[Virtual Economies, Real Cash]
July 30, 2005 By Dave Kristula
While real economies require physical presence and capital, for the most part, there is now the opportunity, through technology, to have a hobby or job that earns real cash, online, -inside- a computer game.
New virtual economies give the opportunity for nearly anyone to be their own virtual entrepreneur, if they're willing to put in the keystrokes and mouse clicks.
Editor's Note: Second Life now offers a FREE membership. 9/28/2005
Next Tuesday I will have over L $3,000 in my Second Life account. No, that's not $3,000 United States dollars, however, it is L $3,000 that I made in a game. So what, you ask, what's the worth of gaming dollars? Well, according to the latest market data at GamingOpenMarket.com, I can cash out my L $ (Linden Dollars) for about $11.00 United States dollars, which I can have sent to my PayPal account and spend with my PayPal debit card. So how did I end up getting real cash from a computer game?
No, this article isn't about Second Life in particular; instead, it's about a concept that Second Life helps exemplify. While real economies require physical presence and capital, for the most part, there is now the opportunity, through technology, to have a hobby or job that earns real cash, online, -inside- a computer game.
Making a living through a computer is by no means a new idea. Thousands, if not millions, of people seem to be making a living on eBay selling stuff. Webmasters posting original content on their own web sites can generation hundreds or thousands of dollars per month through advertising revenue or content-subscription sales. But now, yes now, you can create a virtual t-shirt, dress, pair of jeans, television set--yes, create--and sell it for a "virtual profit" that'll turn into a real profit.
Here's a little primer on Second Life... it's got a free trial, then it's $9.95 to join, one fee, that's all. You need to be 18 or older to get into the adult world of it (there are PG and Mature sections in the adult world, so don't be forced into thinking all of Second Life is about mature topics). Once the $9.95 join fee is paid, you don't have to pay another cent ever, unless you want to "own" land (by paying a monthly maintenance fee) or buy Linden dollars on a market such as the GamingOpenMarket.
So why would someone pay a monthly fee to own a piece of land inside a game? Well, here's the other half of the "equation": If you own land, you can set up a shop (or house, or anything you please) and sell things, if that's what you want to do. Not everyone in Second Life sells things, but anyone who wants to may. When you sell something, it's not you standing behind a virtual cash register, ringing up the sale--it's all automated. You could, theoretically, make a great t-shirt on December 1st, have it spread around and sell 1,000 of them, at your "shop" at L $50 a piece, and have L $50,000 without ever logging in between December 2nd and December 24th, and then Cash Out Christmas Day over the GOM for nearly $200 United States dollars. How you make a great t-shirt and manage to sell 1,000 of them, I don't know, but that's not the point, it -IS- possible.
Now, I don't personally know any of these people making hundreds of United States dollars a month, but I'm sure there are some out there. According to the statistics at GamingOpenMarket.com, over $2,190,000 United States dollars have been traded over their system in Lindens. That's pretty amazing for a computer game. I'd like to take credit for about $50 of it so far (and another $11 on Tuesday). Not bad for an investment of $9.95.
So you might ask, well, why does this matter? Well, a virtual economy with a connection to a real economy gives an opportunity to those people who might not have a lot of money to lay out for starting a "real" (physical) business. For a $9.95 join fee and perhaps a small monthly fee, they could make $50 or $100 a month, or more, if they're a hard, dedicated worker. Second Life, and other new virtual economies, give the opportunity for nearly anyone to be their own virtual entrepreneur, if they're willing to put in the keystrokes and mouse clicks.
Second Life certainly isn't the last of the virtual economies with real economy connections. Sony, yes -SONY-, has started their own official auction site, dubbed Station Exchange, where EverQuest II players can "legally" trade game items for United States dollars. Will we see Xbox and Playstation games pushing similar concepts soon? Who knows, but I guess we'll all find out soon enough.
Dave Kristula is the editor of SLASH Magazine. This is the first article he's written since 2002, when he correctly predicted the new browsers wars (a little bit too early, though). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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