Friday, March 30, 2007

Kept in the Dark

Skills, equipment, weapons, armor, the stats, the meanings, the vagueness, why are we kept in the dark on such things? Should Mindark open the information vaults or would that make Entropia Universe less fun?

Ok we have all read the forums with an endless amount of theories and spent many chat sessions regarding the finer points of whether one weapon is better than another. On one side of the coin you have Mindark who knows everything and on the other you have the players who are doled out tidbits of information and stats every now and then just to keep us theorizing some more.

One of the main things that attracted me to Entropia Universe was the fact nothing was "spoon fed" to me and it was up to shrewd players to figure things out for themselves. Well its been a while since I started and much of the information we have has either never changed or if it has it just opens up new theories and confusion. While the real me has hypothesized what certain things mean in game and I have my theories on what they do, my avatar is still left in the dark. To this day skills and stats on items have very little additional meanings and pretty much have the same meaning they did when I first stepped off the ship from an avatar standpoint. With any game of progression you learn things along the way in real life and those observations are usually met with some affirmation in game that benefits your avatar and the real you, its a dual learning experience.

What we have in Entropia Universe is new types of skills that unlock at certain milestones which really don't shed any light on the profession you have choosen, it just adds another mystery to the countless other mysteries we already had. Some stats on equipment and weapons lead credence to skills in showing which ones are needed to use the items efficiently but beyond that their vague descriptions only lead to more questions.

Information is a commodity and a way of gauging progress in Entropia Universe. Just like skills, helpful information should be valued yet we have no real way of gaining additional hard facts or knowing for sure if our hypotheses are correct. Information and the skill system should go hand in hand for example: As your avatar becomes more skilled you should be privy to more factual information. That knowledge is thus only useful to someone with the skill to decipher it properly so you either play or pay to gain the valuable information. There are many ways Mindark could improve upon the skill system to incorporate information milestones which could either solidify our theories or make us rethink how things work. I am all for a mystery now and then but eventually that mystery should be solved leading to some type of resolution. Those mysteries that are never solved tend to lead to conspiracy theories or mass disinterest.

So I pose this question to those within Entropia Universe and those who might have insight from other MMOs: Would this extra information add depth to our avatars and give validity to theories or even more speculation as to what skills really mean or should this be left "as is" a mystery we never quite figure out?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Life Imitates Entropia?

Lambert International Airport, St. Louis, Missouri (Insert: Trade Center building Treasure Island City, Amethera)

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Main Entropia Universe Profession

While most of us think of Hunting/Mining/Crafting as the main Entropia Universe professions one takes precedence over them all. Its called Trading and to become successful in Entropia Universe one must learn its "ins and outs".

Most of us already immersed in the Entropia Universe think of trading as a side note to everything else but if there was no trade there would be no RCE(Real Cash Economy)whether it be via shops, the in game auction, selling and buying posts on forums, or peer to peer trades in game. Everyone is looking to buy their goods (resources, equipment, services) at the lowest prices while those selling are looking to get the best prices on what they have to offer. The economy in Entropia Universe is a small microcosm of the way trade works in real life.

There are many different types of traders in Entropia Universe and I will try my best to explain just exactly what they mean and why some trading is frowned upon while other types are not even given a second thought.

First on the list is the flat out Trading profession. Its a skill less profession (as far as gaining skills from Mindark) but it does require real life skill, tenacity, and a good eye to spot the best deals in the market place. A good percentage of the traders (what I like to call Value added Traders) perform services in Entropia Universe. It can stem from someone consolidating resources to refining certain resources for a better than average return either in their shops, on the auction, or other peer to peer trading. A good deal of the Crafters out there benefit from players who consolidate resources. Most traders work within the confines of the going market price and make their PED(Project Entropia Dollar) from either holding onto resources so when the market price rises they make PED or snapping up small amounts of resources which are hard to sell otherwise at below market prices. Most beginning Traders will start out in this type of trading because it requires a minimal investment and over time its possible to save enough PED to move onto higher priced commodities.

