I continue to be fascinated by the economy of virtual worlds. There are many virtual worlds which I have participated in (lived in?) where there were some exchanges between those economies and real US dollars. I remember the first time I saw someone selling 100,000 gleepglops in Star Wars Galaxies on eBay and bids showing up for $100′s of US Dollars and me being amazed that someone would pay that much. Keep in mind that was without the seller throwing in level 20 wookie trained banthas.
When I was first introduced to Second Life (a little late in the game) the thing that impressed me the most, and continues to impress me, was the incredible ease of exchange between Linden Dollars and US Dollars. This was the next logical step, why not control the economy and make a profit in the exchange? Brilliant!! For those that don’t know, there is a system to draft US money directly from a credit card while in game/world to purchases Linden Dollars. It’s all highly automated and doesn’t take away from the experience at all. There is even an exchange rates page on the Second Life web site.
So today, as I was paying $1700 US for 16 acres of virtual land (the going rate for a private island) I was forwarded an email about the “first” virtual world millionaire. Yeah, millionaire. Apparently Anshe Chung (1st L – Ailin Graef) is reportedly the first person to have a virtual fortune worth the equivalent of 1 million US Dollars. She allegedly gained this fortune from an initial investment of $9.95 US. Through the acquisition and reselling of land, goods and services through multiple accounts (not sure how many) she has a Second Life empire under her control. I was amazed at this until I realized that I was about to push “submit” on my order for my own virtual island. It makes sense that if land is at a premium, then amassing and reselling land could make you a lot of money.
If you were wondering, like I was, why an island costs so much and why more land isn’t available (that would help drive down the cost) here is the answer: It turns out that currently each server run by Linden Labs is capable of running around 16 acres of virtual world, or 1 island. So, in that context $1700, while steep, isn’t all that bad for a dedicated server (the monthly maintenance is on par as well) and they aren’t able to get new servers online as fast as the demand. It takes 550 servers just to run the 36 square miles of property Anshe Chung owns alone (according to her press release).