[Dave Birch] Something you may not have noticed, but there was another milestone passed on the road to the future of banking a few weeks ago, when Project Entropia auctioned banking licences for its virtual world. In fact there were five licences sold, with the highest bid at $99,900 going to “Yuri”, an undoubtedly fit and proper avatar. Financial services follow the money, even when it is virtual. Last year, a player set up a bank in another science fiction game, EVE Online, but that one was unsupported and unregulated by the game’s operator, CCP hf of Iceland. The player tried to abscond with the deposits, but CCP froze his account before he could sell them for “real” money. EVE Online has been attracting more interest, this time from the Financial Times, which picturesquely calls a galaxy far far away where rampant capitalism held sway, free from the restraints of Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, SEC inquiries and European Commission investigations. Where there are “large-scale scams, widespread corporate espionage, military-industrial alliances and interplanetary wars”.

Eve seemed like a playground for totally unfettered hardcore capitalism, with none of our justice systems or controlling bodies.

according to Trey Ratcliff, a former player and CEO of John Galt Games Note, by the way, that EVE Online has 200,000 players paying a $15-a-month subscription. Jason Schripsema, CEO of SolarBOS, a maker of solar electric products, says he became fascinated with manufacturing and marketing products for other players. He learnt valuable lessons about how to maximise profits and prioritise projects, and says

Eve is a good training ground for anyone interested in business – the markets really work.

Dan Speed, acting economist for CCP, says the game is “hypercapitalistic”; rife with corporate espionage and wrongdoing. One group infiltrated a corporation, assassinated its chief executive and carried out a heist. Another staged a successful IPO to raise money to build space stations. Investors lost everything when the outposts were attacked and taken over by a rival. I thought it was amusing that Mr. Speed goes on to say

Yet honest players survive and they are earning virtual qualifications for real-world jobs.

What “real-world jobs”, I’m dying to know. Has the East India Company been advertising on Monster.com? Is Sir Walter Raleigh about to launch an expedition to El Dorado? Is “The Apprentice” now featuring John D. Rockefeller?

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Meanwhile, back in the real world (well, America), the numbers are in on the bank card business for last year:

  • Purchase volume on consumer and commercial cards last year reached 1.29 trillion, up 9.3% from $1.18 trillion in 2005. Total charge volume, including cash advances, reached $1.53 trillion, up 8.5% from $1.41 trillion.
  • Total revenue among issuers of Visa and MasterCard consumer and commercial credit cards last year reached $114.99 billion, up 5% from $109.98 billion in 2005.
  • Penalty-fee revenue dropped 27%, to $6.44 billion from $8.87 billion in 2005, as fewer consumers were delinquent on their card payments.
  • Expenses dropped 4% last year, to $86.72 billion from $90.48 billion in 2004. This was driven by a 31% reduction in charge-off expenses, which fell to $24.12 billion from $35.13 billion in 2005.
  • Issuers’ collective after-tax return on assets was $18.37 billion, or 2.97% of average outstandings, up 45% from $12.67 billion and 2.09% in 2005.

Next year is going to be harder, with a squeeze on interest income. While outstanding U.S. credit card debt was more than $750 billion in November 2006, according to estimates based on Federal Reserve figures, and there are more than 640 million credit cards in circulation, perhaps as things get tighter in the real world, the virtual one will look more attractive!

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

2 comments

  1. The rise of virtualcurrencies

    I blogged recently about the prospect that Visa could move towards supporting the virtual currencies in virtual worlds, or perhaps even create a new currency to support non-monetary exchanges. Dave Birch, who knows far more than I do about this subject…

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