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. ]


How to make two million bucks in a day legally

Paul Raven @ 16-04-2010

It’s easy: all you do is sell a sparkly horse upgrade to your MMO client base.

… this morning Blizzard announced the online sale of a new “celestial steed” for use in WoW.    These mounts cost $25 (on top of the retail price plus $15 monthly subscription).  So in a world of free games and virtual items selling for a dollar or two, how popular could a $25 sparkly flying pony be?

Well, the queue for their purchase was at least up to over 91,000 people waiting in the queue earlier today.  When I took a screen shot, it had fallen to “only” about 85,000.

90,000 X $25 = $2,250,000.

In one day.  From one item.  In a game that isn’t free to play anyway.

Also note that the horse in question doesn’t actually do anything different to a regular WoW horse except look pretty. So, there’s money to be made from virtual, intangible and functionless goods… provided you’ve got that client base there with money to spare, natch.

Speaking of mad things you can do in virtual worlds, how about building a Turing-complete 8 bit computer within the game Dwarf Fortress [via MetaFilter]?

All of a sudden the simulation hypothesis doesn’t seem quite so insane…


October 10 – a big day for virtual releases

Tomas Martin @ 11-10-2007

open an orange and a blue portal and travel between the twoYesterday was quite a big day for virtual goods. In addition to Valve releasing the Half Life 2 Orange Box online (which Jeremy blogged about earlier), Radiohead released their new album ‘In Rainbows’ via their website. Both mark a considerable move away from the traditional business model in video games and music, offering their content directly to the user at a lower price than would be available in brick and mortar stores.

Happily as well as being delivered in new formats, both products are very very good. Radiohead’s album sparkles and is more accessible than anything I’ve heard since ‘Kid A’. It feels less jagged than previous work and easier without losing that challenging nature that requires 40 listens before you get it. I still feel like I need to listen more but the alienation I felt listening to some of ‘Hail To The Thief’ is not there – I can enjoy listening to ‘In Rainbows’ even when not concentrating on it. I decided to pay £6 for the album, which charges a 47p transaction fee but otherwise lets you pay whatever you want. When it’s as good as this I can imagine most people paying more than expected.

Valve’s Orange Box was also out yesterday on their ‘Steam’ delivery service. the pack contains Half Life 2 and it’s two additional chapters, Episode 1 and the new Episode 2, as well as multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2 and the incredible Portal. The real trick of Valve’s single player work is how it tells a story without cutscenes by creating events that make the gamer want to look in that direction – a very real rendition of ‘Show Don’t Tell’, as many writers are instructed early in their careers. The sheer joy of messing around with momentum using the portal gun in Portal is worth the entry price by itself.

[photo from Valve’s website]