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Last Updated: Friday, 22 April, 2005, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Sony opens game goods marketplace
Screenshot from Everquest II, Sony
EverQuest is all about adventuring. combat and glory
Game giant Sony is opening its own market where players will be able to buy and sell virtual goods.

The Sony Station Exchange will open in late June and will let EverQuest players buy and sell in-game cash, magical items and characters.

The move is a surprise because for the last six years Sony has battled to stop the trade in game items and characters.

Sony said it was taking the move to help stamp out fraudulent sales of game gear.

Money makers

Initially the online marketplace will only be for players of EverQuest II which was released in late 2004.

It is the sequel to the hugely popular EverQuest game which gives people the chance to control a character in the online fantasy world of Norrath.

These characters gain experience and become more adept at their trade, be it warrior, priest or magician, by completing quests.

The game has its own internal currency and magical items are used by characters to boost their powers.

Currently cash, artefacts and characters are regularly traded on Ebay as well as many specialist sites. Sony has tried to get many of these sales stopped and has sued some item trading sites.

Powerful characters and items can change hands for hundreds of pounds. Some estimates have put an $800m (418m) price tag on the global market in game items and cash. The trade in EverQuest goods makes up about 20% of this total.

Screenshot from Everquest II, Sony
The marketplace will let people trade items from the game
Many novice players are keen to buy items and characters so they can bypass the drudgery of spending hours turning weak characters into strong ones.

In a statement issued to EverQuest players John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment, said it was setting up the marketplace to stop people being ripped off when they buy game goods online.

"Dealing with fraudulent transactions of one type or another takes up roughly 40% of our customer service people's time," he said in the statement.

"We believe that by taking this course, we will free up a great number of resources to deal with other things for our players," wrote Mr Smedley.

All change

Station Exchange will only help players buy and sell items, said Mr Smedley; Sony has no plans to trade items itself.

He said Sony was over-turning its earlier policy because research showed that most players did not mind that game goods are bought and sold and many of them actively take part in it.

Sony is planning to set up new servers for EverQuest II that will be "exchange enabled" meaning items, characters and cash on them will be tradeable.

"I think this is a brilliant business move and a good one for games and gamers," said Dr Edward Castronova, an associate professor at Indiana University who studies game economics.

He said the move will help to stabilise games many of which are being disrupted by players who use their in-game characters to "farm" gold and magic items simply to sell them.

"I am dying to see the first massively multi-player online role-playing game Sony produces under the new system," he said.

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