If you’re into MMOs, or you hover around gaming sites long enough, chances are you might have seen an ad for something called Entropia Universe. It bills itself as the world’s only “cash-based MMO” — and unpacking everything involved with that is absolutely a rabbit hole worth diving into.
Fortunately, you don’t have to actually invest your own money or time to go down the rabbit hole. The excellent People Make Games and Quintin Smith — who also stars as a reviewer for the Sit Up and Shut Down YouTube channel — has put together an excellent deep-dive on how the game actually works, how it actually makes money, and how players make a profit amongst all of that.
The base principle is that everything you want to do in the game costs money, unless you’re content with literally scouring the planet for shit to collect. Actual shit, by the way, or animal sweat. So if you just want to roll around like it’s a normal MMO, you need hunting gear — which you have to buy. And then rebuy. Upgrade. You get the idea.
But the rabbit hole goes a lot deeper. There’s scams. Virtual investing. Planets available for real money. Players talking about cycling a million US dollars through the game every year. One Australian player made headlines in 2004 for spending $US26,500 on a piece of virtual land in Entropia … only for that land to be worth $US100,000 a few years later, after the Aussie had taxed and subdivided the land for massive profit afterwards.
It’s an incredible look that reminds me a lot of EVE Online — a game I love reading about, and a community that I’m fascinated by, but one I would never want to invest the time to join myself. Entropia Universe has a history and a depth like EVE, except its own fantasy is all built around a virtual casino that is built around the trappings of a sci-fi MMO.
Of course, at some stage you have to wonder how a game like Entropia Universe isn’t considered gambling. The video above has a great interview with the chairman and former CEO of developers MindArk, which gets a bit awkward when Quinns asks about the conflict between Entropia providing tools for self-exclusion while still maintaining that there isn’t an element of gambling involved.
The whole video’s an excellent watch, if only just to peer into the weird web of how a cash-based MMO actually works. The interview at the end is a great bit of persistence too, so if you can, grab a coffee and a biscuit and enjoy the whole thing.