Second Life (SL) is a virtual world, with multiple members in a 3-D environment, owned and formed by its own residents. Members can create their own virtual three-dimensional character, Avatars, which represent them in the virtual world. Members meet new people, communicate with them through instant messaging, and interact through different activities and experiences, similar to real-world activities between humans.
SL was invented by Linden Inc. in 2003, a company with a mission to “connect us all to an online world that advances the human condition” (Linden Lab Inc., 2008). SL provides unbelievable technology; a world of amazing opportunities for education and learning that delivers a new principled society. Interestingly, the capitalistic system embodied in the game is what makes SL so attractive. This paper introduces the SL world, explains the idea behind the revolutionary form of networking, and analyzes how SL could be used by companies to attract new customers and retain existing customers. The paper also examines how SL could be used for educational and training purposes.
In contrast to other virtual world games, where players are required to solve problems or are challenged before advancing to a new level, SL constitutes simulation of the existing reality, with networking, accumulation of capital, and collection of property being the main purposes. SL is not so much a game, since there is no real goal or destination. An enormous number of players are present in one giant sphere, and as opposed to games such as World of Warcraft, there is no evil monster to kill. On the contrary, millions of members spend their time calmly, at work, in pubs, listening to rock concerts in different music clubs, etc.
For those who are willing to pay (about $10 per month), SL offers members a piece of land, where they can build a house or a business with the option become the owners of an Island (Yaniv, 2008). Some build full cities, similar to the Sim City concept, or they construct tourist attractions to magnetize other players to come and visit. The more advanced members copy, through tens of pictures, big cities such as New-York and Amsterdam. To start the new adventure, all one needs is a keyboard, a mouse, and a computer with enough memory.
Lastly, one has to register with a username and password, choose an avatar, and let the adventure begin. Linden Labs Linden Labs’ headquarters resides in San Francisco, and has over 200 employees around the globe, some formerly worked for companies such as Apple, Disney, Midway, etc. The company’s current estimated value is a little over one billion dollars (Silicon Alley Insider, n. d. ). According to economic statistics published on SL’s website on May 22, 2008, there were 13 million members registered. However, this also includes members that have signed in once or twice and never came back.
Nonetheless, almost 500,000 members were logged in throughout one week on May, 2008, and about 800,000 members throughout the entire month. Linden Lab works in a non-hierarchical system to encourage “creativity, individual initiative, and interactive participation” (Linden Lab Inc. , 2008). Teen Life SL also has a network for teens (13-17 years of age), free of charge, where adults are not allowed to enter unless they have a special matter with teens such as educational projects. An adult who wants to enter Teen Life (TL), also known as Teen Grid, has to pass a security check through real checkup services.
Only after an approval an adult can enter TL, but solely to the project limits (Shalev, 2007). Much like the adult SL, TL is a world of endless possibilities and dreams, constant change, and virtual excitement; a place where teens can express themselves, be creative, and run a business without worrying about all the expenses involved. Capitalism “Linden Labs, the creator of Second Life, has welcomed the entrepreneurship inclinations of its community in two important ways” (Tiffany, 2007). One way is by implementing the currency in SL, Linden Dollars, which can be purchased with American Dollars; one dollar is worth 250 Linden Dollars.
Later on, members can convert their Linden Dollars by using their credit card at online currency exchanges. The second way SL has become an entrepreneurship instrument is through in-game design copyrights given to members. In SL this idea is called IP rights, and members are able to sell their creations as they wish. Every month, an estimated $2. 8 million (real US Dollars) worth of goods is being exchanged in SL (Dror, 2006). Members can create goods such as food and clothing, and even provide services to other players to gain money.
People can “open a nightclub, sell jewelry, become a land speculator; the choice is yours to make” (Second Life, n. d.). Land can be bought with real money, and the owner of the land has the freedom to decide who can build on the property and which items exist on it. In some islands, for example, it is possible to get money just for staying on them. Most of the activity in SL consists of shopping; members buy virtual objects, there are many incredible shopping malls and a variety of stores, but most businesses use their SL entity to promote sales of services and goods in the real world.
Real World Connection Many people decide to start up a business in SL in order to gain real dollars after an exchange from virtual money. Commercial businesses, media networks, and others take SL seriously. For example, CNN created a news desk, Reebok lets players to wear its shows for free, and Nissan lets members ride its cars. In 2006, Wells Fargo bought an Island. Wal-Mart and Intel designed a new business model, and have training classes in SL, as a way to save money (Wise Geek, n. d. ). Well-known brands, such as Coca-Cola, IBM, Sony, and BMW participate in SL.
