April 20, 2005 8:44 AM PDT

Sony creates auction site for game artifacts

Sony plans to launch an online marketplace where fans of its multiplayer games can buy and sell virtual artifacts, a practice it previously discouraged.

The Station Exchange site, announced Wednesday by Sony Online Entertainment, is apparently in response to the growing underground market for such items.

Planned for launch in late June, the site will first offer subscribers to Sony's "EverQuest II" the option to buy, sell or trade the right to use specific characters, items and online funds that they have earned playing the video game.

Until now, Sony has been among the most aggressive game makers in restricting sales of such articles, even insisting that all material related to its EverQuest series belongs to the company. For instance, Sony has blocked numerous EverQuest-related auctions on eBay and Yahoo and convinced both of those sites to ban sales of such items. Sony has also sued other sites specializing in the barter of the online commodities.

Gamers are interested in selling or buying items for a number of reasons. For those who have spent long periods of time developing their characters or "unlocking" items such as weapons or cash, there is the lure of a payoff for all their hard work. For new players, the sales offer the ability to fast-forward their own progress in the games, circumventing the virtual legwork.

The company said it is creating Station Exchange to discourage underground trading of game articles and to protect its customers from fraud. As the trade of game-related items has increased, so have the reported number of incidents of people ripped off in misleading or illegitimate transactions, Sony said.

Rather than relying on the good faith of individuals, players will be guaranteed to receive anything they win at auction on Station Exchange.

"The unsanctioned secondary market for online games is rapidly growing, and more and more of our players are taking part in it," John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment, said in a statement. "Not only are we answering the demands of a sizable portion of our subscriber base, but we are also set on establishing the standard for online game sales."

The company did not say whether it will generate revenue via the site. Sony's unofficial estimate of the current market for underground game item begins at $100 million a year and reaches much higher. Sony believes that articles related to its own titles make up about 20 percent of those sales.

Gamers have already established the real-world value for in-game possessions in manners that transcend even cold, hard cash. In one case, originally reported by the China Daily, a Shanghai man killed another gamer after that person sold a sword the accused murderer had earned playing an online video game.

 

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