5 Zhao Jianyu is a Crazy MoFo
"Ahem. I'll continue then, shall I?" Zhao Jianyu looks down at me.
Three parts mortified, one part mystified by whatever insane cosmic anomaly just allowed me to flirt with the hottest girl I've ever seen, I nod and weakly wave for him to go on.
Afraid of accidentally making eye contact with the gorgeous spear warrior again, now that I'm back to my senses and realize I have no fucking clue what I'm doing, my light gray eyes sweep across the 1400 players who didn't qualify for the special prizes. Though they'd clapped politely when the Top 100 had been praised, most couldn't keep their faces from contorting in envy. Seeing Zhao Jianyu about to speak again, half of them lean forward, hoping the giant might have something to offer them as well.
He doesn't disappoint. "Those who did not rank at the top, fear not. Your time may yet come. Every member of the beta test is guaranteed priority registration for the official launch of Viren's Refuge and the limited release V-Haven full-immersion pods."
"Helllllllls yes!" a player wielding a huge battle axe yells. Laughter and cheers once again fill the Coliseum.
Prometheus' mouth twitches into a small smile. "I'm glad you recognize the value of such a benefit. As you may have surmised, the technology necessary to run Viren's Refuge is complex and delicate. 73% of the component parts of the V-Havens alone are Vir-Tech proprietary designs."
Wow. I guess I shouldn't be surprised about that, given how awesome the V-Havens are, but I'm still shocked. How long has Vir-Tech been secretly developing this tech?
How much of a freaking genius is Zhao Jianyu?
"Complexity, as always, equals increased costs and decreased production volume. At this time, Vir-Tech will only be able to sell 50,000 V-Havens. We project the game will have progressed to at least the second Mythic Realm before the next round of players will have the opportunity to join in."
The lighthearted excitement morphs into a more intense, charged atmosphere. Everyone here understands how important the earliest stages of a new game are for players determined to rise—and stay—at the top. With such a small initial pool of players, the odds of beta players racing to the forefront are even higher than they'd normally be.
I'm in no way immune to the electrifying thrill of competition permeating the air. My fingers itch to draw my dual blades and get started.
But then Zhao Jianyu speaks again, and this time, his words pour ice-cold water over the heated energy of the players. "At this time, I will announce the official prices for the V-Havens and the monthly subscription to Viren's Refuge. The V-Havens will cost 20,000 credits (CR). The subscription is priced at 1,250 CR a month."
For a long moment, disbelief silences the crowd. Then the first outraged shout acts as the trigger for everyone else's cries of protest. I don't share my astonishment out loud, but I get where the dissenters are coming from. Those prices are absolutely insane! The subscription alone is enough to afford a nice studio apartment. And the 20k for the V-Haven doesn't even cover the nutrient solutions required to run the pods. Those go between 50 and 1500 CR depending on quality grade, and one bottle only lasts about 40 in-game hours, even if the player doesn't do anything insanely mentally strenuous. When I was working on raising the proficiency of the Chakra Burst skill, I went through an entire bottle of C-grade solution in 18 hours.
At the cheapest, a player is looking at 40,000 CR a year to play a video game. That's absurd!
"I understand your hesitancy," Zhao Jianyu replies to the dissenters. "But think about what you're actually paying for. Viren's Refuge is an entirely new world. Every player is guaranteed in-game housing. Every player has the chance to acquire a mount. Free transportation via teleportation will become available as Realms are unlocked. Plus, I think everyone in this room is clever enough to understand the variety of money-making ventures this game will offer."
He's right about that; one of the most active threads on the beta forum focused on all the money-making schemes we could already tell would be viable in the future.
At this point, I am solidly swayed. Sure, it's a ton of money, but as Zhao Jianyu said, we're essentially purchasing a second home and second car. Plus, Viren's Refuge offers much cooler versions of each for far cheaper than they'd be in reality.
I don't have a death wish, though, so I don't say anything. The guy who gets to play for free doesn't get to speak right now.
Even if I didn't earn the free play reward, though, I'd still be ready to sign up tomorrow. I'd be practically bankrupted, but the last of my insurance money would cover the initial costs.
Of course, if I hadn't been sixteen and stupid when I originally signed my contract with Team Digital Discord—
—or if my parents hadn't been such unsupportive dicks I had to forge their signatures instead of having helpful, knowledgeable adults to read over the confusing legalese—
—I would have enough savings to last a couple decades, easy. Unfortunately, I was, in fact, sixteen and stupid and believed myself invincible, so I signed away almost every cent of any possible insurance payout for a debilitating, career-ending injury.
The team's blown through most of my payout, training my replacement, so I hear.
Firmly moving away from that depressing train of thought, I sneak a glance at ol' Prometheus. Through all the murmurs and some outright yells from people who are addicted to the game but worry they can't afford to keep playing, Zhao Jianyu's avatar never reveals any expression. I wonder if he's actually that stoic or if he used his admin privileges to turn off his expression simulator to seem more cool and collected.
