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A 22 year-old Australian gamer has bought a virtual island for $26,500 in the largest Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) purchase ever.

Treasure Island exists only in the MMORPG Project Entropia (website: www.project-entropia.com), and was auctioned off for 265,000 Project Entropia Dollars, equivalent to $26,500, on Tuesday. Successful bidder David Storey obtained mining and hunting rights, ownership of all land on the island and a castle (furniture not included). Storey stands to make a profit through careful development of the island and selling hunting and mining privileges, according to MindArk, the company behind Project Entropia.

"I intend to create a thriving, fully functional settlement for all to enjoy," Storey said in a statement released by MindArk. "The goal is to make Treasure Island the best it can be to serve the population of Calypso."

Located on the fictional planet Calypso, the island actually sounds quite nice, apart from the slight mutant infestation:

A large island off a newly discovered continent surrounded by deep creature infested waters. The island boasts beautiful beaches ripe for developing beachfront property, an old volcano with rumors of fierce creatures within, the outback is overrun with mutants, and an area with a high concentration of robotic miners guarded by heavily armed assault robots indicates interesting mining opportunities.

Just the place for the next series of I'm a celebrity - get me out of here!.

Where there's brass there's muck

The online games industry is expected to generate more than $1bn in the whole of 2004 and a report by Screen Digest predicts that this will double by 2007, but with this wealth comes conflicts. In 2001 players of the online game EverQuest threatened a class action against Sony for stopping them selling their characters and items for cash. It has been estimated that gamers can make an average of $3.42 an hour by selling their time spent playing.

Verant, the company behind EverQuest, banned the auctioning of accounts because they "can't be responsible for all the fraud that goes on," and maintained that they "shall retain ownership of all intellectual property rights".

But the class action statement claimed that people organising these sales were in fact "selling the time spent building the status of an Everquest character" or "selling the time spent obtaining the item".

With the increasing complexity and freedom of action in online role playing games comes increasingly bizarre, yet oddly familiar, ways of earning in-game currency.

In 2003 Peter Ludlow, a linguist and philosopher of language, began reporting on the seedier side of the role playing game The Sims Online in his blog, The Alphaville Herald (now known as Always Fairly Unbalanced). In TSO, petty and organised crime are rife, with currency trading, confidence tricks and even a virtual brothel, where punters hear dirty talk in exchange for simoleons, the game's currency.

Ludlow interviewed the Madam of the brothel, also a major scam artist, who showed no remorse, and even seemed proud of her exploits. However, the game also has self-proclaimed forces for good, including vigilantes known as the Sims Shadow Government, who take matters into their own hands by seducing scammers and destroying their houses.

At least it keeps them off the streets. ®

Related stories

Everquest class action threat over auction spat
MS kills Mythica MMORPG
Chinese government censors online games

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