I started playing Second Life (SL) this weekend. For the uninitiated, Second Life is a virtual world where users can do pretty much anything you do in the normal world. Users (residents) can buy property, build houses, start businesses, buy services, host events, chat with others, modify their appearance, etc.. Generally the laws of physics and societal norms that govern SL mirror the real world, however there are some important exceptions. Residents can fly and teleport, and I don't believe residents ever get hungry, thirsty, tired, injured, or dead.
One of the interesting aspects of SL, especially for the non-gamer, is that residents can buy Second Life currency, Linden dollars (L$), with real world currency on the LindeX currency exchange. Linden dollars can then be used to purchase goods and services in the SL world. Even more interesting is the fact that people actually spend real currency to purchase Linden Dollars. The LindeX data shows that the current exchange rate hovers around L$270 / US$1.00.
As in the real world it is difficult to make the cold hard cash (Liden Dollars) in SL. It seems that the most lucrative profession is as a Second Life marketer in the real world. Residents get L$2000 for every member referral who becomes a premium subscriber. Designing items for the virtual world can also be quite lucrative, and the world's oldest profession seems to flourish as well. However, there is also a bit of a welfare system in SL and users receive a certain number of Linden Dollars per week just for logging in.
I'm still waiting for my check, but my stipend is supposed to be L$400 per week. This isn't to shabby considering that an entire virtual apartment building can be purchased for L$6000. Also, I'd actually make US $1.50 per week off the Linden dole, if I sold my Linden Dollars for U.S. dollars at the current exchange rate. With the injection of real cash, this virtual world becomes a lot less virtual, but until the exchange rate gets a little better, it's still a game to me.
Regardless of the financials and all the marketing hype, the looming question still remains, 'why would anyone want to spend significant amounts of their real and very short life in a virtual world?' Judging by the list of the most popular places in second life the draw is mainly sex followed by gambling. The Reuters, CNET, Wired spaces were totally dead when I stopped by.
I don't think I'm going to be spending much more of this life in Second Life. I judge all internet phenomena based on whether they make my life better, and I just don't see SL doing this. SL interests me mainly as a tool for facilitating discrete tasks like building a park, modeling human behavior, or holding a meeting (though video conferencing seems more practical). The media companies who are tripping over each other to setup shop in SL are over excited about the marketing potential of the platform, but who can blame them. Their job is to live in the moment and virtual worlds make for great headlines.
Eric Rice has a good post on all the real difficulties that SL is now facing including a customer rebellion over customer service and increased prices, as well as emerging competition in the metaverse marketplace. I'm not sure what companies likeCrayon think they are going to do in Second Life that they can't do in the real world. No doubt, they got lots of links from their recent dual launch in both the real world and in SL. However, I think that after a couple months hanging out in SL, Crayon will soon realize that they could be doing more productive things in the real world and on the real internet.
Okay, it's back to reality for me folks.