Virtual 'Stuff'

Second Life image

Interesting article in yesterday’s Times on the virtual world Second Life, and the economy there: In a Virtual World, ‘Stuff’ Still Matters by Shira Boss.

To set the stage:

To have a Second Life, one needs a computer, the Second Life software, and a high-speed Internet connection. You use a credit card to buy Lindens, and Lindens earned during the game can be converted back into dollars via online currency exchanges. Players start by choosing one of the standard characters, called an avatar, and can roam the world by flying or “teleporting” (click and go). Nobody can go hungry, there is no actual need for warmer clothes or shelter, and there is much to do without buying Lindens.

What I found interesting were a couple items – the first here on some of the classic brands:

Big corporations like Toyota have set up islands in Second Life for marketing. Calvin Klein came up with a virtual perfume. Kraft set up a grocery store featuring its new products. But those destinations are not popular.

“These brands that have this real-world cachet are meaningless in Second Life, so most are ignored,” said Wagner James Au, who blogs and writes books about Second Life. “Just showing up and announcing ‘We’re Calvin Klein’ isn’t going to get you anywhere.”

I’m a bit curious as to why the brand reputation doesn’t necessarily work online…

And the second on the apparent lack of imagination, in a world where so much is possible.

But the more mundane items are what really drive the economy: clothes, gadgetry, night life, real estate. “People buy these huge McMansions in Second Life that are just as ugly as any McMansions in real life, because to them that is what’s status-y,” Mr. Wallace said. “It’s not as easy as we think to let our imaginations run wild, in Second Life or in real life.”

While my initial reaction was to find this kind of sad, I think it points out just how hard it is to imagine new worlds. And even if you can imagine something new, what are the chances that it ostracize you from others rather than connect you.

See also this earlier post on Julian Dibbell’s book Play Money

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  • Jim  On September 11, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    All of your coments and those of the author and analysts of the Virtual World game make perfect sense to me.

    Why would people looking for a virtual world – the motivation of which must be excape from their existing world – want to deal with “brands” that they could deal with daily in their “rejected” world? They may be finding it is not so easy to recreate their rejected world, part of which would be to establish brands.

    The fact that they buy McMansions just like the McMansions they see in their rejected world again indicate the difficulty of replacing this world with something better.

    I honestly believe these games probably do more harm than good, at least in the short term, by allowing people to not confront a world they may not be happy with, and therefore do nothing to change it to their liking.

    They might be better off blogging for change!

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