A virtual marketplace for us all

I’ve been playing Phantasy Star Universe this week, and I finally had enough money to open my own store. This is a place where I can sell the items I find in the game to other players, and also items I have made myself (you do this by combining items you’ve found). Now what surprised me was the volume of players looking at my shop almost as soon as I had started selling. It is constant, there is a very lively business to be made selling on there.

This got me thinking, what if I could design my own items, say on my pc, upload them to their servers, then sell them myself on there. Or even better, if I could sell them myself in Xbox Live, for money rather than the messata I get in Phantasy Star Universe.

Now this isn’t rocket science in gaming terms, pretty much this sort of model is what is ultimately supposed to happen with Xbox Live and the Playstation 3 version of Live. Even then though, it is a very closed system.

And it shouldn’t be. I want to be able to sell pretty much anything, virtual or real, from any location I chose. If I made music say, it would be great if I could sell it easily directly from this blog. If I made t-shirts, or sold something on ebay, I should be able to drop it into a post, or onto the sidebar on the right there, and let people know about it. Equally, anywhere I’ve got a profile, say on Xbox Live, or BTPodshow, or Myspace, I should be able to offer my things for sale.

Ideally, I’d also like the option to trade services as well. Maybe I could get some credits for setting up a blog for someone, then use them to buy hosting for another project somewhere, topping it up with a bit of cash if need be.

I think this is something that Google are probably most likely to be closest too, but are still some way from. I think if I was going to do it, I’d be able to take advantage of the APIs for many existing services, wrap them all together under one blanket service. I’d probably go with Paypal for now, but I’d want an overall account structure in there including the opportunity to barter services as well. I can just see clearer now the possibility of a massively intertwinned virtual marketplace, where everyone is a buyer and seller. Just as blogging has started to change how news works, maybe easily accessible virtual shops will change retail even further, the social networking spin on the groundwork laid by Amazon et al.

There is a service starting to approach this, Zlio, who allow you to set up a shop and integrate it with your site. It draws in “stock” from other online retailers, allowing you to mix and match a shop out of them. You can’t unfortunately sell your own items with them yet, althought they do state they will permit this soon. And there may be a UK version of the site in the offing soon, so check back in a little bit.