Second Life, the online video game in which players lead another life, is attracting big business. Technology companies like IBM and Cisco Systems are investing time and money to create an environment for their employees and potential customers.
With 1.6 million players from all over the world, Second Life represents a sizable target audience of tech-savvy individuals. The game has been around for four years, enticing players with a three-dimensional online universe that mimics real life in many ways. Players get virtual jobs to earn credit so they can buy things like new clothes and furniture. There are a lot of small, virtual businesses in Second Life. But it’s only recently that major corporations have taken notice of the marketing and training opportunities provided by this virtual world.
IBM, for example, recently purchased ten islands on Second Life. “Of course, we hope to attract early adopters,” says Ian Hughes, the so-called IBM metaverse evangelist who first suggested that the company buy property in Second Life. “But mostly, these islands are for fellow IBM employees.”
Hughes says that IBM, with its worldwide operations, needs a chat medium with which employees can confer with one another. While instant-messaging programs and video conferencing have been available for many years, Hughes says the creative freedom offered by Second Life has not. Software programmers often go into the Second Life world and outline their projects in a three-dimensional format. Some of the programmers’ work is done in their private Second Life facilities, but much of it is open to the public. Ultimately, IBM hopes to lower programmers’ travel expenses by conducting meetings and training sessions at the Second Life islands.
Second Life is also a great way for employees to socialize. “It’s like what golf used to be,” says Hughes.