Entire article here:
The Ponzi Scheme Epiphany
As we scratched our heads trying to figure out if there weren’t a more clever way of disguising our trades, or perhaps creating our own in-game banks and exchanges in order to arbitrage the other direction, it suddenly dawned upon me.
This game was just a pyramid scheme.
SecondLife is not a dramatic taste of our future, in which markets are virtual, currency is free from government control, taxes are non-existent, and normal people can become real millionaires simply by clicking their mouse a few times.
SecondLife isn’t even a simple virtual economy, with legitimate buying and selling, and opportunity for those who would compete.
No, SecondLife is a classic pyramid scheme. Or, more of an Amway-like pyramid: partially legitimate, partially ponzi. Sure, there are plenty of legitimate SecondLife customers who just like to go there to get their kicks, spend a couple dollars, and be on their way.
But, the buzz isn’t that Joe Sixpack can sit at his computer and gamble a little before bed with a smashingly attractive avatar. The buzz is that Anshe and others are making real millions. And a short visit to the world of SecondLife will reveal the frighteningly large portion of residents who “know someone who makes his or her living” doing something in SecondLife. Just the other night I had an interesting conversation with someone claiming to be a single mom of three, who spends her days turning virtual tricks and arranging for E-Bay payments through SecondLife L$. She didn’t seem to have any idea why her mysterious benefactor would pay her a commission to simply arrange PayPal transfers. More cynically intelligent readers will immediately recognize these transactions for what they are.
Again, the fact that tax evasion, organized crime and money laundering exist in the virtual world doesn’t distress me all that much; these things exist in the real world, and have for a pretty long time. The distressing part is what this single mom said later; the same thing one will hear over and over from SecondLife residents: she was just doing the cybersex and E-Bay stuff to fund her virtual jewelry store. She was a jewelry designer, and had already opened a little shop in a virtual mall. And, to her amazement, she’d already made over L$50,000 after only a month (about $185 USD). I didn’t bother to point out that she hadn’t counted her expenses for renting her virtual shop or accounted for taxes, let alone the fact that she was earning less than 1/100th of what she could get just flipping burgers in the real world.
And that’s the story of SecondLife. Like the paid promotion infomercials that run on CNBC, sadly SecondLife is a giant magnet for the desperate, uninformed, easily victimized. Its promises of wealth readily ensnare those who can least afford to lose their money or lives to such scam in exactly the same way that real estate investor seminars convince divorcees with low FICO scores to buy houses sight unseen with no money down.
Even some corporations have dedicated marketing budgets to creating a presence in SecondLife. While few will shed a tear for the frivolousness of these companies’ spending, such adds a false legitimacy to SecondLife. Interestingly, no legitimate, real world corporation has earned net profit from SecondLife activities.
That’s because there are but a very tiny handful that profit off of the SecondLife economy. A handful of casino owners, large scale virtual land flippers, and brothel owners are responsible for nearly all of the real money extracted from the game. And they continue to attract new recruits to the bottom of the pyramid.
After all, Anshe Chung herself started out as a virtual whore, so you too can become a SecondLife millionaire, right?