Sunday, November 27, 2005

Second Life vs Entropia Universe


There has been a revolution in independent massive multi player online video games. These are games that you can't buy in stores and exist primarily on the internet for PC. They exist outside the mainstream commercial video game industry. They do not get mentioned on game sites as much. Ironically, they get mentioned more in big time news outlets like the New York Times and CNN. These games are developed by independent companies, and updated online without ever seeing a store shelf. Most of them are free or require a very low monthly rate to play. Just go to the site, download the game, install and your in.

For this article I am choosing two games with a real cash economy and truck loads of fun: Second Life and Entropia Universe (formally Project Entropia.) Both require a decent computer and internet connection to run properly. At the very least you need DSL, and you can manage with lower memory and a lesser quality video card. It is possible to make real money playing these games! If you are serious about generating revenue, then I recommend spending the cash to max your memory, and get a decent to high-end Geforce or Radeon video card. Normally I would of put this paragraph at the end, but I didn't want anyone getting too excited only to realize that they would not be able to play them with the system they have.

What do you do in your Second Life?

Second Life was created in 2003 by Phillip Rosedale. In 1995 Rosedale developed FreeVue, a low-bit rate video conferencing system for Internet-connected PC's, resulting in the acquisition of his company in early 1996 by Real Networks. For 3 1/2 years, Rosedale served at Real Networks as Vice President and CTO, where he was responsible for the development and launch of Real Video, Real System 5.0, and Real System G2. In 1999 Rosedale returned to San Francisco, joined Accel Partners as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, and began the basic research that would become the technology behind Linden Labs, his company that runs Second Life (SL.)

SL is a single virtual world, not the same world running in separate games on many servers, but one grid, almost two million players* and player-owned land parcels. It is not like traditional games, where players follow rigid programming, limited to the linear progression outlined by the developers. In SL, players are allowed infinite freedom to create anything they wish, and the best part is that when you create something, you actually own the rights to that digital item. Of course, this only applies to original content, but Linden Labs even encourages free trade of your creations. Unlike people selling their EverQuest character on Ebay for hundreds of dollars illegally, with Second Life you are encouraged to sell your creations for a profit!

SL is not your typical game in terms of game play either. There is no overlying plot that pits player against player, no bad guys enforced on the player by the developers, and no tedious tasks to make the money you need to buy that +5 suit of armor. Instead, these elements are left to the player to create. There are ongoing battles between mafia families and gangs, hundreds of player created games in world like multi player FPS, PVP fighting games, battle sims and just the general strife that comes with nearly 2 million players* trying to co-exist!


Our second game is Entropia Universe. EU was created by MindArk, a diverse technologies company in Gothenburg, Sweden with 70+ employees. Entropia Universe is more of a traditional MMORPG, but with a real cash economy. Free trade is also encouraged by EU, but unlike SL, the players do not own the digital rights to their inventory. However, EU is also a single virtual world called Calypso where players can own land and build on it.

At the moment, there are very limited vehicles in the game. Although the hulks of vehicles scatter the landscape, players only recently are able to construct spaceships to ferry people back and forth to Crystal Station, a space station in the game. The site says that in the near future there will be land vehicles and combat systems for vehicles and spaceships. There are a variety of classes based on how you play, like Hunters, Miners, Crafters and Mindforce users. You can form teams to better hunt the creatures of Calypso and when new land masses are opened in game, pvp land grabs are held for ownership.

Economics 101

Both games have a real cash economy, as well as their own currency exchange. You must have a credit/debit card to play SL, but not necessarily EU, only if you intend to get your PEDs exchanged. An SL basic account is free, and additional basic accounts cost $9.95. EU is completely free to play and you can actually make money without any initial investment, though I recommend depositing $10 to get you started (min. deposit $10, $10.00 U.S. = approx. $95.00 PED,) it will go a long way in helping you get started.

Linden Labs actually has a professional economist to track SL's economy. They determine the value of currency, analyze market trends and regulate the flow of currency into the world. Currency exchange in SL is handled in house through the Lindex Currency Exchange, and through SL Exchange. Both games have open trade so there are many auctions for either. For EU, most of the auctioning is done in game and between players. By providing these avenues, the companies improve their economy by keeping the business in the community as apposed to Ebay etc. Since these games are privately funded their existence, and therefore the security of you investment, is assured unlike other games which eventually get turned lose when the developers and distributors move on to other projects.

