Online Role-Playing Game Sells Real-Life Pawnbroker's Licenses

Online games give players roles like warriors, space explorers and wizards. Now, there's an exciting new profession: pawnbroker.

"Entropia Universe," a science-fiction game whose currency is convertible to real-world U.S. dollars at a fixed 10-1 ratio, said this week that five pawnshops will make real loans to people who turn in virtual items like laser rifles and bionic implant chips.

The pawnshop licenses sold for a total of $404,000, according to the Swedish company behind the game, MindArk PE AB, and the holders may be able to extend their services to function like banks, potentially boosting the game's economic vitality and sophistication.

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"It's just like the construction business in the real world — none of that would happen without banks," said Jon "Neverdie" Jacobs, who with a business partner paid $90,000 for a license to create a "Gamer's Bank."

Jacobs, who already runs a hunting and entertainment resort that pulls in as much as $20,000 a month in revenue, said players have a lot of money tied up in hunting and mining equipment, and the pawnshops will free up that capital.

Another license winner was Anshe Chung, the online persona of Ailin Graef, a Chinese-born woman who created a minor fortune trading real-estate in "Second Life," another virtual world. The other winners were a German Internet bank, a Russian payment processor and an unnamed private investor.

Last year, a player set up a bank in another science fiction game, EVE Online, but that one was unsupported and unregulated by the game's operator, CCP hf of Iceland.

The player tried to abscond with the deposits, but CCP froze his account before he could sell them for "real" money, CCP spokesman Magnus Bergsson said.

Unlike Entropia, EVE does not allow conversion of the in-game currency to cash. The deposits would have been worth between $140,000 and $170,000 on the black market, Bergsson said.