The Second Life Phenomenon
Over the past couple of weeks I have begun to dip my toe into the Second Life waters to find out what it is all about. For those not familiar with it at all, Second Life is the hot “virtual world” that has people talking. Essentially, it is an online game where you have the ability to interact with others. It attempts to recreate much of what we have in our “first life” society, including real estate, currency, commerce, and more.
Much has been made about the ability of individuals to make real money in Second Life. In fact, there was a recent article mentioning a woman who claims to be the first Second Life millionaire (on paper at least — it apparently comes from real estate ownership in the game, if I recall correctly).
Major brands have begun flocking to Second Life. Reuters has assigned a reporter to cover goings on there. PR firms are creating outposts. Some major companies (Dell, I believe, was one) are actually making announcements inside Second Life about real world business happenings.
With all this attention, I felt I needed to see for myself what it is like. Going in, I was skeptical. I don’t tend to get all wrapped up in virtual world discussions and don’t completely understand folks who spend countless hours playing inside of them. When I was younger, I did spend a lot of time playing games of all sorts — including video and online games. And I would spend a fair amount of time doing so, but I have a hard time comprehending this current phenomenon since it doesn’t seem to be limited to young people still in school with lots of discretionary time.
I guess the best way I can describe what I have seen so far is something that looks like an old fantasy computer game. The graphics are a bit more advanced than what I remember playing with when I was a kid (ok a lot more), but they are more boxy and choppy than most have come to expect on today’s computers. Communicating with others relies primarily on chat windows — sort of like group IM.
Last week, I attended the first of what is to be a weekly new media discussion hosted by Crayon — a PR firm focused heavily on Second Life. There was a very high turnout … probably 30 or so professionals working in this space. Unfortunately, given the nature of group chat it was not the easiest venue in which to have or listen to good conversation. Perhaps over time it will take up more structure. And, of course, my view may be different than other participants. I am just not especially fond of group chats as the conversations tend to be disjointed and frequently more than one conversation is actually taking place at the same time.
I plan to stick with Second Life for a bit and continue to try to explore as time permits. But I remain skeptical of its benefits going forward. I recall reading an item recently that argued that companies embracing Second Life do so primarily for the “hip factor” and not because it is actually useful to do so. I’m not sure yet. Obviously, those jumping in now do get a bump in their perception as a trendsetting early adopters. Whether they are the lead prospectors in the latest gold rush or merely hopeful fools, time will tell.
For skeptics, Neville Hobson offers a link to a very funny site that parodies Second Life.