Sunday, August 9, 2009

What's Up With Second Life?

There's a lot of real money to be made in Second LIfe. According to a older article in WIRED, it's estimated "that nearly $5 million dollars was exchanged between players in January 2006 alone". That's real money trades involving SL virtual items and services.

But we're not talking about the "standard" kinds of trades that you normally see on eBay. These are not purchases of gold, or the sale of well developed game accounts. Second Life is different.

There are two main things that set SL apart from most MMOGs:

  1. Players are encouraged to submit dynamic content into the game world. This includes building your own house, designing your own clothes, even creating interactive games and scripts that run inside the game world.
  2. The game's producer (Linden Labs) actually encourages people to make real money within the game world. There are sanctioned exchange services that allow you to change Linden Dollars into U.S. Dollars. The official freedom to make in-game currency and turn it into real money has been a main feature of the game since its inception.

Now, if you think about it, you should see these two things as revolutionary. There only a few other MMOGs out there that officially allow you to make real money (let alone, encourage you to do so). And there's no other major MMOG that supports player contributions of content into the world to the degree that SL supports it.

In fact, these two things tie in together in a profound way. What you are able to do as a SL citizen is 1) create your own in-game items and services and 2) make a real-world profit from doing so.

Famous (and infamous) examples include:

  • Anshe Chung, an in-game unreal estate agent who reportedly makes more than $150,000 US dollars a year in SL. (Read more about her here.)
  • Kermitt Quirk, the inventor of the mini-game, Tringo. He sells each virtual copy of the game for 15,000 Linden dollars, which is about $69 US dollars. (Read more about him here.)
  • Thomas Struszka, founder of Slustler, an in-game adult magazine. (Read more here.)
  •, a online market place allowing sellers to come together and offer their SL creations. (Check out the selection, it's pretty neat!)

As you can see, there's a wide variety of content that can be created and sold within Second Life. The above list is really only the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to the power and flexibility of the game's design, the main limitation is your imagination.

The most conroversial issue regarding SL is the flourishing "red light districts" throughout the game world. In fact, many new players are shocked at the ramapant "adult" activity that occurs in world. Here's a recent email that was passed along to me:

In all its incredible potential and vision... you know, content created by users, the ability to make real money on your creations, land sales, etc is great. The underlying physics engine, cool too. But what is it really?

It's a god damn virtual porn world. Seriously.

So I teleported to a "popular" spot on the map... bam. I'm in the middle
of a virtual porn club complete with perverts acting out their fantasies
on each other. If you go to the Second Life website, click on in-game job offers,
you'll find the majority are for dancers and 'escorts'.

This should be no surprise, however... the "adult entertainment industry" is frequently an early adopter of new technology. It happened with the Internet, it's happening in SL, and it'll always happen when there's a new and interesting. venue for content.

I recently stumbled upon Second Life Escorts, a blog dedicated to hiring SL escort services and then posting reviews of their experience. And yes, screenshots are included (safe for work).

Whether Second Life can maintain a proper balance amongst all the controversy and changing times is anyone's guess. But so far, it's been an amazing journey and the game world keeps growing.

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