Thursday, July 27

Real giving in virtual worlds

Business Week ran a cover story back in late April describing how a company named Linden Labs revolutionized online mixed reality gaming in November 2003 when it "allowed Second Life residents to retain full ownership of their virtual creations." By using property rights, users had an financial incentive to spend real money on virtual stuff in order to earn virtual dollars that can be converted back to real money.

Second Life participants pay "Linden dollars," the games 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.
Some entrepreneurs have already begun to make the early stages of significant revenue and many others are following. The article highlights an example of a 35 workers who designs computer animation graphics.
"When two avatars click on a little ball in which he embeds the automated animation program, they dance or cuddle together. They take up to a month to create. But they're so popular, especially with women, that every day he sells more than 300 copies of them at $1 or less apiece. He hopes the $1,900 a week that he clears will help pay off his mortgage."

The economy and marketplace is extensive. But it will continue to grow with new commercial uses. Established corporate giants like Wal-Mart and American Express are still trying to build a presence in this expanding commercial landscape. So, it's no surprise that fundraisers quickly found themselves buzzing about the ability to convert real life nonprofit missions into Linden dollars into to raise lots of Linden Dollars through donations finally to convert the currency back for real dollars as a donation to a real life charity.

The American Cancer Society launch their own Second Life fundraising event titled,"Second Life Relay for Life." According to the onPhilanthrophy, the ACS event raised $38,000 and has already raise the interest from other nonprofits. The onPhilathropy piece also brings up some of the other implications for groups that are first to arrive on the scene and raise money this way. There is not a big leap from doing community walks to employing people to run direct mail and telemarketing programs for national appeal charities.

This was covered quite well recently on the NPMarketing Blog.

The obvious question that follows each conversion about these mixed reality communities like Friendster, FaceBook, and My Space. Is it a trend? Will is endure as a viable commercial space? Will donors react well to what may very well be the next frontier of fundraising?

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