Computing Tips: My Virtual Life

Business Week: Virtual World, Real MoneySecond Life is one of the many so-called massively multiplayer online games that are booming in popularity these days. Because thousands of people can play at once, they’re fundamentally different from traditional computer games in which one or two people play on one PC. In these games, typified by the current No. 1 seller, World of Warcraft, from Vivendi Universal’s (V ) Blizzard Entertainment unit, players are actors such as warriors, miners, or hunters in an endless medieval-style quest for virtual gold and power.

In Second Life, Anshe Chung may be a computerized chimera, but the company she represents is far from imaginary. Second Life participants pay “Linden dollars,” the game’s currency, to rent or buy virtual homesteads from Chung so they have a place to build and show off their creations. But players can convert that play money into U.S. dollars, at about 300 to the real dollar, by using their credit card at online currency exchanges. Chung’s firm now has virtual land and currency holdings worth about $250,000 in real money.

To handle rampant growth, she just opened a 10-person studio and office in Wuhan, China. Says Chung’s owner, who prefers to keep her real name private to deter real-life intrusions: “This virtual role-playing economy is so strong that it now has to import skill and services from the real-world economy.”

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