Virtual Real Estate: The New Frontier?

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GOTEBORG, Sweden (TheStreet) -- Real estate may be suffering here in the United States, but on Planet Calypso things are looking up.

Based in Goteborg, First Planet, developer and publisher of Planet Calypso, "the oldest planet in the "Massively Multiplayer Online Game Entropia Universe," will begin the process of auctioning off its Medusa's Head islands today.

The auction "will allow one player to acquire the deed to the largest virtual property ever sold and potentially one of the most lucrative in existence," the company says. Anyone with money deposited in a Planet Calypso account (which funds the virtual currency used to buy places and things in the fantasy realm) can bid.

This isn't the first time, nor will it likely be the last, that large sums of cash will invest in the bits and bytes of an online world.

Last month, a property in the online game Entropia Universe, bought for $100,000 in 2005, was resold for what amounts to $635,000 in real dollars. It's possibly the single largest purchase of a piece of virtual property ever, and went into the Guinness World Records as the most valuable virtual item.

Self-described "virtual world pioneer" and online gaming celebrity Jon "Neverdie" Jacobs initially bought the valuable asteroid by remortgaging his (real-world) home.

A section of that "spaceport," which houses retail shops, a nightclub and a stadium, has since sold for $335,000.

The Medusa's Head islands are described as eight different revenue-generating land areas. The property will also come with "two unique creatures, which will be of interest to hunters from around the planet." A teleportation system is included in the price.

"This is the largest and most accessible land we have ever offered," says Frank Campbell, marketing director for First Planet.

He expects that "two types of very different people" are likely to take part in the auction.

One segment will be veteran players with a keen sense of the otherworldly economy. "This player will need sufficient financing for the purchase and may even seek it from other players who would act as shareholders," Campbell says.

He expects another class of bidders, perhaps new to the game, to also be drawn in by recent, high profile sales of virtual properties. "This type of bidder is extremely valuable to us, as they have no problem with getting funds for the islands and running it as business," he says. "They would need someone familiar with the world to help them monetize their investment and work on the area."

There is real-world money at stake. Players deposit money into their account to buy virtual goods, something most multiplayer games do.

"Everything on Planet Calypso translates into real dollars," Campbell says. "Our money [called the PED] is valued at 10 PED to one U.S. dollar and remains constant despite any real-world fluctuations."

"Real estate in our virtual world is much the same as the value in the real world," he adds. "The land is used for opening shops, apartments where players can store their virtual items and open land for mining, hunting and exploration. Owning property on Planet Calypso allows a player to tap into all of these revenue streams and begin making their money back very quickly, if run properly. They can also build up the reputation for their area as a destination for other players, which allows them to sell the property later for much more than they paid for it."

There is, it appears, no subprime mortgage crisis in cyberspace.

"Our world is immune to the decline in property values that has plagued many parts of the real world," Campbell says. "Our market is far more stable, but that is because we are a closed system. The comparison is not fair to the real-world market, as it has to deal with factors we don't, such as a glut of properties, long development times and a financing crisis that rippled across many countries. In our world we control these factors, and so the economy becomes much more stable. We release select properties and do so rarely enough to keep all the values high. In the end, though, our property is an investment rather than true real estate."

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