Here's an interesting concept: spending virtual dollars to live an online live that is much more luxurious than your real one: No Budget, No Boundaries: It’s the Real You
It may be raining pink slips, and some people may be hard-pressed to make the rent, much less splash out on a pagoda-shoulder jacket from Balmain, but Vixie Rayna is hardly feeling the pinch. Not a month goes by in which she isn’t spending as much as $50,000 on housing, furniture or her special weakness: multistrap platform sandals, tricked out in feathers and beads.
Recession or no, Ms. Rayna isn’t reining in her fantasies, or her expenditures — at least not in the virtual world. In a simulated universe like There.com, IMVU.com or Second Life.com, the granddaddy of avatar-driven social networking sites, Ms. Rayna, an avatar on Second Life, and her free-spending cohort can quaff Champagne, teleport to private islands and splurge on luxury brands that are the cyber equivalent of Prada waders or a Rolex watch. Real-world consumers may have snapped shut their wallets. But in these lavishly appointed realms it is still 2007, and conspicuous consumption is all the rage.
All this is not to say that online spending is purely virtual: people spend real money on this, albeit not as much as these things would cost in real life:
In most virtual worlds, memberships are free, but players trade real money for virtual currencies, used to buy products, save up in an account or eventually redeem for real money. About 70,000 Therebucks on There.com, or 10,000 Lindens in Second Life, each about $40, can buy a choice of simulated wares, from several pairs of thigh-high boots to a plot of land. What’s more, as Mr. Wilson pointed out: “Everything fits; things don’t wear out. The virtual world represents a different value proposition.”
In their day-to-day lives, shoppers like Mandy Cocke, Vixie Rayna’s real-life alter ego, have sharply trimmed their spending. When times were flush, Ms. Cocke, a nurse in Virginia, parted with as much as $1,000 a month on designer shoes and clothing. Lately, though, “pretty much every possible expense makes me ask, ‘Do I really need this?’ ” she said.
But online, their acquisitive lust rages unabated, fueling a robust economy driven mostly by avatar-to-avatar transactions estimated at between $1 billion and $2 billion a year in real dollars. Second Life, the most successful and most familiar of such sites, does not disclose retail revenues. But it reported a 94 percent surge in its overall economy in this year’s second quarter over the same period a year ago.
I've never tried out Second Life and don't really have any desire to, but this has made me very curious about it! What fascinates me is that if these online avatar worlds are booming exactly when the rest of the economy is tanking, it has to be because people need to spend less money in order to buy an equal or greater feeling of spending money! Some people just enjoy the idea of spending money and having stuff, even if it's totally imaginary. They'd rather spend $50 a month on the equivalent of $20,000 worth of virtual clothes than $50 worth of real clothes. Personally, I don't get this, especially with clothing-- to me, half the pleasure of good quality, expensive clothes is how they feel against your skin, not just how they look. If you're just seeing something in pixels, the whole concept of a high-end brand vs. a knockoff is totally meaningless.
Readers, I'd love to hear comments from you if you've tried this-- how much money are you willing to spend on an online avatar as opposed to your real self?