Companies are setting up accounts hoping their customers will have a greater experience by trying their products before shopping for them online. Universities, media networks, and giant corporations build libraries, offices, and private centers, where they can have business meetings, seminars, and even a full day of work on SL (Shalev, 2006). The advantages of SL in the business world are enormous. SL is a friendly, multi-user simulation which supports decision making. Therefore, companies can test their products before making the decision to sell them in the real world.
The growing number of members in SL makes it easy and cost-effective for companies to gain access to a big market (not to mention a global one). In addition, companies buy islands for their own employees, build office buildings, and expect their staff to meet there. This method save money that otherwise be spent on flight tickets and hotel bills. A University of Utrecht research showed that “Dutch companies feel they have a strategic advantage on competitors. Also, they find themselves innovative and feel it gives them a better insight in the behavior and preferences of tomorrow’s customers” (Wilt, 2007).
Companies that utilize SL tighten the relationship with their customers; companies can let customers be engaged and involved with the business through SL experiences (create forums, parties, games, etc. ). Similarly, companies have started using SL to increase employees’ productivity. According to Linden Lab, “it would take a paid 4,100-person software team to do” what SL’s residents create in nearly 23,000 hours a day for free. Therefore, companies realized that people can be more productive when dealing with complex assignments within games – their workers will be having fun (Hof, 2006).
Gartner Inc. predicts that by 2011 80% of all internet users will have virtual life in one or more worlds. Moreover, 80% of the companies will have presence and activity in virtual worlds (2007). Gartner recommends companies to enter virtual worlds, but advise to do so carefully until the trend grows and matures: 1. “Virtual worlds are not games, but neither are they parallel universe. ” One should not condemn virtual worlds, but should not think sales will increase by 100%. 2. “Behind every avatar is a real person.
” Real people exist and form communities with inner rules, expectations, and acceptable and unacceptable behavior that one should know of, understand, and, most importantly, behave accordingly. 3. “Be relevance and add value. ” SL is a different platform, experience, and interaction. Therefore, the creativity and the making have to be different. Opportunities have to be utilized to form something new that will breakthrough. 4. “Understand and contain the downside. ” On the one hand, one should surprise and renovate.
On the other hand, one should remember there are also limitations to opportunities and results. 5. “This is a long haul. ” SL is a new idea that is developing and renovating itself all the time. One should keep an eye on changes, see how things develop, and find a way to integrate and gain from SL in the long run. As time goes by and technology improves, more people will have access to internet, and as such, to information. Virtual worlds are becoming more familiar to people and are being utilized not only for socializing and networking purposes, but also for virtualization in the workplace.
In addition, SL is very significant for enriching education experiences. SL encourages “constructive learning, virtual teamwork, and new media research, such as investigations into online identity” (Clark, 2008). Education SL has its own education system, and it emphasizes creativity. Initially, the system was financially supported by Linden Lab, which paid several hundreds of Linden Dollars to each instructor for each lecture. However, today, as in any Capitalistic governance, Linden Lab decided to stop subsidizing the education system (Shalev, 2006).
As SL became popular, members interested in education noticed the multimedia opportunities SL can offer for educational purposes. Within one year, 700 educators came together to form classes in SL. Today, Linden Lab encourages the initiative and offers educators free land for the duration of the class. The company has also decided to give discounted rates to purchase islands for education intentions and non-profit organization (Appel, 2006). SL has a high-school named “Kindly”, where different forms of Avatars exist, and anyone that enters the city limits has to take on a role of a student and speak appropriately.
The high-school has a wide playground and a big parking lot where the students can interact. The classes are empty, until one of the players, who takes on the role of a teacher, arrives. Some explain this experience as being in a Democratic school – one is free to choose whether to go to class or stay outside to socialize. Moreover, classes are offered 24 hours a day. The classrooms are designed by subject; a history class has ancient maps and a globe, and the chemistry class is designed as a lab.
In addition to a high-school campus, there is also a library, developed by Alliance Library Systems and OPAL, an International Spaceflight Museum, and GIPPSTAFE, a place where students and teachers create and run a virtual resort. “A main draw for educators in using SL is the improvement in interaction and expression when compared with programs such as distance-education courses” (Appel, 2006). In contrast to the distance-education programs people are use to these days, SL offers a 3-D teaching environment that makes a learning experience much more exciting for both students and teachers.
A Pennsylvania State University Doctor, Gloria Clark, decided to use SL to teach a virtual Spanish class to get her students experienced with the Spanish language, culture, and atmosphere. Her project revealed that her students were writing more than usual. One group in her class had designed Penn State T-shirts: “it has the Lion on the front and on the back it says, “Estudiar, Aprender, Vivir en Espanol”(Study, Learn, and Live in Spanish) Penn State Harrisburg”. Thanks to her efforts in SL, Gloria Clark has been invited to present workshops at other universities, as well as on SL (Clark, 2008).