The next on the list I like to call the Player Trader which comprises the bulk of the Entropia Universe participants. The main profession of the Player Trader is not strictly trading. They either Hunt, Mine, Craft, or perform so other type of service. They basically sell whatever they acquire from participating in their chosen profession. I call myself a Player Trader because I tend to sell most resources and items I loot via the auction and I usually keep the markups at or below the market prices. Market Prices can be determined via web sites like, ,, or with the latest Version Update 8.11 we can now see pricing history directly in the Entropia Universe(examples shown above). The Player Trader is what leads me to saying "Trading is the main Entropian Profession" since everyone whether they are conscious of it or not participates in buying and selling goods and/or services pretty much everyday they play EU.

Next, I will only touch upon this since its such a heated subject across the Entropia Universe, are Resellers. Its such a "gray area" between all the different types of trading. Reselling, by many, is considered the worst even though the majority of the population does resell at some point in time and in some fashion. This will be gone into more detail in another Blogtropia post so I don't want to go into great detail but my definition of a "Reseller" is someone who takes advantage of rare items and resources in game and in turn raises the price a great deal more in hopes that someone out there is willing to pay that price. If an item bounces from reseller to reseller to reseller it can dramatically increase prices especially if that item continues to remain in demand and rare. While we all love to hate the professional resellers in Entropia Universe, many including myself ride on their coat tails when it comes time to upgrade or when we happen to loot a great item or resource. There is a very large "grey area" when it comes to Player Traders and Resellers. While I would hate to generalize I think the animosity towards Resellers is the belief that they offer nothing and take out everything but like I said that is for another post for another time.

To sum it all up to participate in Entropia Universe means you will be trading or selling your resources, items, and/or services. That means the number one profession in Entropia Universe is Trading - its a huge part of what everyone does almost every day. The question is what type of Trader do you want to become?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Final Entropia Exploit

I think Mindark does a good overall job of dealing with exploits that pop up in the system. In years past their response was sluggish, but that improved drastically. Such exploits' existence is inevitable in a game where the envelope is constantly being pushed. There's real money involved, and its a free download, so you can bet EU will host a good number of would be cheaters with nothing to lose. The only variable is how Mindark deals with them.

Last year we saw countless well known players locked, short term and long, for attempts to cheat the system. From the "101 Auction Bug" to hardcore use of hunting bots, Mindark made it clear that they would show no tolerance for those trying to cheat the system.

Mindark should be applauded for their crackdown. But this trend of behavior compels me to ask - why doesn't Mindark eliminate the final exploit that their software specifically enables?

I'm talking about Follow Bots.

Follow Bots are a simple exploit. A player logs into EU on a second PC with a secondary avatar (which is illegal). They equip an expensive FAP (med kit), turn on an autoclicker, and then command their secondary avatar to follow their primary avatar. Whenever the primary avatar gets hurt, the Follow Bot automatically heals them. One player is now driving a team of two.

At this point, the primary avatar can walk around and hunt without Armor, and without ever having to stop to FAP themselves. This technique allows those who use it the ability to leverage their $25k FAPs to exploit the system. How? By not paying armor decay. By not having to FAP themselves, reducing a mobs regen. By not having to employ the services of a medic.

Consider these screen shots. Here you can see one of the games most highly regarded players employing a medic. I am not implying that he is using a Follow Bot in these screen shots, but if someone were to do so, this is what it would look like.

Here you can see the scan of our player, blasting away without the need to wear armor (which decays at a high rate) or stop to heal himself (during which time he can't be firing, and during which time the mob's health regenerates). He is hunting the biggest mob in the game, the Daspletor, naked. You read that correctly, the games biggest mob does not require armor using this method.

And here you can see a scan of a low skilled avatar. Low, that is, in everything but his medical skills, which seem to be quite robust for such an inexperienced avatar. This avatar has also been entrusted with a $25k FAP, the most sought after item in the game. I'm sure that in this case it was just a friend who was doing the FAPing all day, but it does a good job of illustrating how the exploit could be used.

Follow Bots have existed in EU for quite some time. Their ability to track and follow the primary avatar's movements are quite sophisticated. The irony being, of course, that Mindark built this sophistication into Entropia. The Follow command is rarely used for any required activities, and it's removal would not be missed by many.

