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 Sony opens Virtual Goods Marketplace

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Date posted: 22/04/2005

Massively Multiplayer Online world operator Sony Entertainment appears to have reversed its position regarding the buying and selling of virtual items. For the last six years ? the entire operating life of its world EverQuest, Sony has vehemently opposed the trade in virtual items, currency, and even entire accounts, as it feels players have no right to do this.

Indeed, the whole virtual item debate has raged for years, across the entire multi-user sphere, since, if virtual goods can be sold, they can be owned. Ownership of virtual goods makes those goods real. If those goods are real, owners can sue for damages should anything happen to them?

Until recently, only a handful of operators supported such item sales. Sony was not amoung them. Now, Sony is working on the Sony Station Exchange, due to launch in June, and designed to allow users of EverQuest?s sequel, EverQuest II buy and sell virtual goods, characters and currency, with the full approval of Sony. In a statement, Sony said it was taking the move to help stamp out fraudulent sales of gear.

Currently cash, artefacts and characters are regularly traded on Ebay as well as many specialist sites. Sony has tried to get many of these sales stopped and has sued some item trading sites.

Powerful characters and items can change hands for hundreds of pounds. Some estimates have put an $800m (?418m) price tag on the global market in game items and cash. The trade in EverQuest goods makes up about 20% of this total.

Many novice players are keen to buy items and characters so they can bypass the drudgery of spending hours turning weak characters into strong ones, working up the experience treadmill.

In a statement issued to EverQuest players John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment, said it was setting up the marketplace to stop people being ripped off when they buy game goods online.

"Dealing with fraudulent transactions of one type or another takes up roughly 40% of our customer service people's time," he said in the statement.

"We believe that by taking this course, we will free up a great number of resources to deal with other things for our players," wrote Mr Smedley.

Station Exchange will only help players buy and sell items, said Mr Smedley; Sony has no plans to trade items itself.

He said Sony was over-turning its earlier policy because research showed that most players did not mind that game goods are bought and sold and many of them actively take part in it.

Sony is planning to set up new servers for EverQuest II that will be "exchange enabled" meaning items, characters and cash on them will be tradeable.

"I think this is a brilliant business move and a good one for games and gamers," said Dr Edward Castronova, an associate professor at Indiana University who studies game economics.

He said the move will help to stabilise games many of which are being disrupted by players who use their in-game characters to "farm" gold and magic items simply to sell them.

"I am dying to see the first massively multi-player online role-playing game Sony produces under the new system," he said.

See the full Story via external site: news.bbc.co.uk

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