The Vanity Riots: weird goings-on at EVE Online

Paul Raven @ 12-07-2011

My from-a-distance fascination with EVE Online continues to grow*; its complex and anarchic political and economic scenes make for fascinating headlines, and it strikes me as the best extant model for the economically distinct synthetic worlds of the future. Ars Technica has a two-page piece on a recent EVE flap wherein the developers, CCP, started making an assortment of “vanity items” available for sale within the game. The economic set-up in EVE is complex, permitting money to flow in from meatspace as well as encouraging in-game trading, and players kicked off an extensive campaign of (in-world) disobedience and protest, thinking that CCP had handed a naked advantage to players who were financially better off in the reality outside the game.

Pretty much a carbon copy of meatspace protests over poorly-explained new laws or policies, which is interesting enough. But the second page has an innocuous-seeming paragraph that leapt out at me as being more astonishing than it appears:

EVE Online is one of the few games which has a formal player organization to speak for the customers of the game, called the Council of Stellar Management. The members of the CSM are democratically elected, and they present the concerns of players to CCP in order to keep everything running smoothly. As players continued to disrupt the game and CCP began to take a beating in the court of public opinion, the CSM was flown to the company’s offices in Iceland in order to discuss the issue of microtransactions.

Think about that for a second: not only does EVE have an elected player council, but said council was flown in to CCP’s HQ at CCP’s expense to sort things out. That’s a company that takes its userbase very seriously indeed.. As the Ars piece points out, this is at least partly due to necessity, but that necessity s a function of the freedom and engagement with the synthetic space that CCP has permitted since the start. I wonder if we’ll soon see more businesses that are not only this close to their clientele, but who genuinely understand that closeness as the foundation of their model… it’s a big step in the direction of cooperatives, which might make for a fine replacement for the increasingly-untrusted corporation in a world where nation-statehood is losing its grip.

Additional virtual worlds news, via Terra Nova: a Chinese insurance firm has started to offer what may be the first insurance policies to cover against loss or theft of goods in virtual worlds. As Castronova points out, insurance for intangible goods is nothing new… but intangible goods that only exist in a certain walled garden in cyberspace? That’s a new development.

[ * Yeah, I know, I should probably just sign up for an account and try it out, but I know how prone to addictive behaviours I am, and I have work that needs doing that won’t be much helped by my attempting to explore an anarchic virtual star-cluster. Unless someone wanted to pay me to write the story, that is. Hmmm. ]

Fair Trade goldfarms

Paul Raven @ 08-04-2011

The market for intangible goods just isn’t going to go away. Indeed, it seems to be one of the few markets that hasn’t withered horribly under the global economic whatever-we’re-calling-the-SNAFU-this-week, and while it’s a pretty exploitative business in many respects, it’s not as nasty as some of the other markets that rely on the poorest nations for manpower and exports:

Ultimately, the report’s authors say, the size of the virtual economy and the potential for citizens of poorer nations to pocket a significant amount of money from it suggest that virtual goods and services should be taken seriously by any group that’s looking at ways to help lift people out of poverty. The authors estimate the size of the market for third-party gaming services alone was $3 billion in 2009. Significantly, most of this money went directly to the developing countries, as opposed to being eaten up by Western intermediaries. The report contrasts this with the market for coffee, which was $70 billion globally in 2009, but only $5.5 billion went to countries that produce the coffee beans.

Factor in rising costs for the shipping of physical goods, and things could start looking real weird real fast: a shift in output from plastic tchotchkes to digital ones. Can’t say I’d consider that to be an entirely bad thing.