Written by Sean C. Stacey and Brooke Thompson
Philip Rosedale, Founder of Linden Labs, presented his take on the empowerment offered by Second Life of the average citizen to not only create but monetize their own content and design. Second Life is a virtual world accessible over the Internet via software installed on your home computer, that has grown over the last few years into a vibrant creative community as well as a formidable virtual economy. The environment provided has its own internal monetary system which, as with many MMORPGs, can be translated into real world cash.
The central point of Mr. Rosedale’s speech was that “more is different.” He described how an enabling framework such as Second Life demonstrates the creation of emergent elements that could not have been anticipated from the beginning, once the participating audience community reaches a certain critical mass. This concept should not be foreign to those familiar with Alternate Reality Gaming, as it has been reiterated on many occasions that the larger the community, the greater the community’s ability to accomplish tasks and solve problems.
Second Life has actually enabled some users to produce their own income-generating content which, in at least some anecdotal cases provided during the talk, can produce enough revenue to support its creator. One Second Life user and fashion designer manages to provide herself with an extremely comfortable real life solely through the content she has created and sold within the virtual world.
Second Life has been growing steadily in popularity, and the size of the virtual landscape is roughly equivalent to that of Amsterdam. It is supported by about 3,500 servers, which process and push and pull data from the world’s users. A significant aspect of the product is that its demographic is made up mainly of ordinary people and, like the ARG audience, the user base is fairly gender balanced. In fact, while about 36% of the user sign-ups are made by women, a full 44% of the actual resources are used by them. Second Life is currently most popular in the United States, with only about half of its users coming from the international community.
Community is important in Second Life, as the shared experience draws the users closer together. Regardless of why each individual might enjoy interacting with the virtual space and its other denizens, collectively they have an extremely strong sense of community and loyalty to one another.
As with all new mediums, entertainment comes first and business follows only after popularity is recognized. Second Life is no different as a later speaker, Andrew McGregor of the Text100 public relations agency, explained that his company had just opened its most recent of 30 world-wide offices… inside Second Life. Musicians and bands have also begun to embrace the medium and the entertainment focus seems to be converging with entrepreneurship. Harvard University has even opened a virtual facility in this cyberspace and provides around 20 different educational classes entirely through the virtual medium.
The social concept of Second Life is a powerful one and the shared experience of the world is a strong draw for its users. The in-world content is almost exclusively user-created while only the framework, server resources, and some community policing are provided by Linden Labs. And because of the absolute lack of boundaries on what a user can create within the virtual world, it may be the perfect location and delivery mechanism for an Alternate Reality Game.