Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

EverQuest: The 77th Richest Country in the World

with one comment

Then he noticed something curious: EverQuest had its own economy, a bustling trade in virtual goods. Players generate goods as they play, often by killing creatures for their treasure and trading it. The longer they play, the more powerful they get – but everyone starts the game at Level 1, barely strong enough to kill rats or bunnies and harvest their fur. Castronova would sell his fur to other characters who’d pay him with “platinum pieces,” the artificial currency inside the game. It was a tough slog, so he was always stunned by the opulence of the richest players. EverQuest had been launched in 1999, and some veteran players now owned entire castles filled with treasures from their quests.

Things got even more interesting when Castronova learned about the “player auctions.” EverQuest players would sometimes tire of the game, and decide to sell off their characters or virtual possessions at an on-line auction site such as eBay. When Castronova checked the auction sites, he saw that a Belt of the Great Turtle or a Robe of Primordial Waters might fetch $40s; powerful characters would go for several hundred or more. And sometimes people would sell off 500,000-fold bags of platinum pieces for as much as $1,000.

As Castronova stared at the auction listings, he recognised with a shock what he was looking at. It was a form of currency trading. Each item had a value in virtual “platinum pieces”; when it was sold on eBay, someone was paying cold hard American cash for it. That meant the platinum piece was worth something in real currency. EverQuest’s economy actually had real-world value.

He began calculating frantically. He gathered data on 616 auctions, observing how much each item sold for in US dollars. When he averaged the results, he was stunned to discover that the EverQuest platinum piece was worth about US1¢ – higher than the Japanese yen or the Italian lira. With that information, he could figure out how fast the EverQuest economy was growing. Since players were killing monsters or skinning bunnies every day, they were, in effect, creating wealth. Crunching more numbers, Castronova found that the average player was generating 319 platinum pieces each hour he or she was in the game – the equivalent of US$3.42/hour. “That’s higher than the minimum wage in most countries,” he marvelled.

Then he performed one final analysis: The Gross National Product of EverQuest, measured by how much wealth all the players together created in a single year inside the game. It turned out to be US$2,266 per capita. By World Bank rankings, that made EverQuest richer than India, Bulgaria, or China, and nearly as wealthy as Russia. It was the 77th richest country in the world. And it didn’t even exist.

(via this Metafilter thread on Third World gaming sweatshops)

Written by gerrycanavan

July 6, 2005 at 11:25 pm

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