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You probably saw many headlines similar to the one atop this story right before the housing bubble popped and the financial crisis swung into full gear in 2008. But I can assure you I know of one place where real estate is still booming, and you can still get in before the crowd. That place is called Planet Calypso, and it is the oldest planet in the Entropia Universe. Entropia is an online gaming fantasy world, better known as a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, or MMORPG to gamers.
However, MMORPG has become quite a profitable game for some. John Jacobs, who is known on Planet Calypso as "NeverDie," sold his virtual property called Club NeverDie for $635,000. His club was the hottest property in this virtual universe with a mall, stadium, nightclub, and naturally about a dozen bio-domes where other gamers went and spent real cash. Jacobs actually took out a mortgage on his real house to by the property for $100,000 in 2005, and it paid off as his virtual property was raking in more than $200,000 a year. I don't know of any real estate opportunities available in the "real world" that offer that kind of return.
I can't really help you find real estate opportunities in Planet Calypso, though I can sniff around for some good real estate agents. However, the opportunities in virtual real estate and gaming seem a lot more compelling than some of the opportunities in gaming stocks.
The online gaming industry is one of the fastest growing businesses in the world, especially in China. In 2009 online gaming in China generated about $150 million. By 2013, it is expected that revenue will be $750 million.
I have discussed how the online gaming industry has hurt traditional game makers like Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS ) and Take-Two Interactive (Nasdaq: TTWO ) . Take-Two has lost money in three of the past four years, and Electronic Arts hasn't been much better and is expecting a loss of up to $330 million this year. Both have also been hurt by the success of used game retailer GameStop (NYSE: GME ) .
Even as the industry has struggled, the Foolish community has remained extremely bullish on Activision Blizzard (Nasdaq: ATVI ) . The company has been quicker to adapt to the virtual world than its competitors, and in the first nine months of the year, it generated nearly 50% of its revenue from digital sales. However, I would have to place myself in colleague Rick Munarriz's camp with regards to the stock, as the company still faces the same significant challenges as its peers.
With the traditional gamers struggling to adapt to the changes in the gaming industry, the logical idea would be to focus on some of the online gaming companies that are taking market share, but the difficulty here is the immense competition and fragmentation of the industry. For example, just think about the millions of independent programmers all vying to create the next big thing. Programming doesn't require a ton of capital, just large amounts of coffee and time. Still, there are hundreds of start-up companies like Zynga, the creator of FarmVille, that are backed by millions from large venture capital firms. A Swedish company called MindArk developed Entropia and has already spent more than $60 million in development. The race to put out games with more features and places to explore is on.
Many of these companies are vying for space on your smartphone with 99-cent games or apps, and this is also taking market share. In 2009, it is estimated that the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iTunes App Store sold more than $500 million in games in the U.S. In addition, 5% of all video game sales are now on the iPhone.
There are also large Chinese online gaming operators like privately held Tencent, Shanda Games (Nasdaq: GAME ) , and NetEase.com (Nasdaq: NTES ) among many other large and small Chinese companies. However, investing in China has always required more research and risk tolerance as the recent scandal with RINO International has shown.
The online gaming market is obviously still in the early stages of growth, and there will certainly be some winners. However, I see an industry where barriers to entry are extremely low and revenue is being cannibalized by the proliferation of extremely low cost and free games. In addition, the arms battle to create the best games is increasing development costs in order to stay in the race.
I'll definitely scour the virtual market for some good real estate deals, but I'm not so sure there is much to see in the real world.