As for making money, both games have loads of cash being moved around everyday. In EU, one player purchased an island from MindArk for $20,000 U.S.! Although players gasped at that amount, he assured everyone that he will make exponentially more than that from renting living spaces out to other players. In SL, a famous resident name Anshe Chung, is on her way to having a $1,000,000 year for revenue in 2006! She gets the majority of her income from being a real estate mogul. She buys an island, builds a shopping mall and living quarters and then rents it out, as well as run a few businesses of her own. Other business people make $5,000-$80,000 a year from animations, creatures, fashion, marketing, weapon/vehicle design, clubs etc.

Gameplay

This area, more than any other, is where the two games vary the most. SL has a very non-restricting gameplay. What you do in-world is up to you and there are literally thousands of things to do. From strip clubs (SL has the large adult-only grid and a newly added teen grid, separate from one another,) to in-world mini games, lecture sessions like the well know Future Salon, movie theaters (utilizing SL's streaming/capture video/audio feature introduced in the latest update,) or go build ships/vehicles, customize your avatar or buy an island and build a city! Crafting is all done through an in-world interface usable by the most inexperienced 3D modeler and costs lindens to purchase your creations.

On top of 3D modeling and importing textures, SL's script is fully customizable. So, lets say I design a 30 ft. tall furry monster thing, as one resident did (took him hours to save it!) and I want to design a custom dance move for him. I can write my own scripting to get the exact movement I want. The scripting applies to every aspect of SL and even a player with no prior script experience can learn how to write it with relative ease. There are numerous resources for residents of SL to learn everything they want to know. Oh, I forgot to mention, in Second Life everyone can fly and teleport!

There are no skill systems or stats unless you are playing an in-world game with skills/stats. The world of SL is comprised of many continents and it is HUGE! A group of players decided to walk from the western most edge to the eastern most edge of SL two years ago. This was unusual since everyone can fly and teleport. It took them over 8 hours! 8 HOURS! Whew... after a few hours most of them were wondering exactly why they wanted to do it.... I think so that I can tell people it took them 8 hours when heralding the joys of Second Life!


The gameplay in EU is more like traditional MMORPGs. Most players start out by harvesting Sweat, a substance used for Mindforce powers. Sweat is valuable but getting it is tricky for players with little experience. You have to get within close range of a group of creatures and concentrate for a certain amount of time without moving or being attacked. Once you gather enough Sweat, fruit or dung you can sell it and buy the tools necessary for your craft. Hunting is the profession most players get into at first. Buy some weapons, guns and melee, maybe some armor and head out to kill some scary creatures.

EU allows you to form teams with other players to better facilitate slaughtering creatures. An innovative feature in EU is the mentoring system. As a new player, higher level players will ask if you want a mentor. This means you basically become their apprentice to help them with their more grunt work-like needs and in turn you learn how to play and of course you have some nice backup. You can also chose to go Mining for raw materials needed by crafters but this involves you buying the necessary mining equipment. It is rather challenging to find the right areas to mine as they are not unlimited. Next on the profession tier is Crafting. To craft you need blueprints and raw materials to construct weapons, clothes or spaceships.

The top tier of professions is a Mindforce user. Mind force is the psychic
superpower in the game. This power offers attacks as well as on-the-spot teleportation, healing etc. A Mind Force user needs an implant, Mindforce power chip Mind Essence (a combination of Sweat and Force Nexus, a substance found in the soil of Calypso.) Players can trade anywhere person to person, trade from kiosks or own land for residence, a business, a society base or all three. Teleportation is accessible through specific teleport locations or anywhere by Mindforce users. There are a number or continents and islands in EU. Some are specifically designated for certain things. Like PVP land grab continents or treasure islands.

Ground Control

The controls of either game are radically different. Unfortunately, this is one area where SL lacks and EU excels. The controls in SL are fixed and cannot be customized by the player. Sadly, is doesn't use the Half Life standard of WSAD for movement, Space for jump, Ctrl for crouch and mouse to look and shoot. It doesn't allow you to customize either so that is unfortunate. EU however allows you customize everything but the space bar and even uses mostly the Half Life standard for default. In addition, EU allows you to switch between manual control like all FPSs and point-and-click like Warcraft where you just click on the ground where you want to move to or click what you want to attack and you do that.

