Second Life is a massive, multi-player online “game,” only it isn’t a game; its living your life precariously through your computer. Does that sound dumb? It is.
I’m an avid gamer. When I play a game, I play with one intent: to beat the game. In World of Warcraft (arguably my own double life), there isn’t an end to speak of, but there are still in-game achievements. I log in to get better gear, to explore new instances (dungeons), or fight against other players (PVP). There is a social aspect as well. My friends and guild mates on WoW have bonded through the game’s experiences. We are all playing to get to the next level, get that uber-weapon, or obtain a higher PVP rank. I’m playing with a purpose and there is a method to my digital madness.
Second Life does not have goals. You wander around with no real reason to do anything. There is no next level, and no purpose. Why aimlessly wander around in a poorly rendered, often laggy version of your real life? The non-virtual reality is people don’t want to. Second Life can’t get people to log on for more than 12 minutes a month. Those 12 minutes a month are the average, and not the median. That means there are a bunch of people that log in for about 30 seconds and a few outliers that log in for the duration of the month that inflate the amount of time spent in game. I would fathom a guess that those outliers are people working for Second Life.
Another difference is virtual economy. In WoW, you earn gold by completing quests. This gold is used to make your character better – hence the reason to continue playing; virtual gold earned to buy virtual property. In Second Life, you pay someone real money (read: U.S. dollars) and get virtual money to buy virtual property; money earned in your real life is used to buy virtual property. To put this in perspective, when you give someone money at Chuck E. Cheese you at least get tokens that represent wasted money. In Second Life, your money is just gone. You’re not getting it back, unless you sell it to someone. The economy also suffers from inflation. In the real world, each country has a finite supply of money, hence its value. It’s supply and demand; a limited supply of dollars keeps its value a constant. If the market were suddenly flooded with $100 billion, you’d keep a supply of it in your bathroom because toilet paper would be worth more. Since there is an unlimited supply of money in Second Life, the more people that buy into the game, the more inflated prices will become and the more Linden Dollars (Second Life currency) will be needed to buy property. Your money depreciates every time a person “invests” in Second Life dollars. A search for Linden Dollars on eBay reveals that no one has an interest in pissing actual money away on virtually (and literally) worthless currency. The exchange rate for U.S. Dollars to Linden Dollars is about $45 to 10,000. Unfortunately, to go from Linden Dollars to U.S. dollars is about 5 billion to less than 1 cent. You’re stuck with your worthless currency. Sounds like the communist Soviet Union in the 1980’s, doesn’t it?
So why is there hype for this new virtual space? There is potential for having a virtual community. People can make contacts and friends, learn about new things or spend money. Absolutely anything can be created in this world; imagine having a 3-D Amazon.com, but Second Life’s pay to play model isn’t going to work. As with newspapers and subscription sites (ever hear of classmates.com?), Internet users will not pay for something they can essentially get for free (more traditional social networks, such as Facebook or Myspace, are a lot easier to use too). Faster computers and Internet connection speeds are also needed to make this world more accessible. Second Life software is horrible to look at and runs extremely slow. If Second Life, or similar program, could be played right in your web browser it would probably be a hit. I think that downloading and installing a very large program is beyond the capabilities of a lot of people.
There are many reasons people play MMORPGS, most of them being an escape from the tedium of day-to-day activities (i.e. work and school). In an MMORPG, you have spells and can kill bad guys. In Second Life, well, you can try to earn stuff by working – exactly like you do from 9 to 5. And in this second 9 to 5 grind, you will never be able to translate your efforts in cash. Instead, you will regret blowing your money and wish you would have listened to me.