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South Florida's Jon Jacobs wants to be a millionaire. His business: virtual real estate.

But some people who study virtual economies question Jacobs' claims of six-figure investments and big returns. Others ask the obvious: How safe is it to invest real-world money in a virtual world absent real-world laws?

Jacobs rebukes the criticism. He'll prove everyone wrong, he says. They simply don't see the potential of this new economy — a potential that he asserts will make him an unreal-estate mogul, a digital Donald Trump, a megabyte millionaire.

"People are barely figuring out what's possible here," Jacobs says in a loud voice as he navigates his avatar through Entropia. "This is fucking significant, man."

The Rev. Kenneth Claus weds Jon Jacobs and Cheri London in Miami as the virtual ceremony occurs inside Club NeverDie (following images).
Colby Katz
The Rev. Kenneth Claus weds Jon Jacobs and Cheri London in Miami as the virtual ceremony occurs inside Club NeverDie (following images).

Jon Jacobs knew he wanted to be a star. In fact, early in his life, he felt destined for celebrity. "Some people just feel like they're going to go out and be a star" is how he puts it.

Though born in Derbyshire, England, in 1966, Jacobs was raised in London, the son of a beauty queen and a banker. The family lived on posh Cavendish Avenue, and Jacobs' childhood neighborhood likely had a lot to do with his longing for notoriety. According to a story Jacobs loves to tell — it's also included in his Internet Movie Database bio — he lived a few doors down from Paul and Linda McCartney. The attention the McCartneys generated fascinated him.

"I used to walk down the street, and the little Japanese fans would come up to me," he claims. "They knew I lived on the street, so they'd ask: 'Is Paul around? Is Paul around?'

"Let me see," he would reply, as if he knew the pop star. The 10-year-old Jacobs would run to his house, into the backyard, and jump over several walled gardens to reach the back of the McCartneys' house. He'd peek in the windows, jump back over to his house, and talk to the Japanese fans.

"No, sorry," Jacobs would often have to say. "Paul's not home."

He enjoyed the charms of an upper-middle-class life in England as he studied drama at the Sylvia Young Theatre School. By his early 20s, despite trying to produce a couple of shoestring films in London, Jacobs had yet to reach acting success. So he did what every aspiring actor does: He moved to California, arriving in September 1991 at age 24.

During the next few years, he made two movies — The Girl With the Hungry Eyes, a vampire horror flick based on a Fritz Leiber short story and set amid Miami's Art Deco buildings, and Welcome Says the Angel, an erotic thriller in which he co-starred with Rutger Hauer's daughter, Aysha.

The Girl With the Hungry Eyes received lukewarm reviews, but Welcome Says the Angel was lauded. "The wonder of this $17,000 feature is that it compares more favorably with the much praised Leaving Las Vegas than you would imagine," the Los Angeles Times wrote.

Despite the work, Jacobs couldn't carve out a decent living. He earned peanuts for The Girl With the Hungry Eyes and acted in Welcome Says the Angel for free.

By the mid-'90s, Jacobs was ready to give up on making it in Tinseltown. "I had directed a movie, starred in a movie, and I couldn't get a job at a video store," he complains, reciting the typical tale of Hollywood actor woe.

Jacobs moved to New Orleans and wrote what he believed would be his magnum opus, Lucinda's Spell, a screenplay about a prostitute-witch in New Orleans who needs to win back her orphaned son. He scraped together the financing and produced the movie, releasing it in September 1999. The New York Times described the film as a "deliberately vulgar, often offensive tale suitable for insecure teenage boys. The witches' conversations are like some fantasy of Beavis and Butt-head's about how women talk among themselves." Of Jacobs, the Times said he "has some on-screen appeal — somewhere between an aging rock star and a celebrity hairdresser — but he's a little too much in love with himself."

By then, having directed five films and acted in 15 others without even the scent of commercial success, Jacobs decided to make another change: He moved to Miami and, with the help of a friend, purchased a house in the Design District for $195,000 in April 2002. His Hawaiian-born girlfriend, Tina Leiu, moved in with him. They had a young boy together named Taliesin. Jacobs began working on a new movie, Hey DJ, about a South Beach disc jockey inspired by old Elvis Presley songs.

At the same time, Jacobs began to rekindle a longtime hobby: videogames. After a couple of years playing Ultima Online — an Internet-based game in which thousands of people play with and against one another, known as a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, or MMORPG — Jacobs discovered EverQuest. Often referred to as "EverCrack" for its addictive quality, EverQuest became a popular MMORPG after its release in the spring of 1999. Players inhabit a Tolkienesque fantasyland known as Norrath, where they battle monsters and interact with other gamers, collecting powerful weapons and greater skills as they progress in the game. But EverQuest is extremely time-consuming: Players must spend weeks, even months, to acquire the weapons and skills needed to excel. As a result, a black-market economy sprang up around EverQuest and other popular MMORPGs, such as World of Warcraft and Lineage. People began to sell, for real-world money, in-game items such as swords and potions.

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