Hunting big game in EU isn't usually profitable. But when such an extreme advantage can be leveraged, you have to wonder when the proverbial dung is going to hit the fan. An ATH to a Botter is only a matter of time.

I can hear the objections already! Of course you can lend your FAP to your brother and make him follow you around for a 16 hour hunting session. (I'm amazed at how many EU players have patient, inexhaustable brothers) But if you find that without the Follow command he is no longer willing to mindlessly FAP you for 16 hours a day, put on some damn armor or hire a medic. Either of those options drive the economy and deny Follow Botters the benefits of this final Entropia exploit.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Get Rich Playing Games

The future is now...

...So I say to my friends each time I tell them about two of my favourite online games, Second Life & Entropia Universe.

Most of them awe when I talk about making millions just by playing a game. And even if it sounds far fetched, it’s the simple truth. These particular games offer the participant a chance to make money using creativity and skills.

While in Second Life the main attraction is to create things yourself and sell them to make money, in Entropia Universe its about getting that massive loot while doing an activity like crafting weapons, or mining the ground for valuable resources.

In this post, ill compare some important aspects of these two games. For an easier view, I will refer to Second Life as SL and Entropia Universe as EU.

Credits = Real Money!

One thing these two games have in common is that to buy things inside them you will need to pay real dollars for ingame credits. While in games like World Of Warcraft you only pay a monthly subscription, in SL and EU you have to buy credits from the publisher. SL also has a subscription that allows you to own your own land and a second character. EU has no monthly payments.

If you want to convert the credits you have earned/bought into real money, in SL you need to sell them to other players, while in EU the publisher itself makes the exchange.

This is important, because in SL the credits value tends to be dictated by how much players are willing to pay for them, while in EU the credits are tied to real life dollars.

User Made vs Already Made

One of the biggest gaps between SL and EU is the content. Content in SL is purely made by players. Linden Labs provides a land section that is available for credits.

The rest you can make using an advanced 3d construction system, based on building blocks called “Primitives”, and with the use of a complex script system to make things work. With enough imagination and skills, you can be making lots of credits in no time.

In EU, all content is provided by Mindark. This can be frustrating at times, especially when you play a game like SL where you see the most amazing things built by players, like jetpacks, cars, and fully scripted slot machines.

On the other hand, Mindark servers and databases are clean. The good thing about not giving players a chance to make their own items, avoids alot of trash and content overload. This I believe is what makes EU stable, while SL needs a daily maintenance and extended downtime periods.


SL is frustrating at times. Lots of lag, database mistakes, rollbacks, malicious scripts that take the game down and flood the databases, getting stuck on an area without being able to get out for hours. While their construction system is quite amazing… Players make so many things and upload so many content, that the game is constantly down due to overloads. Eventually, you will get annoyed by this and simply log off and go play another game.

EU is the opposite. It rarely goes down, 99% of the time servers are up, and has small maintenance periods, which usually are used for Version Updates (upgrades).

Business Opportunities

The main attraction to these worlds is money. Let’s face it, playing a monopoly game is fun, but gets boring. While if there is real cash involved, it’s a whole different story!

You can make a fortune in both games. The difference lies in the approach.

In SL, you will need to make use of creative skills or real estate management to make a good sum of cash. Being it by creating items like clothes, furniture, houses, or just buying and selling land. There is a very successful player that has made over a million dollars by buying land, equipping it with houses, gardens and the lot… and selling for a higher price.

In EU, the way to make money is to buy and sell anything you can get your hands on. But prices are quite different then SL's. While in SL a small land area costs about 50$, in EU any land area has a cost of 25000$ and its rising. And as for items, most clothes you see in SL cost no more then 5$, clothes in EU can cost up to 2000$.

The problem is, most items you buy in Second Life aren’t tradable. You buy once and they stay in your inventory until you terminate your account. But in EU, you can resell items you buy and make a percentage. Many players have this approach, which causes a high inflation in the items. Not many months ago, virtual guns were being bought and sold for 4000$... and nowadays they cost 14000$. In just a few months! Amazing at the very least.

Express Yourself

Sexy hot naked girls. Orgies. Bondage machines. Raw virtual sex. Scripted emotions, genitals, poses. This is the true market of Second Life. If there’s something that generates lots of income its this. You need to have at least 18+ to play the game, so no harm there. If you are -18, then there’s SL Teen, where this kind of content is not allowed.

