Game Tech: Shooting for the moon can work

Dublin-based Jason Jarvis paid $95,000 for a moon in the virtual world of Entropia, writes Ronan Jennings

JASON Jarvis didn’t just shoot for the moon — he bought it. Jarvis, owner of Virtual Sense, a company that deals in virtual assets and businesses, owns the moon in an online game called Entropia. His goal is to make the moon, which is called Monria, into a thriving community.

“I used to work for a corporate company and the business was pulling out of Europe in 2009,” explains Jarvis. “I’d already been playing Entropia for a number of years and I’d started experimenting with online real estate and the like within the game, as fun way to learn about business. So I decided to see if I could run a real business within a virtual world and I set up Virtual Sense.”

Entropia is one of the few online games to deal in a real-cash economy, which means the currency in Entropia, called Project Entropia Dollars (PED), has a fixed exchange rate with the US dollar and players can withdraw funds directly to and from their back accounts. When Jarvis set up Virtual Sense, he saw an opportunity to run virtual businesses like real-world businesses. Did it pay off?

“The virtual business has paid for a few holidays, but I’ve mainly reinvested any profits in the online business,” Jarvis says. “Of course that includes the purchase of Monria, which cost $95,000.”

If you’re baulking at the idea of paying $95,000 for a digital moon, then Jarvis (who lives in Dublin, where garden sheds go for more) is used to the reaction.

“People thought I was crazy when I had $1,000 of digital assets, but these days it’s about $250,000, so you can imagine what they think now! It’s not been easy though — I’ve been at this for 13 years, growing and growing. You can’t just jump into a video game and do this.”

The truth is, Jarvis is successful at what he does because he is one of the players himself. He really seems to care about the community of Monria and the wider Entropia universe. In fact, he has passed up opportunities to make some of his investment back, instead preferring to reward the community through the distribution of Monria’s assets.

“I want to build a really strong community here,” he explains. “When I bought Monria it came with shops, apartments, a stable. I could have sold those off to make some of my investments back, but I’ve instead been using those assets as a reward for players to try and build the community.”

And it seems to have worked. While the player base in Monria is still very small by comparison to giants like World of Warcraft, it’s nonetheless growing quickly.

“Since I took over the moon, the player base has grown a hundred fold. The challenge I have is a lower conversion sign-up rate — most gamers these days expect to pay €30, play the game and then be done with it. We’re looking to build a longer-term, more committed community. A lot of the players I started playing with in 2005 are still playing today, for example.”

So how do you keep gamers happy in a community like Monria, where much of the value lies in player interaction and the community spirit, rather than specific goals or objectives?

“It’s not that different to real life,” says Jarvis. “People appreciate that we listen. If people feel involved and enjoy themselves, they’ll stick around. We run a lot of events that engage people. I tend to interact with the community directly. We tend to jump in and get involved. I even put a boxing ring in the world so people get a chance to beat me up if they get annoyed with me!”

There are travel perks, too. “We offer a flight service between planets within Entropia. Normally, this is a service people charge for but we offer it for free.”

Jarvis plans to build on Monria’s lore and backstory, which was inspired by HP Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos. They are writing stories and events to bring that lore to life. So while the player base in Monrea is currently small, it sounds like they’re in for a great time in the years ahead. To think that things could have turned out so differently: “I had nearly bought something previously, before Monrea,” Jarvis says, laughing. “It was a space station!”

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