Entropia Universe: An Exclusive ION Interview with John Bates

Questions by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor
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by John Bates, Mindark PE

Virtual economics plays an incredibly crucial role in almost every
online massively multiplayer game. However, most games don’t
mix real world monetary systems with those of their online world,
because if something were to break in an online world, real world money
could be at stake. Despite these issues, the developers at Mindark PE
decided to do just that, and their highly profitable game, Entropia
Universe, has achieve nearly 800,000 registered users and looks to
continue growing into the near future. Recently, Ten Ton
Hammer’s Cody “Micajah” Bye sat down with
John Bates, a member of the Mindark development team, to discuss the
future of the game and what players should expect from this growing
online world.

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The Entropia Universe

Ten Ton Hammer: What have
the developers at Entropia Universe been up to lately? It’s
been a long, long time since we’ve heard any big news from

style="font-weight: bold;">John Bates: The
reason why you haven’t heard anything from us in awhile is
because we’ve just been grinding away at getting the
CryEngine implemented into the game. People have heard about the fact
that we’ve licensed the CryEngine and are building it into a
platform, and I think people will be happy to hear that we’re
going to be announcing a date for when that part of the game will go
live. The implementation is actually going very well, and in another
week we’re going to have a regular version update
that’s pretty amazing.

I don’t know the last time you were in, but things look way,
way better. Things are looking really good inside and as we move
towards the CryEngine the graphics are just getting better and better.
Another things folks will be happy to hear is that there
won’t be a tremendously large difference between the two
engine, in terms of computer hardware. The minimum requirements will go
up a little bit, but it’s not terrible.

I mean, I just recently saw an article in Wired that discusses how to
make a computer that would run Crysis really well for under $1000
dollars. It may seem a bit daunting [that we’re implementing
the CryEngine] but people just have to remember that you can make a
computer for under $1000 dollars that will run Entropia super-well and
that the CryEngine is specifically made to scale down. If you
don’t have a great graphics card, it may not look as good as
your friend’s computer, but that doesn’t mean you
won’t be able to get in there and play.

Ten Ton Hammer: What kind
of player improvements have you been making? Has it been all graphics
oriented lately, or are you making some content updates to the game as

style="font-weight: bold;">John: Yeah
– and that’s an ongoing process that never stops.
That said, the banks are in full swing now so people can get loans
taken out on their virtual goods. If you’ve got a $35,000
gun, you can go to the bank and get a long against that.
We’re starting to see some different emergent behaviors
because of the banks.

Now that space is open, we’re finally starting to see a surge
in the sale of landing pads and spaceship technology since
there’s going to be new planets appearing.

One of the things that people really, really like is the make-up
function. We have people that can do make-up and warpaint, and
generally give you a make-over. Something that’s pretty
interesting is the fact that a lot of people are going in and giving
themselves a little identifying scar or mole to differentiate
themselves. To me, that’s pretty cool. It’s not
something we were incredibly excited about, but people are using it for
all kinds of different things.

Ten Ton Hammer: Have you
had any record breaking sales? What about the guy that bought the
asteroid? How’s he doing?

style="font-weight: bold;">John: He’s
doing really well. I don’t know if your readers are familiar
with his story, but we put the asteroid in the auction for $1 and he
bought it for $100,000. He made his money back in eight months and has
been cash flow positive ever since. He’s the hardest working
guy in showbiz; he has events on his asteroid all the time, and
he’s rewarded handsomely for it.

And he’s playing a game and making his living!

I just talked with someone the other day who came into the game years
ago and never put any money into the game. He now owns a spaceship and
his items are worth $30,000 to $35,000, and he never spent a dime.
It’s really pretty cool; he’s certainly the
exception but it’s really, really neat.

Ten Ton Hammer: So what
do you think the general public thinks of Entropia?

style="font-weight: bold;">John: Being at this
conference and talking with press and other people, I get the feeling
that a lot of people still don’t really know a lot about
Entropia. People jump in and run around for a minute, but if
you’re not IN Entropia, a lot of people don’t
realize that you can be a manufacturer among other things.

To be a manufacturer you have to be able to make armor. However, to
manufacture armor you don’t just make it out of thin air. In
other worlds in particular, you just make items out of the virtual air.
To make armor in Entropia, you’ve got to get a blueprint and
then the blueprint has a list of all the raw ingredients you need.
You’ve got to go out and buy those components from people who
are hunting the animals that have this particular element that you
need. You put it all together with the blueprint, put it in a
manufacturing machine, and out pops some armor. And the more you do
that, the more skills you attain that are related to that particular

Each avatar has over 200 different skills that you can advance in, so
no two people have the same exact set of skills. So when you do
something – like manufacture armor – you get more
skills that are relevant and the armor you create becomes better and
better in condition.

We are always doing things that promote the economy. In our latest
version updates, there’s been a lot of stuff that’s
come into the game that’s priming the economy.

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After the CryEngine
upgrade, Entropia's graphics are going to be mind blowing!

Ten Ton Hammer: Do you
guys advertise? Where do you get your players from? Is it all word of

style="font-weight: bold;">John: It’s
mostly been word of mouth. We went live in 2003, were profitable in
2004, and changed the name from Project Entropia to Entropia Universe
in 2005. We’ve really grown at our own speed, and we
didn’t put a whole bunch of marketing out there because we
wanted to get everything right. We wanted to grow at a speed that we
could control a bit better.

