Tag Archives: virtual-worlds

Fair Trade goldfarms

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.

Unreal estate: man flips virtual nightclub for $500k

The metaverse doesn’t make the news as often as it did a few years back, but don’t assume that means the glow is off for real profits from virtual worlds: Jon “Neverdie” Jacobs just made a cool half-million bucks on selling an asteroid-cum-nightclub in the Entropia Universe MMO.

Until recently, Neverdie was the owner of one of the hottest virtual properties in Entropia, Club Neverdie, situated on a virtual asteroid around Entropia’s first planet, Planet Calypso. Jacobs bought the virtual asteroid back in 2005 for $100,000, after taking out a mortgage on his real-life house.


Taking out a hundred grand to buy virtual property may have seemed like poor business sense, but Jacobs had a plan. He turned Club Neverdie into a must-visit destination, one that includes more than a dozen bio-domes, a night club, stadium and a mall, where other players flocked to spend real cash on virtual goods and services. Jacobs was making around $200,000 in annual revenue, enough to comfortably support him and his family. Some might wonder why Jacobs didn’t instead start a real-life business like most others. Jacobs’ answer, “games made sense.” Club Neverdie was a “turnkey business” for him — besides dropping in from time to time to check on the property, the business largely ran itself and had no other employees besides himself.

Flipping property has long been an appealingly easy business model for those with enough capital to spare… but not so much in meatspace these days. I think we’ve yet to see the first full-scale metaverse property gold-rush, but once we have, the first metaverse bubble-burst won’t be far behind; in the meantime, a smart chancer can still make their mark on that particular and limitless frontier.

Incidentally, a little further down this piece there’s an interesting and (to me) unexpected junction to another story, namely the J K Rowling plagiarism lawsuit, which gets weirder and weirder the deeper you look into it:

Jacobs wasn’t always a virtual celebrity, but even his past plays out like something out of a movie. His was born to a Miss United Kingdom and Adrian Jacobs, a prototypical Bond villain of sorts. An infamous ’60s British financier nicknamed “Mr. X,” the senior Jacobs was banned from the London Stock Market in the ’80s after a string of shady deals, and has been reportedly quoted as saying, “I’ll be back again, richer than ever!” You can almost hear the super-villain laughter. Adrian Jacobs died in 1997, but in 2009, his estate filed a lawsuit against J.K. Rowling, claiming the author of the Harry Potter series had copied substantial parts of Jacobs’ 1987 children’s book, Willy the Wizard.

Call me cynical, but I’m now even more convinced that the Willy The Wizard suit is an opportunist scam…

[This story via MetaFilter, to whom I’d point out that while I’ve blatantly stolen their headline pun, I did so in the belief that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That, and the knowledge that I couldn’t think up a better one at short notice. ]

Code is law: metaverse worlds as the ultimate sovereign states

A disappointingly brief interview piece at New Scientist has Greg Lastowka talking about the subject matter of his new book, Virtual Justice. I say disappointingly because there’s whole raft-loads of fascinating implications behind the bits that made the cut; I guess I’ll just have to buy the damned book (which was probably the entire point of the interview, to be fair).

Carping aside, Lastowka is talking about law and governance in virtual worlds… or rather the need for such. Thing is, it looks to me like he’s also implicitly conceding that trying to enforce such legal frameworks from without (i.e. from meatspace reality) will be, at best, an uphill battle:

NS: Surely technology has always influenced law. Are things fundamentally different today?

GL: Yes, I think so. To an extent, technology is displacing law. A virtual world owner has a choice between law and technology as tools to further their interests – and they are generally turning to technology first. In 1999, Lawrence Lessig used the phrase “code is law”, and it applies to virtual worlds today. If you control the very nature of the simulation – how gravity works, how a person walks, where they go, what they can say – then you have the power to govern the environment in a way that no sovereign in real space can.

NS: So virtual law could end up being quite powerful?

GL: The government can do a lot of things but it can’t reverse the direction of gravity. Owners of virtual worlds can do an amazing number of things with regard to surveillance and interpersonal interactions.

If they so choose… and bear in mind the market value of being one of the worlds that chooses not to.

But it’s this final line that carries a whole book’s-worth of interesting implications… and probably a trilogy’s-worth of post-cyberpunk plot hooks:

In a sense, technology has outpaced the law. Any owner of a technological platform essentially has the ability to regulate society.

Seriously, think about it: that last sentence there is just huge, saying so much in such a short space. Just as the geographically-defined nation-state begins the final process of withering, the non-Euclidian geography of the metaverse steps in to offer a space over which your control can be more gloriously totalitarian than the greatest despots of the world ever aspired to!

Problem is, if your citizens can emigrate by simply hitting Ctrl-Q and signing up with someone else, how do you encourage them to stick around? Godlike control over the local laws of physics and commerce sounds pretty sweet at first, but unless you want to be godking of a sandbox empire populated by the twenty-five deluded cranks who read your Randian blog back in the noughties (ahem), you’d better start figuring out a legal (and metaphysical) framework that has some sort of appeal to potential digital ex-pats. Money-laundering and tax-haven status might be a good place to start.

What do Snoop Dogg and organic blueberries have in common?

They’re both meatspace brands who’ve seen substantial success from crossmarketing themselves with digital equivalents in virtual spaces and MMOs. If the trend of material minimalism continues (which doesn’t seem utterly infeasible, given the continued rocky uncertainties of the world’s economies), the digital sphere may become the last bastion for affordable and aspirational conspicuous consumption*… and a real moneyspinner for the more established virtual worlds.

And those worlds are already a moneyspinner: Blizzard recently got a US$88million judgement against someone who was running their own (unlicensed) WoW server/world, charging users for access and virtual goods. That’s not pocket change, at least not in this household.

[ * Although, based on my experiences in Second Life, you’d be best not to expect virtual bling and brands to be any more tasteful than their meatspace equivalents. 0_o ]

Telepresence: virtually as good as being there

This topic – telepresence – started knocking around in my head when I walked into a business meeting almost a year ago in Kirkland, Washington. A wall-sized (literally, exactly, one wall floor to ceiling, side to side) picture showed a room the same shape as the one we stood in. People walked into the room and sat down.

They were in Silicon Valley. Continue reading Telepresence: virtually as good as being there