There can’t be many of us who, at some point in their Second Life, haven’t dreamed of making it big and raking in the mega bucks. I’m sure we’ve all imagined ourselves as potential property magnates, fashion icons or virtual Rockerfellers, although the percentage of SL residents who do succeed in making it big inworld in business is actually pretty tiny, with the vast majority who try only succeeding in making a modest profit, or fail to make anything at all.
The plain facts are that unless you’re incredibly fortunate, making it big in business in the virtual world can be just as difficult and labour intensive as making it big in the real world. The hours are long, overheads can be high, and at the end of the day, profit margins can be small. Most people who are in business inworld for fun will, at best, only come away with pocket money and at worst will see little or no return for their efforts and may well find themselves out of pocket.
There are those, of course, who do hit the big time and not only make SL a good source of income, but can even make a decent living from their virtual endeavours, however they are an elite few and most of us can only dream of such success.
However, as with any commercial venture, making money in SL is not without its attendant risks. Just as in RL, investments can go down, as well as up, markets are subject to fads and fashions, and there’s no cast iron guarantee that today’s money spinner is going to keep on putting food on the table in the future. Finance and commodities are subject to fluctuation even in a virtual world and those who stand to gain the most from their investments are also those who stand to make the greatest losses should fortune cease smiling upon them.
SL is perhaps a riskier environment than RL in this regard: The somewhat stratified nature of virtual commerce, coupled with what is essentially a closed market with a very small demographic can give the illusion that the SL money machine is stable, reliable and only subject to marginal fluctuations. Maybe that’s true to an extent, but the reality is that SL probably a far less reliable in terms of financial security than many high-risk RL strategies.
To begin with, the division of wealth is extremely top heavy – most residents have very little at their inworld disposal, with just an elite few who control the real wealth. Those few at the top are hugely disproportionate in terms of capital and numbers to the general populace. All it would take for financial chaos is for a relatively small number of the big cheeses to cash in, drop out, or crash and burn to seriously effect the whole financial infrastructure… Lose a couple of land barons, successful creators or gaming impresarios and the whole economy could slip into a downward spiral, with little that could be done to fix it.
Then there are the highly volatile market forces that govern what’s hot and what’s not. SL may seem to be a fairly static market, but creators and content suppliers have to stay alert to emerging trends and be prepared to jump on the virtual bandwagon – often requiring capital investment and re-skilling – if they are to remain competitive and not stagnate. The market moves quickly too… It wasn’t so long ago that every other commercial sim in SL was knee-deep in Meeroos; then suddenly it was talking plants, followed by those awful coloured horse things. The same is true of mesh body bits and fashion – as a creator, you snooze: You lose – not such a big deal if you’re just in it for the fun, but if your SL income is putting meals on the table, you really do need to keep your wits about you.
I think, just as in RL, there is also something of a misconception about the riches that can be made from SL. Virtual profit margins are tiny, particularly when you take into account exchange rates, and when you’re talking making just pennies/cents on a sale, you simply can’t afford to fall foul of the economy. With recent jitters on the Lindex, people have become increasingly concerned that what seemed to have been a pretty stable playing field is actually far more risky than they imagined… A unexpected drop of just L$25 in the buying price of lindens against the US dollar was sufficient to send shockwaves through the market and make people very nervous about the net worth of lindens in their accounts.
There are number of outside forces that can have a dramatic effect on the virtual economy too. Anything from a change in US tax law to fluctuations in the price of the dollar can create a tidal wave of problems for inworld investments, as can real world economics – when people have less disposable income, that disposable income isn’t going to be directed inworld and that in turn means those who rely on an inworld income to supplement or fund their RL existence are in double trouble. Real world economics can easily throw a high degree of uncertainty into the mix – sterling falling against the dollar as a result of Brexit could have all too real consequences for those creators in the UK, for example.
And what happens to the cash that leaves SL? Unlike real world markets, funds cashed out tend not to get re-invested, can’t be banked inworld and are essentially just a drain on the economy. Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and with the fate of SL constantly being debated in the wider metaverse and other platforms promising so much – whether factually accurate or not – we’re seeing a significant number of big players suggesting that they may cut their potential losses, take the money and run. This could, if it happened, be wholesale bad news for SL – I think it’s a storm the platform could weather, but it would create enormous instability in the process.
However, none of these things really bother me that much. I’m here, essentially, just for fun, and whilst I do occasionally dream of making it big, I know that the reality is that I just don’t have the balls, determination or time to do it – and it wouldn’t be half as much fun as I’m having now, so I think I’ll just remain cash poor and enjoy the alternative riches SL offers… fun, friendship and the occasional emotional high.
I’ve had enough of scheming and messing around with jerks
My car is parked outside, I’m afraid it doesn’t work
I’m looking for a partner, someone who gets things fixed
Ask yourself this question: Do you want to be rich?
Pet Shop Boys – Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)