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Way back in the early 1990s, the first stories about the commercialization of the internet included the idea of using the web to order pizza. So it struck a chord when Sony introduced the idea of being able to order pizza while you are playing the online multiplayer game, Everquest II.

Players can just type /pizza when they are in the game and are led to the online ordering section of Pizza Hut to place an order. Shortly, you'll be able to pay for these orders via your monthly gaming bill. Everquest has 330,000 active players all over the world, so that’s potentially a lot of pizza.

Effectively what Sony is saying is that instead of it offering advertising within online games, it will offer transactions. We first came across this idea on the internet when online publications such as ZD Net, sold computer equipment on the back of reviews about that equipment, around 1995. Now it has entered the gaming arena.

It doesn’t take a genius to see how this might develop. Early popularist cyber novels like Neuromancer and Snow Crash, which came out as the internet first began to flourish, contained virtual malls which appeared realistic through virtual reality technology, and made them a good place to shop.

What’s wrong with strolling through such a mall as a virtual character in a role playing game? Instead of leaving the game to go to a pizza site, what’s wrong with going to a virtual pizza house and just saying what you want, either verbally, through a messenger service or by clicking a tab, to order the pizza? The transaction can then be carried out between the game operator’s server and the purchased goods server, in the background.

What about games that are free as long as you spend more than $30 a month on purchases? It’s almost sure to come.

As the population of PlayStation and Xbox customers rise, and they are expected this year to reach 25 per cent of all consoles, there could be online gaming populations that number in the tens of millions online every day.

Sony Online Entertainment said that it thinks this is the first time a game has been able to accept orders for real-world items. It certainly won’t be the last and we see this as a thriving business that begins to materialize very slowly at first, rising gradually to the surface over the next three years.

Copyright © 2004, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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