Friday, October 23, 2009

An Avatar's Open Wallet

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, or Second, 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, 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?


Crystal said...

My youngest sister (14 years old) asked me create an avatar at You can earn points (money for stuff) by completing egg hunts, other quests, and buy purchasing them with real money. My sister and I are willing to spend $0 for any online world. She enjoys the egg hunts and "buys" her online stuff with the points earned from that.

Optioned Unarmed said...

Interesting blog post by the founder of micro-lending site, talking about a guy in Japan who made a lot of real money by creating an automated prostitute Avatar in Second Life and then later had to shut her down after the (real) U.S. real estate market crashed and the Avatar's business dried up.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the information great food for thought, its amazing how much we don't want to account for?

Anonymous said...

Bronx Chica...I used to have an avatar on and virtual laguna beach from money off contests and showing up to different events.

Anonymous said...

How truly pathetic... virtual spending. Ranks right up there with America's obsession with reality TV.

All I can say is get a "real" life.

Optioned Unarmed said...

Speaking of the crazy online second-life type phenomenon, there is a funny parody site called "Get A First Life"

Highest CD Rates said...

I have never spent real money on virtual world and i would never do that. It is worth less in my opinion.

Rachel said...

I had to take a class in Second Life in college in 2007. We had to create avatars, create art of some kind using Second Life as the medium, etc. It was fascinating. There were people in Second Life who worked 40 hour weeks as designers for avatar "clothing," and they made more actual US dollars doing that than they would have in an entry level position in the brick-and-mortar world. It was insane, but I figure if people can be that enterprising as to figure out a way to earn real money creating a virtual product, more power to them! :-)

Unknown said...

I can see the lure of it. Shopping would be so much easier - no worrying about fit, or feel, or whether you have room for it. You just have to like how it looks. And if you want to completely redesign your house/wardrobe, no problem!

That said, I don't know that I would spend real $ on virtual stuff. I would have to be a dedicated player, and even then I would probably only buy things that really added to my playing experience.