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Trouble in Second Life

August 13, 2007 11:03 IST

Anuj, a resident of Second Life since November 2006, is angry. He recently bought a poker table for around 25,000 Linden dollars (around Rs 4,000) in this virtual world. But Linden Labs, which owns this virtual world, decided to ban gambling overnight. "My poker table is now useless. And I have not even been compensated," he says.

Anuj, whose name in Second Life is Clayton Dimsum, is just one of the nine million-odd residents of Second Life, a 3-D virtual world where members can buy and sell all kinds of goods and services.

A long queue of avatars (online identities of real world people, including Indians), for instance, is waiting for over a week to use the automatic-teller machines for Ginko Financial -- a virtual bank here, which has run out of money. Besides, in-game gambling was recently banned.

And, there was a theft of approximately $12,000 from the Second Life World Stock Exchange.

Created by Linden Labs of San Francisco, this world has an estimated 20,000 Indians too including the likes of Anirban Sen, creative director, McCann-Erickson (who goes by the name Dirk Kilby) and Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman, McCann Erickson, who is known as Dadur Turk.

Even corporates are enamoured with Second Life. Last October, Reuters opened a virtual news bureau inside the service. Companies like Dell and Sun hold press conferences here and build 3D websites where they can advertise and even sell products.

Cisco holds interactive seminars and IBM claims that more than 3,000 employees have participated in these virtual-world chats.

But now research and advisory firm Gartner says businesses should avoid this "uncontrolled virtual world" because it's full of security risks and fraud, can affect productivity and can adversely affect the brand and reputation of companies.

Is the situation beyond repair? Cornell B-school professor Robert Bloomfield (who tracks the Second Life Economy very closely), told Business Standard: "There will doubtless be more shocks to come. But Second Life is driven by subscribers' demands for virtual goods and real services, and those seem more likely to increase than decrease as more people come in."

Meanwhile, reacting to the ban on gambling, Zeus Zetkin, or the 26-year-old Siddharth Banerjee, CEO of Indusgeeks Solutions says, "Since gambling has been banned, the daily transactions have fallen from $1.8 million on an average to about $1.2 million.

"This shows that gambling formed about 30 per cent of the virtual economy and it has been impacted."

For Sameer aka Dickens, the gambling ban is "just a bunch of words Linden is using to cover its back in the face of the eventual lawsuit." Sonal aka Lily Coronet concurs: "This is a PR tactic to appease people who don't really understand how second life works." Design graduate Gina Rosario, or Jenny Bright, though, feels "the ban would not really affect the Indian population much. I used to play at Extreme Casino's free slot events and it was fun. Now, I'm selling things, and it's even more fun."

But some differ too. A Second Life resident Rahul Datta -- aka Rowl Electricteeth --, founder of VR1 opines: "I have no sympathy for casino operatorsÂ… if the government is banning online gambling, we should be law-abiding citizens and avoid these places."
Leslie D'monte & Priyanka Joshi in Mumbai