I log in to Entropia on a Friday night to visit Club Neverdie. I'm here to meet a man and interview him, if possible. The man is Jon Jacobs, and I'm sure I'll know him when I see him - he almost always dresses like a pimp.
Club Neverdie, named after Jacobs' avatar, is an indoor portion of a giant asteroid Jacobs purchased from MindArk, Entropia's developer, for $100,000 - real dollars. He planned on charging players a fee to access the asteroid, which would provide a bunch of "biodomes" housing loot-dropping monsters and a shopping mall through which they could sell items, in addition to the nightclub.
Following the instructions on Jacobs' website, I created my character and spawned inside what looks like a spaceship hangar. I stumble around a bit, trying to find my way to the club when a woman dressed in an orange teddy approaches me and asks if I'm lost.
I tell her I'm trying to get a look around before I spend some time with Jacobs, and ask her if she knows him. She says she knows him by reputation, and then tells me one of those "he talked to me once!" stories you hear from people who live in LA and hang out on Sunset Boulevard. As she takes me around a large shopping mall and into the club, I run into a bunch of telescreens fixed on walls along corridors, all playing music videos starring Neverdie, Jacob's in-game avatar, and Jacobs himself, oscillating between virtual and real life. People mill around, dressed like Neverdie, with a funny hat and pimp suit. When I tell them why I'm here, that I plan on talking to The Creator, I become a star, too. I'm in a cult of personality, and I'm a prophet among believers.
It's clear Jacobs is selling an image these people are buying, but I'm just not sure what the image is. Is it the European playboy turned actor turned director turned powergamer? The club owner so hip the real world can't accommodate him? It isn't until I reach the area called the Control Room that I discover the answer.
Off, Off E3
When I first met Jon Jacobs, several months earlier, he was dressed like a pimp from the year 2020.
I was in Los Angeles, attending an offshoot of E3 called eFocus, an annual Tuesday-night, invite-only soiree held by companies too small to pony up the thousands of dollars they'd need to reserve an E3 booth.
Jacobs was the only one there wearing a fuzzy suit. It was purple, made of velvet with a matching furry hat. He and his assistant, a statuesque black woman wearing a leopard-print leotard with shoulder pads, were standing in front of an HDTV showing off a virtual dance club complete with speakers pumping out house music. He pulled me over to the TV and explained that the nightclub actually existed inside a virtual world (he was very careful not to say game), called (at the time) Project Entropia. The people dancing to the music were doing so to the very same music we were yelling over in person. He fiddled a bit with a laptop behind a podium and zoomed out the camera, showing an avatar of himself, with the same hat and suit.
"That's me," he said. "That's Neverdie."
It was at this point that I had a brief moment of clarity: I'd heard about this guy before. Project Entropia, now called Entropia Universe, was one of the first companies to get on board with real money trade (RMT) in MMOGs. Rather than leaving their economy a closed system, MindArk allowed players to buy currency directly from the company at an exchange rate of 10 PED (Project Entropia Dollars) to US$1. When the dollar rises and falls, so does the PED, making it the first virtual currency you could conceivably trade on a futures market. What's more, players have the option to withdraw the PED they make in the game into real-life bank accounts, meaning it's possible to make a legitimate business out of your leisure. And that's what Jacobs meant to do.