Interview: MindArk’s David Simmonds on virtual economies and VR | Entropia Universe

With gaming becoming a big part of our daily lives and MMOs still holding a large part of the gaming market, MindArk entered with Entropia Universe in 2003 and has aimed to create a virtual universe where users can live virtual lives and immerse themselves into the world of virtual reality. Entropia Universe includes a real-cash economy and has completely changed the game (no pun intended).

I got the pleasure of interviewing David Simmonds, Vice Chairman and Business Development at MindArk all about Entropia and its virtual economy. Here we go:

What gave MindArk the idea to start Entropia?

Well, the founder and our chairman who’s still working design and new ideas, Jan Welters, started the company in 1998 and a lot of games were going on at that time. He wanted to build this concept of having a game, an MMO where people can trade, play games and do many different activities that they can actually use it for real money.

Because a lot of people especially when they get older, sometimes games get boring. There is no reason for then to start as a newbie and play 25 hours. In Entropia Universe, you have the real-cash economy, everything matters. If you make a wrong decision, you can lose money and if you make a right decision, you can even earn money. So, it makes those decisions you make even in gaming more important than you would in other games.

What are the benefits of Entropia compared to games such as Star Trek Online or World of Warcraft other than the real-cash economy?

Really it is the thing that makes us different from another MMO. Depending on what you like, whether sci-fi or fantasy, we have all of that in Entropia because we got different companies building different planets in Entropia. We even have a company from Jordan which is building like an Arabian Nights type of thing. In Entropia universe, you can take a spaceship and get onto another site.

But in Entropia, what really makes us different is the real-cash economy. It really gaming a reason, it makes the decisions you make, like I said before, a consequence, like in real life. We catered Entropia to gamers, we understand that some gamers have not a lot of time, but have a lot of money, and on the other side, we have gamers who have a lot of time, but have no money. We created a system where the people which have a lot of time can gather materials for users who have a lot of money and pay for these services. So we actually are creating small jobs within virtual reality.

Farming and Entropia’s economy

Unlike WoW where you can have a lot of gold farming, that really doesn’t work inside Entropia Universe, if we had that, a million people trying to farm the free things, all that would happen is that they would create a stockpile and the market value would crash, because there would so much of it and can’t sell to anybody. That type of farming doesn’t happen in Entropia.

We’ve been in the Guinness book of world records for things such as most expensive dropped item and if you go into our game, you can see the hall of fame. And when players go out, they hunt creatures and it costs them money but when they kill a creature, they can get a loot for this. I believe the highest loot someone got from a creature on Entropia was, I believe, $34,000 USD. So, having that possibility playing your favorite game, you’re in there, you’re in-game, it’s really virtual reality that we’ve had for so many years. And people can actually take out the money and put it into their real-life bank account.

The Entropia Universe offers multiple worlds, what would you say is your favorite and must check out the world?

Well, I have to be diplomatic at this. I like the different things, we got this planet called ROCKTropia with zombies and a castle and kill King Kong there. But, I might get tired of that and I want to go over to a sci-fi world. It’s just easy to pack your bags, jump on a spaceship with your skills, avatar and everything you’ve gathered. and move them to a different thing. It certainly feels like a different game because worlds are built by different companies.

Entropia has a lot of static entities, such as trees, buildings, etc. Do you plan on adding more customization and building? Or release building terminals for people to buy buildings?

We actually recently released a new housing system. It works out as a module system where you can buy different modules to add to the virtual environment. So, in some way, you can build your own house. But to graphically build, we like to keep the quality high and if you look back at Second Life, what happened to them, opened up their source code. Going into Second Life at that time, it was hard to find good quality buildings. We want to keep the quality high but let players have choices in what they are building and their virtual world, we still have to be careful.

Another reason is that it is a real-cash economy game. We cannot allow different items which could alter the parameters of the game which could affect the economy. So, everybody is very connected but when we’re balancing the whole Entropia Universe, we have to ensure we balance the economy correctly or else it will turn into anarchy and chaos.

Planet Calypso itself is huge and it takes a quite some time to travel by foot to another outpost or settlement, do you plan on building a faster and more accessible mode of transportation other than teleporters and starter pack cars?

There are quite a few types and different planets have built different types of travel. You can use hoverboards, spaceships, there’re lots. Boats, military ships, helicopters. There are different ways to get around. If you teleport around, you can’t really see the beautiful virtual environment. it is pretty cool to jump on a spaceship or one of the vehicles. There actually is a motorbike now, you can hop on a Harley looking bike and yeah, they’re all out there.

Entropia has a real-cash economy in the game, how can you transform the real-world economy?

As I mentioned before, we have this system, people can do services and get money from doing these services. So, there is already this system that is working in Entropia. We know that around the world in different countries, the minimum wage is very different. Where $5 a day is not acceptable in our country but other countries, where you can earn $5 a day playing your favorite game is actually not too bad. It’s a way of them coming in and doing services for the people that have money willing to pay for it to do things that some people find boring.

