Virtual? What Do You Mean, Virtual?

Entropia Universe Players Can Cash Their Online Earnings at the A.T.M.

When you put your card into an automated teller machine, view your balance on the screen and then receive money from the dispenser, you probably understand that a merely electronic notion — your bank account — is being translated into a physical object with value: greenbacks.

But what if you are at the corner A.T.M. and your net worth is locked up in an imaginary asteroid mining venture?

Until now you would be plumb out of luck. But today the makers of Entropia Universe, a popular online science-fiction game, plan to introduce a real-world A.T.M. card that will allow players instantly to withdraw hard cash automatically converted from their virtual game treasury. So a player with, say, 2,000 spare P.E.D.’s (Project Entropia Dollars) left over after purchasing a new laser rifle in the game could withdraw $200 and take a date to a real-life ballgame.

With around 250,000 players, Entropia is the leader of a small but growing group of online computer games with virtual economies explicitly based on real-world money, and today’s announcement is the most ambitious step yet to meld an in-game economy with the real global financial system.

[…] In most mainstream online games, like the spectacularly popular World of Warcraft, spending real money for virtual items is not only against the rules but also considered the worst sort of louche behavior, like paying for sex. But in Entropia, the entire game system is based on the fact that 10 P.E.D.’s equal a dollar and that the game’s virtual items and assets have real-world value.