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Friday, March 20, 2009

Online Game Company Approved for Real-world Bank

Further blurring the lines between virtuality and reality...

Mikael Ricknäs, IDG News Service

Mar 20, 2009 1:40 pm

The use of money in virtual worlds has stepped into the real world. Swedish company MindArk is starting a traditional bank, which will be integrated with its virtual world platform, Entropia Universe.

MindArk has been granted a license to run banking activities by Finansinspektionen, the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority.

The goal is to offer banking services -- including letting users pay their bills, open savings accounts and so on -- in as many countries as possible via its Mind Bank subsidiary, according to David Simmonds, business development director at MindArk. Simmonds was not ready to go into detailed launch plans.

Entropia Universe already uses a game economy linked to real-world cash. Its own virtual-world currency, called the PED (Project Entropia Dollars), is fixed to the U.S. dollar, according to Simmonds. Entropia is free to play, but users need to pay for PEDs to acquire skills and objects within the game. Last year Entropia had an in-game turnover of about US$420 million.

Having a real bank connected to the virtual world makes sense, according to Simmonds. "So when they're (customers) putting money into the virtual world, they're putting money into their own bank account," he said.

By having its own bank, instead of working with partners, MindArk will have better control over its business. In the past it had to cancel an ATM card because one of its business partners got into financial problems, according to Simmonds. The move will probably also result in lower costs for customers, he said.

The process to get the bank up and running has started, but the company does not have an official date to open its doors, according to Simmonds. But the license specifies it has to be running within a year, he said.

The banking sector has of course been hit hard lately. But because of the fact that there is already an economy in the Entropia Universe, Mind Bank is starting from a very good position, according to Simmonds.

Also read:

Virtuality and reality 'to merge'

By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website, in San Francisco

Computers the size of blood cells will create fully immersive virtual realities by 2033, leading inventor Ray Kurzweil has predicted.

Exponential growth in processing power and the shrinking of technology would see the development of microscopic computers, he said.

"We will see a billion-fold increase in the price-performance of computers in the next 25 years," he said.

"Virtual will compete with reality," he told the Game Developers Conference.

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