Now that we’ve opened up the Entropia Universe as a platform
for other developers, you can now think of Calypso as a proof of
concept that really works well.

Ten Ton Hammer: When did
you make the Entropia engine available to other developers?

style="font-weight: bold;">John: We announced
at the beginning of the year that China was building planets in our
universe. That was the first, and I don’t think it was really
clear to people that we had opened up our universe as a platform. Now
we’re letting other developers in, but not just anybody.
It’s a big process to vet people. We only want really, really
good people in our world.

China is actually building several planets, so that’s well
underway, and then we have another partner that’s been
announced called Creative Kingdom. They’re the guys that
designed – among other things – the palm tree
island and earth island that you can see from outer space in Dubai.
They’ve done all sorts of resort destinations like casinos
and theme parks. Their background is in Disney and Universal Studios,
but they have a game consulting division that wanted to build an MMO.
They looked at all the different platforms out there and chose us to do
it with. They liked the security, real cash economy, and gameplay, so
we’re really honored by their decision.

Now we have new planets coming in and that’s why the
launching pads are finally going up in value.

Ten Ton Hammer: So how
does that work? Does a player actually have to fly through space to get
to these other planets?

style="font-weight: bold;">John: Since we're
getting new planets in the universe, it means that we're opening up
space, which in a sense is like yet another planet. There will be
people who will never set foot on land again. They'll take off in their
spaceship and play their entire experience of Entropia Universe from
their space ship. It's going to be expensive and potentially dangerous
for those characters, and I think trade between the planets will be
difficult. That said, it also has the potential to be fairly lucrative.

Ten Ton Hammer: Why is it
going to be dangerous for players? What could potentially happen to
their characters?

style="font-weight: bold;">John: There have
been rumors of things like space pirates.

Ten Ton Hammer: But
you're generally a PvE type of environment aren't you?

style="font-weight: bold;">John: We have PvP
zones, but you have to purposefully go into them. I think space will be
mostly PvP, but there may be some safe shipping lanes. It's all
speculation at this point.

Ten Ton Hammer: It seems
like Entropia takes a little bit to get a feel for what the game is
about. How should new players jump into the fray?

style="font-weight: bold;">John: I would
recommend that new players coming to Entropia go to places like
Entropia Forum and read the other community sites about things
concerning Entropia. In general, it's a really generous community. With
a little common sense, most players will find that it's a very, very
generous community and most players aren't going to take advantage of
you and they won't unless you help them.

I would recommend going to the forums, reading the tutorials, and
taking a look at the beginner professions to see what they should start
out as. I think we have a much higher IQ and higher percentage of CEO
types playing our game. Really high functioning individuals because I
think it takes something to get into our game.

Unlike a lot of games, a lot of things you do in our world have
consequences, because it's been built to be a cash economy from the
ground up. If you're a newbie and don't have any armor, dying is pretty
cheap. But once you've got some gear and take on an animal that's too
big, you lose a bit of money that adds up after awhile.

I've been a part of virtual worlds since 1994, and when I got in and
started playing Entropia, my brain went through a whole variety of
permutations to figure out what an action costs. I began to realize
that I was really becoming more economical in the real world because of
my time in Entropia.

It does take a bit of brain power to work all that out, but it pays
dividends and not just in the game.

Ten Ton Hammer: What are
the demographics of Entropia?

style="font-weight: bold;">John: It's really
interesting. Our demographics are 40% US, 40% EU, and 20% everywhere
else. We actually have a huge player base here in the US without people
actually knowing anything about the game. The only people that know
about us are people that play the game.

The people are definitely out there, and I think once our planet
partners get on board you'll start seeing a lot more people talking
about the game. Over the next year knowledge of our game is really
going to skyrocket, especially here in the US.

We do tend to skew a little bit older in the demographics as well,
along with being predominantly male. The male / female percentage is
somewhere between 60%-70% men and 30%-40% women.

I think there are a few factors that contribute to those numbers,
namely that it's not a fast twitch sort of game and even the shoot'em
up part isn't without some cognizant thought. You can't run in there
with your guns blazing. So I think women have a bit more of an
advantage in our world then they might in some other games where it's a
bit more testosterone driven.

There's also many things you can do in Entropia that have nothing to do
with fighting at all. There's a large focus on cooperation, and the
larger societies really are prevalent in our world. The make-up system
was also just implemented - and I don't mean to be entirely
stereotypical - but women do tend to wear make-up more than men.
There's certainly more artistic and/or female oriented professions out
there for people to do.

Ten Ton Hammer: Finally,
from a gamer's standpoint - a World of Warcraft player for example -
why should they go and check out Entropia Universe?

style="font-weight: bold;">John: I would say
that there are almost infinite numbers of posts on our forums as to
why. But one of the most compelling reasons is that Entropia Universe
focuses on a diversity of items, experiences, professions, and more.
The big, big deal behind the design of Entropia Universe - the one huge
guiding principal - is diversity.

If you look at a real world ecosystem, the more diverse it is the more
drought and stress resistant it is, along with often being described as
much more beautiful than a barren environment. There's all these
advantages for diversity, and I think that directly translates into a
virtual world - an MMO - like Entropia Universe.


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