The Rise of Real Cash Economy Games

Sixteen years ago, it all started with a project and a revolutionary idea; that a game could have a true economy and that players could live and work within that virtual environment, trading the goods and services of a digital realm with each other for real money.  The developer of this system was MindArk, and the platform they would introduce that fateful year was Project Entropia. Utilizing the Project Entropia Dollar, an early (perhaps the first) digital currency, they pegged it to the US Dollar at 10:1 and let the economy inside of the game grow organically.  For the last decade and a half, this game has ebbed and flowed, and thrived. Boasting over a million active accounts, the player-base in the game is mature, dedicated, and hardworking within the digital realm they have built on the foundation that MindArk and its planet partners have provided.

It was only a matter of time before other developers wanted to get in on the opportunity that a Real Cash Economy (RCE) game could offer, and with the rise of crypto currency and the blockchain, perhaps one of the most powerful computer technologies to date, new games have started to come onto the scene.  This doesn’t include the new crop of free scratch-off and lottery games that have started to spring up on the Google Play store, offering the possibility of money in exchange for watching a veritable boatload of ads instead of paying a dollar a play. The two games I have most recently run into are curious in design and require some digging into.  The first has a relatively high barrier to entry, whereas the second does not.  

The first is the game Decentraland, a real cash economy that runs on the Ethereum Blockchain.  Like in EU, you can purchase pieces of property in exchange for money, and then develop that property in an effort to provide experiences to players.  As of now, Decentraland is still in its infancy; it does appear that you can now create an avatar to play, so the game is apparently live, though I have yet to explore it; that may come in a future video.  All of the initial, and perhaps planned digital real estate for Decentraland is now owned by players, whether purchased to actually play, develop, or hold as investment property. It has the potential to supplant EU as the premier MMORCE, however as yet, it does not appear to have the reknown.  With the ever-growing influence of the blockchain, to the point that China is now developing their own, state-backed crypto, this is likely to change in the near future.

The other Real Cash Economy game I want to talk about is more strategic in its scope, and it’s called 0x Universe.  Like Decentraland, 0xU is on the Ethereum Blockchain, although in a fit of irony, it uses ETH instead of ZRX as its currency.  I downloaded this game and put some Ether into it; and it looks promising, though like all RCE games, the startup is slow. You buy planets and build spaceships, then go searching for other planets.  You can then sell those planets, or use them for resources. Alternatively, you can “rent” the planets; this is effectively selling your colonists in exchange for ETH. As the planets use population as a resource, you can “lease” them to players that need extra people in exchange for real money; this depletes the resource for your use, but you gain ETH in return.  Good thing these aren’t real people!

As of this writing, I have bought two planets and invented a spaceship, which I will launch when I’m comfortable that I have the appropriate buffer in resources.  The total cost to me has been less than $2, much lower than any start up cost for a normal video game, but like all RCE games, it comes with a catch, especially as it’s a blockchain game; every action or transaction incurs a fee for the processing on the blockchain (essentially paid to miners for the use of their memory).  This means that most if not all actions are going to cost you money, even if it’s less than a penny. This is something important to keep in mind when looking at playing the game.

I’ll continue to explore these games and others as they pop up, but both look promising; that said, I doubt either will unseat EU as the monolith of RCE games; that said, anything can happen, and the technology is young.  The future looks bright for both Crypto, and Real Cash Economy games!

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Sometimes…You Have to Sweat

Vibrant sweat is probably one of the least valuable commodities in EU, yet it is what drives the F2P segment of the game.  Periodically, I take time to sweat mobs at Boreas or Half Moon Cove to remind myself just how difficult such activity is, and why I’m thankful that I’m a depositor.  Such a time has come again, and I’m aiming to do between 10 and 20 PED in revenue from vibrant sweat. That means sweating out between 10k and 20k bottles from the mobs at Boreas.

