Starship Salvation

Icelandic currency in space


These are strange times for Iceland, where the economy, in the words of Scribbles and Lies blogger Dan Curtis Johnson, "has collapsed so thoroughly that at this point, its only economically viable export may very well be an Internet spaceship game." Johnson argues that the in-game currency of a multiplayer online role-playing phenomenon called EVE Online, owned and operated by the Icelandic company CCP Games, "is for all intents and purposes a more real and valid and valuable currency than the actual country's actual money."

Iceland, a resource-poor island where high-risk banking and currency speculation previously flourished, is recovering more quickly than expected from the devastation of the 2008 financial crash. But its future looked far more bleak on October 10 last year, when the country was forced to withdraw entirely from the world currency markets, its krona utterly devalued. At the time, Iceland's debt was approximately nine times what the entire economy was capable of producing in a year.

By contrast, the economy of EVE Online, which bills itself as the world's largest game universe, is thriving. Hundreds of thousands of players, each piloting his own virtual spaceship, build, mine, buy, sell, and steal in a currency known as Interstellar Kredits, or ISK (the same as the symbol for the Icelandic krona). As with Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other similar online environments, EVE Online players can and do engage in arbitrage between game and real-world currencies. A few even earn a real-world living running the game's currency markets, though at press time a crackdown was underway. After the Icelandic economy collapsed, the game's economy continued to function. The 300,000 active players paying into EVE Online, most of whom are not Icelandic, became one of the country's few sources of hard foreign currency.

Nathan Richardsson, executive producer at CCP Games, told that the enterprise even paid its employees with some of that foreign currency until the krona settled down. "Many of our employees were hit by the crisis, so we tried to leverage some of the strengths of CCP to help them through the turbulent times."