Megabyte Millionaire

Jon Jacobs wants to make a fortune. His business: virtual real estate.

It's the big day. Jon Jacobs is rushing around his office in his Spanish-style house in the Design District. A 39-year-old with dirty-blond hair and a British accent, he's checking the settings on four computers in the front room of his home. They are all connected to the online virtual-reality game Entropia Universe. Each computer controls a character — called an avatar — in the game.

There's one for Jacobs. Another for Jacobs's fiancée, Cheri London. A third for his six-year-old son, Taliesin. And yet another for Kenneth E. Claus, a nondenominational reverend from Homestead.

"This is going to be the world's first dual real-world/virtual-reality wedding," Jacobs says excitedly as he paces around in jeans and a black button-down shirt.

For their real-world/virtual-reality wedding, Jon Jacobs and 
Cheri London tied the knot surrounded by microphones and 
computer equipment
photos by Colby Katz
For their real-world/virtual-reality wedding, Jon Jacobs and Cheri London tied the knot surrounded by microphones and computer equipment
Rev. Kenneth E. Claus conducted the ceremony
Colby Katz
Rev. Kenneth E. Claus conducted the ceremony

London hears the comment and smiles supportively. A striking, slender black woman, she fixes her makeup in front of the mirror while continuing to adjust her wedding dress — a noose-tight white leather one-piece that ends five inches above her knees.

"I will say this about Jon, my future husband," London comments. "He has a way of making life" — she takes a long pause for effect — "very, very interesting."

"Darling," Jacobs says as he enters the hallway, near the bathroom, "you look beautiful!"

Sure, London knows this is a strange way to be married. But she also knows her soon-to-be husband — a former independent filmmaker whose obsession with online videogames seems limitless — would have it no other way. That's because this ceremony, both real and pixilated, is going to be more than a simple I-do, I-do wedding. It will be a grand publicity stunt. Jacobs is hoping hundreds of people who play Entropia Universe will attend the wedding — virtually.

And that would be a coup for him, because Jacobs — known as "NeverDie" in the game — is doing more than getting hitched inside a computer landscape. He's getting married inside his own virtual nightclub, Club NeverDie, which is located on an asteroid in Entropia Universe for which Jacobs paid a reported $100,000 in October. Yes, that's real U.S. currency for a space rock that exists only in a videogame.

Jacobs holds the record for the most valuable piece of virtual real estate, and claims he will soon make millions from his investment. He just needs to draw people in, like any other business, and an over-the-top publicity stunt like a virtual wedding is sure to bring in publicity and potential customers.

On this June day, Reverend Claus, a slim 60-year-old man wearing a priest collar, will conduct the ceremony as he holds a microphone. His words will be carried into the game for people virtually attending the wedding to hear. But there's a glitch: Either the game's servers or one of Jacobs's two Internet connections — a DSL line and Comcast cable service — is acting irritably. As Jacobs rushes around the room, checking settings and rebooting some of the computers, Reverend Claus sits down at one of the machines, marveling at the messages coming from well-wishers.

Claus yells out, "Listen to some of the countries they're from here: Poland, Australia, Hungary, United Kingdom, Sweden, Slovakia, and Finland!"

Finally about 4:25 p.m. on this sunny afternoon, the wedding begins. Jacobs and London stand next to each other in front of Claus. The floor is lined with power cords and CAT-5 cables. "Let us begin," Claus says. "Dearly beloved, we have gathered together in the presence of God...."

Jacobs looks to his side and notices that one of the computers has been booted out of the game. He leaves his bride, clicks the mouse a few times, and then returns to her side, offering a wry smile. Claus looks perplexed but continues the service.

"Now, Cheri, we are not only gathered here but with several hundred throughout the virtual world," the reverend says. "We ask you here and there, will you have Jon to be your husband to live together in marriage?"

London leans in to the microphone. "Yes, here in reality, and yes, here in virtual reality," she says as Jacobs notices a problem with one of the other computers. He dashes across the room to try to fix it.

"Jon, will you have Cheri to live together in marriage?... And you can't get away with answering that question by hopping over to fix this thing. Come over and answer this now."

Jacobs steps over, grabs London by the hand, and leans into the microphone. "In reality and in virtual reality, I do," he says.

They're now married here and in the computer-generated world of Entropia, where roughly 100 avatars have gathered at Club NeverDie.

While his marriage today is a huge step in his personal life, the ceremony is also a marketing event. Jacobs has big plans for Club NeverDie, and if he can realize them, he could become the first millionaire of virtual reality. He's invested time and money in Entropia Universe, which has an in-game economy linked seamlessly to our own. One U.S. dollar is worth ten Project Entropia Dollars (PED), the game's currency. Money can be put in and pulled out of the game with a credit card and the click of a mouse.

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