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Virtual World Business And Development Information

Leading A Double Life

Posted by SIM on January 3, 2007

Player 1, This Week: Second Life
By PJ Hruschak
Wednesday, January 3, 2007

I recently created a new life.

No, I’m not talking about the li’l Player3 currently slow-roasting in my wife.

This new entity is Groovie Bamboo, my 3-D character in the massive online world known as Second Life.

LEADING A DOUBLE LIFE

Though looks can be deceiving, SL isn’t so much a video game as a virtual reality where, hiding behind the anonymity of strangely named and stranger-looking avatars, subscribers enjoy a simulated existence.

At any time I can take Groovie shopping for new skin, try on an animal appendage, dance at a discotheque, take a class, play the slots, watch a live band, browse the sex toy stores, cruise a corporate sponsored area or just chill on a private island.

With some exceptions, most everything in SL requires Linden Dollars (L$) which can be converted back into good ol’ American moola (US$).

It’s the potential to earn a real income by flipping virtual property or selling animated objects that really gets some people all shades of geeked about SL.

LIVE LONG AND PROSPER

This game, er, virtual existence, is as fun as its Residents make it – since all the objects in SL are created by the Residents.

If I can’t find something cool for Groovie, I just can make it (after borrowing a bit of programming, of course), add it to the world and even sell it to others for fun or profit.

I must periodically keep Groovie at bay, however, when he gets that greedy itch, wanting to dabble in L$ trading or develop and flip property to take advantage of the inflated prices during the land shortage.

I simply remind Groovie, uh, myself, that he/we/I can return to a less expensive existence, enjoying freebie objects and meeting up with other avatars in cost-free areas. And, of course, he can always be deleted.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Groovie and I suggest you check out SL, be it for fun or profit. We’re certain you’ll enjoy spending many hours meeting crazy-looking characters and learning the ways of this rather surreal, hyper reality.

If you do give it a try, don’t forget to offer a friendly wave to my nerdly avatar as you fly by.

FOR THE WEB JUNKIES

Since the Linden Dollar (L$) can be exchanged for US$ and other through various websites such as the LindeX exchange, SL has become a secondary or even primary source of income for many people.

Recent circumstances have helped draw more people into SL than ever before, increasing its population by more than 1500% (from 140,000 to more than 2.1 million) in less than a year.

First, there’s the increase in users brought on by media attention stirred by Anshe Chung late November 2006. Known as Ailin Graef in the game, Chung sent out a press release proclaiming she had amassed more than US$1 million (likely more) in virtual assets in SL by selling in-game goods and flipping properties. Even with the rumors that she started as a virtual escort, her earnings have resulted in a real-world business with more than 25 employees and the respect of fellow SLers.

Second, SL owners Linden Labs have (re?)instituted a free membership option. You do need to provide either a credit card or phone number for verification, but it allows people to experience much of the virtual world without it affecting their budget. You can’t however, own any land with the free account, which drastically limits your earnings potential. Besides, once people start to roam around and see some of the fun objects, they eventually want to get a bit more involved.

As it turns out, virtual land in SL is determined by limited server capacity. With the idea of potentially making a fortune flipping properties in the game, things have become a bit overcrowded, causing land prices to rise.

Land can be owned – which really means it is leased from the Lindens – and either given, sold or rented out to other Residents.

For about a week I chatted with various virtual real estate agents and sales people who were pulling in enough L$ to quit their jobs. While most were pretty happy making a living through SL, a few were a bit disgruntled at the new level of greed, with some even selling off all their assets to simply retire to their own private islands. Sounds a lot like Florida, eh?

The key to making money in SL is not purely with land speculations but by diversifying your portfolio. Sure, you can make some decent scratch with land, but when the Lindens – also how SLers refer to Linden Lab employees – add more land, the prices will drop and some will be left with essentially worthless land. Money can also be made by creating and selling animated objects, aka prims or primitives, within in the game. You make an object once and can sell it countless times to other inhabitants for L$1 to L$10,000 (or heck, whatever the market will bear). Also, designers can be paid to create in-game graphics or Web sites for various SL shops, adding another layer of complexity to the game’s economy.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FUN!?

Well crap, all this talk about money and it seems the fun gets buried way at the bottom.

I’ll reiterate this – SL can be a lot of fun. Addictively fun. Dangerously, addictively fun.

If you’ve ever seen a 13-year-old sitting at a computer, instant messaging with friends while talking on the cell phone and listening to an iPod, you’d completely understand SL’s appeal.

Avatars interact through an instant messenger type interface, with either private messages sent between two members or “louder” chats that can be “heard” by anyone within a certain distance. People can give objects, view each other’s profiles, pass L$ and share screenshots with a few mouse clicks.

As you get more used to the chatting interface and your avatar controls, flying around the game’s mainland and islands can be a hide-and-seek style adventure, with various group meetings, art exhibits and classes being taught. There are even “live performances” where bands stream their music as their avatars pretend to play.

Each paid subscriber is allowed to own some land in the game, which must be purchased for L$. You can then spend plenty of time – and, of course, more money - developing the property with various buildings and fun objects for you and your friends to enjoy. Some of these come scripted and require a fee to be used, but many do not, so they can purely be enjoyed for the sake of fun. Around Christmas many of the areas I visited were decorated with Christmas trees, wreaths and lights.

Subscribers do get a small stipend each week, which does not amount to much in US$ but won’t leave you completely broke.

Land can be private or public, with the former only accessible by invitation. There is what they call the Mainland, where people use their parcels of land to set up shops and sell their products. Scattered around the Mainland are various islands that are owned by SL Residents. You must teleport into an island, and not all are accessible without invitation.

Nearly everyone in SL maintains their anonymity behind their avatars, not trusting press since a few Residents had bad experiences as a result of being identified by Wired, Business Week and other publications. Of course you can never really know who is behind that muscle-chested, teddy-bear-headed character, even if they claim to tell you their real name.

If you are concerned about sexually explicit content, and there is plenty, you can change the settings to weed out nearly everything with a Mature rating. This is, of course, the default setting for the Teen version of SL (teen.secondlife.com).

The main draw for the those less concerned with money will be the various groups they can join. I saw a professional architecture society, board game collectors and, yes, many, many sex-themed groups. You just can’t escape the primitive pleasures, eh? One lady I chatted with for some time was even dubbed the Sex Ball Queen. (I’ll let you imagine what that means.)

Of course, for some the simple act of flying around and instantly teleporting to various places to look around can still be fun.

PJ Hruschak, whose Second Life avatar, “Groovie Bamboo,” dreams of electric sheep, can be reached at player1@cincinnati.com.

JUST THE FACTS

TITLE: Second Life

SYSTEMS: PC, Mac

NO. OF PLAYERS: > 2.1 million

PUBLISHER: Linden Labs

GENRES: MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), Virtual World

ESRB RATING: None. May contain some mature content.

WEB SITE: secondlife.com

PJ’S LAST WORD: An entertaining and highly addictive real-time online 3-D role-playing experience. Think of The Sims, Sim City and The Matrix with a real economy but without all the kung fu or the need for toilets. (90 out of 100; A-; Two thumbs up.)

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