Interview with Marco Behrman, CIO of MindArk
, conducted by Monica Hafer. Monica Hafer:
In the real world, there are agencies that help to regulate the pace/scope of economic growth and decline. Steps are taken to ensure stability (ie; government regulates amount of land farmed, goods produced in certain arenas, etc.). Entropia seems rather laisser faire. Is that the case or are there economists (or other minds) working on regulating the world?Marco Behrman:In fact there are several minds involved in ensuring that the Entropia Universe remains balanced. While our goal is always to provide a stimulating and dynamic arena for our participants, we are ever mindful of introducing too much content too quickly. There are several checks in place that test new content and its implications for the virtual universe and its economy.MH:
A lot of people don't read the EULA before signing up. I find that if someone has taken the time to make rules, the reasoning comes from something that has already taken place. I have several questions related to the document.
Behrman:(a) As developers of the Entropia Universe, we at MindArk quickly realized that what we were offering was more than just a game. From the beginning, our ambition was to create a truly virtual universe similar to our own, and we therefore decided from an official level not to relate to our product as a game, but as a virtual universe – a platform where participants themselves steer its development. We are pleased with this decision, as we have developed to include real world art and clothing from real world artists such as Mark Kostabi, Ernst Billgren and Vexed Generation. This development, together with many more to come, is not done proper justice by the word 'game'.
- a) Why is there the distinction made that EU is not a game, but a service?
- b) Why was there the addition that players couldn't spread rumors (etc.) about the universe or the company?
- c) There is a statement about the artistic/intellectual rights of anything created in the game belonging to MindArk. Do you think this would be detrimental to creative uses of the system? And how does that work when people are selling real-life artwork through the system? (which I think is exciting, by the way...)
- d) All laws governing the system are Swedish. Since this game is online/global, does this become problematic for users in that the game is global/financial unregulated?
We found in the early days, because of the unique nature of our product with a real cash economy, that people would speculate wildly about our product. While we were certainly flattered by the excitement, we reached a point where we needed to take official control over communications made regarding the intention and development of the Entropia Universe.
I don't believe that this is detrimental to the creative use of the system, and I'm sure many of our participants prefer that we maintain a secure system with regular content updates, rather than create opportunities that may result in flawed features. The real-life artworks were of course specially contracted for the Entropia Universe.
MindArk adhere naturally to Swedish Law as the company is based here in the city of Gothenburg, Sweden. To say that the Entropia Universe is financially unregulated because of its global/online characteristic is somewhat of a misconception however. Participants that may make earnings are fully responsible for accounting for those earnings according to the financial regulations of the country that they live in. There isn't any loophole here, just like there isn't for any other private citizen when income is made.MH:
There are a small number of people who find gaming addictive. Also, there is the sometimes erroneous notion that EU works like gambling, rather than as a payment in lieu of a monthly fee. Does the game have any ethical obligation to players in relation to this?Behrman: The Entropia Universe is available on so many levels to different people. Many participate just for the entertainment, others just for the social aspect of meeting people and making friends from around the world. We have given a great deal of thought however, to those few who can find gaming addictive, and decided early on to put several controls in place to guarantee, as best we can, a healthy and entertaining experience in the Entropia Universe. For example, we placed a cap on how much can be deposited into the Entropia Universe per 30 day period in order to counter just these types of situations. We also set a limit on the first deposit that can be made from a credit card in order to verify its proper ownership. We view security and confidence in our product as very important requisites for the continued success of the Entropia Universe.MH:
How does a system of this kind change/inform the ideas of gaming/financial ethics for the future?Behrman: As a fore runner in this new development it is important to lead by example, and that is why we have implemented the security measures we have to date, and why we will continue to be creative in finding responsible solutions to our customers needs.MH:
Is there a relation to the Entropia software that was created for running GIMPS, or is this only a similarity of name? Behrman: Well I guess you could say that one similarity that the Entropia Universe has with the GIMPS project is that we too are charting new ground and going where no one has gone before.MH:
Does the fact that things wear out (just like real life) or they can be lost/stolen make people more likely to withdraw their funds on a regular basis rather than re-investing in the system?Behrman: One improvement on real life that the Entropia Universe has made is that items cannot be stolen. Certain items may be lost in combat, and items may be dropped, but these are situations that the participant has complete freedom of choice to become involved in. When it comes to reinvestment within the Entropia Universe we haven't noticed a problem, as the entertainment value coupled with the increase in skill levels make the deterioration of tools and such quite a natural process. The sense of realism experienced through this feature is one of the reasons I believe, that the trade of minerals, ores, weapons etc. is so strong and well documented on many Entropia Universe community sites on the web.MH:
I know things can be looted, etc. Do you have safeguards for "organized virtual crime" or do you find people tend to self-police in this type of environment?Behrman: The Entropia Universe community is a very close knit community. In fact, I'd dare to say they're quite protective of their virtual universe. Naturally we have systems in place to detect and prevent 'organized virtual crime' but we don't have a police force inside the virtual universe. The community is quite proud and keeps each other informed on a multitude of interesting websites, about happenings at the grass roots level of the Entropia Universe.MH:
Is Jan Welter (and the original "colleagues") still involved in the project, or has the system mostly governed by investors? And is there ever a schism between the company's economic goals and their game design goals?Behrman: Jan Welter is very much involved in the company as its Chief Executive Officer, with many of the original colleagues also still involved. MindArk currently has a healthy and robust organization and is never troubled with any schism between economic goals contra design goals. Both parts work hand in hand within a decision structure that allows dialogue and healthy debate between the different departments as ideas evolve. This constructive atmosphere allows MindArk to feel secure in its development.MH:
How much of a stumbling block was Microsoft's attack on your software? Have you found anything else that's really been a hindrance to your evolution?Behrman: The issue with Microsoft wasn't experienced so much as a stumbling block as we had nothing to be worried about. We did realize however that we had an innovative product that was being noticed, and that in itself was a compliment. Otherwise, the only hindrance to our evolution would have to be the wild fantasies of some of our design team, that sometimes think they have technology available to them that won't be invented for another 10 years.MH:
The universe really fascinates me, in that it is like The Sims, W.O.W, and a space RPG. The addition of a University and online/real-life ecommerce also adds to the strange amalgam that is EU. Does MindArk have a "genre base" that it's looking to explore/elaborate, or is it meant to be the free-flowing creation of its inhabitance? And is this a strength, or does lack of genre create problems with marketing and attracting player demographics?Behrman: It's difficult to speak of a specific 'genre base' as something relevant to the Entropia Universe. If anything, it might been seen as a collection of genres. Yes, combat and hunting exist in full throttle, but we also have hair dresser skills, tailoring and lovers of the arts. We have a founding principle of continual development of the virtual universe, with new content being added every month. This gives us a totally different working premiss to other online entertainment. We want to attract a broad range of people to our universe because we know the community benefits from it and ultimately it makes our universe more interesting. In such case, marketing is an opportunity to consider and attract different people through different and interesting content that meet their needs.