August 25, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Sony scores with Station Exchange

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.
If you play the online game "EverQuest II" and happen to have an extra Iksar (Fury)/Level-50 Sage character you don't need, you could soon be $2,000 richer.

That's how much one EQ2 player got for the powerful, nature-controlling, ancient-language-proficient, reptilian character on Station Exchange, Sony Online Entertainment's official auction system for the game's virtual currency, characters and weapons.

And judging by the results of Station Exchange's first 30 days of operation, during which the system saw more than $180,000 in transactions, quite a number of EQ2 players have cashed in on the exchange, which allows gamers to trade real cash for virtual items used in the game.


What's new:
A month ago, Sony Online Entertainment introduced an experimental auction system called Station Exchange, where online game players pay cash for virtual weapons and other such goods used in Sony's "EverQuest II" multiplayer game. While most game publishers have banned virtual exchanges, unauthorized ones are nonetheless abundant on the Web. Station Exchange is a first for a big publisher, and with more than $180,000 in transactions so far, it has proven a success.

Bottom line:
It is not yet clear if other large online-game companies will follow Sony's lead. But smaller and emerging developers just might, launching a new era of online gaming in which players may earn virtual goods by playing a lot of games, or simply use a developer-sponsored transaction system to buy their way into advanced play.

More stories on this topic

"This is a first for us and a brand-new thing in the massively multiplayer universe," said Chris Kramer, a spokesman for Sony Online Entertainment. A massively multiplayer game, or MMO, typically allows a large number of people to play a game simultaneously inside an Internet-based, virtual world like the hugely popular "EverQuest." "We're seeing players come in, look around, see what they need, figure out how to get it and pick it up very quickly," he said.

Sony is the first major publisher of MMO games to enter into the lucrative world of gaming's so-called secondary markets. For years, however, a vast number of MMO players have bought and sold their virtual battle axes, high-level wizards and platinum for real money through online exchanges such as eBay and IGE. By some estimates, the traffic in virtual goods is worth as much as $880 million in real cash every year.

Here's how the exchanges typically work: Because most MMO games allow players to transfer their virtual gaming possessions, enterprising players can temporarily leave the gaming world and go to the exchanges to use real money to buy and sell their virtual items.

In order to transfer the fantasy goods, they have to meet up back in the gaming world for the handoff.

Until Sony launched Station Exchange on July 19, however, almost all secondary market trading--though common--was officially banned by nearly all publishers of MMOs in their terms of service or end-user license agreements. Among many reasons publishers cite for these policies is that secondary markets encourage players to use money to reach higher levels of game play or to acquire equipment that otherwise would have taken dozens or even hundreds of hours of game play.

But with the launch of Station Exchange, Sony ushered in a new era in online gaming: Players who want to partake in such transactions can go to two servers in the EQ2 network specifically set aside for them, while others can remain on the 31 other publicly-available EQ2 servers where such buying and selling is still forbidden.

"The theory would be that Station Exchange pulls the non-role-playing people out of the system, and that should purify the game play elsewhere."
--Ed Castronova, MMO economies expert, University of Indiana

"We know that there's a pretty good chunk of our player base opposed to the idea of people buying their way up the ladder," Kramer said. "That's why Station Exchange is enabled only on the two new servers."

According to Kramer, the average Station Exchange participant spent more than $70 during the system's first 30 days, and to one observer, that number is the most impressive to come out of the experiment.

"If you think about it, if you had an industry with 5 million active people (as there are in online games), and they spent $70 a person per month, that would be a $4 billion-a-year industry," said Ed Castronova, an expert on the economies of MMOs and a professor of telecommunications at the University of Indiana.

Sony takes a 10 percent commission from each sale, and charges a $1 listing fee for currency or other items and a $10 listing fee for characters, according to Kramer. But he wouldn't say how much money Sony is making overall with the new service.

Castronova said the results of the first month of Station Exchange are particularly interesting because the system is run by Sony, one of the largest publishers of MMOs, and therefore could be seen as representative of the industry as a whole.