SL is all about expressing yourself thru actions, clothing, character skin and body. Its common to see huge lands with thousands of displays full with clothes and skins. You can pimp yourself up in anyway you want, you can even transform yourself into a furry kitten if you like. Its all about fantasy and roleplaying, making justice to the term “player”.

In EU you can’t remove your underwear. The clothes are old school looking, there’s a basic number of emotes, some of them absurd. Painting a piece of clothing can cost up to 1300 dollars (!) and the avatar meshes are outdated and look odd when the avatar talks or smiles. If you want surgery it will cost you, the success rate is low, there’s only a few surgeons ingame capable of doing it, and none of them has unlocked the full range of modifications available. With today's gaming technology, there's no reason to keep things so basic.

Technical Support

SL support is good. They have a daily newsfeed, future events and updates scheduled, even an official forum that is moderated by official people from Linden Labs. Transparency is the key word here.

But Mindark is mysterious. The technical support rarely gives an explicit answer to players questions, changes are made to the system without previous warning, and if a player gets hacked, 1 out of 10 times he gets his possessions back. This can be very frustrating, and in turn takes away any trust that a new player has on the game. It should be different, afterall, things are very expensive in Entropia.

The average player ends up depositing thousands of dollars to get hold of some decent gear, clothing and estate. Then if for some reason he has problems, and asks for help… He will most likely get an automated excuse from the support saying they cannot help. There isn’t even an official forum.

Its understandable in a way... Real money makes them cautious. If Mindark helped everyone and told people about their decisions and ways of management, people would end up using that information against them and abuse the system. To prevent such problems, they tend to keep players in the dark.

What Lies Ahead

Gamers tend to play games once and never look at them again. No matter how fun and impressive a game is, it gets pointless. Either because you’ve reached the top and there’s nowhere else to go to, or because you’ve made so much monopoly money, you own everything and you are still as poor as you were in real life when you started.

The future is always uncertain, but these two games have been going for a few years now. While others have failed, they kept on growing. Its likely that both will grow even bigger, as they are based on real money. That is key to maintain the interest of players.

Personal note

The most curious thing is that after one and a half years playing Entropia Universe, I can’t get enough of it. Its addictive, my items grow in value, my character is stronger then ever and I don’t feel the slightest boredom.

I have a name that people know, made many friends and even business connections to the other side of the planet thru it. It acts as a door to the world, opening many possibilities.

Ill be staying for a long time, that’s for sure.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

ColecoVision vs. Entropia Universe

Entropia Universe, set far off in the future, has a startling surprise for the individualists among us. At some point down the line, we humans seem to lose our ability to produce things in color. At least that's what those of us living inside this Gray Universe are led to believe.

Consider this - the range of color options for customizing items such as clothes and furniture consists of 18 total colors. My ColecoVision, introduced in 1982, had 16 colors.

But here's the kicker. Inside EU 5-6 of those seventeen colors - the most useful ones - are not even an option. Why? Because the paints needed are no longer found in loots, which is a showstopper in and of itself. But the bigger problem is that colors like black, white, and red take incredibly high skills to apply. Why is that a more severe problem? After a series of skill calibrations, we are virtually ensured that only one or two players will ever be able to color something black. Ever.

Take this tuxedo as an example. If you want to take it from it's raw, uncolored form, and turn it into a basic black tux today, here's what you need to do. First track down the paint, will cost you $600. Then pay a fee of $150 to the only player who can apply black paint. What's worse? There is a good chance the coloring attempt will fail, and you will need to procure another $600 in paint.

You're now at $1,350.00. And it doesn't even have an Armani label.

As you can see, this needs to be addressed immediately. Gamers love self expression, and they want to be able to customize their avatars. All the improvements and changes that the game has gone through have incidentally unhinged this feature. In the process of fixing it, they're probably going to piss off the top colorers. And that's OK - EU is dynamic. In this case the good of the many outweighs the good of the few. If not, it's going to be difficult to keep people interested in a MMO market where extreme customization is quickly becoming the norm. This is, after all, the most basic of item attributes.

