Sure, it’s nice to own a house on Planet Calypso. But savvy real estate investors know that the real money is in shops, spaceship hangars and castles.

Sure, it’s nice to own a house on Planet Calypso. But savvy real estate investors know that the real money is in shops, spaceship hangars and castles. And we are talking about real money.

In “Project Entropia,” an online videogame that features a virtual world – complete with real estate sales, purchases and virtual deeds of ownership – actual money can be exchanged for Calypso’s “Project Entropia” Dollars, or PED, at a rate of 10 PED for every $1 U.S.

The game is available for free download, though players can pay to acquire and amass virtual items, including real estate.

Marco Behrmann, community relations director for Swedish company MindArk, which operates “Project Entropia,” said, “The unique real cash economy means that every item has a set value in (PED) that has a fixed exchange rate to the U.S. dollar. To acquire PED, a participant needs to transfer real life funds onto his virtual avatar, which is used to purchase virtual items. The funds acquired while partaking in “Project Entropia” can be also exchanged back into real-life funds, meaning that a participant can actually make real money by playing an online game.”

“Project Entropia” launched in January 2003 and the community has grown to 150,000 registered accounts. The total value of virtual house sales in “Project Entropia” is estimated at $70,000 (yes, U.S. dollars) since November 2003, and there have been an estimated 175,295 auctions of virtual items since October 2003. The total economic turnover in the game, since January 2004, is estimated at $40.7 million. For “Project Entropia” gamers, that’s 407 million PED.

“There are mainly four types of real estate: houses, spaceship hangars, shops and castles,” Behrmann said. “The hangars are popular as they are required to enter space, but the two castles are also an ultimate status symbol…as of now. Shops are also wanted as they supply a place for commerce and trade between the players.”

Behrmann said that the mix of real estate will grow to include rentals within about six months. “Both land and apartment complexes (where “Project Entropia” participants rent apartments from the player owning the complex) will be introduced.”

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Already, the online real estate environment in “Project Entropia” has experienced some market swings, he said. “As in the real world, some areas are more popular (and expensive) than others – meaning that it is desire to live by the ‘celebrity’ players and around their estates,” he said. “There have been trends in pricing already, based on demand and supply and also on an investment level, as several players act as virtual estate brokers. Trying to predict where celebrity players want to live is also important.”

One frequent Project Entropia player, a resident of Britanny, France, who is known as Daniel “Danny” Valkor in the game, said that proximity to local towns and outposts and the sea can make some land particularly valuable. Though “most people interested in buying real estate in the virtual universe of Project Entropia are focused on what buildings you can have with the land, not really where it is,” he said. There are no taxes and no upkeep associated with land ownership, he said – “it’s almost only benefits.”

Earlier this year, “Project Entropia” designers announced a virtual land grab event on Calypso, spurred by the “discovery” of a new continent. “Virtually all the land on the continent will be up for grabs,” according to a March announcement about the event. “Land areas vary in size up to the maximum, which is about 250 acres. The land is claimed by finding a ‘claim stake’ for a certain piece of land.”

Of course, new landowners had to successfully defend this stake for 12 consecutive hours in order to realize ownership rights. “The land is pristine and untamed, and you cannot count on staying safe in any area of the new continent.” How’s that for disclosure?

Land-owning player groups – called societies – will be able collect fees from hunters, miners and other resource gathers, and these fees are distributed to society members. The March announcement also states that land-owning societies will be “given the opportunity to sell house-building lots to any “Project Entropia” participant. The lots available for sale will vary in number and size depending on the size of the land owned by the society.”

Behrmann said he estimates that more than 1 million acres will be available for “Project Entropia” players to develop and improve. “The land grab will enable management rights and taxation for the owners,” he said. Some land is not for sale or private use within the virtual universe, he added, so that the game’s internal storyline and logic can run interrupted. Behrmann refers to this property as “imperial land.”

Land is also auctioned by the game developers, and the game’s official Web site is currently sponsoring the auction of 6,000-acre Treasure Island, which features a “gigantic abandoned castle” and “massive revenue potential,” including income from the sale of virtual land lots, at a rate of five lots per month. The lots have an estimated market value of 300,000 PED ($30,000 U.S.), according to the Web site. The island’s new owner or owners can also earn money through hunting and mining fees.

But as with any real estate purchase, prospective buyers should be aware of some potential for problems. Treasure Island, though it “boasts beautiful beaches ripe for developing beachfront property,” is also home to “an old volcano with rumors of fierce creatures within, the outback is overrun with mutants,” and a part of the island has “a high concentration of robotic miners guarded by heavily armed assault robots.”

You may want to think twice before taking a swim. The island is “surrounded by deep, creature-infested waters,” according to the auction description. Even so, the island’s price rose to 6,700 PED on Friday, months before final bids will be accepted on Dec. 11, the last day of the auction.

The player known in the game as Danny Valkor – the high bidder on the island as of today – said he expects the price of Treasure Island to climb to at least $1,000 U.S. “I have plans for this island. Much more than a guy owning real estate, it’ll bring a storm of important events in all the social life of this virtual universe. A few players, like me, are bidding on the island because they have a dream of making Project Entropia more realistic, with – as we often say – ‘a soul.'”

A variety of fan sites have sprung out of the Calypso virtual world. One site carries a detailed map of Eudoria, a Calypso continent that features such popular destinations of Hadesheim, the capital, and Minopolis, Port Atlantis and Cape Corinth. Another site, Entropia Pioneers, is a forum for players and features tutorials and announcements.

Robin Antonick a Realtor with RE/MAX in Batavia, Ill., and a former videogame designer, said that videogames have the potential to make real estate sales and purchases entertaining, and to raise awareness about the value of home and land ownership. “Anytime we can simulate (real estate ownership) and get a younger and younger crowd to think about home ownership and the value of home ownership…that’s ideal, that’s wonderful,” he said.

And while Antonick said he’s not going to hold his breath waiting for a Realtor-related videogame, he said the concept of “buying, selling, flipping, renovating, building your empire,” can be fun. “It demystifies the concept of using real estate as a foundation of family wealth and their estate.”

Though he wasn’t familiar with “Project Entropia,” Antonick said he knows of other videogames, such as “Sim City,” that relate to the value of real estate. “Anytime you can try to simulate the world and have fun explaining it in almost a Socratic way – it is an awesome, fun way to do things,” he said.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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