Virtually Speaking

Second Life along with the First.

Money, Sex, and Fun

“That’s what marketers do. We have the “placebo affect” .. Of course, we need to persuade ourselves that it’s morally and ethically and financially okay to participate in something as unmeasurable as the placebo effect.”  (Seth Godwin, “Idea Virus”

I just read Gary Hayes’ blog entry over at Personalize Media on the topic of how major real-world entities can best create a footprint in virtual worlds like Second Life.

My own opinion has always been that a corporate presence in Second Life is not going to have any real impact on sales or real-world visibility.  The bean counters down in Accounting are not going to be happy with the thousands of dollars you spent on sims and subscription fees with little to show for it, but that’s their problem.  It truly is “gee whiz” right now – stick it in your resume and it looks impressive to note that you helped bring your company into the future of Web 3.0.  But in terms of real impact on visibility or power?  Not so much.  Not yet.   It gives Philip Linden something to brag about, but otherwise it’s the virtual equivalent of putting lavender fluorescent light tubes under the frame of your car.  It’s pretty but that’s about it for usefulness.

You could probably say the same thing about the first people to buy Edison’s electric lights.  Or Bell’s first telephones.  Or the first desktop computer. No one could know where it would ever end up.   Gee whiz, indeed.

Gary spent his time outlining the best ways for companies to make their entrance into Second Life without really getting into any depth on the whys.   I should explain that I’m not complaining about corporate entrance in SL –  I think it helps to validate the existence of our virtual world as something bigger than just a “game”.  I think at some point that there will be very palpable financial and marketing rewards for having a presence in this multiverse, just like it eventually happened with the internet.  Just not yet.  Not when we only have a peak concurrency of 30,000 users, tops.

The other main point Gary makes that is important is that you cannot recreate real world functionality in SL.   You can imitate it to a point, but due to scripting limits,  primitive object design and server latency that scale model of your automobile or airplane is going to be basically useless.  And SL residents know it.

Among his business tips to prospective corporate entries was this interesting note:

The number of cafes, cinemas, meeting rooms, lecture theatres, living rooms and so on that are completely empty, yet just outside the door are groups of avatars happily chatting away, staggers me.

And here is an issue that many large content creators have discovered already in Second Life:  without understanding how people gather and what magnets work to create clusters of social interaction, you’re going to end up with empty buildings.   You’re better off handing out your corporate-branded T-shirts for free than trying to sell them for money.  People spend money on skins, prim hair and quality clothing that uses good textures.  Not on becoming your virtual placard bearer.  And they will be attracted to things that help them look or feel unique, meet other people, or enjoy themselves.   A spectacular copy of the Jefferson Memorial or the Eiffel tower might attract drive-by tourists, but if you want to hold people and keep them coming back you have to know what drives the average avatar in Second Life.  It’s not hard.  It’s three things: Money, Sex, and Fun.

If I were a major corporation and had executive blessing to explore this virtual world, I’d go for the fun.  Gary’s example of the AOL and LWord sims touches on this, without clearly stating the obvious: the best sellers, the real social magnets in Second Life are  my Big Three:

1. Money – give me another reason why it’s been so popular for avatars to plop down in a camping chair for hours of mind-numbing boredom just for a few $Lindens?   If you can put an interesting event behind it, whether it’s a game or a contest, that offers prizes, you’re going to get a lot more attention from residents.  Just about every resident likes money.  And they use their money to pursue sex and fun.

2. Sex.  I’m not talking about escorting, BDSM and the x-rated side of SL.   That’s not something most corporations even want to touch.  But sex is what sells the L-Word.  Sex sells the custom skins and prim hair that drive the SL economy just like it drives real world fashion, diet fads and show business.  It also drives the booming (yet volatile) nightclub business.  Sex drives human interaction in many ways starting with our self image.  And our avatars as virtual representations of that self-image are no less motivated by that sexual drive.

3. Fun.  Play, as William Libaw noted, is how we learn.  It’s a species survival mandate.  It’s how we explore ourselves, our social mechanisms, and develop new methods of communicating.  Everyone plays.  I work hard at my career and when I come home at night I love to either play with my children or play in Second Life.  The success of games like Tringo or Slingo is a testament to the Fun concept just as much as it is to the money motivation I mentioned.

So, my advice to a company that wants to find some visibility within the world of Second Life, possibly staking out a presence that can be leveraged in a few years once the internet starts becoming more 3-dimensional and interactive, is to remember Cindy’s Big Three.  If you’re not offering money, sex appeal and/or fun,  your competition will and you will find your venture into virtuality much less rewarding.   Go for the fun.  If you can do that, you can add the adverb “successfully” to the metaverse experiment entry on your resume.


February 6, 2007 - Posted by | Second Life


  1. Cin,

    Agree totally with your views on the three points driving the success in SL.

    Probably everybody else may be somewhat included among the three.

    Love reading ya !!

    Keep it up

    Comment by Heira Lightfoot | February 13, 2007 | Reply

  2. Interesting blog post by Raph Koster on Electric Sheep’s new funding deal:

    It goes into a discussion about the creation of virtual content by those marketing and big companies. They could benefit from the advice on your blog. :)


    Comment by Wendel Gascoigne | February 27, 2007 | Reply

  3. And when it rains, it pours. A wired article on the presence of real companies in SL. I found the breakdown of costs interesting:

    Creating a virtual destination packed with interactive content takes more than an expert in the digital stitching that keeps “Second Life” together.

    Artists, writers, marketing gurus and others are often needed to develop everything from the look and design of a project to event programming within the space that will keep people coming back.

    Millions of Us has 13 full-time staffers and a stable of 60 contract artists and programmers it can hire as needed, said Steiger, a former Linden Lab executive. It took his company about 10 weeks to build Scion City.

    Steiger said an initial build might cost a client between $75,000 and $100,000. Another $50,000 might pay for six or so events at the site. Monthly support fees could add another $10,000 a month to the cost, Steiger said.

    The average cost of a project in “Second Life” for a major company runs in the low six-figure range, Steiger and other developers said.

    At this stage, that’s still a relatively modest investment for major corporations, Kingdon said.

    “A lot of these companies are treating it as marketing research and development,” he said. “It’s a small, growing audience now. It doesn’t offer the reach of say, MySpace, by any stretch of the imagination.”

    Even so, visitors to the branded virtual playgrounds can potentially become far more engaged with a brand than by simply browsing a Web site with banner ads.

    “A good campaign, you can expect a lot of people to pick up and use your virtual product for hours,” said Sibley Verbeck, CEO of The Electric Sheep Co. Inc.

    Earlier this month, AOL launched an interactive “Second Life” mall dubbed AOL Pointe, where visitors can buy clothes for their avatars, rip it up in a skate park and gather in an amphitheater to watch videos, among other activities.

    Like many other companies, AOL sees the site as the next step for the Web, an Internet in 3-D.

    “There’s a possibility that this could bring a whole new aspect to computing and to community,” said Adrienne Meisels, AOL’s vice president of new business. “It’s a learning platform for us.”

    Comment by Wendel Gascoigne | February 27, 2007 | Reply

  4. […] we surprised?  Not really.  Back in February, I wrote “Money, Sex, and Fun” which pointed out that business involvement in SL right now is “the virtual equivalent […]

    Pingback by The Second Life Grid Grind » Blog Archive » The Great Business Exodus | July 16, 2007 | Reply

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