Buying In

The next time somebody offers to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, don't bite. It's already owned by a guy named Trump$, who also counts Seoul, Kremlin.com, and Angelina Jolie among his possessions. He owns these items on the Montreal-based Weblo.com, the latest entry into the increasingly lucrative world of MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games), which has put a price on virtually every celebrity, domain name, and piece of real estate on the planet. At least 6,000 members have already bought in, so you won't feel sorry when the governor of California — which just sold for $55,000 — raises your taxes.

The company's founder, Arif "Rocky" Mirza, has already hatched one so-crazy-it-just-might-work online enterprise — a recent company he started, Unique Auction, sells its wares to the customer with the most distinctive offer, so a car could theoretically sell for $45 if no one bid near that amount. Likewise, the world of Weblo works on an initially dicey proposal: that people will shell out real money for land, celebrities, and domain names they don't own outside the game. Once the pump is primed, however, Mirza argues that the economy takes on a life of its own, one in which the "governor" or "mayor" of a specific state or city can flip a property for more money or charge taxes to property owners within that state. Some people even buy for personal, nonfinancial reasons. "Let's say you've lived in a house for 10 years, and now you moved," Mirza explained during a recent swing through town. "[That house costs] only a dollar. When you buy that ... you're buying it because you have memories in that house."

Aren't convinced yet? Well, there's plenty to scare off the weak. S.F.'s Linden Lab has experienced severe growing pains over the past month in its MMOG Second Life, with viruses and a copybot program that threaten to undermine its economy. But there's status to be gained in these virtual worlds, says Wiredcontributing editor Julian Dibbell, as real and intangible as the deed to your imaginary Spreckels Mansion (which at this point you can steal right out from under Danielle Steel). "It's not like these people are buying and selling digital dust. They're solving puzzles in the virtual world that matter to them. So [if you're] caught up in the virtual world [spending] eight hours sitting at your computer chair to acquire the ultimate sword of doom, [that's] more honorable than whether you paid $800 for it."

 
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