A View from Brad King

Media Outlets Turn On to Second Life

With visitors to virtual worlds growing, media outlets looking to stay relevant have set up shop in role-playing games.

  • October 18, 2006

Two years ago, I was chatting with two executives from Austin’s NCSoft game-development studio. My writing partner and I had just finished our book on virtual worlds, and being a journalist, I found a bevy of thoughts floating around in my head about merging real-world and virtual-world news to create an in-game news organization.

We kicked around the idea during some downtime at the E3 game convention, but ultimately, we couldn’t figure out a solid enough business plan that would make a game company want to invest. After all, developers are in business to make games, not news.

Jump forward a few years. Second Life, Linden Labs’ wildly successful persistent online world, has created a platform that has attracted the attention of several media companies, each hoping to stake a claim delivering news in a virtual world.

Starting tomorrow, Reuters announced, it would open up a virtual-news bureau in Second Life:

Reuters plans to begin publishing text, photo and video news from the outside world for Second Life members and news of Second Life for real world readers who visit a Reuters news site.

Reuters, though, isn’t the first to make this leap. The company joins CNET, Wired, and BBC Radio–among others–in Second Life. The reason: the growing player base gives news organizations a captive audience that has proven that it will devour anything digital.

From the Business Week article:

As the virtual world grows up in the coming 12 months, it’s only going to get more attractive to companies that want to send a multimedia message. “Everyone’s been searching for the killer broadband offering, and this is it,” says Justin Bovington, CEO of Rivers Run Red, which helps companies like BBC Radio One create events and design buildings inside Second Life.

It doesn’t hurt that virtual worlds have spawned a variety of real-world economies. Players buy and sell everything from in-game weapons to real estate, which helps others leapfrog game levels without putting in the countless hours that can drag down online adventures.

These economies have gotten so popular–aided in no small part by Indiana University professor Edward Castronova’s research–that lawyers and accountants are beginning to examine exactly how these virtual transactions, which translate into real dollars, should be taxed.

It’s no wonder that there is a shift toward these virtual worlds, with media outlets facing declining audience numbers, profit margins always thinning, and a new economy springing out of, well, nowhere.

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