New Media Trainee

April 7, 2007

Play Money is Real

Filed under: Uncategorized — tenftpole @ 9:04 pm

        I recently signed up for Second Life and spent a couple of hours flying around, transporting, and reading tons of information on how to acquire wealth and power in the game. Apparently, you buy houses or something and earn Second Life currency. I have to say, it sounded like a colossal waste of time given that I have a full time job, am in grad school, and have 5 dogs to occupy my attention. But, after reading the first half of “Play Money” by Julian Dibbell, at least I now understand the value of these games. It’s amazing to know that online gaming generates more Gross Domestic Product than freaking
Russia!  

            This is not about playing a game. Okay, for some it is still about killing dragons or making friends (community)…but that’s the surface explanation. It’s about money (economics), supply and demand, about those people willing to pay real world money for virtual commodities. The story about BlackSnow having Mexicans in Tijuana performing repetitive tasks to provide commodities for BlackSnow to sell is amazing, regardless of whether it’s true or not. Just knowing that people are using bots to perform menial virtual tasks is innovative. Is it cheating? Using technology to get ahead in this regard is smart. It might be unfair to a guy like Dibbell who is working his ass off, but it’s not cheating.

            So, the ability to make money in virtual worlds is obviously a big time business, and I was surprised to find out that it’s as complex and diverse as the real world economy. The value of gold pieces goes up and down in Ultima Online and Dibbell, who works as a supplier for Bob, has to understand the virtual market to track his earnings. Who knew it was this complicated? Still, I can understand why people do it.

            Virtual worlds provide you with new opportunites to redefine yourself. It’s enriching your life through fantasy and a lot of us do it without investing money. It’s hard to do this in real life. But, in online games, you can try new things and create your own digital life. In fact, in the digital world, you can live multiple lives simultaneously at little risk of consequence in real life. That is, of course, unless you are spending money to build your virtual life. At this point, it can become a job and some people absolutely do this for a living. They sell virtual loot on eBay and if you’re good at it, then you can make enough to quit your day job. It seems having a big mansion online is just as important as having big mansion in real life to some people.

            Chris Anderson would say that the virtual economies on Ultima Online and Second Life or Everquest are part of the long tail. The virtual world has it’s own economy and it is just as complex and fascinating as the real world’s. I can’t wait to read the rest to see how Dibbell does.

April 2, 2007

The Infinite Aisle…

Filed under: Uncategorized — tenftpole @ 8:39 pm

The Infinite Aisle-the last half of The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

 

I’ve heard it a lot from older people, “The internet is just full of crap.” Hell, even I’ve thought of it in that regard before google search came along. Is there crap in the Long Tail? Duh. Yes, there’s crap in the long tail, but I like how Anderson frames it, “one person’s noise is another’s signal.” The internet, and especially search, has allowed us to filter what’s in the long tail to pull those gems from the garbage dump that is the World Wide Web.

The long tail has given us abundance, choice. I no longer have to pray that the local blockbuster has that movie my punk rock friend (By the way, punk rock in the late 70’s spawned its own long tail in my opinion) recommended is sitting on a shelf. I can order it, or better yet, download it from the web. That’s liberating because we all have niche needs or hobbies or interests we can pursue.

In The Long Tail, Anderson quotes an essay published in the New Atlantis by Christine Rosen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center basically says that all this choice is a bad thing. She states “…these technologies risk making us incapable of ever being surprised.” Anderson disagrees stating that filters and recommendations create the opposite effect. Another great example of this is the jam experiment. Basically, it you’re given a bunch of choices, you’re going to be unsatisfied, but if you’re given those same choices in a meaningful way to select them, then bam, you’re going to be happier with your lemon curd.

I do have to agree with Rosen that we’re not surprised anymore. In fact, I think she says that culture is becoming fragmented (Scary, since I say the same in my previous post only having read the first 6 chapters at that point). But, really, I’m only surprised when I can’t find something on the web. The experience of consuming that niche find, I would argue, is even more enjoyable because it’s what I was in the mood for at the time and I didn’t have to pass the time watching something I didn’t really want to. That’s where I see the advantages of the long tail economy. It’s optimization of our time, rather than a fragmentation.

The  Long Tail is a concept that every other book author on this blog would agree with, at least, in principle. I’m sure there are fine points to argue, but the long tail is applicable in so many ways: Media, Butter, or thumb tacks….there are lots of choices just waiting for our consumption.

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