Emerson Larkin, 23, just reaped $400 selling two characters for Blizzard Entertainment’s “World of Warcraft” after investing nearly 75 online gaming hours creating them.

Larkin was able to cash in because of the growing popularity of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), which now draw more than 20 million players globally. Alongside the multiplayer universe is a marketplace for the virtual characters and other assets created online.

Some big name corporate players have started to get into the business of virtual asset trading, which is so hot that some industry experts say it may be overheated.

Still, virtual asset trading has a long way to go before it rival’s eBay’s multibillion-dollar revenue.

And some sellers like Larkin — who spent hours gearing up his characters to high levels with items including “the staff of dominance,” a “kroll blade” and an “epic kodo” mount — find that the process has been more a labor of love than a fast road to wealth.

Online games are all about fantasy worlds, but sites that enable trading of virtual goods such as powerful game characters and currency help players broker and buy status and power for cold hard cash — just like in the real world.

“It’s a way to make some extra money,” said Larkin, who had hoped for a bigger profit from the eBay auction of his Level 60 Troll Rogue — which has the power to go invisible around equal or lower level characters — and Level 60 Undead Mage — which is equipped with magical powers.

He was under pressure to sell before leaving Texas to study in England, where he will not have the same unfettered access to MMORPGs, where thousands of people play simultaneously.

“World of Warcraft,” the world’s largest MMORPG, boasts more than 4 million paying users — including more than 1 million in North America. Some characters have sold for thousands of dollars.

Dan Hunter, assistant professor of legal studies and business ethics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, was not surprised that Larkin’s auction take was not the windfall he expected, saying that in-game economies are profoundly broken due to huge inflationary pressures.

“If they were real-world economies, they’d be like a Banana Republic,” said Hunter, who noted that virtual worlds have an unlimited money supply that is not being efficiently drained.

By Lisa Baertlein

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