The Virtual World of Second Life

Sometimes you feel like you are living under a rock. That happened to me on Monday at SES Chicago. I walked into a ClickZ sponsored session on Social Media Advertising, and in it I saw a presentation by Marc Schiller, CEO and Founder of Electric Artists, about Second Life.

For those of you who don’t know about it, Second Life is its own virtual world, where people live out lives using there avatars. The world is literally created on the fly by its residents, much like real life (but hopefully with better results!).

The nature of Marc’s presentation did not detail how this virtual world works, or what the experience is like (a future project for me to explore), but what he did focus on was some of the commercial aspects of this world.

The mechanics of my description will be a little rough here … but here are some things Marc had to say about money in Second Life:

  • There is a conversion rate between the money used in Second Life (Linden Dollars) and real world money.
  • You can spend that money for goods and services within Second Life
  • More than 3000 people have earned more than $20,000 in Second Life
  • Second Life recently had one person become their first millionaire (in real dollars) from transactions conducted within their virtual world.

In addition, you can pick some interesting data off of the home page of the site:

  1. Total Residents: 1,814,140
  2. Logged In Last 60 Days: 690,800
  3. Online Now: 8,741 (8:30 am Chicago time)
  4. US$ Spent Last 24h: $654,727
  5. LindeX Activity Last 24h: $120,693

So clearly there are some other opportunities for individual entrepreneurs to make money in this world. But Marc went on to show how major brands are engaging with Second Life for purposes of building their brands, or test marketing new product launches.

You probably would guess right away that blatant commercial pitches would simply be ridiculed in this environment. People do not like being sold to in real life – so you can imagine how impatient they are with it in virtual life. So the key to success for a major brand to communicate their message in a virtual world is in becoming a respected part of that world.

Marc showed an example of how Starwood Hotels created virtual hotels under the “Aloft” name that they incorporated into Second Life. Starwood created a place that was neat for people to hang out at, with no strings or blatant messaging attached.

The test appears to have been a great success. People have responded to the feel of the Aloft hotels, and Starwood has begun to receive real world queries about when people can stay at an Aloft hotel. This has proved to be an interesting environment for test marketing their product, and creating some initial demand.

Fascinating stuff. It underscores that the web is still a bit like the wild west. There is some crazy stuff going on (no dig at Second Life here, it seems like a cool place), and big opportunities continue to pop up all over the place. Look for these opportunities. There is serious gold in them thar hills. And unlike the first “Internet bubble” this time real money is changing hands all over the place.

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