Van Damme and Larry King
Even Jon Jacobs' past is larger than life. Born to an infamous powerbroker who bordered on Bond-villain level eccentricity (the British press referred to him as Mr. X, and he's actually quoted as saying, "I'll be back again, richer than ever!") and a former Miss U.K., Jacobs grew up in a posh London district five doors down from Paul McCartney. He grew up dreaming to be an actor, but he quickly found gaming to be a distracting passion.
"There was a moment, a very key moment, in my life when I was about 15 or 16. I was playing a lot of single-player RPGs on the PC. I really was extremely passionate about [gaming]. I loved it. I could just lose hours and hours in there. And I was spending more time doing that than I was developing my craft as an actor. And I did question myself and said, 'Do I wanna get into this? Do I want to make games?' And I said, 'No, I want to make movies. I want to act in movies.'
"[Van Damme] already knew about me from some of my independent movies," says Jacobs, speaking of the project which would ultimately lead to his work on Neverdie. By the time he met Jean Claude Van Damme, Jacobs had appeared in 31 movies, directed eight and written seven. "[Van Damme] asked to have a meeting with me, and asked what I might wanna do with him. At the time I was playing [EverQuest], actually buying items for real money. I thought this whole concept was fantastic. I projected a few years into the future and I imagined that people would start dealing big money for virtual items, and [a character named] Neverdie would be the world champion, finding great, great treasures and [being] interviewed by Larry King. And I wrote this script - Van Damme loved it," he says, but ultimately, he ran into budgeting problems, and the movie never underwent production. "It would have cost about $100 million to make. ... That's why I put it on the shelf for the time being, and just [started] playing Neverdie myself."
Neverdie was one of Entropia's first residents. Disenfranchised by SOE's decision to outlaw RMT in EverQuest, Jacobs heard about Entropia's beta and bought into it immediately.
A Virtual Promised Land, 20 Miles Up
"In 2004, I had the most valuable avatar," says Jacobs, speaking of his first, unsuccessful, attempt to buy land for Club Neverdie. "I was worth $25,000. That was the value of Neverdie's equipment. I acquired all of that stuff. ... I sold [my] greatest equipment to buy [the land]. And some kid, a 22-year-old, deposited, I don't know, must've deposited $40-50,000 in order to buy it out himself." He ultimately lost the auction to the other buyer; the final bid was $26,500. Rather than admit defeat, Jacobs resolved to win the next big-ticket auction, no matter what. ("I'll be back again, richer than ever!")
October is the tail-end of hurricane season in the eastern U.S., and Jacobs lives in Miami. As luck would have it, Hurricane Wilma was bearing down on him, as the auction for the asteroid that would become Club Neverdie went up with a buyout of $100,000. He opted to weather the storm, afraid he wouldn't have an internet connection in a shelter and would be unable to participate in the auction. As Wilma rolled her way through, Jacobs committed to the asteroid's buyout price mere minutes before he lost power. In order to come up with the $100,000, he had to mortgage his house. I asked him what he was thinking.
"At that point, it no longer became possible to use only money that you built up inside the world to acquire the greatest treasures," he answered. "It became a mix of both realities. I had to use my real-world resources. ... I had no choice."