STOCKS AND BLONDES
Some investors lie in bed and wonder why they didn't buy Microsoft or Intel shares way back when. Traders on the Hollywood Stock Exchange (HSX) kick themselves for not snapping up Leonardo DiCaprio
when Titanic was still a laughingstock.
Since its creation two years ago, the rotisserie-baseball-style Web game (www.hsx.com) has attracted 90,000 players worldwide who wheel and deal in pretend stocks and bonds that rise and fall in value with the fortunes of films and their stars. Such Hollywood bigwigs as Albert Brooks and Alec Baldwin have dabbled in the make-believe market. Former stockbrokers Michael Burns, 39, and Max Keiser, 38, founded HSX and are already selling its results as market research. "It's the world's largest focus group," says Keiser.
Each trader starts with a virtual $2 million. Movies are traded as stocks and actors as bonds. Shares in Godzilla, a likely summer smash, have recently risen from $45 to $85. The riskier the actor, the higher the interest rate. Harrison Ford, whose bond is rated AA, pays 8 percent; Cameron Diaz
is a B at 14 percent. One virtual mutual fund comprises jailbirds Christian Slater and Robert Downey Jr. and pays 27 percent. "It's a junk bond," explains Keiser, "but a very aggressive way to pick up some yield."
Oscar nominees are the current hot properties. "It's our Super Bowl," Keiser says. So much cash has poured in, he says, that HSX's equivalent of Alan Greenspan may "raise interest rates to stem rapid inflation." Hey, it's Hollywood—what's wrong with a little irrational exuberance?
Your mission: Boost some cars, shoot some police officers and run over pedestrians for extra points. That's the gist of Grand Theft Auto, the latest game to cause consternation among critics of video violence.
Grand Theft Auto, out now on CD-ROM and soon for the Sony PlayStation, was released last fall in Britain, where it has sold almost 500,000 copies and sparked debate in Parliament over whether to ban it (it didn't). Here, the game's box blares adults-only warnings. "We're extremely conscientious about making the buyer beware," says Sharon Wood, VP of ASC Games, its U.S. publisher. The "humorbased" game shows no gore, she adds.
Grand Theft Auto is drawing comparisons to the notorious Postal, a game whose lead character goes on a murderous rampage. Postal was pulled by major retailers last November after a lambasting from the U.S. Postmaster General. Parents, who often "don't pay a lot of attention to video games," need to check kids' choices, says David Walsh, head of the National Institute on Media and the Family watchdog group. The "inappropriate" games, he adds, "are the games that kids are playing."