It’s not necessarily obvious why I would do this either; as a hunter, and a melee hunter at that, my evade skills are relatively high, I have a lot of HP relative to my level, I have the money to deposit and sweating is far less efficient time-to-profit wise than a minimum wage job.  What would possess me to grind some large amount of sweat (again, remember I sweat out the Arkadian Passport) instead of just doing what I do best? There are largely two reasons I do this, although half of me wants to kick the other half of me for deciding to do it: it’s a challenge.  Sweating mobs long-term is a challenge, and a hard one; after all, it is the hard grind, the most time consuming way to play EU, for the least overall benefit. 1k sweat usually brings in somewhere between 0.9 and 1.5 PED, and as I have not spent a large amount of time doing it, I’m only level 7.  However, there are those skills that are related to sweating that I feel are undervalued.

First and foremost, sweating is a Mindforce ability.  This means that you will grind out your concentration skill as you attempt to gather the undervalued perspiration from the mob (which I know, strictly speaking, it’s not; it’s liquid and unrefined mind essence).  Other skills, especially if you’re sweating in a solo area, will include evade, dodge, and if you’re swunting, whatever weapon you’re killing the mob with. Other mindforce-related skills will also rise as your VSE-1 makes the repetitive, slightly grinding noise (not sure if that’s a deliberate pun or not) as you stand there and let auto-use do its bit.

There is one skill, however, that sweating helps with that doesn’t have a progress bar; it’s wholly unappreciated, and usually not sought out.  Yet, it is one of the most important skills you need to have in the game: patience. Patience to handle an odious, repetitive task that has slow though incremental progress toward a goal.  Patience to push through the desire to skip to the part that feels more productive, even if you’re hemorrhaging PED day in and day out. It’s honesty a great way to practice for your day job; you’ll find that the more time you spend sweating, the grindy, repetitive parts of your day job will become slightly less tedious as you get your work done.  This is especially useful in a job like a factory, where you produce widget after widget for your wage.

It may sound silly that sweating might have some real-world benefit, but it’s not much different from other aspects of the game.  Entropia is truly a life simulator, albeit one with monsters (and let’s face it, how much more awesome would life be with monsters?).  The auction house and market tickers teach us basic economics, our PED card does budgeting, and sweating gives us patience. Each segment of the game has real world value, even beyond the real money economy, and we have to treat it as we would any aspect of our lives–as something we can learn and grow from, and learn and grow in.

So take the words of BIG Industries, which I am so fond of quoting over and over again, until you’re utterly sick of me saying them: “embrace the grind.”  Embrace the grind and accept the benefits you’ll receive from doing so enthusiastically; in the year and a half that I have been playing, I’ve noticed that I am better at attending other aspects of my life for the lessons EU has taught me.  What has it taught you?

Is Entropia Universe a Losing Game?

Those of us that play Entropia Universe often run into the cliche questions from new players and nay-sayers to the platform: is Entropia Universe a Losing Game?  Is it pay to win? Can you really make money like MindArk purports? This isn’t the easiest question to answer because there are a number of factors to consider. First, what is your purpose in playing Entropia Universe?  Why did you decide to join the platform?

Your purpose in playing is largely the deciding factor on whether or not EU is a losing game; even more so than whether or not you succeed in your attempt.  If you play EU to entertain yourself, kill some mobs, unwind after a hard day at the office, then it’s never a losing game. If you put in the same amount the typical gamer puts into their subscription-based MMO (call it $20 a month on average, to account for EU not having a purchase price or expansion packs every two years), then you break even.  Keeping in mind that you have to set your level of play to your budget, it’s important to remember that you don’t need to play at Uber level to enjoy yourself on the platform. Then, when the big loots do come in the form of Globals, you can re-direct those profits back into more play time!

If you come to EU strictly to make money, I have some bad news for you: you’re either going to have to invest money, or a lot of time.  MindArk isn’t in the business of giving away money; in fact, if they were, in all likelihood we wouldn’t have the platform to play on. Thus, you have to put the effort and time in to provide goods or services to other players in order to make money.  You can do any number of things, from running a taxi to face sculpting to sweating mobs, but it comes down to one of two things: are you going to dump a bunch of money in to grind the skills out quicker (or buy them and chip in), or are you going to sweat the mobs and grind out the PED the F2P way?  How you decide to do it is up to you.

