Monday, November 21, 2005

Finding Second Life

Linden Lab has recently created a new program called "Second Life Surrealty", which gives new residents a home in Blumfield when they upgrade to a premium account. Blumfield is a fantastic rendition of the types of suburban neighborhoods that sprung to existence in the 1950s. It is appropriately being compared to Levittown, a planned suburban neighborhood created 30 miles from New York City between 1947 and 1951. William Levitt built affordable homes after WWII to address a local housing shortage as soldiers returned from war, stating, "We believe that every family in the United States is entitled to decent shelter." With a $10 down payment and $90 upon moving in, an American family could have the foundations for tackling the challenges of life. I grew up near Levittown, so upon hearing Linden Lab's announcement, I took a trip to Blumfield.

Blumfield, much like Levittown, provides new residents a place to call home as they begin to build a Second Life. New residents are given the choice to move into one of six different styles of homes (created by resident architects for a Linden sponsored contest) in neighborhoods filled with residents in the same stage of their new virtual lives. The 14 x 14 homes have either 2 or 3 rooms, and the one I was invited to visit had a cozy fireplace. I was lucky enough to run into a number of residents inhabiting Blumfield all extremely excited to have been offered the opportunity to move into a new home while they master the basic skills of Second Life. Each resident had a similar pre-Blumfield story, "I hung around 1 or 2 clubs, frequently trying to win their raffles" and like Rhinohorn Axon, who was learning how to texture by replacing his front door, felt very good about having a place to call home. Rhinohorn told me "I felt like a hobo and this gives me a sense of belonging. A sanctuary from which I can learn the basics" and then when asked if he will ever move out of Blumfield said "If I ever spend enough time to determine a way to make an income, I probably will."

When I asked new resident WhiteWulfe Hauptmann what his favorite thing about Blumfield was, he answered "just a place to call my own". While WhiteWulfe was waiting for the official move in notice, he was noticeably excited to have a place where he could learn more about creating content in Second Life. In anticipation of having a place to build he told me, "I can't wait until I can move and take on the offer to apprentice to build race engines, though." Another resident told me she was 3 weeks into Second Life, bored, and was thinking about leaving, when she was offered a place in Blumfield which "gives me something to do".

None of the residents I spoke with had heard of any resident efforts to create villages for new users, or really understood the new land program. These future land barons, content creators, animators, and game developers all appreciated the opportunity to have a place to call home while they learned what Second Life was all about. Retention is an important issue the world of Second Life faces. The more people who find an anchor, a place to learn the basics and develop the skills to make it in this virtual world, the larger the overall active population will become. With so much to see and do in an increasingly expanding and complex world, it's easy for new residents who do not have a specific goal to accomplish in SL to get lost in the Sea of Second Life. Blumfield is a really attractive place for new residents to learn the ropes, but after they find their niche, they will want to move into their own plots. Encouraging residents to stay and become active members of the Second Life economy creates a larger market for land sales and rentals, clothing, vehicles, games, and just about every other resident run business inside of Second Life. Diversity, customization, creation and a feeling of self are the defining qualities of Second Life and the homogeneous design of Blumfield will eventually drive these same residents to find other places across the grid to settle. But for now, they have a place to call home, a reason to return and "a sanctuary to learn the basics."

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