The economy of EVE Online is a strange one -- possibly unique, in that the value of the game's currency (ISK) has a verifiable, equivalent real-world value. This is due to the fact that CCP allows players to buy gametime codes outside the game (perfectly normal), and then use those codes to create in-game items: PLEX, or Pilot License EXtensions, which can be used by the original player or sold on the in-game market for ISK (something not seen in any other game of which we are aware).
This setup creates a couple of interesting effects. For instance, a player with a sufficiently profitable character can basically turn EVE into a free-to-play game, simply buying PLEX off the in-game market with their character's wealth, rather than paying a subscription fee. It also allows people to report fairly accurately on the real-world monetary equivalent of the damages incurred by the latest hulkaggedon.
Most importantly, with the help of CCP, it provides EVE players with a unique opportunity to help those in need in disaster-stricken areas of the world by donating their character's wealth to the cause.
The program, known as PLEX for Good, is a charitable project initiated by the players of EVE Online. Past drives have assisted the victims of the Haiti earthquake and excessive flooding in Pakistan, and yesterday they opened the system up again. CCP explains:
The EVE Online community has requested that we begin a “PLEX for Good: Japan” effort to help those currently suffering unimaginable hardship following the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. PLEX for Good allows players to donate in-game currency to be “reverse redeemed” by CCP (through the PLEX system) into real-world currency donated on their behalf to relief organizations. Many amongst our strong, global community have made tremendous personal efforts organizing support and collections on both small and large scales.
Beginning March 14, 2011 and ending March 31, 2011 at 23:59 UTC, CCP will be accepting PLEX donations for PLEX for Good: Japan. Each donation will be converted into cash currency and donated to the Red Cross. We are truly honored to help catalyze this global player effort.
The system is fairly straightforward. Players can buy PLEX in-game, then contract the PLEX item to the CCP-controlled player "CCP PLEX for Good". CCP then donates the full, real-world value of the PLEX ($16 US) to the Red Cross. (And the $16-per-PLEX adds up: EVE Online players have donated almost $100,000 to charity since 2004.)
CCP isn't technically losing money on this arrangement, since the PLEX was already paid for and that money is simply being redistributed to charity rather than pocketing the proceeds, but the company does incur or absorb numerous costs to ensure that the full value of each donation reaches the charity (including soaking any VAT charges, credit card transaction fees, conducting fraud screening, and of course allocating significant CCP staff resources for the duration of the event).
EVE Online has a reputation as a fairly tough MMO environment -- speaking as a recently reactivated player with a painful podding experience in my recent past, I can attest that it's not a game where one should expect charity or even pity from your fellow capsuleers.
But there is the game, and there is the world we all live in. As a member of this remarkable global community, I'm proud to be part of something that provides a unique way for my in-game effort to effect actual, tangible good.
[Eve character portrait via Northern Wolf.]