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Virtual Madness: Pixelated Space Station Sells for $300,000 in Hard Cash

We always knew that the virtual economy of virtual goods in digital worlds was booming, and crossing ever more into the real economy, but who’d have thought a digital product would sell for nearly a third of a million real dollars?

project entropia

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We always knew that the virtual economy of virtual goods in digital worlds was booming, and crossing ever more into the real economy, but who’d have thought a digital product would sell for nearly a third of a million real dollars?

In this case, we’re talking about a Space Station–fully functioning, in a virtual sense, mind you–which adds a definite geek-chic sheen to the news, but it’s still pretty staggering. What’s gone on?

All the excitement is happening inside MindArk’s Project Entropia virtual universe game. This system includes the Planet Calypso virtual world, and here is where the Crystal Palace space station hovers. It’s been carefully built up to include thousands of intricate details, and recently went up for auction by Marcus Calendar the Estate Broker inside MindArk’s system, for an opening price of 1 Project Entropia dollar. After a bidding war, the prize went to a player called Buzz Erik Lightyear, who forked over 3.3 million Project Entropia dollars for this piece of sci-fi virtual real estate.

So what? Well, when you learn that MindArk’s player count totals over 800,000, that its virtual economy has been recognized by the Swedish government, and that 10 Project Entropia dollars can be exchanged for one real-life greenback bill, then this becomes significant. That means Buzz paid over $300,000 for a virtual product–something he’ll never get his real hands on.

Buzz’s reasons are unknown, but one thing that’s very likely going on here is market speculation. In a complete parallel to the to-ings and fro-ings of the real economy, a carefully speculative purchase may result in some serious profits, should things work out well. Buzz may be expecting the Crystal Palace to thrive and become an even more desirable virtual property–which he could then sell at a real profit. There’s even the possibility that the virtual economy is buffered against the kind of ups and downs that have plagued the world’s economic systems for the last year or so, making Buzz’s purchase doubly clever (although rampant “mudflation” might be a problem.)

More than this, though, the news is a potent reminder of one thing: Virtual Worlds are going to grow in importance as time passes, and their influence is increasingly going to be felt in our flesh-and-blood domain.

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)

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