Books, culture, fishing, and other games

September 18, 2003

The Virtual Job

I made my first sale of virtual goods, in this case the vworld of EVE Online currency, on August 17. It was my first auction on ebay at the same time, so it was an experiment and a learning experience. I studied the market for a week or so in advance, so I knew how others were selling, and to write a good description and terms of sale to ensure all was clear to potential buyers.

I also tried to add a little value by explaining just what the 10 million isk I was auctioning represented in game. Though the audience for that much currency is probably established players wanting to avoid the grind of mining or trade, some newcomers might consider it. It's really more than you need to get started.

My main terms were PayPal payments only, and payment to be made within 48 hours of the end of auction. Trading in virtual world goods tends to be very instant gratification oriented. We have the ability to make delivery near instantly, once payment is confirmed, if we order our auctions so that they end at times we can be virtually present in game. The main delay is the ebay imposed length of auctions which are set to a minimum of 3 days. This can be gotten around once one is an established trader on ebay with at least 10 positive feedback entries with the "Buy Now" offering for a small additional fee, but I started with only one feedback from an old purchase. No "Buy Now" usage for me, yet.

Trading in isk was running around an average of $4 per million. That first auction ended at $46 for my 10 million, so I was pleased. Within an hour of the close I had received payment and logged in and delivered the isk by in game money transfer. EVE is a science fiction game so money transfers are easy, and are also free. Player to player direct transactions are not taxed at all in EVE. Sales to NPCs, on the other hand, incur a small, invisible tax. This is even shown in the main records of transactions, one has to delve into the journal of credit receipts and disbursals to see that a small amount is being deducted.

This one first transaction nearly covered the cost of the original boxed game. I think I paid full retail (roughly $50, with sales tax). I later bought a second box on sale for about $30, and the monthly fees are (I think) $13 per account per month after the first month, which is included in the cost of the software itself. The infrastructure to play was already in place, the computers, networking gear and the DSL line, so I haven't added those costs in. A real analysis should, of course.

Following that first sale, I went on a spree of 2 million isk lots. This amount represents a good jump start for new players, allowing them to buy several frigates and the skill packs to fly them and gear to equip them. They can thus bypass the grind of mining or running missions that pay little to raise the isk to get into the combat part of them game. It's possible to go combat nearly from they start, if, and it's a fairly big if, you already know what you're doing. I did it with my second account to see if it's possible. You need to pick your targets carefully, and know your gear and tactics, but it's very doable. The starter shipa (the infamous newb shipa) are actually better for this than more advanced ones (assuming a cold start) as repairs cost nothing on the newb ships. You can take a beating, dock for repairs, and go back out for more, with no high repair bills as you would otherwise see. Your only cost is ammo, and that can be eliminated if you train in lasers as soon as possible and use those.

I changed to the 2 million lots mostly for practical reasons. I wanted to do more sales so I could better gauge the market, and so I could build feedback faster. I had around 100 million isk in capital when I made that first sale, and I need to preserve around 50 million as working capital to be able to capitalize on occasional and very profitable trade opportunities. When a commodity appears at an unusually low price, and you know where there are steady markets, it pays to buy up all you can.

Through Sept 5 I made an additional 7 sales of 2 million lots, and one big one of 50 million. I had made a couple more purchases on ebay also, so at this point I achieved 10 positive feedback and could offer "Buy Now" lots. I have only made one of 2 million, thus far, and it went quickly for the "Buy Now" price of $10. If that pattern holds I can expect $5 per million, which would be a nice improvement. I didn't quite manage the $4 number on the big lot. The 50 million grossed me only $177.50. Sales were off generally when that auction closed. It was the holiday weekend, and my expectation of more traffic was off. My top sale was $12.50 for 2 million, my lowest was $4.50.

So far I've sold 74 million isk for $286.01. That works out to $3.86 per million. The "Buy Now" sale at $10 ($5 per million) encourages me that I can work the average up. At the moment I'm left with about 70 million isk. That means I made about 40 million isk in the period, which would represent about $150 in a bit under a month. That is one account only, the second has been sitting inactive (aside from training). I will probably auction the second account soon. Or maybe I will work on getting a dead Win box running again and expand operations.

The time spent playing has actually been minimal since I've been mostly mining with my big transport ship. It's slow, since it can only mount one mining laser, but my character's skill is high. Filling the hold takes a couple of hours, so I set it to mining in a safe sector and go work or do something else on my other system. When I hear the mining laser cut off I either switch to another asteroid, or if the ship is full, hit base to unload and head back out to repeat the process. Thus, I could easily double this with the second account running on a second computer. At the moment I don't have a third Win box running, or I probably would. With the computers and accounts, it would be easy to do this with 10-12 boxes. That represents a significant investment in capital for a gamer, but since the boxes could be lower end of the spectrum of acceptable performance, they could be gotten for $500 or so each. At this points accounts can be had for $20 or so. With some cables and a big network hub (and good air conditioning), a farm could be hand run (avoiding the macro issue) and something on the order of $20,000 per year earned above costs without too much difficulty. just some real virtual "work" managing it.

The real issue is would there be enough demand to support that sort of virtual business. EVE is a fairly small game, so one or two efforts of that scale might be sustainable, but more might increase supply too much. For a game about the size of an SWG or EQ single server, EVE trades very well. I see far more activity in EVE items and isk than I do on a single SWG server. A rough estimate is that EVE trades an order of magnitude more than SWG per capita. I'm not sure why this is. It may just be that EVE is a little more mature than SWG, or it may be something in the nature of the games themselves. It may also be related to differences in stated management policy on such trading. I haven't examined EQ at depth, but it appeared trading there and on DAoC was thinner per capita than EVE also. My impression of UO, on the other hand, is that it's pretty freewheeling.

None of these games are as amenable to unattending income producing activities (macroing aside) except maybe SWG with its resource gathering. Of the market in SWQ credits livens up, running massive farms of harvesters would be one way to do a lot of unattended production. Once sufficient capital is in hand, a suite of accounts could all be managed from a single computer, another advantage. I hope this develops since I am having more fun actually playing SWG than EVE. More on that in another post.

One development of the "Buy Now" ability is that I can no longer predict when I will need to make a delivery. Before I just timed auctions to end when I would be available. With the Buy Now feature the sale couple happen, and payment be received, from 1 second after I list right up to the 3 day end of the auction. I have a very solid record of delivering fast that I would like to preserve, so this will force me to change expectations. I need to reword my terms to relect the fact that a buyer exercizing the Buy Now option may need to wait up to 24 hours to receive delivery after payment due to my lack of control over the scheduling of the purchase. It's a good problem to have from my end, though.

I can envision an ebay shop with stock offerings of EVE isk, SWG credits (by server), and more, at some time in the not distant future. The only thing that might prevent it is changes in the game management, policies, and enforcement.

Posted by dan at September 18, 2003 02:16 AM