In the end, if you achieve what goal you set for yourself in EU, it isn’t a losing game.  Using myself as an example, I put in a significant amount of my disposable income every month because EU is the basis for my YouTube Channel (you can find it here).  Therefore I measure my results in EU more on the success of the videos I make rather than the strict PED made or lost, even though I meticulously track every PED earned and lost.  Why do I do this, if I am more focused on the views and watchtime? Just because I said it isn’t the measure of my success doesn’t mean I don’t want to be mindful of my profits and losses!

In fact, I strongly recommend you do the same.  Although for some time, it may even look depressing, keeping track of your PED-flows will tell you when you might want to take a break, or move on to another hunting or mining location.  If you track exactly where you were mining, or what you were hunting, you can even figure out what your go-to mobs should be for maximum profitability. That said, you must also remember that your Looter and Prospecting skills play a major role in your loot, and making sure you’re hunting mobs in your loot capability, or digging to the depth you should be, is crucial to successful ventures.

And for crafters?  That’s a whole article on its own, since crafting is more involved than hunting or mining.  You have to read the market, know what to make, know you can make it and profit from the mark-up, and that’s after you grind the skills out.  I have research to do on this, but if I can, I’ll do an article on it soon!

Influence and Trust

“The influential man is the successful man, whether he be rich or poor.”

–Orison Swett Marden

What is the nature of influence?  As a YouTuber, influence is the currency that I have to transact with; after all, the more videos I make, the more influence I wield, and therefore the more views, subscriptions, and maybe eventually, when I’m eligible, the more memberships I’ll receive.  Many YouTubers use that influence to sway their viewership–what YouTube guru Sunny Leonarduzzi calls your “tribe”–into purchasing products through affiliate programs or into taking some sort of action.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with this; in fact, it’s a basic human instinct.  Wielding influence is often the goal of anyone in their space. Without influence, you cannot lead, and without leadership, you cannot accomplish your goals.  Some people wield influence effortlessly, at least in appearance; the most common people that effortlessly curry influence are politicians, TV and radio personalities, prominent content creators on YouTube and Twitch, and social media influencers.  Some spaces have higher barriers to entry than others, and more and more the “alternative” media of the internet is becoming the space to dominate.

There are far more contenders in the space as well; unlike traditional media, there is a very low barrier for entry to become an internet-based influencer.  For instance, the total cost of my studio space, including the computer that I bought before I decided to become a YouTuber, was under $3000. No major TV equipment, no over-the-top microphone (although I have a good one), a simple 1080p webcam.  The barrier I face is the same barrier everyone else faces–obscurity. That can be easier or harder to overcome depending on the niche that you decide to contend in; for instance, the primary niche I operate in, Entropia Universe content, has a very low number of creators operating in it; but the number of people that would be interested in such content is low compared to other niches.  Every EU content creator I have followed, and I do the same, expanded out into other sectors on their channels to try and expand their reach and viewership.

So what is the nature of influence?  Influence can probably be defined as the subtle art of getting others to do what you want.  It’s not an easy skill to develop, and for those not predisposed to extroversion are going to have a harder battle still; to influence people you have to interact with them.  Introverts, myself included, are not easily convinced to interact with people they don’t know unless they are required to. In fact, it was this issue that made me decide to work in sales–I had to force myself to become less introverted on command, even if it was only for the sake of the job, just to make my paycheck.  To a certain extent, it obviously worked: I am now a YouTuber and blogger.

So how do you build influence?  I am still learning, but the most basic thing that you can do is to provide value to those you wish to influence.  Value doesn’t have to cost you anything, either; it can mean creating something that helps others, teaching someone a skill you have, providing honest council to a person struggling with a topic you have experience in.  Most importantly, always tell the truth.  This adage is so important, that whole books have been written about it.  When I was a youth, and until I was in my mid-twenties, I wielded deceit liberally.  It provided me a lot of outs from problems that I had caused or put myself into; it also ended up putting me with people I should have avoided.  While I never committed a crime, it meant I couldn’t even trust myself, or my own recollection of facts, because I would do my best to remember things in the manner of my lie, to seem more truthful.

