Thursday, April 12, 2012

Playing a video game as a job? First Impressions: Entropia Universe

I stumbled upon Mindark's Entropia Universe (EU) last week in a column featured on In it, they spoke about how a player from western Europe had dumped $200,000 in virtual real estate three years ago - and had recently sold it for $2.5 million USD.

I'll repeat that; someone put $200k into a video game, and three years later made over 12x his initial investment in three years.

A quick news search for "Entropia Universe" will yield quite a few similar articles - ranging from large multimillion dollar investments in the virtual world to the average Joe playing a video game as his second job.

Obviously, this caught my attention quickly, and I decided since it's 100% free to jump into the game and play around, I might as well give it a shot and see what it's all about. After all, I play a veritable shitload of video games and tend to figure them out pretty quickly - maybe I can find a way to get a little supplemental income in the process.

What I found was a GIGANTIC download and a frustrating launch/patching process. I've done a lot of software quality assurance (QA). I've never seen something quite like what their launcher does: it'll give you the option to select exactly what you want to download - I settled on a specific planet, so I told the launcher I only wanted to download that planet's files - and it happily agreed; I had 900mb to go.

Now I'm on a connection that I fondly refer to as the "Dark Ages" of the internet - 1.5mb down, at best, and only at off-peak hours, so this download went SLOW. About an hour into it, I check its progress - downloading, 105mb completed, 1.67gb remaining.

...what? How is the download size going up if I'm not telling it to download more things? I open the launcher and make sure it's downloading only the files I selected. It's not, it seems to be getting files for every available planet - not just the one that it's still showing as the only planet selected. I close the launcher, and re-open it; 0mb completed, 900mb remaining. What the hell? It didn't save any download progress. I rinse and repeat, and eventually just let it run its course over night. Very, very aggravating. But worth it.

What I discovered was a very graphically detailed world with a whole lot of depth and a VERY steep learning curve. I chatted up players, made friends, and read just about everything I could about the game from multiple sources. In other words, I learned as much as I could while participating in the minimal activities available to me without investing in the game.

The one option available to you, aside from chatting to other players and running around exploring (which yields no cash) is 'sweating' monsters, which as you might guess is exactly what it sounds like. You point a machine at a monster and hope to get some sweat off it. This sweat sells to other players, and can be a way of financing your efforts in game. However, you yield 1-4 sweat per successful effort. You fail 90% of your efforts. Once you gather 1000 sweat or so, you'll have enough where someone will buy it for a PED or two. PED is the in game currency - it's exchange rate is $1 = 10 PED.

So, for hours of effort sweating monsters, dying when they get angry, you'll raise some skills and make one or two PED. I'll repeat that - for HOURS of frustrating, mindless, boring work, you'll make $.10-.20 CENTS, NOT DOLLARS, CENTS. You can probably find more in the couch.

Yes, you can be a professional 'sweater' and higher level creatures will give you better rewards, but its a long, long road ahead (in any profession) and truthfully, standing in front of something hoping it doesn't kill me in time to gather its sweat really isn't for me, so I took to hunting, and made my first investment - $20.

Here's where that learning curve came in. What to buy, how to use it, where to sell things, what do skills do and how can I be efficient in my choice of weapons. Mistakes were made, and tears were shed - but after 25 hours of game play, I still have $15 of that $20, and I've not only learned, but actually improved my character tremendously in that time. I'm about 60% efficient in my hunts - which means that it costs me a bit to go out and kill things, but here's where the catch comes in: its an investment.

I'm investing that loss in the skills my character gains while hunting. Eventually, I can hunt bigger things, and narrow that loss more and more until I can fight things that will help me break even, or perhaps even turn a profit. That's realistically months down the road, but that opportunity is there, and realistic - you can literally watch and talk to people doing it in game.

Now hunting isn't the only thing you can do, but its a fun way to pass the time - and you're exploring a beautifully implemented alien world (or worlds if you're feeling brave) in the process. Most MMORPG's cost you $14 a month. EU doesn't just provide entertainment with your investments, but promise. It's a crazy complex system that I'm learning more about every day - but you know what, it's got me hooked. Not on making money, but learning how people do it, how I should go about getting there, and if playing a game like this to unwind, and don't go crazy sinking money into it, what's the harm in that? Right now, if I kept the $20 investment and never put another time in, I could play another 170 hours before I went bankrupt. That's a solid 3-4 months, for $20, in a top entertainment title.

It's not hard to see how that's a good investment - both in and out of game.

If you're wondering how those guys in the articles made their money, I'll provide a brief overview and yes, you can log in the game and do this RIGHT THIS SECOND, if you have the capital and patience. I'm not kidding. But in EU, it takes money to make money. The more you start with (if you're smart), the more you'll make, and the sooner you'll make it. To an extent.

So, EU is divided into planets, planets are corporate entities which can be represented and financed by real world companies. You can move planet to planet, etc. with your character if you choose. I play on the oldest planet, Calypso, which I believe launched in mid-2003.

During the early days, there was a land rush, people paid into the game and acquired land deeds and titles. This enabled them to 'control' the land to an extent, taxing activities on it, holding events (like hunting), etc. The people who dumped a LOT of money into the game got the best land, and have things occurring on that land that draw players to it for participation.

On top of all that, Mindark, the company developing EU, also sells land deeds - which pay dividends to their owners on a weekly basis. You can read about it here.

60k deeds were sold for $100 USD each (initially, they are actively traded on the server for a varying amount).

These deeds pay out dividends based on the server's success. Typically between 5-15 PED a week. So $.50 - $1.50 a week - REGARDLESS of how poorly things do. If the game has a good week, it can pay out significantly more.

Quick math - say you dropped $1,000 on virtual land in EU 8 years ago, some point in early 2004. You'd have 10 plots of land (this is an example).

10 plots of land, paying you an average of $.50 (5 PED) a week, for 8 years.

10 x .50 x 52 x 8 = $2,080

You'd have doubled your investment in 8 years. That's pretty 'meh' even by bank standards.

But imagine you have great land, or that you cultivated your land without further monetary investment, and that it pays out between 30-70 PED a week.

10 x 5 x 52 x 8 = $20,800

Now imagine if you dumped $500,000 into the game 8 years ago, and have played this game like it's your job since. You can hunt the best creatures, you always make money, and all your land is top notch and rakes in 100-250 PED a week. See where this is going?

Sure people have gotten rich in this game - but I'm sure there's hundreds more addicts that have gotten poor as well. Hopefully I'm wrong about that - but I'm sure its happened.

And the final question - how does Mindark make money off EU? A few ways:

1 - The land deeds from the link above cost $100 USD. That goes directly to them.

2 - Mindark makes it VERY hard to make money off of them. Only the top 10% in their professions make money off the game - the top 50% break even, below that, they lose money.

3 - Because of #2, you have to make money either through investments over time in yourself or land, or off other players through trades or the auction house (AH). The AH takes a cut of everything sold - more money for Mindark.

4 - Withdrawing money is easy and almost instant, but can't be done with a balance of less than $1000 PED, or $100. Players like myself who invest $20 and learn the game might not be for them are stuck leaving the money there, or playing it out until they bankrupt and quit. Withdrawing money comes with a fee, 1% or a flat amount (dependent on the exchange rate). Either way, more money for Mindark.

5 - Independent investors looking to partner with the company. You can read about this on their website.

Man, this is a lot longer then I intended, but hopefully it provides some base-level insight. I'll be doing a full review at some point next week - keep an eye out, maybe this game is just what you've been looking for!