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Friday, 19 May, 2000, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Buy yourself a hero
How much for the dragon?
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Magic weapons, powerful wizards and knights that exist only in cyberspace are changing hands for real money. And lots of it.

Some players of popular internet-based games such as Everquest and Ultima Online are cashing in on the time they have invested in the virtual worlds by selling off the characters, magic weapons and even buildings they have collected.

The virtual items, armour and characters are being offered for sale on auction sites such as eBay. Bids of up to $1,000 are being received for some of the most coveted items.

But game makers and players are trying to stamp out the practice because having a glut of powerful players is unbalancing the communal games.

Play the game

Playing an online game involves creating a character, picking a profession for them such as knight, priest or magician and then travelling the virtual world fighting monsters, plundering dungeons and rescuing damsels- standard hero stuff.

By killing monsters and performing heroic deeds, characters build up experience and rise through the ranks of their chosen professions.
heavy hitter
Preparing for battle

"Building a character takes a huge investment of time," said James O'Donnell, who plays a character called Zacarius on Everquest, "I have spent almost 88 days so far playing my main character."

"Some people have the money and not the time. They don't like to wait," said Mr O'Donnell.

Others just want to catch up with their friends who already have powerful characters, he says.

Among the lots for sale on Ebay is a Necromancer called Rallos Zek for $1,000. No bids have been received for the character perhaps because there are a few other Necromancers on offer for around half that price.

Paying for power

Ryan Bowling, a spokesman for Sony that runs Everquest, said it is trying to stamp out the practice because those buying ready made characters do not always get what they expect: "Sometimes a player with a bad reputation will sell their character to an unsuspecting novice," said Mr Bowling.

He said Sony gets a lot of complaints from customers about buyers and sellers of Everquest goodies: "It is very frustrating to go questing for a special item and then find someone who has just paid real world cash for it."

Sony is tackling the problem by making it hard for people to just travel around and gather goodies.

Some magical items are now impossible to drop and so can't be picked up and transported into the real world for sale.

But Mr Bowling says there is little more Sony can do to combat the problem. He said it would be impossible to manage and maintain monitoring and identification systems when there are over 210,000 active subscribers playing Everquest.

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