[Update: October 2010]
I recently started playing the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Project Entropia (PE) and I want to share my experience with anyone who is researching the game or its creator, MindArk, especially as regards the inevitable labeling of PE as a “scam.”
I’m not affiliated with MindArk in any way. I discovered PE while browsing blogs. Someone had linked to a bbc.com article about the sale of a space station for $100,000US. In reaction to this article, I downloaded the free game and began to play.
WHAT IS PROJECT ENTROPIA?
Project Entropia is a virtual universe with a real cash economy. It is set on the distant colony of Calypso, the first habitable planet mankind has ever found. The players take the roles of colonizers that strive to build a new world together, under the threat from various enemies that wants [sic] to destroy the colony.
What does this mean?
It means that Project Entropia is a large multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). The normal way such games operate is by purchasing the client software in a store and then pay a subscription fee every 30 days, while the internal game economy is just that—a game economy.
Project Entropia does the opposite! The client software is free to download over the Internet and there are no subscription fee associated whatsoever. The real cash economy means that the internal Project Entropia economy is linked to the real world economy, by using a currency called the Project Entropia Dollar (PED), which have a fixed exchange rate to the US Dollar (10 PED equals 1 USD).
You as a player use PED to acquire virtual land and equipment in Project Entropia to invest in your avatar???s (Player representation in the virtual universe) growth and abilities. A unique aspect of Project Entropia is that a player may elect to transfer PED back into real life currency, thereby enabling them to earn real money while playing an online computer game.
Project Entropia website
I immediately learned that one can get “free money” while very new in the game by gathering and bottling the sweat from live, hostile animals and selling the bottles to other players. This method is tedious and the payout is pennies per hour of gameplay. I played this way for several days to see if the frequent skill rank advancements meant I would start getting more sweat per hour, but I got bored and decided it would be worth the price of a mainstream game just to find out if PE was any fun.
I sent about $22 via paypal to a German outfit for 200 PED (Project Entropia Dollars). Notice that the transaction wasn’t free. Withdrawals aren’t free, either: you pay 1.5% of the amount, minimum 100PED ($10US). With this 200PED I bought a weapon and began to hunt the animals that were so reluctant to give of their sweat. I also bought some armor to cover up the ugly orange jumpsuit that is the only possession of a new recruit.
I soon learned that hunting is a costly occupation at this early stage in the game. My income didn’t meet the cost of ammo. On top of that, the weapon needed costly repairs.
Players in PE do not pay any fixed game fee or monthly subscription fee in order to play the game. Players costs are the equipment and objects that they collect as they play and which wear out with use. The players must regularly upgrade their possessions via special automated service stations to retain full capacity.
For example, a hunting weapon wears in relation to the number of shots discharged. The wear level is indicated via status information on the screen and can also be noticed by reduced performance in the object. The normal service fee for an active player lies between 0.5 and 1.5 USD per hour played.
MindArk.com: About PE
That’s what I’ve been paying to play this game, give or take a dollar. Compared to World of Warcraft, an MMORPG that cost me $50 for the software and $15 per month of unlimited gameplay, it’s an expensive game for the average player. Did anyone really expect to download a free game, play it for free and get paid to do it? I hope not. I never read any promise from MindArk to that effect.
There is no shortage of enticement, however. Throughout the game, messages scroll in one corner of the screen to inform me that so-and-so killed/mined/manufactured something “at a value of XX PED!” These are enticing numbers indeed. I am hunting “Atrox Young” (a mini t-rex of sorts) and getting 0-5PED per kill, still losing money due to equipment degredation. I see a message, “X-Y-Z killed an Atrox Young at a value of 84 PED!” so I keep hunting despite the poor returns.
Is MindArk doing something illegal? I doubt they are and I doubt it ever will be illegal to create an online economy such as this. The players are certainly playing at a premium price, unless one deems himself unworthy of any occupation higher than Professional Sweat Gatherer.
Are they stealing from me? No, I’m paying for a unique experience. I had an item disappear from my inventory once but it returned when I logged in the next time. I doubt I’ll spend $26,500US to buy an island like this guy did. Although I did read somewhere that he has already recouped the investment by collecting taxes and selling deeds.
Is it possible to make money in PE? Sure, people do, especially the traders. There are online “companies” composed of participants with the sole purpose of buying low and selling high. They don’t use weapons or armor, but their expensive clothes wear out over time just to make things fair. Traders are too proud to wear the orange jumpsuit.
Is Project Entropia a scam? That depends on your idea of a scam. The purpose of the game is to make MindArk money while providing gamers with entertainment. There’s nothing untoward about that. The rules are clear but the formulas are not. I knew that items were subject to entropy (Project Entropia, get it?) before I ever spent a dime on the game. I did not know that it’s impossible to go out there and kill enough monsters to pay for the damage done to my sword every time I swing it, but that lesson only cost me $3.
I am still playing Project Entropia, still exploring and enjoying the virtual universe of Calypso, still dulling my laser sword and still paying for it all. I do this because my hopes to make money in PE were dashed and supplanted by a better reason to play a game: fun.
Hey now, what’s this? Somebody in an orange jumpsuit wants me to buy his hard-earned sweat. That’s a good price, too. I bet I can make a buck here before the night is done.
Update: October 2010
That trade with the newbie earned me a few pennies of profit, less than the cost of the clothes that wore out during the transaction. I quit playing and deleted my account in 2006. I found other, less costly games less stressful and more fun. However, this article has gathered new visitors and comments ever since. The story remains the same: some people feel cheated, others consider the game a fairly priced entertainment, and a tiny minority claim personal prosperity. I’m curious how the game experience has advanced in years since I last looked. Maybe I’ll give it another few bucks to find out.