"I hope it isn't representative," said Castronova, who has long been opposed to secondary market trading in most MMOs because he feels it ruins the purity of game play. "I hope what's happening is that people who are interested in going through the game without grinding through it are going to the Station Exchange servers.

"I hope and suspect that that's what's really happening. On the role-playing (non-Station Exchange) servers, it's the best role-playing atmospheres I've ever seen. The theory would be that Station Exchange pulls the non-role-playing people out of the system, and that should purify the game play elsewhere," he said.

For its part, Sony said it has no immediate plans to expand Station Exchange to its other MMOs, such as the original "EverQuest" or "Star Wars Galaxies," or even to add more Station Exchange-enabled EQ2 servers.

But Kramer did say that the company is examining the idea of implementing Station Exchange from the get-go into any future MMOs rather than adding it after the fact, as it did with EQ2, which launched last year.

Castronova said that most other big MMO publishers are too entrenched in how they run their businesses to try their own version of Station Exchange. But he said smaller companies may well choose to follow Sony's lead.

"I can tell you that small developers contact me and ask things like, 'Would it be better to do a monthly subscription like everyone else or capitalize on the virtual item trade?'" he said. "People clearly understand that the nature of virtual gaming is changing."

Correction: This story incorrectly stated the number of servers Sony has dedicated to the "Everquest II" game. Sony has 33 publicly available servers dedicated to the game, with two from that total running the Station Exchange service.


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Your article missing somethings, and is wrong on others.
The first thing I noticed is that you did not fully research your article. There are NOT 54 other servers, in fact there are only 26.

Less than 1/2 of the players polled wanted this new service, yet Sony decided to try and make a buck anyway against the wishes of a majority of gamers.

How's that for thinking of your customers?

Also, within a few weeks of launching this 'service' the people out to make a quick buck effectively ruined the economy with dupes and hacks. Something you overlooked in your article yet you actually published an article to that effect in your article titled "Cheaters slam 'Everquest II' economy"

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Seems by sanctioning this type of activity Sony hurt innocent players. You left that out too.

Sony banned innocent players from the game if someone bought virtual items from them with the duped gold. The people who's accounts have been banned were not at fault yet they still were banned.

How's that for a safe and secure system?

Why don't you try getting the WHOLE story and not just the Press Release Sony wants you to publish?

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Posted by Leppard (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You STILL got it wrong even after I gave you the information
I don't know who you have doing your fact checking but if they can't get it right even after someone GIVES them the correct information, you should look at replacing them.

If it's you, read your email and read the comments concerning your stories and perhaps the stories will have more factual information.

Here's a hint, don't listen to what SOE tells you. Do some research on your own and the stories will be more believable. Even go to some gamer's sites and see what they have to say. You'll get some honest answers there.

Go here and add the servers up yourself.
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Here, I'll post them all so you can count them. Like I said there are 26 servers Non $tationExchange servers, NOT 54 and not 33.. TWENTY SIX.

The Bazaar (Station Exchange)
Lucan DLere (Roleplay Preferred)
Runnyeye (European English-Language)
Shadowhaven (Station Exchange)
Splitpaw (European English-language)
Posted by Leppard (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The incorrect information
The article links to the server index at, which indeed shows 33 total servers. Perhaps you're being ignored becuase you're both biased and wrong.

Servers that you claim do not exist:
Innovation (german)
Sebilis (japanese)
Storms (french)
Valor (japanese)
Veksar (german)
Antonia Bayle (english, roleplaying preferred)

Antonia Bayle is even listed on the page that you linked to. Fact check thyself.

Of further note, the Test server is not a production server. From the FAQ:
"What are the potential downsides to playing on the Test server?
Because we will be updating the Test server to include the latest code and data, downtimes can be more frequent than on the normal servers or may happen at odd times. Additionally, item and ability changes may happen as we get feedback on how they function in game. Finally, there is a chance we may need to sometimes remove items to maintain the integrity of the testing environment.

Playing on the Test server isn't for everyone, but it can be a rewarding experience. Those who play on the Test server must do so understanding the risks involved and must be committed to supplying feedback that can help build a stronger game."

Therefore there's either 31 or 32 non-station exchange servers, but certainly not 26.
Posted by (39 comments )
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