Et in Arcadia ego

Back when I first started writing about Second Life I identified what I thought was the main factor limiting the potential for growth in the virtual economy, which was that residents could exist indefinitely without having to spend anything at all. Avatars never needed to eat or drink, clothes never wore out, and buying or renting a place to stay was entirely optional. Only two things were really driving commerce – discretionary purchase of fashion items and adult-themed entertainment – and this wasn’t broad enough to support more than a handful of businesses. The former suffered due to over-supply, poor quality and a limited customer base, and the latter had to compete with a large population of amateurs willing to give the product away for free.

I should perhaps have realised that this was a potentially valuable insight. Mars Braken, of Liquid Designs, the company behind SL vampire phenomenon “Bloodlines” was evidently thinking along the same lines, but unlike me he has figured out a way of turning the idea into cash.

Beneath all the pseudo-gothic jargon of the blood-sucking RPG lies a simple concept – players have a limited and decaying supply of a substance (“Sacred Blood” in this case, though it could be “hit points”, or “lifeforce”, or whatever) which they must constantly replenish, for if it falls to zero they will be expelled from the game. It’s possible to obtain free blood by soliciting donations from other residents, but this is slow and inefficient, thus creating a market in traded blood, over the supply of which Liquid Designs hold a monopoly (for the time being anyhow – no doubt we will soon be reading stories about how Chinese peasants are scraping a living collecting virtual blood to sell to western vampires).

The game has become popular enough to generate six-figure US$ revenues for Liquid Designs, according to New World Notes. It has also unleashed a plague of inconsiderate leeches, who are annoying the hell out of the normal population with their indiscriminate exsanguination.

There is probably an analogy to be drawn here with the operation of modern capitalism. Corporations play upon our insecurities to convince us that our social status depends on purchase of their products, and we fill their coffers trying to satisfy a need that we never even knew we had. I’ll just note the irony in the fact that “Bloodlines” players, in seeking to emulate creatures that never die, are voluntarily relenquishing the prelapsarian immortality that their avatars naturally possess.

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