If you are not experienced in different games, you may not see the value of this diversity, but I assure it is very attractive. One of the biggest drawbacks of most MMORPGs for me is the point-and-click controls. Manual control allows you to implement real world strategies like distance attacks, taking cover and moves. Where as point-and-click is just a numbers game. Your character walks up to the enemy and starts slashing away. If your chance to hit, weapons and skills are better you win, but I get off on semi-realistic combat, where the smarter opponent takes cover and uses the terrain and distance attacks or a variety of combat moves to outwit and outlast my opponent. To be fair, EU involves much more movement dependent gameplay so it is not as distracting from the SL experience, which is more community and entertainment based.

News Worthy

Second Life is constantly in the news. Either it is a story about the exorbitant amounts of money the residents make, digital property rights, virtual world futurism or just plain surrealism. SL news sites like New World Notes, home of the first embedded virtual world journalist Wagner James Au a.k.a. Hamlet Linden, and The Second Life Herald report absolutely amazing occurrences in SL. One week it is a story about sweatshops in Asia who have their workers playing MMOs to make them cash! Who needs shoes, just stick a kid in front of a computer and have them mine gold in World of Warcraft everyday for 10c a day! This particular story was about a sweatshop worker playing SL and the challenges presented in making money or risking being fired. Its not like WOW where you can just mine gold all the time, in SL it takes real creativity or community help to be successful. A week later the news sites found her working in an SL strip club for decent wages. Sci-fi author Cory Doctrow's new book is being published in SL and RL (real life) simultaneously.

A contest was even held in SL where the participants competed for the design in which the book would be published in-world. It is basically a large book where residents can sit down a read the book from the screen. Some designs even included a bench for your character to sit on and variations in format and page turning.

Linden Labs holds an annual contest for in-world games as well. One such game, Tringo, a hybrid of Tetris and Bingo, was created by an Australian businessman with the game name of Kermit Quick. Tringo was immensely popular and was later sold to a company for development and distribution on the internet for a large, undisclosed amount of money. It is the first game created inside another game and then sold for development. 2006 has seen a host of corporations and musicians set up in Second Life, like Sony and Suzanne Vega. SL has a million other amazing stories to tell but I will let you find them on your own! EU is relatively newer and a bit less flexible so big news stories are not plentiful, though it is gaining attention. One major story was the land purchase costing a player $20,000+ and I am sure there is more to come.

Finish Him!

My article only scratches the surface of these two massive worlds, but it should frame an accurate window into this wonderful niche in the gaming universe. There are many, many free or cheap games out there. I picked these two because of their amazing features, and of course, their real cash economies. Second Life is more of a sociable community based game and probably provides much more opportunities for virtual world entrepreneurs. EU is more like other traditional MMORPGs, and offers a central theme and plot. Check them out, both are free to play. Enjoy!

Second Life Recommended Requirements:
Internet Connection: Cable or DSL
Operating System: Windows XP (Service Pack 2)
OR Windows 2000 (Service Pack 4)
Computer Processor: 800MHz Pentium III or Athlon, or better
Computer Memory: 256MB or better
Video/Graphics Card: nVidia GeForce 2, GeForce 4mx, or better
OR ATI Radeon 8500, 9250, or better
=Mac Minimum System Requirements:
Internet Connection: Cable or DSL
Operating System: Mac OS X 10.3.8 or better
Computer Processor: 1 GHz G4 or better
Computer Memory: 512MB or better
Video/Graphics Card: nVidia GeForce 2, GeForce 4mx, or better
OR ATI Radeon 8500, 9250, or better

Entropia Universe Recommended Requirements:
Windows 2000 or Windows XP
Minimum 512 MB RAM (recommended 1024 MB RAM)
Minimum 1 GHz Intel / AMD CPU
Minimum NVIDIA GeForce or ATI Radeon graphics card
NVIDIA driver 8198 or ATI driver 6587
Minimum screen resolution 1024x768 (16 bit or higher)
DirectX compatible sound device
3 GB free hard drive space
DirectX version 9.0c
Broadband Internet connection (ADSL or better)

*"nearly 2 million players"
Second Life players totaled 1,916,100 as of December 11, 2006.


Resources:
Second Life
Type: 3D Virtual World Sim
Cost: Free (first basic; upgradeable by fee)
Game Economy: Real World Cash Economy ($170,000US in transactions daily as of 2006)
Size: Streaming (small install but streams LARGE content)

Entropia Universe
Type: 3D MMORPG
Cost: Free
Game Economy: Real World Cash Economy
Size: 1.5GB + streaming

New World Notes
The Second Life Herald
Entropia Pioneers
OnRPG
MMORPG.com

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