropia Universe.  Profession levels are calculated by groups of skills, and each skill counts for some percentage of the total.  A Laser Weapons Engineer for instance, would be calculated from Intelligence, Laser Weapon Technology, Machinery, Engineering, and several other skills.   Some count for nearly 40% of the level of the profession, and others for as little as 4%.

This means that being professional in something means working on a whole lot of skills, some of which matter a lot more than others.  That’s amazingly like real life to me.   A system administrator needs to know primarily how to use their operating system of choice, but knowledge of network operations, database administration, and plenty of other skills contribute to a lesser degree towards making you a better one.  I seriously like this idea and wish we’d see it applied in more games.

I really liked the way skills and professions work and would like to see this system adapted and adopted more often.

Skills increase by using them, and every action takes into account a number of skills.  Shooting a mob involves aiming, knowledge of the type of weapon, familiarity with that specific weapon, and who knows how many other skills before the hit chance alone is calculated.  The amount of damage you do is calculated separately.  What’s more is that we’re just talking about combat.  Everything in the game appears to follow similarly, or even more, complicated calculations.  I’m kind of a numbers nut, so I love it.

The other thing about skills, and I’m kind of basing this off of some things I’ve seen and read in passing, but it seems like there’s a max total that you can reach.   That’s not a huge problem, though.  Apparently, you can slurp out skills into implant chips that can then be sold on the market.  Conversely, you can quickly level up skills by purchasing implants that you insert into yourself.

Chipping skills, as it’s called in Entropia Universe, is a good way to pick up those odd skills needed to advance a profession.  It’s also a cool way to participate in the economy that happens to allow you to be a little more flexible with your character.

Boots Cost Money

Speaking of economy, I’m reminded of an old Army cadence where Soldiers would alternately stomp a boot and drag another.  The Sergeant in charge of the formation would call out “Stomp your left and drag your right.”  The formation would answer with, “Boots cost money!  Boots cost money!”  It applies in EU because everything costs money.

Entropia Universe is a real money economy.  The standard in-game currency is PED transfers to US Dollars at a ten to one ratio.  This point matters because you can withdraw your money from the game and get a dollar for every ten PED or deposit a dollar to get (about) ten PED in the game.  Theoretically, you can make money by playing the game, as several videos and articles online will ensure you know.

The catch is that you have to invest a lot of time and effort getting your skills up to a point where you can do anything efficiently enough to make a profit, and profit comes slowly (if at all) once you do.  So, like many things that payout after an inequitable time investment, if you do it because you enjoy it, you’ll sometimes get a windfall.   Do it for the money, and you’ll never enjoy it.

Part of the reason for this is that everything, including ammunition, costs money.   You can make that money in the game in various ways and at a slow rate, but every time you miss a shot, you’ve just wasted some fraction of PED.  You’ll miss a lot of shots while getting your skill up enough to kill anything valuable.   You’ll also wear out equipment faster if you don’t have the appropriate skills to handle it, which is another really cool concept I liked about the game.

I kept finding myself in situations where I’d look up as the score swept into a new key and just couldn’t help but note how well paired the game is with the sound

I don’t think you can call EU pay-to-win, though.  It’s more like pay-to-play, because there’s nothing you can’t buy with either currency.  From what I’ve seen, the funding model seems to encourage players to spend about the same on the game as they would in subscription to any other game, and you need to realize this all came about back when there was no such thing as free-to-play.

I can’t help but feel like the monetary system could be a little predatory, but I’m not seeing any signs as I look around the community that the team is really selling it that hard.  That leads me to believe that the team was less interested in scamming anyone and really just attempting a different revenue model, which I can appreciate.   I do feel morally obligated to point out to anyone who decides to try the game that they need to set themselves a budget and stick to it.  You could easily spend way more then you should with a system like this.

Worth a Look

I’ll be getting a developer-led tour through the game at the end of the week, so I’ll be back next week with a better understanding of the game.  In the near term, there’s a lot in Entropia Universe that I find interesting and worth additional exploration.  It seems like a game that crafters would in particularly enjoy as the industrial systems I’ve looked at so far had a very Star Wars Galaxies vibe to them.   The games were contemporaries and EU survived where SWG didn’t, so that says something.

If you’re like me and enjoy a game with an interesting economy system, then this may be a good one for you to check out.  That said, just go in knowing that it’s a little older and not quite on par with the graphics of many of the modern MMOs.  You can check it out for free, so there’s no risk in looking.

It’s not often that I find a game that flew past me without my getting a chance to play it.  It’s even more uncommon that I find that I really regret having missed that game.  Entropia Universe may not be for everyone, but it does seem like it might be that game for me.


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.