Everquest pizza

The bleed between the online game-world and the real one continues apace. For years, people have been using the real world to buy and sell virtual items like castles, platinum pieces, and in-game characters. Now Pizza Hut has inverted the proposition — and created an app that allows you to order a pizza from inside the game. As their web site says:

You’re in luck — pizza is just a few key strokes away! While playing EverQuest II just type /pizza and a web browser will launch the online ordering section of pizzahut.com. Fill in your info and just kick back until fresh pizza is delivered straight to your door.

Actually, geeks have been mining the virtual world —> real-world bleed for some time now. One guy I talked to was doing some unauthorized bot-farming: Setting up bots that would make raw materials he could sell to get virtual money (and then sell at PlayerAuctions.com for real money, of course). The game supervisors don’t allow this, so they had staff people who would walk around the game, finding miscreants with bot-farms and banning their accounts. So this guy wrote a basic ALICE chatbot script for the bots to use. If you walked up to them and said hello, they could keep up a reasonable conversation for a few minutes, since in-game chat — even amongst actual human players — is pretty stripped down, and not hard to auto-emulate. (Saying “lag” — i.e. complaining that you can’t easily chat right now because the Net is clogged and you’re experiencing lag-time — can buy a bot a few crucial minutes of grace.) But this guy knew that his bots couldn’t pass as human for too long under careful scrutiny, so he also wrote a script that would send a message to his pager whenever a bot got approached. That way, wherever he was — at work, in the bath — he could immediately race to him computer, log in, and successfully convince the supervisor that the bots were real people.

That basic idea — sending messages from the game world out to the real world — strikes me as having enormous potential. Various gamers have ported their email to games, so they get alerted whenever an important real-world communique arrives. Indeed, if as game economist Edward Castronova argues, a greater and greater chunk of people are going to spend their lives inside game worlds — where they effectively generate thousands of dollars of real-world value every year, usually at tasks far more interesting than their “real” jobs — then it behooves game designers to allow them to manage and monitor their real lives more easily from inside games.

(Thanks to El Rey for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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