Over the last couple of years, I’ve heard murmurs about the virtual world called Second Life. I had pushed it to the recesses of my mind, thinking it’s just another game. What did not help was the similarity the name ‘Second Life’ had with the name of the game ‘Half Life’. I felt it was one among the crowd.
Then I heard something that aroused my curiosity. Second Life has its own economy. Now, economy is a big word. Your run-of-the-mill games don’t have economies. For the first time, I sensed that this was something different. I finally became curious enough to find out more, and what I found out was beyond my wildest expectations.
First of all, Second Life is not a game. It’s a virtual world, with an economy and real estate of its own. You are known as a resident. You own houses, cars, clothes and accesories. You socialise. You form communities with people who share your tastes. Here’s the icing on the cake: You can make real money in this virtual world. Yes, real money.
Whatever you can do in your first life, you can do in this second life. It’s virtually another life. You acquire a representation of yourself, called an avatar. Through your avatar, you live in this virtual world. You buy land, develop it into prime real estate, and sell to other avatars. You make cars and sell them. You design clothes and sell them. You can even make music and sell it. The currency here is Linden Dollars, which can be converted to US Dollars anytime you wish. This is how you make real money.
It seems counter-intuitive. Why would anyone want to buy a virtual house or a virtual car? Believe it or not, it makes business sense.
Let’s say I buy a house for 5000 Linden Dollars, and I rent it out to another resident for 12 months, for 500 Linden Dollars a month. At the end of the year, I’ll make a profit of 1000 Linden Dollars, convert it to US Dollars, and have real cash.
But why would another resident want to rent my virtual house? Because just like in our first life, we need a home in our second life. We need a virtual home as a base, and go about our virtual business. Another resident can rent my house, paying 6000 Linden Dollars to me over a year. The same resident can make music and sell it in Second Life. If he earns more than 6000 Linden Dollars a year, he makes a profit and converts it into real, hard cash.
So what’s in it for Linden Labs, the San Francisco company which created Second Life and runs it? They make money primarily by leasing “land” to residents (who use it for their virtual business purposes by creating houses, shops, and even virtual tourist attractions with the land).
Linden Labs have another source of income. Brands who want a slice of the pie. A company or advertising agency can buy an “island” for a one-time fee and a monthly rate. General Motors and Nissan have started selling virtual cars in Second Life. Coke has created Coke Studios, where avatars mix songs and play their mixes to other residents. Nike and Adidas sell digital and real-life versions of their products. Financial institution Wells Fargo built Stagecoach Island in Second Life, and calls it the world’s first virtual-reality financial literacy game. Starwood Hotels raised awareness of its new brand of hotels (called Aloft Hotels) by building virtual hotels in Second Life. Sun Microsystems held a pavilion showcasing its products. Pop artist Ben Folds promoted a new album with two virtual appearances.
Now that is something!
But there’s one thing I simply do not understand. There are red light areas in Second Life! Come on, surely we know certain things cannot be simulated!
You know it’s truly a complete world when there is terrorism in it! There is an organization known as the Second Life Liberation Army (SLLA) modeled on real-life separatist organizations such as the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The SLLA stages attacks on virtual stores. The SLLA says it’s fighting for stock in Linden Labs, and voting rights for avatars.
Second Life is probably the most successful instance of a virtual world dominating people’s consciousness to such an extent that almost every real-life phenomenon is replicated there. There are other virtual worlds like Entropia Universe, which I hear are not bad either. Maybe the virtual world is no longer an amusing curiosity but a serious world with real opportunities.
Let the games begin (on second thoughts, is it really a game?)