Friday, 10 December 2010

MMORPG and reality.

In recent years, massively multi-player on-line role-playing game (MMORPG)'s have taken off in a big way. These are computer games where large numbers of players interact online in a virtual world.

There are many MMORPG's; Ultima Online (a pioneer), the famous World of Warcraft, and many others. They can vary from virtual worlds very much like our own, to fictional environments where players battle each other (including my favourite, the charming Travian).

Some of these games are now so large that they are starting to mirror real life social interactions. For instance, many players take these games so seriously that in-game virtual money becomes valuable in the real world. Gold farming is where players deliberately invoke features of the game to gain virtual money, which is then sold in the real world. One firm made millions of dollars using this mechanism. Some estimates are that there are at least 400,000 people involved with gold farming worldwide, in an industry worth a staggering $1 billion. However, because of the secretive nature and quasi-legality of this industry, these figures are hard to verify.

EVE Online was first pointed out to me by a friend. It is a massive multiplayer space game, where players join massive corporations to fight and trade against each other. I have never played this game, if only because I know I would quickly become addicted...

Last year Eve Online suffered a fraud. The game has in-game banks where the virtual currency is managed. The controllers of one of the banks stole 200bn kredits and swapped them for real world cash of £3,115. This caused a run on the bank as players tried to remove their virtual money from the bank.

As can be seen, this neatly mirrors what sometimes happens in real-life banking crises.

There was a minor controversy in the same game earlier in 2009, when an alliance of corporations called Band of Brothers (a corporation is an amalgamation of players) was disbanded by one of its directors, in what became known as the 'Day of Dissolution'. This was within the rules, and the director immediately moved to another corporation. Again, this can be seen to resemble certain real-life events such as industrial espionage.

I foresee this trend continuing as MMORPGs become even more involved and detailed. As such, it is interesting to see how it will effect real-life institutions - for instance, could in-game currency movements be used to launder real currencies, and how long will it take before Governments start thinking of taxing in-game revenues?


Maverickapollo said...

I've played Eve for on and off 4 years.

It was by far the darkest MMO out there, and you had to have a certain "Stab in the back" menatality. You can trust almost no one, and everyone is out to get you. Which is why banks, and large corporations always fail one way or anither. It is however always funny to see the back lash from such complete failures.

David Cotton said...

And those backlashes are similar to the ones we get in the real world when banks collapse...

I'd love to play Eve, but I know it would just suck up all of my time. It's better to go out and walk.