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January 25, 2008
CES 2008 - Entropia Just Might Take Over the Universe

By Paul Philleo

In a massively multiplayer online virtual space, who needs a virtual online economy with artificial gold, silver and fantastically named currencies when you can cut through the middleman and have the real thing? That's one of the principle purposes behind Entropia Universe, according to David Simmons, Business Development Director at MindArk, the man behind this "virtual universe", at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. Entropia has graduated from being a "Project", for those who remember the real-world economy-driven game that first made its appearance in 2002, to something that is much more tangible.

The spacious MindArk booth was almost completely manned by fans and supporters of the game, not trade show professionals or company staff. It's a rather bold statement of how much faith MindArk has in their game, that members of their player base would represent them at one of the biggest trade shows in the world.

What's always distinguished Entropia Universe from other MMO games and virtual worlds is the revenue model, as has been discussed before on MPOGD. The core game experience originates on the fantasy and sci-fi world of Calypso, but it's more than the sum of the experiences players can explore, with additional activities such as hunting, trading, etc. In short, Entropia's economy is fueled by real-cash transactions for in-game purchases, and the game itself is free to download and to play. It's proven to be a successful venture, according to Simmons, who mentioned the game has been profitable for 14 quarters, or three years and a half years. Further underscoring the association with real-world economies and valuations of purchases, he reminded me how the game's transactions are fixed to match the US Dollar's value on the world markets. So no matter what world within Entropia you're on, the economy is designed to always remain consistently stable and based on an established currency. The economy, with established virtual property and transactions, runs by the traditional laws of commerce, even backed by banks with the capability to collect on loans and seize virtual property. It's not a game for the weak-hearted, but rather a high-stakes game engaged in by many people. In fact, MindArk apparently has done so well that they are able to announce in mid-December that they are going public as a company.

Potential investors and online gamers will have some other interesting news to chew on over the next year. An agreement made in 2007, which partners MindArk with the Chinese-based Cyber Recreation Development Corp. (CRD), will allow for millions of concurrent users to connect to various worlds run on the MindArk platform. Education, entertainment and other forms of high-speed online interaction there could result in one of the world's largest and fastest networks. Other companies are engaged in discussions to do the same with MindArk as well.

Beyond financial liquidity and the non-traditional interesting expansions, the game has made many other strides forward in the last several months. In July, MindArk announced they'd signed a license to utilize the CryENGINE 2 graphics engine - the same one used in Crysis -- in Entropia Universe. Unfortunately, however, that visually revamped version in development wasn't shown at CES.

With the power of the CryENGINE behind it, MindArk should have all the power it needs to create visually attractive worlds for whatever intent they may be used for. It will be interesting to see how integrated these worlds within the universe may be for travel and avatar movement, such as between a Paleolithic educational environment and a futuristic road racing planet for Toyota. Once space is opened, how easy will it be to travel? To do commerce between the stars? Simmons said with a knowing smile, that "Space travel, like life in the universe, will not be easy. It will be tough." A tough life, as we know, can be an expensive one.

The beehive of activity that is Entropia Universe at CES

Ladies in yellow flanking a media guy at the MindArk booth


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