What would the stock market be like if you could buy and sell shares in celebrities? What if you could make a run on Madonna, or watch in horror as Tommy Lee Jones dropped through the floor? The BBC's Celebdaq, which was active from July 2002 until it finally closed in early 2010, suggested the possibility of an answer.
The Market Dymanics
In the Celebdaq market system there were, at Easter 2003, 258 celebrities, though more were added before the site eventually closed. The order of the celebrities went from A-list all the way through to D-list: from Catherine Zeta Jones to Jade Goody; from Eminem to David Dickinson1. However, the market didn't really work in the same way as the real stock market: when players bought shares in a celebrity their price went up, and when they sold the price went down. It's really that simple.
Each Friday morning, dividends were paid out on the stock that you held. The dividends were calculated via a formula based on the demand for that celebrity's stock, and the amount of press coverage that they had received during the week. Therefore, when players were looking for dividend potential, they bought lots of shares in celebrities that were in the news, which caused the share price to go up, encouraging others to also buy those shares, and this high demand made the dividend even higher.
There was a prize of £100 available each week for the player with the largest percentage increase in their personal worth. It wasn't a large prize, and many players simply took part for the fun of the game, and were not concerned about the prize at all.
Stepping onto the Trading Floor
Once you registered to play (which was easily done with an existing BBCi account) you were given (a virtual) £10,000 to spend on celebrity shares. If you wished, you could request a portfolio to be automatically generated for you. This could be useful for first-time player as they would be presented with four of the fastest rising celebrity stocks, plus one random stock.
Alternative, it would have been wise to watch the market a little before investing. To have a look to see which stock really is the fastest rising, and buy about 500 shares in each of them. Simply buying shares in people you liked was a bad idea, as you could well have started losing some serious money that way.
Once you had gained a little confidence, it was often prudent to sell your shares in some celebrities before the market turned on them. There was the reasonably safe option of some royal shares, where you could be guaranteed at least some dividends. Or you could have taken the gamble on which celebrity would be big news tomorrow. Pick the right person and you stood to make a bundle.
Built into the game were several controls to stop one player (or a cartel) from cornering the market. Once you made £1,000,000, you automatically lost it and your funds were reduced back to the original amount of £10,000 you started with2, and on the players' chart a little wad of cash was placed after your name to indicate that you were indeed a millionaire. Once you reached £5,000,000, you got a sexy red car after your name. These icons continued up in scale until they reached Bill Gates (awarded at the princely sum of one billion pounds).
There are also mechanisms in place to prevent price-fixing. On 26 November, 2002, Patsy Kensit was suspended from the market after her share price ballooned to a highly inflated £4,000. All players that had their assets in Ms Kensit found them frozen while illegal trading activities were investigated. Thankfully, Patsy survived this suspension and was re-floated at a more reasonable figure.
Watching the Market
Following the launch of BBC Three, a television show on Celebdaq was produced. It was presented by former Wall Street analyst3Paddy O'Connell, and treated the game with the seriousness it obviously deserved4. The show gave a weekly run-down of the best and worst trading shares, as well as the highest dividends of the week. Various market analysts and pundits gave their reading of the state of the Celebdaq market, and tips for investing in the coming week. Celebrity players, and celebs that merely feature in the game, often appeared on the show and pronounced their pearls of wisdom. Besides the three weekend shows there was a regular daily Celebdaq feature in Liquid News5.
A Few Random Statistics
The game started in July 2002 (the first in-game news story dates from the 17 July).
In April 2003, there were 60,351 accounts in the game (though players could have multiple accounts, so this may be a misleading figure).
In April 2003, the richest player was Big Rod with in excess of seven hundred million pounds. Did he eventually get the Bill Gates icon? He certainly stood the best chance.
The first de-listing from Celebdaq was Pope John Paul II, who was removed from the game on 10 February, 2003. Famous he certainly was, but celebrity he was not.
If you're interested in celebrity trading games you might like the movie-actor-based Hollywood Stock Exchange.