Taking the ISS outpost public through a sale of shares was not just an efficient way to raise money, though; it was also a way to insure that the outpost itself would remain unmolested. The outpost is not a for-profit business thirsty for pilots' money, but a publicly owned corporation that pays its operating margins back to shareholders. The ISS business plan projected enough traffic for investors to see a monthly dividend of about 470,000 ISK per share, a return of about 4.7 percent on the IPO price. After two months, dividends are running at about 4.3 percent - not bad for a company doing business in the middle of a war zone.

When the IPO closed, almost 100 different players from various corporations had bought shares. ISS also made pre-IPO deals for many of the major player corps that surround KDF-GY to establish an office in the outpost that would give them access to more services there. All of this was done to give pilots ownership, both real and figurative, in the venture. You're less likely to train your battleship's railguns on an outpost that's not only providing you with services, but actually earning you money, after all.

Despite - or perhaps because of - the fact that no real-world money is changing hands here, Interstellar Starbase Syndicate's outpost IPO is the most important economic event to have happened in a virtual world in 2005. Second Life has seen similar investment schemes pop up, but never one that was backed by an in-world business. Anshe Chung's real-estate operation has been a smashing success, as have other residents' businesses, but the viability of those ventures is due to the business acumen of their proprietors, not to the collective investment decisions of 100 or more of the world's residents.

The fact is, no other venture in any virtual world has come as close as ISS's to bringing the real thing into cyberspace. The interesting question is, what made an operation like this possible in EVE?

EVE's software and overall design provide the basic conditions under which ISS is able to operate. The resources found in the world of EVE (i.e., the ships, modules and commodities, etc., that are used in everyday gameplay) range from Civilian Gatling Railguns that cost a piddling 1,000 ISK each on up to 36 billion ISK outposts and enormous ships that reach similarly ridiculous levels of expense. But they are distributed in a different manner than in most MMOGs. In World of Warcraft, for example, everyone at the same level has access to more or less the same range of loot. You could solo all of Azeroth and the only thing you would miss would be killing a few boss dragons that require a raid group.

In EVE, by contrast, most of the game is closed off to the pilots who choose to fly solo. Just taking a tour through alliance space can be a fatal mistake, unless you're in the company of corp-mates you trust - and who can fight well enough to defend themselves against pirates and hostile alliances. And the most high-end stuff in the game (those 36 billion ISK outposts, for instance), as well as a great deal of content that is almost as formidable, is nearly impossible for a single pilot to construct, maintain, operate or even afford.

Because you can't go very far alone in EVE, social interaction takes on an important role in the galaxy. The benefits of belonging to a corporation or alliance are very real: You can do things, go places and get stuff you wouldn't otherwise be able to, to a greater degree than in most other games. Trust and cooperation are a valuable resource. Without it, very little would be possible.

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