Ownership in Entropia Universe

This is going to be mostly a boring dry post looking at the stuff from the Owners and Holders post, only in the context of Entropia Universe. (I haven’t tried EU yet myself, but I had a long conversation with a long-time player about this stuff and more.)

But before I write down that stuff, mostly for my own record keeping and cogitating purposes, I want to just sort of generally bring Entropia Universe to your attention. I haven’t been paying a whole lot of attention to it, assuming it was just sort of yet another Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game thing, like WoW only with space stations instead of castles or whatever. But after talking to my EU contact (who is, he says, one of the leading miners in the game), it seems like it has some bizarrely different aspects.

In particular, it seems to be tied into real-world money considerably more tightly than even Second Life. The unit of currency (the unfortunately named PED, for “Project Entropia Dollar”) is officially pegged to the US dollar, at 10 PED to the US$. Just playing the game is free. But (according to my source) what you can do for free is actually pretty boring, and you’re going to get envious of all the people going around doing the interesting things, and rather than patiently gathering zebra sweat or whatever for months to get cool things that way, you’re going to buy some PED with RL money and continue from there. Which isn’t really all that different from SL (although these days there’s an awful lot of non-boring stuff that you can do in SL without buying any Lindens with RL money).

But since EU is an RPG rather than an open-ended world, there are lots of funny implications of this. My source says that for instance there are only about 30 or 40 of the most powerful healing device in EU, everyone knows who currently owns them, and on the rare occasion that one becomes available it will sell for like ten or fifteen thousand US dollars.

Ten or fifteen thousand US dollars.

For a really good virtual first aid kit.

This boggled me, and although I believe my source is honest, another part of my brain thinks there must be something else going on here. I asked why anyone would spend thousands of real dollars for a virtual first aid kit, and he said that it’s actually a good investment, because having one of those can make the difference between losing and winning when battling one of the huger monsters in the game, and defeating one of those huger monsters can get you some really good stuff, which you can then sell to other people for lots of real-world money, more than recouping your investment in the healing kit. Of course then we have to wonder why those people are willing to spend all that money for those things. Where exactly is the value-add that makes this not be a case of people taking in each other’s virtual washing? (And paying money to the owners of EU when their laundry baskets need maintenance.)

Why, for instance, did someone reportedly pay 100,000 US dollars for rights to the asteroid orbiting Entropia? How is the value of that so much more than the value of any of (say) the asteroid or space-themed or dragon-themed locations in Second Life, which would (I think!) have cost to much less to control? (The Wikipedia article linked there has good information relevant to this and other questions, and is worth a read.)

But anyway! Mostly I want to write down what my source said about the ownership model, before I forget.

Items are type-based, as in WoW; every vial of zebra sweat is like every other one. There isn’t much in the way of user-created content, except in the sense that one can attach items to other items in order to make them more powerful. (I may have forgotten to mention that WoW has this also; some of the higher-level items have “sockets” into which various other items can be inserted to boost their powers.) Every item is owned by a particular person at any time (he says that people often wish that items could be owned / controlled / shared by groups, but they can’t). Any object can be traded to another player using a trade dialog that I imagine is similar to WoW’s (and Everquest’s and…). Objects can also be sold to vendor terminals or whatever they’re called, for a standard price, as in WoW.

There is no concept of loaning an item in the game mechanics; if you give something to someone else, they own it. Unlike SL or WoW, there’s a limited mechanism for theft: if say you’re in a specially-designated PvP combat area, and you do some mining there and find some “stackable items” (things like bits of copper ore I expect), and then someone attacks and defeats you, they can loot those stackable items from you (but not the rest of your stuff).

So, in SL terms, everything is nocopy nomod transfer, except for the ability to attach things to each other for enhancement purposes, and there’s the interesting addition of very limited player-looting.

I have no doubt got some of the details wrong here, or failed to ask some important questions, so anyone who knows more about this aspect of Entropia Universe (or the aspects that I started out this post with, or anything else) is more than welcome to comment and correct or expand on this.

