Yeah, so we’re all tired of hearing about crooks in charge of banks shafting their depositors and borrowers at the same time… but this story’s a little different, given that the bank in question exists in the virtual universe of science fiction MMO EVE Online.
That’s not to say no real money was involved, though; RMT, or Real Money Trading, is one of the few things frowned upon in EVE‘s laissez-faire economy, but it still takes place – and as such there may be a lesson for real-world economists in the story:
Because players often do not have the interstellar credits — abbreviated to ISK, also the official abbreviation of the Icelandic kroner — they need to expand their fleets, an enterprising player created a bank that would accept deposits and lend to players who would pledge assets, like their spacecraft, as collateral.
The bank was a success. According to its Web site (yes, it has one), Ebank accumulated about 8.9 trillion ISK in deposits in 13,000 accounts belonging to 6,000 users. That was far more than it was able to lend out — there were around 1 trillion ISK of loans.
Somewhere along the way Ebank’s top executive, who went by the online handle Ricdic, apparently got greedy. According to CCP, he made off with deposits, which he then sold for real cash to gamers on a sort of black-market exchange separate from Eve.
CCP kicked Ricdic out of the game. And Ebank has temporarily shut down while its board of directors (yes, it had one of those too) tries to sort out the mess. Depositors, meanwhile, appear to have pulled 5.5 trillion ISK of deposits.
It’s not clear how much of that virtual money was embezzled and now needs to be found, somehow, by Ebank. But if the Eve chatter is accurate, it could amount to 10 percent of deposits withdrawn. That could wipe out whatever capital was used to finance Ebank’s loan book. As in the real world, that would spell insolvency.
As in the real economy, the customers could be tempted to appeal to a higher authority — Eve’s creators. That would probably involve appealing to the Council of Stellar Management — a body of nine members chosen by Eve players to represent them in discussions with CCP.
But the word from Reykjavik isn’t likely to comfort Ebank’s depositors. Eve’s creators at CCP — which employs its own economist and philosopher — take a laissez-faire approach, leaving most such matters to the game’s users to sort out. Unlike the Icelandic government, which allowed three local banks to nearly bankrupt Iceland with unchecked expansion, CCP is determined not to encourage entities to become too big to fail.
This is similar to a nasty incident in Second Life a while back, but SL’s banks are governed by US banking law, and so Linden Lab takes a much more hands-on approach to its economy.
It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out; it’s easy to dismiss the travails of a metaverse bank as irrelevant, but as they become more complex (not to mention valuable in real-world terms), metaverse economies may become a valuable testing ground for alternative economic theories. Anything that helps us avoid another real-world clusterfuck has got to be worth keeping an eye on, right? [via MetaFilter; image by Pentadact]