The result of this should be obvious.  People didn’t believe the simplest words I spoke, and even now in my hometown I can feel the resentment of those I once wronged, more than a decade later.  When I moved to the Midwest, after my divorce, I resolved to always be honest, with myself and others, even when it was painful. This doesn’t mean I don’t handle situations tactfully when called for, but it does mean that I will always be truthful with those I speak to.  I noticed, over time, that people were coming to me for advice when before they did not, or even avoided me.

A final thought on this: it takes a long time to build trust, and even longer to build influence; it takes one mistake to screw it all up.

If you’re interested in reading more about building influence, particularly around trust, I’d like to suggest several works by Jeffrey Gitomer, which I will provide links below.  Full disclosure: these are affiliate links, and I appreciate the support.

The Little Teal Book of Trust by Jeffrey Gitomer

Little Green Book of Getting Your Way by Jeffrey Gitomer

The Case for Entropia Universe

“Life is a game, and we have to embrace the grind.”

–Julien McBain

Don’t think life is a game?  Define a game. A game is two or more people, engaging in an activity whether cooperative or competitive, using a defined set of rules for interaction with each other.  Sounds a lot like a social contract, doesn’t it? What it comes down to is that we are constantly playing some sort of game; whether it’s the game on a console or PC, or a board game, or the game of negotiating with your children on getting them to bed.  Before the other parents in my readership ratio me for talking about negotiating bedtime, trust me, it’s a negotiation. You negotiate rewards and punishments, even if the negotiation consists of “punishment or no punishment.”

So we play games all the time, and we frame our lives within the architecture of the game of life.  Then along comes MindArk and creates a game that might just be the perfect economic simulation. Additionally, the methods in which players make money, or lose it, are direct parallels to how we do so in real life.  Congratulations, we’re paying Mind Ark for a life simulator that just happens to be more fun than the one we interact with in the real world because it involves monsters.  That’s what it comes down to–humans are hunters and gatherers at heart; we started our existence making a subsistence off of hunting animals for food, gathering resources and food, then trading our surpluses to other people for their surpluses.  Mindark literally gamified the most primal instincts we have.  In fact, the only thing they didn’t gamify for us was the reproductive instinct, and I have no doubt that there are couples that met in Entropia Universe.

This is why we love the game Entropia Universe–it calls to the most primal and simple instincts we as humans have.  It can also teach us to redirect those instincts into our lives at large; after all, EU is arguably the grindiest game ever created (and if it’s not, it’s definitely in the top 5).  How does that differ from how we work our jobs, maintain our families, and raise our children? I’m not saying to resent your family the way we resent the Loot Pool and Lootius some days, what I’m saying is you have to embrace all aspects of it and take what you learn from one platform, say, EU, and apply it to your other platforms, including good old analog life.  Don’t think you can do it?

How much of hunting around other players, especially not in a team, is courtesy?  How do we deal with players that might accidentally (or even deliberately) steal mobs?  What time and energy do you put into dropping probes for ores and en-matters? How much digital real estate have you acquired, if any?  Do you run an in-game business, like a taxi service, or a crafting factory? Maybe you operate a society.

See, all of these have clear cut parallels in the real world, and you can take the skills acquired from the game and apply them to your real life, whether it’s patiently dealing with people, or iterating an automated system, or having to search for the solution to a problem.  Perhaps it’s reading markets and giving advice on whether or not to mark up or down a product. All of these have applications in both platforms, and each of them will have importance to you at some point in your life. Even the act of managing your PED card is no different than managing your bank account, and I’d wager you’re far better at managing the PED card.

So look inside yourself and think about how you can grind a skill in Entropia, then take that skill and apply it to your real life.  Then develop that skill further in the analog world and reapply it to EU. Then see how your development, and that of your Avatar, explode.

