A fun but dangerous game
I've played Entropia on and off for maybe 6 years now on a few different accounts (the majority of those being "off"). It's an amazingly intriguing concept. "Invest" into a virtual avatar, stake a claim on a virtual planet, live in a world tied directly to the real world economy. To start off, I am not a disgruntled customer because I didn't make money in this game. People expecting to make money playing video games are insane. I understand Mindark needs a business strategy, I just don't like theirs.
The biggest problem with Entropia Universe is just how much of it is good. The combat is a little slow and the world is sparse, but by MMO standards they are amazing. The CryEngine 2 world can be jaw dropping. You can spend days just exploring and taking in different areas. The crafting system is deep and although not often financially rewarding, it can be an exciting gamble. Mining is unique in that no one knows how it works. This isn't a game where you go up to a node, click it, and gather resources. You can mine almost anywhere in the world you want, you just usually won't find anything. Players chart elaborate mining maps and come up with different theories of ore veins or common areas resources might be found. To top it all off, the game boasts some of the biggest real life monetary transactions ever. Whether investing in a $330,000 space station or $100 parcel of land, the concept of getting real-life returns on a virtual investment is a little exciting.
This game can be a thrill to play, if only because of the real money risk involved, and it's had huge potential for years now, but I've finally come to terms with the fact that this potential will never be realized. The world is a sad, lonely place with often a few hundred or thousand players logged in at once. Mindark marketing has been terrible; the only reason you've ever heard of Entropia is probably because of the huge investments made in the game. The official forums often have no posts for months at a time. An example of the small player base: There are so few female avatars in the game that female-specific items are either very expensive or impossible to sell because of the tiny market.
So the elephant in the room: The economic system. The thing that makes the game exciting is also it's biggest detriment. Doubters usually label the game a casino or a scam, which might be partially true. The problem with the economic system is that it makes all the RPG elements of the game completely worthless. When you level up in any RPG that leads to more epic quests, difficult areas, bigger mobs, better loot. The same is true in Entropia except for the better loot part. Mindark makes money in Entropia primarily from equipment degradation and ammo purchases. The better your gun and ammo, the more you're going to spend maintaining your gear (or put in another context, the more you'll spend on mining gear or crafting supplies). This means the game actually gets more expensive to play as your skills get better, which is probably counterintuitive to a new player lured in by the promise of "big financial gain".
With some average monthly playtime, you can scrape by on $15/mo for a low level character. That same $15 will soon be spent in a week and as your gear gets better, perhaps a few hours. Let me reiterate that I have no problem spending money to play an MMORPG. I'm not expecting to break even while skilling in the game. The problem is that this game gets so expensive and the only promise it gives you is that it will get more expensive as you continue to play. First it's just ammo for hunting low level mobs. Soon you'll be repairing armor and guns. Eventually you'll want fuel for your car, rent for your in-game shop and house, and on and on. There are a few "free" in game activities, the big one being "sweating" mobs. You can make about $1 worth of PED if you sweat for hours. If you actually want to play the game, you'll have to deposit.
I assume it's obvious from the above, but I'll mention it anyway. Money deposited into this game is essentially lost. The minimum withdrawal is $100 with a $10 fee and it takes months to process. This is of course coupled with the fact that it's virtually impossible to break even on your deposits while in the game. Proponents of the game will say it's what makes it "challenging".
You'll find player reactions to criticism fairly mixed. Many high-end depositors have gotten fed up with Mindark and quit (people who sometimes deposited $100s or $1000s a month). Many low-end or non depositors defend the game saying you have to play "smart" with your money. Can you play this game on $10/mo indefinitely? Absolutely. Will it be fun? If you like a fancy chat room, maybe.
I've waited years for this game to be great. When the CryEngine 2 update was released, it blew my mind. I expected an enormous marketing push, 1000s of new players, and MindArk realizing that a huge playerbase paying ~$15-30/mo each would be more sustainable than their current model. Instead they seem to be relying on their small, dedicated base of players pumping $1000s into the system. If you do play this game, understand what you're getting into. It's a fun game, but only gets more and more expensive as you continue to play. Your skills are meaningless and you'll find no return on investment. Enjoy the game for its atmosphere, occasionally expensive antics, and (truly) good community. I'm getting out while I still can; before I turn into one of those players grudgingly pumping $100/week into this. I'll personally be waiting for another game to hopefully pick up this real cash economy model and take it somewhere perhaps a little more interesting.