The good news is our modest 18 colors, used in combination, could provide enough choices to keep most of us happy for a while. And if Mindark has to pay off the top colorers in order to fix this for the rest of us, so be it. It's time to make those tough decisions.

Until EU stops teasing me, ColecoVision is my color champ, 20 years after it started collecting dust in a closet.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Things they keep on changing...

Pretty much the back bone of Entropia Universe revolves around loot that is attained either through hunting mobs (creatures), mining resources, and/or crafting goods from raw materials. People gain skills through using equipment and weapons in EU. These skills are meant to increase your avatar's ability to perform actions more efficiently which reduces cost or allows you to tackle tougher tasks in EU.

Things have changed a great deal since I started out as a fresh eyed nooblet in Project Entropia. Mindark has definitely made it more appealing to newer players these days (5K is the new 10K in skills) From what I see there are two factions, new players who become efficient using (L) equipment early on and players who have been around skilling up to become efficient on non limited high end equipment. If I were to start today I would find it quite a daunting challenge to become efficient with a A-3 Justifier Improved MKII (imk2) while some of the newer Limited (L) weapons seem like a much more attainable goal. The higher loots(5K peds +) in low-mid mobs basically sealed the deal to keep newer players from moving up in skill to use non Limited(L) weapons and gear. While I think there will be those pioneering spirits who won't let the 5K skill slow down and expensive high end equipment stop them from trying to get to 10K and beyond, I dont think there will be as many as in days past. With the recent changes in the equipment stats, skill system, and loot system we will see new and old players revaluating their goals. From my point of view this has driven a wedge in the community and left many mid level veterans not knowing which avenue to take.

While its looking more and more like the Entropia Universe (EU) will contain a good mix of Limited (L) items and non limited (L) items the impact of the limited (L) items is being felt in a lessening demand for non limited (L) items. Since the majority of new players will latch onto the limited (L) experience and become successful using that system, the need to reach high skill levels to become efficient using high end items will lessen as time goes on so demand for those high end items will lessen.

With each new Version Update (VU) Entropia Universe (EU) steers further and further away from what the Project Entropia (PE) was all about. I am one for change and growth but these days its seems like Entropia Universe has a split personality. Will I one day have an "Ahhhaaa" moment where I share in Mindark's vision for the Entropia Universe or will it change so completely people will look upon anyone with skills above 10K as an oddity from a long lost part of Entropia Universe............ah what as it again? ohhhh yeah Project Entropia.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

What does a $23k loot look like?

A new All Time High for the crafting profession was achieved today in Entropia. Not bad for a single click of the mouse.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

New Oxford Blues

Some time ago Mindark introduced New Oxford. It was supposed to be the EU cultural center which brings in real life artists/designers and their work. I have been working freelance for many years in commercial art, so the initial concept of New Oxford was extremely exciting to me. I personally thought it would add another layer to Entropia Universe giving those of us within the EU community a splash of culture with a Science Fiction twist.

When it was finally implemented my first impression was that the area was a "Diamond in the rough". I thought overtime new elements would be added to the Gallery and like most real life art galleries it would be ever evolving with something new all the time. Vexxed Generation also setup shop selling new clothing designs in limited editions. All designers and artists have some of their real life works and clothing, or at the least high quality prints, for sale in EU also.

OK so Mindark setup a good frame work, it did, however, meet with mixed reactions from the community since many of the artists lacked that Science Fiction edge and Vexxed seemed to drop off the face of the earth when real life items were ordered( I think this problem has been fixed now). Paintings in the gallery ranged from very high to reasonable in price, but once you have seen the full gamut there is no reason to actually go back to the Gallery. The artist lectures are nice and it is interesting to see just what makes them tick, gives them inspiration, and a little insight into being successful as a working artist.

While I think Oxford could be a very popular success it sort of lacks being updated more frequently and new fresh Science Fiction, Surrealistic, and/or Futuristic type artists are lacking. While I personally like the art and the artists in the Gallery there should be a good mix of the current fair and others who could have more of a pulse on a Science Fiction themed MMO. There are countless illustrators who could capture the spirit and minds of the community in EU, just check out Spectrum 13: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art and you will get what I am saying.

