With the news a few days ago that MMO space opera EVE Online had hired an in-game economist, most commentators focused on how much fun he would have compared to all the other economists in the world, and how curious it would be to read quarterly reports from an imaginary universe. I think it has broader ramifications than that, particuarly when it comes to economies such as that of Second Life and Entropia Universe, which are explicitly tied to real-world currencies. Though Second Life pushes itself as a place where real money can be earned, it has consistently done a very poor job of making any useful economic information available. Its reports don’t resemble traditional economic and business reports, and in any case lack clear explanation of their methodology. They’re useful as far as they go, but they don’t go nearly far enough — which is an inexcusable state of affairs for a place that’s advertised as a capitalist paradise. The presence of EVE’s new economist should provide at least some distant motivation for Second Life to get its economic act together.
According to CCP, “Dr. GuÃ°mundsson will publish quarterly reports on the state of the EVE Online economy as well as ongoing analysis of other economic indicators, such as inflation, economic growth and price trends.” EVE provides a deep stream of very detailed economic information (see screenshot above), so there should be all kinds of things Dr. G is abole to extract. Perhaps more interesting where the actual game of EVE is concerned is that “His research . . . is also expected to have an impact on future development of the game.” Dr. G has published his own comments as well.
Dr. GuÃ°mundsson will also be responsible for coordinating research initiatives with academic institutions, which means we may finally see some real, rigorous academic research on game economies emerging. As much work as has been put into this in the past, such research has always been little more than anecdotal, and has almost never risen to the level of tracking and analyzing real economic indicators. It would be great to see CCP’s move spur other virtual economies to give themselves a real close look. It can only be good for knocking down barriers between the real and virtual worlds.