Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games Paperback – 15 Oct 2006
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About the Author
Edward Castronova is associate professor of telecommunications at Indiana University, where he specializes in the economic and social impact of multiplayer online video games.
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In his first proper book on the subject, he refers back to his very first paper where he argued how the `residents' of Everquest were more productive in real dollar terms than the residents of some real countries. This brought him international fame and now many other academics are now researching the subject.
From this basis he describes what makes a virtual world, looking at the design, the technology, the in-game economy, the social aspects and possible futures for the genre. I find Castranova a very accessible writer and found this book very interesting. People who are knowledgeable about the subject may not find too much they didn't know already but nevertheless it's a good read for anyone interested in the subject.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
If you already have a rough idea of what's going on (you don't need to be an active "citizen" in any of these worlds for that), then the book doesn't have all that much to offer, though there is a great chapter on economics that discusses strategies for avoiding inflation ("MUDflation"), and the chapter on politics may stimulate some thoughts.
The book could have been more interesting if the author had been able to go into more detail and compare different online economies, and get an insider's perspective on why it is that things are the way the are (incl. failed experiments etc). I'd also have liked to see a less shallow discussion of the psychology behind all of this -- is the reason people kill each other online when they can just because that's the nature of humans, and is the reason South Koreans are way ahead online simply down to bandwidth rather than cultural differences?
The book is also (inevitably) a bit outdated. The author frequently mentions how virtual items are traded on Ebay; Ebay prohibited sales of items from World of Warcraft and EverQuest beginning of 2007. There is no mention of the "farming" phenomenon. And I was surprised that the book didn't mention Second Life (which I'd imagine should be more interesting than most fantasy worlds from an economist's point of view) much except in passing.
While "dated" in the larger scheme of publications, Castronova's masterpiece remains relevant to this day. A difficult feat in the world of technology but a testament to how far ahead of his time he was.
One of the most important chapters, worth reading and reading again if you are into designing a highly interactive virtual world, is no doubt Chapter 8 (The economics of fun), where Mr. Castronova uses all of is formal economics knowledge and mixes it with the dynamics of virtual worlds, landing into a concise list of things to have in mind for your virtual world economy.
It certainly did not help that I did not choose to read this, but rather read it to fulfill a class requirement. However, being an avid user of social media for both business and personal use and a player of online games I felt this book was terribly dated and would have only been useful to people who knew very little about the book's topic in 2004. Today this book would not educate anyone very well.