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.

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