Dungeons & Dollars

Dungeons & Dollars
Ain't Goin' Away Ever

Shannon Drake | 11 Apr 2006 08:00
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So, Roma Victor is a world of Republicans on the run from angry mobs, regulated by violence? He laughs again. "Not exclusively. Not just violence. Primarily, in fact, politics and diplomacy. It sounds trite, but it's nature. It's so natural for the rich people and poor people to find some method of getting along. It may be through violence. It may be through politics." It's a remarkably realistic way of looking at his world, not quite the rose-tinted blinders so common in the genre. "It happens," he says. "It's a fairly natural process. The rich people realize there's no point in buying a $10,000 castle if you can't pay the people to keep that castle safe. If you've got $10,000 to spend, it's best to spend it a dollar at a time, unless you're a complete lunatic." Enthusiastically, he adds, "In which case, welcome to our game!"

To the many detractors of his virtual property model, he'd like to say, "Take a look at it. I'd say this is the first few years. Yeah, there's a lot of people in a panic. It's a new technology. It's inevitable. When there's a new technology, there's power. And at the moment, there's a bit of a power vacuum in some places, a bit too much power in other places. And it happens. The Asian sweatshops and all that. I don't think it's the way it has to be. The virtual economics industry got loads of bad press before it even got out the door. I don't think it really deserved to be labeled as a sweatshop/farming thing, when that's one thing that happened at the beginning of the industry."

Roma Victor, as he told me earlier, is one of the first games built from the ground up with virtual property and real money transactions taken into account in the design. I ask him how the players are reacting to the world. "Quite well," he says cheerfully, before adding, "It makes the politics very interesting, because there are some very successful houses that compete against each other, and it's interesting to see the economic ramifications when they start ramping up in different sorts of trade wars and all the rest." The conversation winds back around to the "Republicans" from before, as he gives me a real, in-game example. "We've got one guy who is much wealthier, personally, in real life, and who's spent quite a lot of money in game. [He] controls what you might call a 'legion' - well, they're auxiliaries - of soldiers. And these two major houses try to vie for the attention and power of the 'legion.' It's like real life. They love it. They're having a great time. It makes the politics and intrigue that much more interesting.

"It's strange, though," he muses. "They don't look at the currency as real. They don't mind losing it. But if you translated that and said that's five cents, well, they wouldn't feel it. But we've got a one-way system, unlike Project Entropia," where players can "cash out" of the game and get real money back. "We consider it, like, you know how you have arcade games? We're a lot like that. You pay your money into the machine and take your tokens, and use your tokens to play the game. Now, if you put 10 cents into Space Invaders and died on the first level, that's kind of your problem. If you put 10 cents into Space Invaders and tied up the machine for 12 hours, that's kind of ... our problem, the arcade provider's problem. And so the trick is making sure the value relationship is right. And, actually, that answers your original question!"

Indeed, we'd circled back around to my original question about where he got his inspiration. "You asked me how we came up with the idea," he continued. "I grew up playing MUDs and stuff and, in the U.K., local phone calls aren't free. Consequently, I had some run-ins very early in life, when my dad came into the bedroom holding one 3,000 pound phone bill in one hand," which he guesses was about $5,000 at the time, "and another in the other hand for the other phone line. And that's what happens when you play online games."

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