Real Money in Virtual Economies

The Future of User-Created Content

Accelerating Change 2004
45 minutes, 20.6mb, recorded 2004-11-07
This debate will clue you in to one of the biggest new emergences that most of us haven't yet heard of: virtual property markets and their intellectual property issues. The interchange may produce a few new business plans and should also be a whole lot of fun. The participants make legal, dollar, behavioral, and design forecasts for the virtual property markets within massively multi-player games, debating the practice from seller and designer viewpoints, and business vs. gaming intentions.

Some background: First listen to Bill Gurley's massively multi-player market talk from O'Reilly's Web 2.0 Conference for one recent overview. In late 2001, economist Edward Castronova published a landmark paper entitled "Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market Society on the Cyberian Frontier" describing how new trading markets for virtual items produced within the massively multi-user virtual world of EverQuest were translating into real dollars, on auction sites (such as eBay, at the time). Castronova’s paper became the most downloaded paper on the Social Science Research Network.

Since then, such worlds have become increasingly popular, complex, and connected to a number of real world economic systems, including secondary market sellers like IGE and Gaming Open Market. Some gamers today are making a living offering virtual services (eg., avatar creation), goods (producing or trading goods) and currency market development and arbitrage. There is now an annual conference at New York Law School dedicated to sorting out the legal implications of these new physical-virtual relationships (State of Play). Dr. Castronova now has a tenured professorship at Indiana University where he will be focusing on virtual worlds studies.

Brian Green, co-founder, Near Death Studios, has been an avid gamer for years; he's played numerous computer, console, board games as well as traditional tabletop RPGs. Brian's interest in online games began with an addiction to a text MUD in college. He quickly became a coding "wizard" on the MUD, which lead to a long-term love of online game development. After gaining degrees in both Computer Science and Spanish Literature, he got a job that would have made Dilbert cringe. After he recognized a passion for online games that never went away, he had the privilege of working on Meridian 59 where he helped design and program three updates to the game before he worked on a single player game at 3DO. Afterwards, he worked a short time at He currently does programming, design, and writing for innovative online games with the other co-founders at Near Death Studios.

Jamie Hale started playing computer games and writing software at age 9. He is now the president of Gaming Open Market Corp., a Canadian company that has built the world's first foreign exchange website for MMOG currencies. Jamie has a degree in computer science and software engineering from the University of Toronto, and maintains a healthy if somewhat dusty library of economics and finance textbooks. He is studying for his Canadian Securities Course in the hopes that he might some day convince the finance world to let him trade currency futures for real. Until then, you can find him peddling his wares in digital cities everywhere: "Will trade linden dollars for food."

Daniel James is CEO of Three Rings, an independent developer of online games based in San Francisco, and Lead Designer of Three Rings' first game, Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates, a skill-based persistent world based on casual puzzle games. Prior to founding Three Rings, Daniel consulted on online games design, endeavoured to create Middle-earth Online, and founded two successful start-ups. He has been playing and building online games since 1983.

Steve Salyer is President of Internet Gaming Entertainment (IGE), the world’s largest secondary market for goods and currencies from massively multi-player games and virtual worlds. He has over twenty five years of experience in senior management roles in companies providing technology-based entertainment products. Prior to joining IGE, he was president of business development for Ubisoft. Steve has produced music, television, and interactive products and is an avid online gamer.

Cory Ondrejka, who moderates the debate, is VP of Product development at Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life -- a unique massively multi-user online world built and owned by its users. He has an extensive background in software development and project management. Cory will also deliver a keynote presentation in the Virtual Space theme at AC2004, entitled, "Living the Dream: Business, Community and Innovation at the Dawn of Digital Worlds."

This presentation was recorded at Accelerating Change 2004, November 5-7, 2004. Check here for the complete Accelerating Change archives.

This free podcast is from our Accelerating Change series.