That trust works in a couple of different ways. Though EVE's software is what makes a neutral outpost a viable idea, there is no game mechanic to support an IPO. Investors in the project are taking a risk; ISS could simply walk away with the cash, as has happened before.

Trading shares in the secondary market is another risky venture; they cannot be placed in the interface trade window, but have to be swapped in a two-part transaction: I give you my shares, and I trust you to send me the money. To get around this, ISS has enlisted a third-party corp to hold shares in escrow for buyers and sellers. But then, there's the question of whether you can trust the bankers. There's no game mechanic for it, but in this case, pod pilots seem to trust each other, nonetheless.

Just as important is the fact that CCP Games, the Icelandic company behind EVE Online, trusts its players. Cons and scams are an expected and accepted part of gameplay in the EVE galaxy, according to the game's FAQ. While that might at first seem like a reason to trust no one, it also indicates that CCP is providing one of the most important resources of all in an MMOG: freedom. Without that, ISS might never have attempted its venture in the first place, and the virtual world might never have seen what is an important example of top-to-bottom emergent social gameplay. The fact CCP does not step in to muck about with such player ventures is what allows them to thrive.

When Linden Lab opened the currency exchange that put GOM out of business, on the other hand, the widespread reaction among residents was that perhaps it wasn't even worth trying anything new. By simply looking on as ISS gets going, CCP has told its players they are free to try what they like. There is no better quality in a virtual world than that.

And EVE's players are not stopping at just one outpost. ISS is currently considering doing the whole thing over again, but this time in an even more contested part of the galaxy. The KDF-GY outpost has brought new pilots to alliance space, pilots who might never have considered leaving the protection of the NPC cops. Now, ISS sees the opportunity to spark a similar economic development in an area that's not yet securely under any one alliance's control. If their venture succeeds, it could change the face of the metaverse, not just in EVE, but wherever avatars look on and trust that yes, these things are possible.

Mark Wallace can be found on the web at Walkering.com. His book with Peter Ludlow, Only A Game: Online Worlds and the Virtual Journalist Who Knew Too Much, will be published by O'Reilly in 2006.

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