Virtually another life

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!

secondlife coke
Coke’s “island” in Second Life

secondlife sun micro
Sun Microsystems pavilion in Second Life

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.

slla reebok
The Second Life Liberation Army attacks a Reebok store!

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?)

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3 thoughts on “Virtually another life

  1. ive heard of this game and played the trial they had a while back. but i came out disappointed though because compared to other mmorpgs(massively multiplayer online role playing games) the content in this game is less. another thing that irked me was that they are still using really outdated graphics…so outdated that even though im not a stickler for top-notch graphics …this was was bag 😛

    as for the real-life economy thing..the only “innovation” seems to be the fact that u can buy items/stuff using real life money(after tuning it to the in-game currency). i never liked this approach because this would seriously affect gameplay(thank god other mmorpgs have explictly banned this type of stuff)

    furthermore; lets look at this scenario. you create an avatar in an mmorpg and play for an year, accumulating wealth and character-skills/items/weapons

    then all of a sudden a newbie comes along with some $$$ and turns it into in-game currency and buys all the stuff that took you ages to accumulate…this would simply lead to serious game-balancing issues

    in fact its interesting to note that many “serious” mmorpgs like
    WoW(world of warcraft), Eve online, etc etc would ban a player if he is caught ” buying ” in game money for real$ from the blackmarket sites that have sprouted all over the net.

    dude if u have time; try anarchy online
    it has a 14 day trial. and is super-complex and has a “real” economy.(but not based on real $, but the in game currency). the economic system in that game is totally player driven and players can craft items/ships/even starbases and sell them/use them!

    i know a lot of people who just buy and sell in-game stuff and make a hefty profit(in-game). virtual merchants!

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