Maybe I am impatient and these things will come to us in time. Recently MA has introduced an option for users to upload personal content which can be sold to other participants. I personally think this is a huge plus even though I am a bit hesitant to upload any of my current works (I am still a dinosaur when it comes to the digital painting). A participant gallery, which would showcase player designs, is seriously lacking and with so much empty space in the Academy and Art Gallery I am not sure why something like this has not been offered. As it stands now participants have to show their works in their apartments and sell them in shops.

New Oxford is close to my heart and I want to see it succeed. I like the fact MA put development time into such a place I just hope they keep up with it or start giving the players more access to the Gallery. Keep it fresh with content the users know and can appreciate and I think it will be the glowing beacon it should have been all along.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Charging for Support?

The following support case snippet came from a player who believes he may have lost an item due to a bug. There were precious few details he could provide support, and the item was one of very low value. Their response was interesting.

Support employees and their salaries are liabilities paid out of the economy. The idea of limiting the amount of time a single player can tie up support with dozens of needless cases is intriguing. Consider the recent fishing expedition for an Unlimited Korss. All the work that went on behind the scenes dealing with that case - we paid for it. And it was all a sham.

In a world where it's free for anyone to play, am I crazy or is charging for certain types of support a great idea? Certain types of support would have to remain free, and maybe $100 is a bit steep, but the concept of a support tax is growing on me.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

6.5 critical Entropia developments from 2006

In case you missed them, here are the top 6.5 stories coming out of Entropia Universe in 2006.

1) Bot Users Banned. A handful of well known Entropia veterans were locked in 2006, under suspicion of cheating. How? They own(ed) very efficient gear and reportedly used illegal hunting bot software to have their avatars hunt 24/7, virtually guaranteeing them profit. Using third party software that interferes with EU is expressly prohibited in the EULA. In an unprecedented move, Mindark came down on them hard, suspending their accounts and their gear. The value of these accounts and their assets, currently in limbo, suspected to be $100-$300k USD. Mindark's lips are sealed regarding this issue, and it will be interesting to see what resolution, if any, takes place in 2007.

2) The Egg. A long hunting event in which some of the biggest mobs the game has ever seen culminated in the looting of an Egg. TT value? 6 PED. That $0.60 item was sold for $10,000 in anticipation of something emerging from it of far greater value. Many speculate that Mindark wanted to see what happened with the Egg before assigning a reward. It got them some press, and recent events in game look like they might be getting close to resolving the storyline. For now it remains a $10,000 novelty, and Mindark's response to all inquiries regarding the status of the story result in a rehearsed "Ahh, the Egg."

3) Cash Cards Implemented. Detractors point out that it's just simple bolt on technology from a co-branded debit card provider. But these new cards gave all player instant access to their in game funds. Withdrawal time went from four months to four seconds overnight. A real step forward in blurring the line between real world and virtual world. Unfortunately there have been some kinks in the system, the worst of which has brought the system down temporarily. The NY Times picks up the story.

4) Mall Auctions. Three shopping malls were auctioned. Total sales surpassed $170k. Critics were quick to point out that there are already an abundance of shopping options in EU, and adding malls were superfluous. One of the malls seems to be doing quite well, but the other two have not gained much traction. It's reported that one of the buyers took out a personal bank loan to cover his $70k investment.

5) Record Loots Found. A single loot worth over $50k found in late 2006. That shattered the previous record, also set in 2006 of $19k. More details about this in a forthcoming post.

6) Event System, Video, and Ad System Introduced. These systems have been some of the most enriching additions to EU to date. The Event system has been well received and widely used for player run contests, some of which have become hugely popular. And the Ad system has allowed Entropians to unleash their creative abilities to promote their in-game products and services. Mindark has continued pushing the envelope in 2007 with the addition of user generated images and videos.

6.5) Windowed Mode. Mindark (re)introduced windowed mode for the client software. Users rejoice. This makes the list out of the sheer usefulness. It probably took developers an hour to add. That may have been their best hour of 2006.

Honorable Mentions: #2 Hunting ATH goes to exploiter, Eomon Migration, Robot War, The Entropian Magazine launched & folded after one issue, New Oxford "City of Culture" arrives