Investing in value-destroying laser canons

A scene from the epic Jan. 27 battle.
eve online
A scene from the epic Jan. 27 battle.

Even when the markets are volatile, stocks are probably still a wiser investment than fictitious interstellar warships. Players of the video game Eve Online learned that lesson the hard way late last month, when many of them lost thousands of real-world dollars in one gigantic battle between digital spacecraft.

Eve Online, a hugely popular role-playing game, allows participants to build spaceships, form alliances with each other, and sell resources that they harvest within the game. But players can take a shortcut by using actual money to buy digital currency, which in turn can be used to help produce in-game spaceships that put the Death Star to shame. On Jan. 27, many players came to understand that warfare gets expensive quickly, and that even the priciest of assets can be rendered useless. What started as a skirmish between two factions quickly escalated into a 21-hour slugfest involving over 4,000 players that destroyed an estimated $330,000 worth of e-starships.

As video games become more sophisticated, more and more developers are offering in-game perks for a fee. But players should realize that when money is on the line, the losses can be real — even if their investments are protected by top-of-the-line laser cannons, and even if the casualties are only zeros and ones.