Eventually, enough people realize they aren't getting anywhere, and the voices quiet. I swear the Titan briefly closes his eyes and sighs, but when he speaks again, his face is a perfect stoic mask, and I wonder if I've imagined it. "I understand your hesitancy," he repeats, more quietly this time, "and I would never ask anything unreasonable from my beloved players."
His deep voice carries a gentle warmth now, so that he truly sounds like a benevolent immortal speaking to a group of cherished mortals. I inexplicably feel warm and cared for, until homesickness crashes into me like a tidal wave.
"Understand that I have a valid reason for asking so much from you. From the moment Vir-Tech was founded fifteen years ago, I have never once accepted a corporate investment. Every last credit swallowed by the ravenous monster that is my overeager research and development department has come directly from my pockets."
A new wave of shock spreads throughout the Coliseum, as all of us try to wrap our heads around this insanity. Who doesn't accept investments? What company doesn't rely on them?
"I have seen the path a company follows when it grants control to outside corporations. The path quickly veers into a crooked disarray of greed and unrelated interests. A once-shining company is forever dimmed by the shadow of corruption. More than anything, I want Vir-Tech to avoid such a fate. I want Viren's Refuge to truly be a refuge, a sanctuary, a home for humanity. I want the game to truly belong to the gamers."
We all see it, then, Zhao Jianyu's vision. And we, the gamers, for all we squabble and fight amongst ourselves, know that at our cores, we are the same. Our love of adventure, of mystery, of competition, connects us to each other and to the Viren's Refuge of Zhao Jianyu's dream.
This time, when Prometheus sighs, I know it's real. The pain in the sound hits me like a spear to the chest, and I reach up, as if to pull it out.
"Alas, right when I've reached the threshold, I find my way blocked. Money," he grimaces in the way only a person who has had a lot of money can, "it always comes back to money. And I, unfortunately, no longer have the funds necessary to provide my technology inexpensively. Especially after all the overtime I'm going to have to pay my employees in the weeks leading up to the release, given all the issues you pioneering betas discovered."
That almost makes me feel guilty.
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"So I want to propose something a little unusual."
Coming from this man, the phrase 'something a little unusual' could literally mean anything, and most likely means 'something batshit insane no one would think of in a million years, yet look at me, I'm doing it, and it's even going to work, even though all the laws of EVERYTHING definitely say it should not work.'
"The first 50,000 sets of V-Havens and subscriptions will likely be the priciest player investments for the game, especially given the lack of definitive proof that the system will be worth the cost. By the time the company develops future generation models of the gear, Viren's Refuge should have proven its worth, so the high costs won't be so difficult to swallow. Since the first players are taking a risk to invest in my company, my company is willing to take a risk to invest in them."
He pauses, as if to make sure we're paying attention. Obviously, we all are. I don't think anyone's even breathing.
No. Fucking. Way.
"Each of the first 50,000 players to purchase a V-Haven and register for Viren's Refuge will receive nonvoting shares in Vir-Tech. Within 5 years, I expect every one of the initial investors will have received the cost of the game back, likely multiple times. So the real question is, do you believe in this game enough to believe it will still be going strong in 5 years?"
We all think back to the last few months of pure awesomeness. All 1499 players nod.
A real smile graces Prometheus' face, transforming him into a figure I could absolutely imagine sneaking down to earth to teach us loveable munchkins how to build a civilization.
Ha! Naturally, he says, as if anything out of his mouth follows the natural order of anything.
"—if I want this game to belong to the gamers, simply providing shares is not enough."
Really? Feels like enough. I don't think my heart can take any more than this.
"I plan to put up my own personal shares in the company, as collateral of sorts. I am announcing to the world that I believe in my game, in my company, in my vision, and in all of you."
Oh my god, don't believe in us, are you crazy? We're a bunch of socially-awkward kids who like to play with swords and blow shit up! We are the last people on this planet deserving of trust, are you serious?!
"My shares will be treated as game commodities. Players who contribute most to the success of the game will receive a greater number of shares. At the end of the initial Nine Mythic Realms conquest, the final Player Rankings will determine which players deserve voting shares."
He looks at me expectantly, so I know I'm supposed to be real psyched about whatever the hell voting shares are, but I barely graduated high school, so I'm just glad I sort of know what a share is, period…assuming I'm right in assuming it's like a stock thing, which I understand to be a money thing that can make a person a lot more money if the company does well. Or something.
Anyway, I try to make my surly frown look more ecstatic, but it must fail, because Prometheus sighs again, and this sigh I recognize in the depths of my soul. This is a bonafide 'I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed' sigh, and I want to shrivel up and die.
"Let me rephrase. The players who rank at the very top of my game will prove they deserve everything my game has to offer, including the game itself. Essentially, when the ninth Mythic Realm is conquered, I will relinquish control of the company. At that time, the players who earned voting shares will take control and choose whichever direction the company will take from that moment on.
At last, a game will belong to the gamers."