Megabyte Millionaire

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

He did answer, telling the other gamers it was just prudent planning: "I was ready to pounce [on the auction], and while you all were busy hunting and crafting, I was refinancing, I was plotting, I was buying Web domains, I was telling everybody in the dance scene that I was going to start a virtual night club and I would want them to spin there."

And now, for $100,000, he was the proud owner of an asteroid orbiting in a sky that existed only in the algorithms of personal computers.

Jacobs claims that Club NeverDie, officially opened for business in early 2006, is a profitable enterprise. He has sold some of the 1000 apartments, and he collects a 5.5 percent tax on all hunting and mining in the bio-domes. He also runs monthly dance parties and hunting competitions, where players can win shopping sprees at Club NeverDie's mall, which includes stores run by other players.

Treasure Island, a virtual property in Entropia
Treasure Island, a virtual property in Entropia
Zachurm "Deathifier" Emegen (avatar shown here) 
purchased Treasure Island for $26,500 in December 2004. 
He was one of the early players to see Entropia's profit 
potential through hunting and shopping
Zachurm "Deathifier" Emegen (avatar shown here) purchased Treasure Island for $26,500 in December 2004. He was one of the early players to see Entropia's profit potential through hunting and shopping

Jacobs advertises those events just like he would a party on South Beach: He employs promoters to sell tickets who then collect a cut. His main in-game contractor is Lynette Firn, a 59-year-old psychology professor at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa. Known in the game as "MindStar 9," Firn has become Jacobs's in-game handler and marketing director.

"Entropia was the first time I played in a virtual world, and I was hooked from day one," Firn remembers.

Firn preferred avatar-to-avatar interactions — the "human" relationships — over hunting and mining. Jacobs realized that Firn understood the entrepreneurial potential of Entropia and hired her to help him promote Club NeverDie. She's become the club's official reporter — writing regular articles for the online forums that chronicle the club's events.

Firn admits her gig with Club NeverDie can sometimes feel like work — she has pressures, deadlines, and stress — but it's an oversimplification to think of playing Entropia as a second job, she says. "There's also that fun element," Firn explains. "I'm able to use my in-real-life skills and abilities that I've transferred into the virtual world."

Jacobs flips through a small notebook next to his desk. It's his handwritten ledger: apartments sold, taxes collected. He's averaging 100,000 PED, or about $10,000, in monthly revenue. In a year, he says, his investment will have paid for itself. It's conceivable, Jacobs claims, that he could one day be virtual reality's first millionaire.

"I've got 1000 apartments," he explains. "It's a pretty good revenue stream. They sell for about $100. That's $100,000. But what I'm doing is rationing them onto the market. This is the history of Entropia: Everything goes up. If I put all of my apartments on the market today with a starting bid of, let's say, $10, maybe I'd sell all of them within a week at an average of $50. Next year they will be trading those same apartments for $250, $300."

There are critics. In May, Dan Hunter, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, penned a lengthy entry about Entropia for Terra Nova (terranova.blogs.com), a blog that covers developments in virtual economies. Hunter discovered that in September 2004 Jacobs had attended a technology and gaming conference in California called Digital Hollywood. According to a short bio published on the conference's Website, Jacobs "is a famous and high-profile Entropia U.S. spokesperson."

"So it turns out that the ösale' of Space Station 'NeverDie' was from MindArk to, um, one of their marketing and PR people," Hunter wrote.

Today Jacobs denies he was employed by or received special treatment from MindArk. He listed himself as a spokesman for the company to have an opportunity to promote the game. "I had the opportunity to speak, so I said, öSure, I'll come speak,'" Jacobs says.

"Jon Jacobs is not and never has been an employee of our company," explains Jan Welter Timkrans, MindArk's chief executive. "Many participants/members from our community represent us at various venues around the world because they believe in the potential and impact of Entropia Universe."

MindArk has even e-mailed University of Pennsylvania administrators alleging that Hunter is "spreading slander" about Entropia.

Contacted at his office, Hunter declined to comment about the row. "I don't want to fan the flames," he says.

Edward Castranova, the Indiana University professor who analyzed EverQuest's economy, told New Times through a university spokesman: "The claims made by MindArk and Jon Jacobs are wildly exaggerated."

Responds Jacobs: "It's very frustrating when these claims are made by people who are trying to make the masses understand what's going on."


A few days after the wedding, Jacobs is content. More parcels of land have recently sold in Entropia, fetching as much as $15,000 each. His movie, Hey DJ, has been released and has made the rounds to select theaters in the United States and Europe. Junior Jack delivered a guest performance in Entropia on June 25, streaming into Club NeverDie as if he were spinning at a local club. More and more people are paying 40 PED — the cost to be transported from Calypso to Jacobs's asteroid — to visit Club NeverDie.

He's walking his avatar, NeverDie, through the club. In Entropia, avatars are designed by the players and can be thin or fat, pale- or dark-skinned, bald or hairy. NeverDie is a tall, white-skinned avatar with short brown hair who wears a purple hat and a purple-and-black coat that hangs to his ankles. Inside the club, Jacobs has decorated the walls with real-world photos of the two women of his life, Leiu and London. There's also some truth to the New York Times film review that criticized Jacobs for being "a little too much in love with himself."

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