Owning stuff: WoW, SL, owners and holders

So this is going to be just a little rambling on the subject of how virtual worlds keep track of who can do what to what objects, who owns things, and so on. I’m thinking about these things for a paper that Zha and I are (slowly) writing, and I’m posting about it here because, hey, this is a weblog, and you’re supposed to write down every single tiny thought that you have (aren’t you?). There probably won’t even be a picture.

I spend lots of time in Second Life (SL), and also in World of Warcraft (WoW). In both of these (as in most ALGOL-60, I mean ADVENT, derived games), one has an “inventory”, where you have lots of Things.

In SL, each of these things has some data associated with it saying, roughly, what you can do with it. There’s a copy bit that says whether or not you can make copies of it (by copy-and-paste within inventory, or various other ways), a modify bit that says whether you can modify it via the Edit dialogs, and a transfer bit that says whether you can give it to someone else.

There are lots of subtlties (things can be set to, or shared with, or deeded to, a group rather than a person, things can’t be directly set to¬† no-copy, no-modify and no-transfer (i.e. all three bits set off), although there are simple tricks that let you get the same effect, the effective permissions of an object depend both on its own bits and the bits of any further things that are inside the object, and so on), but this basic “c/m/t” model captures most of what SL lets you do with your stuff.

In WoW, every thing that you have in inventory is of a certain type, and every thing that’s of that type is identical to every other (except for enchantment, which we’ll mention in a second). Every Essence of Fire is the same as every other Essense of Fire, every Blue Lake Cloak is the same as every other Blue Lake Cloak. SL doesn’t have any corresponding notion of type that I can think of.

You can never make a copy of a WoW thing (so in SL terms everything has the copy bit off, and is no-copy). You can’t really modify things either, except to the extent of, say, enchanting armor. Whether or not you can enchant a particular piece of armor isn’t a setting on that particular piece of armor, but on every piece of armor of that same type; so if this particular Bracers of Yogurt Strength can be enchanted, then so can every other Bracers of Yogurt Strength.

In WoW you can give most things to someone else via the Trade window, except for some things, which are “soulbound”. Soulbound is pretty much the WoW equivalent of no-transfer.

WoW objects can also have a “unique” attribute. If an object is “unique”, then you can have only one thing of that type. This also extends to numbers greater than one; if something is “unique 100”, then you can have none of them, or one, or two, or fifty, or 100, but not 101. SL has no corresponding concept.

In both SL and WoW, you own the things in your inventory. If you give something to someone else, they become the owner. There are exceptions to this in both worlds: in SL it may be possible to have a group-owned thing in your inventory without becoming the owner (I actually don’t know if that’s true), and in WoW you can sort of hold something out to someone else for lockpicking or curse-removing or whatever by putting it into the “will not be traded” slot in the Trade window: they can act on it as long as it’s in that slot, but they don’t come to own it. (And that’s not really an exception, because it doesn’t get into their inventory.)

Isn’t that all fascinating? :) I’d like to do a similar analysis of some other virtual worlds. Maybe I’ll go dig up an Entropia or Eve Online player or something. Or try out Twinity or vSide or There.com again.

Oh, and: it occurs to me that the second feature, that you generally own all the stuff in your inventory, smooshes together what are two different concepts in RL: owner and possessor. In RL, I can lend you something and I still own it, even though it’s you who has it right now. Would there be anything useful about having this concept in virtual worlds? What if I could lend something to you to use, but retain ownership, and with ownership certain powers over it? And what powers should those be? Should I be able to see what things I’ve lent out and where they are right now? Should I be able to reclaim them with a click, and have them return to my inventory from the lendee’s inventory, or wherever they were rezzed?

No idea if this would actually be useful for anything, but it bubbled up in my mind, and I thought I’d toss it out there…

Lively Dale!

Time for another shallow and unfair review of a non-SL world thing: Google’s new Lively is great!

Lively Dale!  Woot!

Here I am being an adorable pig in a hat, sitting on a chair in an oval room I made (well, chose), with some other chairs and lava lamps, saying “Woot!”.

Click through to flickr for more of my exciting adventures in Lively!

‘course now I’m done with it and back in SL, but it was a fun fifteen minutes! Woot! :)

(Main problem with Lively: when you’re a tiny pig, the floating box with your name covers up you feet (and sometimes pretty much your entire body except for your enormous and cute head). )