Editor’s note: This story kicks off our three-part series on virtual real estate worlds. Find out why these worlds are not just games, and what entices people to pay real money for land in cyberspace. (See Part 1: The next big (cyber) land grab and Part 2: Real estate investors gain ground in virtual worlds.)

A number of multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORGs) have been released that allow people to interact with other people around the world as they explore virtual worlds. There are Web sites that allow people to exchange real money for virtual-world currency, and some virtual worlds allow participants to buy virtual land and build homes.

Here is a sampling of these virtual worlds:

“World of Warcraft”

This online fantasy game surpassed the 5 million-customer mark in December, according to Irvine, Calif.-based Blizzard Entertainment, the game’s developer. It is a massive multiplayer online version of a series of earlier “Warcraft” games.

“Players from across the globe can leave the real world behind and undertake grand quests and heroic exploits in a land of fantastic adventure. World of Warcraft draws heavily upon the lore of the Warcraft universe. People, places and units from the strategy games are finally brought to life in “World of Warcraft.'” You can visit such places as the Burning Steppes, where Grom Hellscream fell in battle against the demon lord Mannoroth, and Ironforge, where the dwarves make their home below the mountain. Legendary heroes, such as Thrall, Cairne Bloodhoof and King Magni Bronzebeard, are also in the game, presiding over their respective peoples as leaders in their race’s capitals.”

Currency: $1 buys about 20.73 gold.

(Sources: WorldofWarcraft.com, http://www.blizzard.com/press/051219.shtml, http://www.themmorpgexchange.com.)

“Lineage II: The Chaotic Chronicle”

The sequel to the wildly popular “Lineage” game, “Lineage II” has exceeded the popularity of its predecessor, according to the Web site MMOGChart.com, which tracks this genre of games. In June 2005, the site estimated that “Lineage II” had about 2.1 million users, while “Lineage” had 2 million. Both games at that time accounted for about 45 percent of the market share for the genre. While the games have enjoyed much success in Asian nations, they are far less popular in the United States.

“The world of Lineage II is a war-torn land spanning two continents, where trust and betrayal clash as three kingdoms vie for power. The young king Raoul has successfully quenched a civil war and established the newest kingdom, Aden. Elmore, the military superpower located in the northern part of the continent, boasts that it is a direct descendent of ancient Elmoreden kingdom. Gracia, located across the ocean on the west, is currently embroiled in a chaotic battle among blood relatives trying to take over the throne. These kingdoms share a delicate balance of power; however, within each kingdom they are vulnerable to internal strife, as each manor has a strong desire for self-rule. You have been thrown into this chaos. However, unlike the ordinary people who pray each day for safety, you have the power to protect yourself. In Lineage II, developing a character is not an end in itself. Rather, it is your instrument to obtain the power to enforce your will in this world. Seize your destiny! Your own hand will write the history of this world.”

Currency: $1 buys about 230,202 adena.

(Source: http://www.lineage2.com/background/about.html, http://www.themmorpgexchange.com.)

“Second Life”

Created by Linden Lab of San Francisco, Calif., “Second Life” is more of a virtual world than a game, though there are games to play within this world. There were about 104,000 residents as of Dec. 29, and it’s common for daily spending in the in-world economy to exceed $100,000. Residents can buy and sell property and pay a monthly maintenance fee on land.

“Second Life is a three-dimensional virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents. From the moment you enter the World you’ll discover a vast digital continent, teeming with people, entertainment, experiences and opportunity. Once you’ve explored a bit, perhaps you’ll find a perfect parcel of land to build your house or business. You’ll also be surrounded by the Creations of your fellow residents. Because residents retain the rights to their digital creations, they can buy, sell and trade with other residents. The Marketplace currently supports millions of U.S. dollars in monthly transactions. This commerce is handled with the in-world currency, the Linden dollar, which can be converted to US dollars at several thriving online currency exchanges.”

Currency: $1 buys about 269 Linden dollars.

(Sources: http://secondlife.com/whatis/, https://secondlife.com/currency/.)

“There”

“‘There’ is an online getaway where you can hang out with your friends and meet new ones — all in a lush three-dimensional environment that’s yours to explore. Grab a buggy or hoverboard and join a race, host a trivia contest, or create your own scavenger hunt. Hit the shops to check out the latest fashions and cool gear. Or, go bargain-hunting at the ‘There’ auctions. Get a guide to show you around the island. Or go exploring on your own. Decorate your dream home or design your own fashion line. Chat with your friends and meet new people through clubs and topic listings, or hang out at the local bar. We’ve got dozens of parties, races, and games every day. Plus, look for special in-world events celebrating holidays, like Halloween and Valentine’s Day. The only limit in ‘There’ is your imagination.”

MMOGChart.com estimated that this virtual world had about 17,000 subscribers as of January 2005.

(Source: http://www.there.com/whatIsThere.html.)

“Project Entropia”

There were an estimated 352,400 registered accounts for this online game as of Dec. 29. The projected “gross national product” for the game in 2005 is $150 million. The game made headlines when players purchased a virtual space station in 2005 for $100,000 and a virtual island the year before for $26,500.

“‘Project Entropia’ is a massive virtual universe with a real cash economy. Together with people from all over the globe you experience adventure, you form societies, and you are a part in the creation of a brand new world. While on the planet Calypso you use the (Project Entropia dollars) currency to invest in your personal development. The assets you acquire can be exchanged back into real world funds.”

Currency: $1 buys 10 Project Entropia dollars (PED).

(Source: http://www.project-entropia.com/about/Index.ajp.)

“Everquest II”

“EverQuest II is … a huge online world where thousands of players come together for adventure and community. Featuring breathtaking graphics and a vast, beautiful world to explore, as well as voices for almost all non-player characters … ‘EverQuest II’ brings players into its world with a powerful epic storyline and gives them the power to be the hero or villain in their personal adventure. Players enter this world by creating their own unique character, choosing from 16 races and 24 classes. Players will encounter hundreds of creatures as they travel across majestic landscapes of rolling hills, colorful deserts, dense forests, and bustling cities. Thousands of items, hundreds of spells, and unlimited adventure await all who enter the world of ‘EverQuest II.'”

The MMOGChart.com Web site estimated that “EverQuest” and “EverQuest II” had a combined 8.1 percent of the genre’s market share in June 2005.

Currency: $1 buys 25.24 gold.

(Sources: SonyOnline.com, http://www.themmorpgexchange.com.)

“Asheron’s Call 2”

“You have spent your life inside magical shelters, built 10 generations ago to protect civilization from The Devastation, a world-shattering war. The Battle of Kings, fought between Asheron, Bael’Zharon, and the Virindi Imperator, unleashed horrific chaos. The world must be rebuilt – it is the only hope that has kept civilization from collapsing these past generations. To do this, men and women dedicated to the ways of muscle and magic must clear the land of twisted beasts and restore Dereth to its former glory. The future rests on your shoulders.”

This fantasy world was scheduled to end on Dec. 30. “In spite of our hard work … (the game) has reached the point where it no longer makes sense to continue the service. We will be officially closing the ‘Asheron’s Call 2’ service on 12/30/05. Until then, we plan to run live events, but we will not be adding any content or features. We deeply appreciate the many dedicated fans of AC2 who have stood by us over the years. You have our sincerest gratitude.” MMOGChart.com estimated that the number of subscribers had fallen to 14,000 to 15,000 by March 2005.

(Sources: http://ac2.turbine.com/index.php?page_id=224, http://ac2.turbine.com/index.php?page_id=384.)

***

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

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