At http://www.secondlife.com — where the cost is $6 a month for premium citizenship — shopping, at least for real-world products, isn’t a main activity. Four years after Second Life debuted, some marketers are second-guessing the money and time they’ve put into it.
“There’s not a compelling reason to stay,” said Brian McGuinness, vice president of Aloft, a brand of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. that is closing its Second Life shop and donating its virtual land to the nonprofit social-networking group TakingITGlobal.
For some advertisers, the problem is that Second Life is a fantasyland, and the representations of the people who play in it don’t have human needs. Food and drink aren’t necessary, teleporting is the easiest way to get around and clothing is optional. In fact, the human form itself is optional.
Their interests seem to tend toward the risque. Ian Schafer, chief executive of online marketing firm Deep Focus, which advises clients about entering virtual worlds, said he recently toured Second Life. He started at the Aloft hotel and found it empty. He moved on to casinos, brothels and strip clubs, and they were packed. Schafer said he found in his research that “one of the most frequently purchased items in Second Life is genitalia.”
Another problem for some is that Second Life doesn’t have enough active residents.
On its website, Second Life says the number of total residents is more than 8 million. But that counts people who signed in once and never returned, as well as multiple avatars for individual residents. Even at peak times, only about 30,000 to 40,000 users are logged on, said Brian Haven, an analyst with Forrester Research.
Others just want to access a larger community than Second Life offers. Between May and June, the population of active avatars declined 2.5%, and the volume of U.S. money exchanged within the world fell from a high of $7.3 million in March to $6.8 million in June.