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Sony's trading platform could change character of gaming

Fraud should be virtually eliminated

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It is the world's worst secret that online games like Sony's EverQuest which use the Massively Multiplayer role playing format, generate enough black market revenues to power a small country.

Players find notice boards and discussion groups, and sell characters with advanced abilities, or weapons or their accumulated game wealth for real money. Students have boasted they can earn a few thousand dollars a month creating characters for resale, to put themselves through college.

Now Sony Online Entertainment is finally not so much endorsing the practice (it's always known it was there) as cashing in on it, with something called the Station Exchange, an official auction site for Sony games.

The site is scheduled for launch in late June and it will be the official and secure way for EverQuest and similar subscribers to buy and sell the rights to use characters, items and coin in a player-to-player auction setting.

We're not sure that Sony has thought this through. It says that it wants to establish a standard for online games sales, and if that's the case it realizes that all of the future broadband games platform games, such as Playstation games, could also use such a platform. And that market may be worth billions of dollars, but for now it is only targeting the Massively Multiplayer games that run mostly on PCs, and use Sony servers.

There's also no reason why Sony should only use it for PlayStation games or games that it owns, once the Exchange is well understood.

Sony cites industry analyst group DFC Intelligence, which estimates the online game industry was worth $1.9bn during 2003 on its way to $9.8bn by 2009. The secondary market may already be as high as $800m, says DFC.

Sony doesn't say whether it will make any money out of the sale, although we are sure it must get at least its expenses paid. Sony certainly says that it will not sell any of the items or characters, but that may only be for now. In the end games may be written where you can start from scratch or buy your way in at a higher level to save the early learning rounds. Seeding such an exchange with some prime characters might be just what the market wants.

All transactions will happen through Station Exchange servers run by Sony, so fraud should be virtually eliminated. Fraud is reported to be rampant in chat rooms where transactions happen now. Sony has a subscriber base of 800,000 active EverQuest, EverQuest II, Star Wars Galaxies and PlanetSide accounts around the globe.

Copyright © 2005, 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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