Entropia Universe: An Exclusive ION Interview with John Bates

Posted Sat, May 24, 2008 by Cody Bye

Questions by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

Answers 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.


The Entropia Universe Logo

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 you…

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 well?

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?

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?

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 action.

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.

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 mouth?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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.
     

I want to be an alien rancher. The kind of aliens that Captain Kirk always found.

While a lot of players "get" MMOGs, there are a great many people who don't "get" Entropia Universe. With its declaration of being a "virtual world" and it's use of real money to buy and sell goods, many online game players don't even consider Entropia Universe when they're looking at online games to explore. At Leipzig GC '07, Marco Behrmann sat down with Ten Ton Hammer's Cody "Micajah" Bye to try to sort out that misunderstanding and inform the public about Entropia Universe.

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