It’s About Mindset

“Moving forward is only possible if you put your mind to moving forward.”

–Julien McBain

The majority of success and failure comes down to the one thing we have the most and least control over–our mindset.  Only we can change it, we have the most control over it, yet it is one of the hardest things for us to do. The issue at hand is that changing mindset isn’t as simple as telling yourself to think differently; after all, humans are creatures of habit that tend toward moving to a comfort zone and staying there.  Still too, that it is far easier to accept a mentality of mediocrity and failure than it is to take responsibility to become successful. This doesn’t necessitate success in the socially accepted definition of it, where you own a house, cars, perhaps a business, although it certainly is one version of it; instead it means coming to the point where you have decided you have reached your success point in a given goal, and the biggest barrier to doing so, besides the heretofore mentioned Brain Weasels, is your mindset.

So how does one create a mindset of success?  Our own biology makes that difficult, and nature is a hard thing to overcome.  Every individual is different, and what works for one may not work for another, but there appear to be some key similarities in all sources I’ve read about changing the way we think to push us toward success:

1) Read

According to Iris, the average American reads 4 books a year.  An average CEO will read that many books per month.  This means that they are constantly challenging their brains with new ideas and concepts, learning new techniques or skills.  While you may not have the time or inclination to read forty eight books a year, you might consider increasing from one book a quarter to one book a month, and see where it takes you.  Audiobooks count!

When you read, you dive out of your own brain, and into the brain of another.  This is important, because it gives you time to explore the mindset of a person you aren’t familiar with, and thus can reflect upon your own mindset in turn.  After all, it’s easy to land in an echo chamber if the only thing you have to listen to are your own thoughts, with nothing to challenge them or contradict them, and while this terminology is often applied in political conversation, it equally applies in business, interpersonal relationships, and building skills.  For example, the first three years I fought as a fencer, I practiced the art as taught by Rudolfo Capo Ferro, experimenting with some of the forms of Thibault. After being offered the chance to enter the Black Tiger school, I downloaded and read The Way of the Tiger, written by one Robert Childs, who would later personally proctor my test to become a Tiger myself.  This style challenged not only the style I had fought for so long, but the very teachings of several period masters.  I became fascinated by this style, and the men and women that practiced it; after all, I had fought against three Black Scarves, as they (now we) are called, and one student, called a Cord.  I hadn’t been able to come close to beating any of them.

After review of the material and considering how my own skills had plateaued, I took the Cord and became the student of a friend, who then taught me how to fight using this unique, integrated style.  My fencing skills improved dramatically, and although I am still an intermediate fencer, and have plenty of room to improve, I am much further than I would be, had I rebuffed the challenge to everything I had learned up to that point.  Fencing, like many martial arts, has a number of stances and movements, but application of any movement or stance is dependent upon the master you are modelling after. This new style challenged all of the traditional beliefs I had been taught, and while it in itself also has its weaknesses, it opened my mind to new possibilities.

Thus, strive to take more time out of your life, busy though it is, and read one book a month.  While it may not match the sixty or so that a CEO reads, it will certainly open your mind up to the possibilities that are out there.

2) Write

I’ve said on many occasions that writing is critical to expressing yourself.  It allows a person to express themselves in ways that are well thought out, and concise.  Given my druthers, if I had to pick a path, the way of the writer would be my primary purpose, as I have always enjoyed the act of writing on a regular basis, though there have been periods, sometimes for years, that I will not put word on paper.

Even if you are not predisposed to writing, have a hard time with spelling or have no skill in grammar, it would benefit you to keep a journal at the very least.  This will allow you to get your thoughts out, expressed in a way that they can be reviewed outside of your head, and examined with a critical eye; or a sympathetic one.  It doesn’t mean you have to write a full length article or book, either; even if you were to only write for ten minutes, and even if those scribblings were nonsensical to anyone but you, it is important that you write.

