Last week we reported on the problems that have been afflicting massively multiplayer role-playing game Project Entropia during its beta testing, ranging from bugs and power cuts causing the loss of items to a raid on the offices of developer MindArk by anti-piracy outfit BSA and Swedish court officials, following allegations from Microsoft that the company was using unlicensed software. Shortly after we posted this story, Wired.com ran their own report on the raid, quoting a lawyer representing the BSA as saying that the bailiffs who examined MindArk's offices catalogued some six hundred instances of installed software on computers there, adding that MindArk "hasn't produced a single license yet". Speaking to EuroGamer earlier today, MindArk CEO Jan Welter Timkrans described these accusations as "clearly untrue", adding that they "can be considered as defamation or slander". According to Jan, "MindArk is not obliged to show [the BSA lawyer] anything", but they will provide any necessary documentation to defend themselves against the charges in court. "It would be rather foolish of us to show our defence to our opposition prematurely, and especially since we intend to sue them for the damages they have caused us. The extent of these damages are of course increasing when the lawyer in question is spreading what he himself knows is untrue statements in such a well spread media channel as Wired." Whatever the eventual outcome of this impending court battle, MindArk's more immediate problem is the inevitable bugs which have crept into the current Commercial Open Trial phase of testing. While losing equipment in a normal massively multiplayer game would merely be an annoying inconvenience, in Project Entropia it's possible to exchange in-game gold into real world currency and vice versa, so losing valuable items due to a bug or server failure has real financial implications for players. Needless to say this has caused some annoyance, but MindArk's Marco Behrmann made it clear that this is a beta test, and told us that the license which players are shown before entering the game world points out the risks resulting from the unfinished state of the game. "Every risk has been stated prior to participation and to input money is voluntary. Sometimes people just click on 'Yes, I agree' in their Conditions of Use / EULA without actually reading it through. Then when a bug hits them they feel robbed. This is of course not a perfect situation, but every participant in Project Entropia should be aware of the possibility of bugs present in this trial phase. We have every intention to make the best virtual universe ever produced, and to do that we have to iron out bugs, set a correct in-world balance and fine-tune the product until it is finished." Beta testers may have been warned of the risks before entering Project Entropia, but apparently those who have lost valuable equipment can't be individually reimbursed. Instead players are currently being polled on whether or not there should be a complete reset of the game world, which would allow MindArk to refund everybody any money they have invested in the game while wiping all current characters. The bad news is that this puts players who want out of the game in a Catch 22 situation. If the vote is in favour of a refund, the reset and pay-out won't take place until the game has gone gold. Marco could only tell us that "we aim for a release sometime this year" when we asked when this was likely to be. Until then players would be unable to withdraw money from the game, but on the bright side when withdrawals were eventually reactivated they would get back everything that they had invested in the game up to that point. If the vote goes against the refund, those who have lost items won't get any compensation, but all players would be able to withdraw money from the game as soon as the vote is over, which should be in about a week's time. In our original report we also mentioned that one irate beta tester had written to us complaining about delays in removing cash from the game prior to the current vote, as well as the imposing of a withdrawal fee. Since we originally received this e-mail, we are happy to say that the beta tester in question has had her money transferred from the game back into her real world bank account, and MindArk have graciously covered the fee as a gesture of good faith. However, other players won't be so lucky. Marco pointed out that the Project Entropia Bank interface clearly states that there is a 1.5% charge on all withdrawals from the game, with a minimum fee of $10, adding that the process should normally take about ten business days to complete. Beta testing massively multiplayer games is always something of a mixed experience, and when you're investing real cash in the game it's inevitable that some people are going to end up being shortchanged by the very problems that the testing process is supposed to track down. Hopefully these issues will all be sorted out by the time the game goes gold and is released to a wider audience, but in the meantime the bug hunt continues. Related Feature - MindArk all at sea
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