When MMOs Pay Out: Real Money Economies

With real money MMO Planet Calypso's most expensive piece of virtual property going for a staggering $330,000 USD, could playing an MMO soon become... an investment?

While a lot of MMO developers would have you believe that their game is uniquely developed and completely above the influence of others, chances are extremely high that this is not the case. It's always a smart idea to keep an eye on the competition, and in the case of MMORPGs, positive and innovative developments in one MMO tend to see some form of implementation in others of its kind. As a quick example, micro transaction stores have been sweeping through most mainstream subscription MMOs, like World of Warcraft's Pet Store, or SOE's Station Cash, or Cryptic's Champion's Online and their Cryptic Store.

Of course, sometimes it's also quite easy to see some of these developments coming, as it will usually be one team that tries something new, and others may simply follow their competitor's success. This is why we here at ZAM awarded our "The Biggest News Story of 2009" to DDO Unlimited and Warhammer Online becoming free-to-play. Sure, its great news for gamers everywhere, but the news is also important because it hints that other faltering MMOs may very well follow up with their own free-to-play change.

With all of this in mind, however, the First Planet Company, a Swedish MMO developer and creator of one of the biggest real cash economy MMORPGs, Planet Calypso, may have just kicked this year off in an interesting direction with their announcement that they had just broken the Guinness World Record for the "World's Most Expensive Virtual Object." The team noted that their public auction of the popular in-game hunting location, the Crystal Palace Space Station, had ultimately fetched $330,000 USD, a price which shatters the previous world record, achieved within the same game, for a $100,000 Asteroid Space Resort purchased in 2008.

To fill in the back story here, the First Planet Company and, by extension, Planet Calypso, are subsidiaries of the bigger company MindArk. It was MindArk that created the original platform "Project Entropia," which was eventually renamed "Entropia Universe." Following this, MindArk established their smaller company, the First Planet Company, whose job it was to create the first planet in the Entropia Universe - Planet Calypso. MindArk has already made plans to 'sell' planets to a plethora of other companies, who will then be able to create worlds for players in the Project Entropia Universe to explore.

In addition to this unique business model, Project Entropia and Planet Calypso are amongst the first "real cash economy" MMOs of their kind, and what this means is that players must literally purchase their in-game money at a rate of 10 PED (the game's currency) for every $1 USD. At any time during their playing, players may also withdraw their current in-game PED and convert it back to cash. To help facilitate this, in 2006, the company introduced a special ATM card that would allow players to withdraw the real-world cash equivalent of their in-game PED funds from any real-world Versatel ATM machine. In other words, if you somehow find and sell an incredibly rare item in Planet Calypso, you could have literally made yourself a few thousand dollars US.

Planet Calypso is filled to the brim with stories of entrepreneurs making piles of money in pure profit through the game. For example, Mike Everest, aka Ogaluk Da Basher, played Planet Calypso with his mother, and the two of them worked together selling virtual goods to make a grand total of more than $35,000 USD; half of which will be used for College Funds.

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