Gordon Walton: GDC Online's Virtual Items Summit

In the world of online gaming, no issue has divided the populace more cleanly than the concept of virtual goods and their relationship to real world values. To some, virtual goods are little bits of code, tucked away on some distant server, ready to be changed, rebalanced or even made obsolete at the whim of a bored content designer. To others, however, virtual goods can be just as tangible as any other real-world purchase, as the utility and entertainment a virtual purchase might bring in game can be equated to any real world hobby that requires some sort of monetary upkeep.

Regardless of where you or I stand on this issue, it's clear that the online gaming industry is on the move, as evidenced by the big free-to-play microtransaction shift that has swept the North American MMORPG industry, or Blizzard's recent announcement that Diablo III will feature a real money auction house for players to sell items, gold and even character accounts.

With all of these new monetization models being explored in online gaming, discussion on the topic has become more important than ever before, and this is why GDC Online (Oct. 10-13) is hosting a Virtual Items Summit to explore the ways virtual goods can help studios around the world. Recently, I sat down with GDC Advisory Board Member Gordon Walton, who is also a VP and Executive Producer at Playdom (previously the VP and co-general manager at BioWare), to talk about the monetization of social games, virtual goods, and MMORPGs.

SEE Purchases Planet Calypso for $6 Million

SEE Virtual Worlds, the company behind the upcoming Michael Jackson and Universal Monsters MMOs, has purchased Planet Calypso from MindArk for $6 million. In the same transaction, SEE Virtual Worlds acquired the assets of First Planet Company, a subsidiary of MindArk.

Planet Calypso is the first planet in the Entropia Universe. The game's been running since 2003 and has almost 1 million registered accounts. Planet Calypso has a real cash economy; in November 2010, an in-game virtual resort sold for a staggering $635,000. To learn more about the game, check out Senior Staff Writer Chris "Pwff" Tom's recent tour of Planet Calypso.

SEE Virtual Worlds announced late last year that it is developing two new planets to add to the Entropia Universe: Planet Michael, which is based on the life of the late King of Pop, and a world that focuses on famous Universal Monsters such as Frankenstein and Dracula. Players can move their Entropia avatars from planet to planet and explore all of the various MMOs in the universe.

For more details on the acquisition, check out Massively's interview with SEE Virtual Worlds President Corey Redmond.

ZAM's News Team Looks Back at 2010

As 2010 winds to a close and we prepare for 2011, the ZAM news team decided to take a look back at this year's highs and lows, as well as share what we're excited to see in 2011. Our team has changed a bit recently, so we wanted to take the time to properly introduce ourselves and talk about about our favorite topic: gaming.

Over the next few pages, you'll get to meet Editor-in-Chief Darryl "Togikagi" Gangloff (yours truly), Senior Staff Writer Chris "Pwyff" Tom, Reporter Kayla "Reiyami" Smith and Staff Writer Paul "LockeColeMA" Cleveland. Keep reading after the jump for my personal thoughts on 2010 and then flip through the pages to hear from the rest of the team.

We'd love to know what you thought about 2010. Feel free to share your opinions in the comments section below, or contact us at news@zam.com. You can also find our individual contact information on the staff list page.

Planet Calypso: Medusa's Head Islands for Sale

Are you looking to invest in some virtual property? Do you have a ton of money at your disposal? Even if you answered "no" to these questions, you should take a look at the intriguing sale that's coming up in Planet Calypso, an MMO with a real money economy. The Medusa's Head islands are available for viewing today for potential buyers in preparation for the auction, which will be held from Dec. 13 to Jan. 3. According to First Planet Company, developer and publisher of Planet Calypso, this will be the largest virtual property ever sold.

This sale has the potential to be one for the record books. Last month, a small virtual resort in the game sold for $635,000 after originally being bought for $100,000 in 2005. This piece of property was previously in the Guinness World Records book as the most valuable virtual item.

So what's the price tag on the Medusa's Head islands? Only time will tell, but the property is huge. It encompasses eight different revenue-generating land areas and includes two unique creatures that will be of interest to hunters. You can view a map of the islands after the jump. For more details on this real money MMO, check out our recent tour of Planet Calypso.

Touring Planet Calypso: Where Money Meets MMO

For most MMORPGs, it can be rather difficult to find your own niche amidst the hundreds of other competitors; whether it's through a unique combat system or by weaving a compelling one-of-a-kind story, developers are always vying with each other to make their MMO stand out in the crowd. Standing out, however, has never been a problem for the unique sandbox MMO known as "Planet Calypso," which just happens to be the largest real economy MMORPG in the industry while also holding the Guinness World Record for having some of the world's most valuable virtual items.

Planet Calypso Player Sells Resort for $635,000

Entropia Universe's oldest planet, Planet Calypso, just saw the sale of a virtual resort for $635,000. The resort was bought in 2005 for $100,000 landing in the Guiness World Records book in 2008 for most valuble virtual item. It is the Planet's largest asteroid space resort and home to the largely known Club Neverdie. The property is so valuble mainly due to the mining and hunting rights which recouped the $100,000 in the first 8 months after the original sale.

Based on only the virtual property and the profits obtained from mining/hunting rights and property sales, the previous owner's fortune was valued at $1 million in 2006.  The resort continues to allow players access to amazing lands as well as a place to meet and trade.

How much money would you be willing to spend on a virtual item? Read the full press release after the jump.

When MMOs Pay Out: Real Money Economies

While a lot of MMO developers would have you believe that their game is uniquely developed and completely above the influence of others, chances are extremely high that this is not the case. It's always a smart idea to keep an eye on the competition, and in the case of MMORPGs, positive and innovative developments in one MMO tend to see some form of implementation in others of its kind. As a quick example, micro transaction stores have been sweeping through most mainstream subscription MMOs, like World of Warcraft's Pet Store, or SOE's Station Cash, or Cryptic's Champion's Online and their Cryptic Store.

Of course, sometimes it's also quite easy to see some of these developments coming, as it will usually be one team that tries something new, and others may simply follow their competitor's success. This is why we here at ZAM awarded our "The Biggest News Story of 2009" to DDO Unlimited and Warhammer Online becoming free-to-play. Sure, its great news for gamers everywhere, but the news is also important because it hints that other faltering MMOs may very well follow up with their own free-to-play change.