We are planning different ways where people can come in and do more work. We find that this is a way forward. We had the President of Virtual Reality, Jon Jacobs, he’s got a very good plan to create jobs, what we should be doing, not just Entropia but all of virtual reality.

Many people make PEDs from Entropia trading items, especially land deeds, can you explain how it works?

Any items, whether it is Calypso Land Deeds, items, clothes, there are 3 ways to trade:

One is a personal trade, you want to trade with me. We open up a chat window (in the game) and discuss the item, its price and agree on it. Then, we initiate the trade: I put the item, you put your money in, we both check if it is right and click “accept”. That’s actually free, it doesn’t cost anything to do that. Then, we have an auction where people can put their items on an auction, like an Ebay system. MindArk charges a small fee for that, but anywhere from across the Universe, you can view the items on the auction. Another way is if you own a shop. You can put hundreds of items in these shops and advertise your shop exactly like in the real world. If you have a good position, you have a better chance of selling your items.

The Calypso Land Deeds, which we started 3 years ago, we wanted to give a chance to our users to generate some revenue they’ve been putting into Entropia Universe. We allow 25% of Planet Calypso to be used, give back to the user through our deed system. We have 65,000 deeds our users could buy, and weekly, they are paid 25% of the revenue generated from that planet. I believe, right now, the average return is 20%. The deeds were sold for 100 dollars and now they are up to 190 dollars. The market value of these deeds have gone up nearly 100% and weekly, there is a revenue as well.

I see that users can withdraw and deposit with Bank accounts and NETELLER. Have you ever considered accepting Bitcoin? Transaction fees are lower and it is faster to deposit and withdraw.

Yes, we have, we had discussions with various Bitcoin users, distributors and yes, it’s something we’ve considered it and looked at it. Even Neteller, as you mentioned, at one point (I do not know if they still do), deposit into Entropia Universe, Bitcoin as well. But, as you probably know, the real-life banks, they don’t really like Bitcoin that much and in some cases, they try to put people off using it. We have good relationships with authorities and banks around the world because of our customers around the world.

Well, we are careful of what we implement and how we do it. We are looking at it and would like to do it because we know a lot of our customers have that type of financing in Bitcoin where they would like to deposit into Entropia, but the fluctuation of the market is important to us as well.

Yeah, because you guys are virtual and Bitcoin is also virtual so it would be interesting

People have been using their skills to create start their own little gigs and businesses in Entropia, what was the coolest Entropia business that you have seen?  

Good question! I would say the most common I’ve seen is trading and even in the real world, it has always been that way. You have the hunters going out, they love shooting their guns and collecting materials. They want to get back to town, sell it and get back to shooting their guns. And traders buy them and sell them off to manufacturers. That is probably most people do. With space travel, some people own spaceships and these cost 5000 or 6000 dollars. They’ve bought them and offering transport services around the universe.

There’s this one guy who does this VIP special services. You don’t have to wait for people to get on, you can just hop on the one extra seat on the spaceship and you’re off to another planet.

Societies unite people into a community, are you planning to add updates for society embassies?

No, there has been many years where we wanted to update societies and we talked about this. But there are a lot of small cities and towns all over the universe and we think it would be cool to have a clubhouse. A lot of these societies would really want their own clubhouse and get their own flag on top of the clubhouse. So, we’ve been looking at whether to allow societies certain rights to look after a town or governor of it.

There is a lot of gameplay we can actually do with the society. We have lots of ideas for societies but it needs time and resources to get it done.

What’s the next step for Entropia?

We’re doing a lot of back-end upgrading at the moment and with the Virtual Reality goggles, Oculus, HTC Hive, all of these. But, we are starting to prepare for what we call, “instances”. We as game developers and if you talk with other game developers at this moment in time, the technology is just not there [for VR]. If you look at adult users, they are spending 5-10 hours inside Entropia Universe and they don’t want VR glasses because they are cumbersome and can’t do anything else. A lot of players we know, they are multitasking and that is what people do nowadays.

We want the short experiences, we want to give our users, a new instance (area of new access) and make it more of a fun, high-powered 15 minutes of energy. Entropia and MMOs are different. I like to play Battlefield, World of Tanks, these games are just short,  adrenaline for 10 minutes, then you’re back out. What we want to be doing is give users who haven’t got that time to immerse themselves into the virtual world of Entropia Universe.

Yeah, the market just isn’t there yet

Yep, for virtual reality glasses. When you asked about what’s next for Entropia, yea, we are following that and we’re gonna be ready. And the instance we are building, should be out in December. If that is well received, we will be doing more and there is a chance that we will be making that particular instance into VR.

Well, that ends my interview with MindArk’s David Simmonds. Entropia’s next update will be in December which will add several new features discussed in this interview. What do you think about virtual reality and the future of real-cash economies? Will the job market go virtual? 

If you are interested in checking out Entropia Universe, you can click the link here.

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Angus is the Editor-In-Chief and creator of Technology Is Key. He enjoys tech and business and also runs Adventure Bitcoin.

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