DALLAS – The maker of the popular online fantasy game "EverQuest II" has reversed its long-standing ban on selling virtual characters and items for real money.
Sony Online Entertainment Inc. (search) will open an official auction site, Station Exchange (search), in June to compete with eBay and other sites where players can pay cash to buy better virtual swords, armor or other items instead of earning them through hours of play.
Sony Online said its internal service would be safer and more secure than third-party auction sites. Sony will facilitate trade between players, but won't sell items directly.
In the past, Sony Online has occasionally suspended the accounts of players caught trading items for money. But it now believes the overall market for trading and selling virtual goods could be as high as $800 million annually, with "EverQuest" and "EverQuest II" accounting for about 20 percent of those sales.
"The unsanctioned secondary market for online games is rapidly growing and more and more of our players are taking part in it," Sony Online president John Smedley (search) said in a statement. "Not only are we answering the demands of a sizable portion of our subscriber base, but we are also set on establishing the standard for online game sales."
Initially, Station Exchange will only work with "EverQuest II."
Players can also buy virtual goods for "Project Entropia," a sci-fi universe filled with expensive guns and other items, but most U.S. online game makers still discourage or ban the practice.