Virtual worlds on the Internet are nothing new. Mostly, like Worlds of Warcraft, these worlds are virtual games in which a player creates a character and plays a role playing game. However, three years ago, a company called Linden Lab, based in San Francisco, created a virtual world called Second Life. The fascinating thing about Second Life is that, unlike other virtual worlds, it is not prefabricated. It has been built and is owned entirely by the participants. Second Life is a vast digital continent, teeming with people, entertainment, experiences and opportunity. It even has an economy that has made several of the participants a good living in the real world as well as the virtual world. As of mid summer, 2006, over a third of a million people world wide are participants in Second Life.
The first thing one does when participating in Second Life for the first time is to create an avatar, or virtual character. Simple tools are available to build your avatar’s appearance down to the closest detail, from height, weight, body shape, skin tint, gender, hair color, eye color, and so on. One can also design the kind of clothes your avatar wears.
Next, let us suppose one wants to meet other people in the virtual world of Second Life. There is a tool called the Map that shows information on upcoming events in the virtual world. Then one can view more detailed information on the event. These events can consist of everything from a party at a virtual club to a game tournament to the opening of a virtual art exhibit. If any suits ones fancy, one can instantly teleport to the event.
One can find out about anyone else’s avatar by right clicking on the image and choosing the “View Profile” option. Very shortly, one will find oneself interacting with other avatars and finding people with similar interests to ones own. Participants in Second Life have formed interest groups ranging from neighborhood associations to Science Fiction Fan Clubs.
Next, one will probably want to own virtual land in the Second Life world. The price for doing so is 9.95 a month plus a user fee that is proportional to the amount of “land” one owns. One can own just enough to build a little cottage and/or business to what amounts to a private island. Land purchases allow one a place to build, display, and store ones virtual creations.
The Second Life virtual world has a myriad of opportunities for recreation. There are games that are, in effect, role playing games within role playing games. There are virtual casinos, dance clubs, movie theatres, shopping malls, and even strange places like space stations and vampire castles. There are also online discussions on any subject imaginable from sports to art and culture.
One of the unique features of the Second Life virtual world are the tools that are available to create virtual objects. One can build ones own custom made car (or even space ship). Other people have built virtual pets, pieces of art, or virtual jewelry. The unique feature of Second Life is that one retains the intellectual property rights to any object one creates. One can sell copies of objects to other participants in the Second Life world or buy objects if one wants and lack the skill and/or time to create them oneself. There is a building tool that allows one to build objects out of easy to select shapes. One can then use an easy to learn a scripting language to further enhance ones object. For instance, one can build a virtual cat and then use the scripting language to endow it with unique characteristics. Linden Lab employees and other participants are available to help one master the scripting language.
The Second Life virtual world has an economy that has spilled into the real world in certain cases. Participants can buy and sell virtual goods and services, using something called Linden Dollars as currency. Linden Dollars are exchangeable for real dollars, either at the Linden currency exchange or at certain private money exchanges in the Second Life virtual world.
Business opportunities in the Second Life virtual world are limited only to ones imagination. One can open a night club or speculate in real estate or sell virtual pets. One participant has created a game in the Second Life virtual world that is now being licensed by a software company for game players in the real world.
The following is a partial list of businesses that participants in Second Life have created:
party and wedding planner
custom avatar designer
machinima set designer
custom animation creator
theme park developer
real estate speculator
vacation resort owner
special effects designer
Because Linden Dollars are exchangeable for real dollars, some Second Life entrepreneurs have made good real world incomes from their Second Life virtual businesses. Every object, including ones avatar, is owned by the creator and intellectual property rights to such are legally enforceable both in the Second Life virtual world and the real world.
Basic membership in Second Life is free, with a 250 Linden Dollar sign up bonus. Basic members buy extra Linden Dollars at the current exchange rate. There is a premium membership with a monthly, quarterly, or yearly fee that allows one a 1000 Linden Dollar sign up bonus, a 500 Linden Dollar a week stipend, and the right to buy and sell virtual land. Land ownership comes with a user fee. Everything else in the virtual world costs what the market will bear.