I have an admittedly neglected journal that I take to when I need to express a frustration or doubt, and get it out into print.  My need to journal is somewhat curtailed by these blogs, and the YouTube Videos I create; I share my inner thoughts with you. However, for those things I am uncomfortable expressing to the public, I do in fact have one set aside.  I also have a notebook, which I have mentioned several times in various content, that is my near constant companion. Thus, if an idea strikes me, I can write it down immediately, if only for later dissection and discard.

Take the time to write, at least once a week, and you will find your mind clearer when you go to face a challenge.

3) Make Yourself Big

Note: this did not say “make yourself arrogant.”  By making yourself big, spreading yourself out openly and stretching to as much space as you can take up, you open yourself to the world.  There is a certain vulnerability to making yourself big and taking space; after all, it makes you noticeable. CEOs of major companies are famous for making themselves “big”, by stretching out, taking space, and having a very open posture.  You stand up straight, shoulders back, arms spread wide, as if to address a crowd. This gets your serotonin moving, the chemical that produces feelings of confidence, and makes you feel like you’re a more successful person.

In order to help get my mind in order, when fighting off depression or insecurity, I will stand up and hold my arms out, spread like the wings of a bird, as if I’m holding a large rally or conference where I’m the main speaker.  I imagine a cheering crowd, that are excited to hear what I have to say, even if I don’t have what it would be, imagined in my mind. This little exercise, though nothing more than a daydream, serves to get my blood moving and my brain working on a level different than it was before.  Although I have given presentations on mundane subjects, and never seen a large crowd for one, the imagination helps to bring my mindset to the place I need it to be, to fight off the depression and continue my day, with a boost of confidence.

These three things are not the only keys to a success mindset, but they are certainly important keys.  Take some time each day to think about how you can change how you think, and in turn, see yourself become more successful, in whatever endeavor you seek to accomplish, whether it is in business, or your personal life.

Herding Brain Weasels

Recently, I took on a student of fencing, and was trying to figure out the best way to teach her the style that I use.  It’s a modern style, derived from the styles of period masters like Cappo Ferro and Agrippa, mixed with Eastern fencing techniques largely taken from the styles attributed to the Tokugawa family.  As I put together the foundations for the curriculum I plan to teach, the brain weasels came forth and started to play their games. Those notorious but insidious little bastards, whose only purpose is to make you question everything you do, crept in and tried to play punching bag with my confidence in my ability to pass on the skills that I have been taught by my own mentor.

This is not to say that I am a master at it; not by any stretch.  I am in fact still a student in many ways, and my desire to teach is as much a desire to improve myself as it is to help someone else; it is old wisdom that the best way to learn a skill or improve upon it is to teach it.  Now I have a reason to force myself to practice skills more regularly, that I can teach my student, called a “cord” because of the braided rope they wear on their shoulder, better. Still, it is the anxiety felt of failing my student, or proving myself an unworthy teacher, that necessitates that additional practice; if I lose a match, I have only myself to blame, but if I fail a student, I have not only impacted me, but them as well, and perhaps permanently.

As the brain weasels scurried around in my head prior to me extending the offer of mentorship, I realized that there was some utility to having this mental rodent infestation in my brain.  It is worth mentioning, and highly ironic, that my arms feature an ermine field, which is representative of the fur of a particular species of weasel; it feels even more appropriate now.  I realized, as they darted and tunnelled and played with my confidence that I could use that fear, that anxiety, as the  impetus to do better. If I push myself to accomplish the things I am afraid of failing at, then the fear will become unnecessary because I succeeded.  If I fail, then I can use the chatter of the brain weasels to get myself back in order and try again.

Thus the epiphany came forth: overcoming fear and anxiety has nothing to do with exterminating or running off brain weasels; you have to tame the furry little bastards and bend them to your will.  Only then will Fear and Anxiety have been overcome; only then will those feelings go away.

So how does one do this?  I am still figuring that out, but I am taking a saying I recently found to heart: “if it makes you afraid, you should probably be doing it”.  That’s what I will do.