Why I quit Second Life…
August 5, 2018
Even though the platform is still active, currently Second Life is just a distant memory in the collective consciousness. Once upon a time it was the talk of the town, predicted to become bigger than Facebook, Twitter and Youtube combined, but as it often goes it did not last. Some time before the Second Life boom of late 2000 I was introduced to an online environment called There through a class on games I had taken in college. I don’t remember much from my time playing There, only that it was quite a lot of fun to stomp around in a virtual environment, but There was a bit limiting in what players could do, so it didn’t last long for me. It did however get me interested in that type of experience ultimately leading me to discover Second Life.
At first Second Life was all I could have ever asked for, it was immersive, escapist, creative and potentially profitable. It allowed me to basically create a perfect world around me and as an artist it made me as happy as a pig in… mud. There were of plenty of things to do for free, you could explore, interact with other players, TRY to earn some in world cash or claim some of the countless free items to have fun with. Being a non-paying member had its limits though, for instance you couldn’t own land and some of the coolest areas were purposely blocked for non-paying members. It wasn’t long until I got my first ever credit card followed by a monthly subscription to Second Life.
I had a lot of fun designing buildings, clothes, avatars, furniture and tools. Pretty soon I had enough original work to open up my own gallery where I would (try to) sell these items. Near the end I had a plot of land with an huge treehouse, a gallery with over a dozen original products and I even had a robot assistant working for me, welcoming customers and answering questions. It was pretty damn sweet.
The siren song of making money online
The main reason I put so much time into it and also the reason that SL grew to be very popular in a very short time was the in-game economy. By selling items or services one could earn Linden Dollars, an in-game currency that unlike the infamous wow-gold could easily and safely be exchanged for actual money. Many articles were written on the potential of this virtual economy and the millionaires it had produced. All the buzz surrounding SL attracted more players, which in turn attracted companies and organisations, the Linden Dollar was on fire. My initial goal, financially speaking, was to earn enough in-game money to at least pay for my monthly subscription. I didn’t even come close, at best my costs outweighed my benefits about 6 to 1, so nowhere near my goal and my chances of getting struck by lightning twice were higher than my chances of ever becoming an actual millionaire.
Apart from making and selling items there were other ways to make some money; for instance throughout the land there were so called ‘money trees’, a money tree is exactly what it sounds like, a tree with money. They were generally placed near establishments that wanted to draw more visitors, apparently the owners thought handing out free money was a great way to attract visitors and they were right. A couple times a day I would teleport from money tree to money tree to gather some free cash. On hindsight I think the electricity required to run my PC cost me more than the money trees made me, but nevertheless it was a lot of fun hunting down those Linden Dollars.
Virtual real estate was a big part of the SL economy, I dreamt of buying an entire island and decorating it to perfection, but alas that was unobtainable, costing hundreds of dollars a month, had I been wealthy I might’ve actually done it. Some people apparently were wealthy because they owned massive plots of virtual land, sometimes they would try and make money off of it by building and renting out apartments or exploiting huge casinos, but some would just build something pleasant for everybody to enjoy. I too dabbled in real estate, firstly to have a home in Second Life, secondly to have a place where I could make a buck by selling my wares. I would also buy small plots, fix them up as much as possible and the try to sell them again. I was basically flipping land and making a profit, but not nearly as much as I had hoped for. Buying land was also a great tool to frustrate the so called ‘ad farms’. Ad farms were small plots of land divided into even smaller plots of land, filled to the brim with billboards and other unsightly forms of advertisements. What I would do was buy one of those stamp-sized plots of land and then plant a huge tree on it, beautifying the place and obscuring all the bill-boards in the process. At one point there was even a movement within Second Life set up to do just that, because those ad-farms were a sore in many eyes.
Another way I tried to make some money was with what they called ‘camping’, which comes down to getting paid just to sit somewhere. You might ask why somebody would get paid just to sit around, but it’s easy; the more visitors a place had, the more popular it would become in the listings and rankings thus attracting even more people, so camping was more or less a marketing tool. One of my favourite places to camp was Galen’s casino, which was first located on a private island and later on a plateau somewhere in the hills. I’ve spent many hours there, camping. Sometimes I would just let the game run while I was out doing something else, normally players would be logged off automatically after being away from keyboard (AFK) for an extended period of time, but I managed to find an ‘anti-afk tool’ which enabled me to camp for hours on end. I actually made two friends in that casino that had the exact same strategy, most of the time it was just the three of us sitting at the slot machines, making money and talking shit.
All good things must come to an end
Which brings me to yet another way I tried to make money and that was gambling, there were hundreds of casinos spread throughout the world and I had about half a dozen favourites, some had quite generous pay-outs, others had glitchy machines and some were just randomly handing out money purely for the honour of your presence, it was awesome! The most money I ever made in Second Life was with gambling. Gambling was one of the biggest reasons SL took flight the way it did, but it was also the reason it crashed like it did. All the attention that Second Life had gotten throughout the months had made governments smell blood and it wasn’t long until gambling was banned throughout the game because there were several national governments that deemed it necessary to impose bans, rules and laws. The banning of gambling was the biggest cause of SL’s downfall, some casinos went underground, but most disappeared overnight. The damage their disappearance did to the economy was huge, entire island were sold off with huge losses. Places turned into ghost towns overnight, no more camping, no more money trees. Virtual tumble weeds everywhere.
Yet another aspect of the Linden economy were pyramid schemes, I remember participating in a very popular one myself. I bought and object shaped like a dollar sign for a small price and then I just placed copies of that object everywhere I could, whenever people bought it I would make a small amount back. It wasn’t my proudest moment, nor the most profitable, but I had fun doing it anyway.
Virtual sex was also quit an important aspect of living a second life, personally I did not partake in it because it was all just a bit too silly for me. I did however outfit my avatar with a huge adjustable cock attachment because… well because I could. At times while exploring various areas you’d walk into the weirdest scenes, with S&M, trannies, orgies and so forth. The media had gotten wind of this online sexual depravity and dug around pretty thoroughly eventually resulting in the discovery of what was called ‘age play’. This involved people dressing their avatars up as children and engaging in acts of virtual sex. In order to play Second Life one had to be 18 years or older, so it was safe to assume there weren’t any actual children involved, but the media and governments were quick to label it as child pornography and thus ‘age play’ was banned. In the many hours I’ve spent in SL I’ve never actually run into any age play, so I’m inclined to believe it was a very small number of players that actually engaged in it and the media had to actively look for it. Regardless, the controversy caused a lot of damage to the image and economy of Second Life and a lot of real life companies withdrew from Second Life.
When even your Second Life becomes a letdown
So companies moved out, casinos shut down, thousands of players retired, SL went into a downward spiral and making some serious money was beginning to become impossible, effectively making it a waste of time (financialy speaking). What really killed it for me however, more than anything else, was the engine that SL used. At one point my PC was top notch, enabling me to run some pretty heavy applications and games, but Second Life never ran without issues. Despite my high-end PC and fast internet I was constantly waiting for environments to load, tolerating the lag and working around the many (MANY) bugs and glitches that plagued my user experience. After tolerating it for a couple of years in hopes of improvement I finally gave up on it and decided to turn my attention elsewhere, Second Life was no longer worth my time and money.
Every once in a while I reminisce on my time in Second Life and wonder if I should give it another go, but honestly, time is precious and I really can’t see myself pissing away hours upon hours on SL at this point in my life. Maybe, if the technology driving that environment improves dramatically and the economy picks up again I might be tempted to give it another try, but for now I’m happy remembering Second Life as far away place I lived in once.