SINGAPORE: Money talks, even in virtual worlds. If you don't have time to invest in playing or learning to develop items, you'll need virtual currency to upgrade your character in games like MapleStory or to get your Second Life avatar a new outfit.
Local startup First Meta is aiming to take virtual currency to the next level by allowing you to pay for your vanilla latte or to withdraw cash from an ATM using the money you've acquired on your last monster raid online. The two-year-old company is working on a debit card and an online payment gateway that can convert your virtual currency into cold, hard cash. To make transactions between virtual and real currencies possible, it first has to develop a virtual currency exchange to track the fluctuation of rates. In Second Life, for example, the rate for its virtual Linden dollar (L$) has hovered at L$250 to US$1.
"We're in the final development stages of a virtual currency exchange where rates fluctuate in real-time based on supply and demand," said Ms Aileen Sim, one of the two co-founders of First Meta. First Meta plans to work with legitimate virtual currencies only, like Gold from World of Warcraft and Globals from virtual world Twinity. "We also make sure transactions are secure and encrypted," Ms Sim, 25, added. First Meta is no stranger to providing financial services in virtual worlds. In July last year, it became the first company to provide a credit facility to denizens of Second Life with the MetaCard, a credit card denominated in Linden dollars. It has already issued 1,500 cards worldwide.
According to research firm Frost & Sullivan, the local games sector was valued at more than $285 million last year, compared to $87 million three years ago. With gaming set to make it big here, using virtual currencies in the real world could be a boon. In September, Second Life denizens worldwide transacted almost L$24 million (US$96,000, or $145,000). "We don't need to sign up merchants or vendors, because it would be a real debit card that can be used at any store. We're in discussions with banks, payment companies and other financial institutions," Ms Sim told Today. First Meta's project is one of 15 that have been awarded funding by the Interactive Digital Media Research and Development Programme Office hosted by the Media Development Authority. About $12 million in funding has been awarded to these projects, selected from the inaugural Co-Space industry call for proposals that closed in June.