Cashed-up avatars pay out in real life

Artists are making real life money from participating in the digital world of Second Life.
Cashed-up avatars pay out in real life

Artists are making real life money from participating in the digital world of  Second Life.

A bustling urban arts region with hundreds of galleries and numerous curators, practitioners and visitors is only a few clicks away. It’s an online 3D virtual platform called Second Life with more than one million residents, some of whom are active and profiting artists. But how can an artist make money from a game?

Firstly, according to its many avid participants Second Life is not a game, it’s a metaverse, a digital world designed and built by users. People can create avatars, get jobs, start businesses, make friends and lead completely alternate lives. In essence, it’s another platform of reality.

Secondly, unlike other multi-player platforms where in-world money has no official value, the currency you make in Second Life can be exchanged for real cash through an inbuilt program called LindeX.

Second Life was released in 2003 by Linden Lab, a digital entertainment company in San Francisco. It’s free to download and join, but if you want to own land you need to pay a monthly subscription. Once in the system you need in-world money, known as Linden dollars (L$), to buy products and services. To get Lindens you can either exchange real life money or find a way to make money on the inside. This is where opportunities for artists emerge.

How can I make art in Second Life?

The system has a variety of in-world tools that can help an artist create or import work.

Embedded building and scripting tools allow artists to create multi-dimensional works incorporating sound, 3-D sculpting and motion. 2D and 3D works can be displayed in virtual landscapes and gallery spaces.

Real life images can be converted into ‘textures’ and applied to in-world objects and then sold. This allows for avatar fashion lines and other modified in-world objects.

Digital photos and designs can be converted into a Second Life-compatible format and imported into the Second Life servers. Real life photographic work, paintings and illustrations can then be uploaded into frames and hung in Second Life galleries and homes.

The platform also supports streaming media, enabling audio or video broadcasts. This allows for live or prerecorded performances in a variety of virtual settings.

How can I exhibit my work?

Zayn Till is owner and founder of The Raglan Shire sims (simulated spaces) and The Raglan Shire Artwalk, which is one of the largest annual displays of art in Second Life with over 150 artists exhibiting 2D and 3D works. He believes that artists can find success if they become involved in the community in a way that mirrors real life. ‘There are many ways to do it from joining art based groups and communities to displaying at exhibitions like our Artwalk to renting your own space for a small amount and having your own gallery.’

Jeffrey Lipsky, a Boston-based artist who works under the avatar Filthy Fluno, has been able to make a career as an artist through Second Life. He was an early adopter of the platform and has had hundreds of people attend his exhibitions.

‘SL (Second Life) gives me an amazing platform to connect with a huge diverse audience who love and buy art. … It’s very very very much cheaper than travelling by plane or train to get your artwork in front of international audiences,’ says Lipsky.

How can I sell my work?

A popular way to sell art in Second Life is to offer ink-jet copies available for download.

It’s up to you to set the price, but L$50-L$199 appears to be a common charge.

You can also direct people to an external site if you want to sell things in real life.

All you need to do is attach linked information and prices to your work with ‘notecards’. These are pop-up artist statements that give information about you and your art.

Lipsky believes that it can often be more profitable to do art transactions with Linden dollars rather than redirecting out of the platform. He says, ‘I think people still feel that it’s "play" money if it’s in the "virtual world," and will spend $10,000 Lindens on something they can have both in their RL (real life) home and SL home.’  

However, for greater amounts he tends to use the virtual platform as an exhibition space that links out to a real world transaction. ‘You can do all the show and tell of your artwork, then do the final sale with Paypal directly. I have done this for transactions over $500.’  

Aside from exhibiting solo you can also choose to enter your work into Second Life art events, such as the Raglan Shire Artwalk. Till says, ‘Most artists set their works out for sale so that copies can be purchased. If you sell enough (sales are in Second Life’s Linden dollar) you can eventually cash out to real life money. It might not be a lot but it can add up.’

There are also art competitions with Linden dollar prizes. Currently the Art Garden Gallery Dreams of Summer competition is running through June 2013 with entries closing 28 May. This is offering a 10,000 Linden dollar prize.

People who use the streaming software can set up performances and concerts with options for profit via a tip jar and admission fee. Merchandise sales can be in-world objects for avatars or real life products available from an external site.


How much is my virtual money really worth?

Now you’re all excited about becoming virtual art moguls it’s time for the bad news. How much is a Linden Dollar actually worth? Not that much:about L$257 to one AU dollar.

Exchange can only be made when you have earned the equivalent of around $AU150. Once exchanged, the funds are deposited directly into your bank account.

Lipsky is a fan of in-world exchange. ‘Doing the sales transaction using Lindens is great on a few levels. First, it allows for easy international sales. You pay Linden Labs and Paypal a fee every time you transfer your money from L$'s to USD via Paypal, but these fees are worth it for the convenience factor.’

Trading limitations are imposed on users depending on level. New residents can’t sell Lindens until after the first month. After this term they can they exchange them for a maximum of around $AU300 per month. When they reach the highest residential level they can sell Linden’s amounting to around $AU5000 per month. It’s quite a jump for business owners, who can sell Lindens worth up to around $AU320,000 per month.


Is it worth it?

Anshe Chung made the cover of Business Week in 2006 when she became the first Second Life millionaire through savvy real-estate dealings. Yet this was leading up to the very busy 2007-2008 years of Second Life. These days earnings are less dramatic and most people rarely export money out of the game.

But there are still clear benefits to exhibiting work in Second Life. One possibility is to sync Second Life art openings with real-life ones. The real life opening can be streamed in real time expanding your audience base.

Another is to use Second Life for networking and collaboration. The platform is set up with instant messaging technology and is the perfect forum to find likeminded artists.

The virtual platform can also inform new products. Fabjectory, creates avatar statuettes and, creates oil paintings of virtual scenes.

It can also inspire new ways of creating art. Lipsky says, ‘I think SL has expanded my creativity and exposed me to some amazing virtual design and inspirational people! My avatar, Filthy Fluno, has a very urban prophet, rough & tumble, fun-loving way about him...that manifests in my compositions and how I approach using my materials.’

Till has also expanded out from the platform by setting up an entertainment production company called Jazz Paws, based on the tiny avatars from his sim world.

Second Life can be used as a highly-effective promotional tool. It only takes one click to be taken out of the platform and redirected to your professional website.

Till says, ‘Overall it only creates more interest in art in general and again is a great opportunity for an artist to be seen, which from a marketing standpoint is what every artist wants. More exposure. It's a win win situation for ART and the ARTIST. :)’

Melanie Sano

Friday 17 May, 2013

About the author

Melanie Sano is an ArtsHub writer.