One of the questions I sometimes get when I give the end of cyberspace talk is, "What about Everquest [or World of Warcraft]? What are millions of people doing now if not spending time in electronic worlds? Doesn't the popularity of multiplayer worlds give cyberspace a new lease on life?"
The simple answer is, no. The more complex answer has two parts.
First, and arguably less interesting, is that I think we thought of cyberspace as something fundamentally different from the online worlds represented by games like Everquest. The cyberspace where information would go to be free had two important qualities: it was separate from the real world; and it was superior to the real world– at least in ways that augured ill for the future of knowledge-production and economic activity in the real world. Online games, in contrast, are separate, but not superior: asking whether the Sims Online world is "better" than real life is like asking if a chessboard is better than reality.
Second, these game worlds are feeding back into real life in ways that first-generation video games– which played an important role in establishing our ideas about cyberspace– never did. Some accomplished players make the case that they should be able to put their online exploits on their resumes: after all, organizing a distributed group of fellow players to go slay a troll (for example) isn't that different from organizing a distributed group of programmers to create software.
Another important overlap between these worlds and the real world– and one that game companies neither anticipated nor supported for quite a while– is economic. For the last couple years, serious players could buy virtual goods with real money– money real enough to make some gamers choose platforms based in part on potential earning power within different worlds, or fight over virtual assets in divorce proceedings.
Recently, We Make Money Not Art reported that a massive multiplayer online game has taken the next step in translating virtual currency into real money:
A card that gamers can use at cash machines around the world to convert virtual dollars into real currency has been launched.
The card is offered by the developers of Project Entropia…. The Entropia economy works by allowing gamers to exchange real currency for Project Entropia Dollars (PEDs) and back again into real money. Gamers can earn cash by accumulating PEDs via the acquisition of goods, buildings and land.
The new cash card allows people to access their virtually acquired PEDs and convert them into real world money at any cash machine in the world. The card, issued by MindArk, is associated with the players Entropia Universe account and has all of the features of a real world bank account: players can transfer, withdraw, deposit and even view account balances using the system.
Not something I was ever able to do playing Xevious. The money all went one way.
It'll be interesting to see how well it works.
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