Unrewarded talent

In a thread over at Metaversally Speaking headed (surely ironically) “Entitlement”, various luminaries of the SL fashion scene muse once again on the inexplicable reluctance of the public to pay more than token sums for their virtual creations. The problem is identified as an unwarranted sense of “entitlement” among consumers, who fail to recognise the importance of rewarding creative types handsomely, lest they take their talents elsewhere. Freebie culture is the villain of the piece; the remedies suggested include a price-fixing fashionista cartel, and state (or Linden) intervention to maintain price stability. (Regular readers will recall that I have my own theory about the determinants of value in SL; if you don’t like that one then I’ve got another).

I might find all this a little less ridiculous if I believed that the distressed designers were the sort to visit their local farmers’ market rather than Wal-Mart, drink nothing but fair-trade coffee, and make sure that their clothes don’t come from sweatshops. Maybe they are, but I can’t help thinking that the these virtual entrepreneurs are more likely to be the type who worship the free-market (except of course when it works against their interests).

There is also some irony in the fact that virtual worlds like Second Life could never have come into existence without the collapse in hardware costs over the last decade, which in turn has depended on wholesale exploitation of workers in developing countries. If the SL fashion crowd want to know about being inadequately rewarded for their labour they should talk to the people who inhale toxic fumes in Chinese factories while producing the cheap computers, routers and flat screens that we in the west feel “entitled” to.

It all raises the question of why people are getting so bothered about something that seems fairly inconsequential. The figures from the Lindens, backed up by a survey reported in the Herald last week, show that only a very few people are earning more than a pittance from virtual commerce, so it’s not as if anyone’s livelihood is at stake.

What is at stake is self-image. Are you really a fashion designer, or are you just playing the part of one in a game? If you’re happy to accept that it’s all just role-play, then the in-game pay-off of L$ and attention from other players will be reward enough. If however part of your real-life identity is invested in your virtual activity, then you will want something more tangible, like crisp US$ bills, that you can show to your friends to convince them, and of course yourself, that your Second Life status is actually worth something in the world beyond the SL blogosphere.

When the material recognition of your virtual talent is unforthcoming, as it generally is, you have two choices – you can get angry with the world for failing to give you due respect, or, more productively, you can reassess your goals, ask yourself if it’s really worth getting so bothered about a game, and redirect your energy into something that is more likely to make you happy.

3 Responses to Unrewarded talent

  1. When you day “only a very few people are earning more than a pittance from virtual commerce,” I suggest that this is actually true if you take the word “virtual” and replace it with “world.” And I’d hazard a guess that if you could get the actual data about who’s earning what (which I think will be difficult because not everyone wants to say what they earn in Second Life) you’d find a distribution similar to the real world – a few make a lot.

    There’s two points I’d like to contribute to the discussion. The first is that the Second Life economy has similar characteristics to the real world and goods follow the regular laws of supply and demand. Folks make stuff; folks buy stuff – or not. Those who make stuff that people want and will pay for survive to continue; those who make stuff folks don’t want or won’t pay for go to the wall. Or change their business model.

    This is just regular market forces, albeit in a virtual environment. I don’t know if you checked out my article for SLentrepreneur Magazine, What Drives the Purchasing of Virtual Goods, but there’s a nice list of reasons why folks buy virtual goods based on some research by Vili Lehdonvirta, which turns out to be little different from real world buying preferences.

    The second point is that “value” is always in the eye of the beholder. The problem that hits most folks within the Second Life environment relates to the psychological notion of “anchoring.” As you will be aware (but some of your readers may not be familiar with the jargon) we make comparisons based on our own cognitive structures that act as an “anchor.” In the UK, if you drink at 18, you are considered a regular person; if you do the same in the US, you are a criminal and have to undergo counseling for alcohol abuse. Wach country has a different anchor point.

    This extends to virtual goods both within and between worlds. On the “between worlds” side, there’s the perception that anyone who would spend hours creating shirts that sell for 30 cents would have to be crazy, even if they took home $50 US per month. But that judgment is colored by the anchor of price/earnings in the real world. The SL resident who makes $100 that in turn covers tier fees, rentals, in-world spending AND leaves a little for the PayPal account may well see lots of “value” in what they do.

    So, the talk about “entitlement” is a red herring in that no-one is actually
    “entitled” to anything – in the real or virtual world! It’s not enough to make “good clothes” or even spectacular ones; unfortunately the market will decide what it’s worth. This is the same phenomenon I see with self-published writers (I do some work review manuscript submissions for a publishing company) – they think that because they have written a novel, they should be published. And then if the publishers cannot “recognize their talent,” they turn to self publishing. They assume “entitlement” but neither have it nor deserve it.

    OK, just wanted to add to the discussion 😉

    • johnny4sls says:

      I think that this discussion is the latest chapter in the “Immersion” vs “Augmentation” debate. When I first signed up for SL I leaned towards the augmentation camp, but my experience on the grid in the last couple of years has more or less convinced me that an immersive viewpoint is the only one that makes any sense. “Work” in the virtual world can be a fullfilling experience in terms of creative expression and social interaction, but as soon as you start to look at it from a real-world perspective it can only become devalued. There is no way that an occupation that pays a few cents an hour can be considered a “job” in any real sense, but if you remain within the confines of the role-play you can keep the sense of achievement that goes with being a successful virtual designer, artist, or whatever, without feeling that you have to compare yourself to the real-world equivalent, a comparison which is bound to be unflattering.

      • Yes, the “immersion” vs “augmentation” thing probably plays a big role here. If there isn’t a “quiz” out there already to determine “How Immersed Are YOU In Your Second Life?” then there should be! I’d be up for a little brainstorming to create such a quiz 😉

        For what it’s worth, I have typically used the labels “escape” vs “extension” for the two ends of the immersion spectrum. However, that clearly says more about ME than about the propriety of the nomenclature!

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