How To Make Real Millions With Virtual Real Estate.
There's nothing real about Anshe Chung's real estate portfolio, but that hasn't stopped the virtual property magnate amassing a small fortune which she intends to turn into a much larger one.
In just 32 months, Chinese language teacher Ailin Graef has transformed an outlay of $US9.95 into virtual assets worth at least $US1 million in real money.
Graef has achieved this in a virtual world called Second Life where she is better known as Anshe Chung, the community's foremost property magnate.
Anshe's Second Life portfolio includes virtual property assets equivalent to 36 sq km in size. But there's nothing real about this real estate. It's actually a 3D simulation housed on 550 networked computers.
And, believe it or not, there are people willing to pay sums ranging from $US100 to $US1000-plus to own a plot of land in Second Life.
Taking a leaf out of the property developer's manual, Anshe buys large blocks of "land" which she improves, subdivides, and then either rents or sells the smaller plots.
Like real property developers, it's much better for the bottom line when there are a lot of people moving in to the neighbourhood.
And that's exactly what's been happening in Second Life which is experiencing a population explosion of epic proportions.
This time last year there were 70,000 members. Today there are 1.6 million participants who have downloaded the free software and created online personas called avatars through which they interact inside this 3D community.
Anshe, who appeared on the cover of the influential US magazine BusinessWeek in May, is arguably the world's most famous avatar. Now she is also its richest.
Over the weekend, she trumpeted her arrival in this exclusive club of one with a press release titled: "Anshe Chung Becomes First Virtual World Millionaire".
In addition to her real estate holdings, Anshe's fortune is made up of "cash", "shares", several "shopping malls", "chain stores" and "brands" - every iota of it a sequence of binary files residing in a computer's memory.
In Second Life, the local currency known is known as Linden Dollars (named after the company that created the platform). The Linden Dollars is in effect a convertible curreny, making it possible for entrepreneurs like Anshe to turn virtual profits into real money.
At the close of trading on Friday $US1 was worth $L274.5 (Linden Dollars).
Originally from China, Ailin Graef moved to Germany with her husband, Guntram Graef, in the mid-1990s where she took up a job teaching Chinese, English, and German.
She joined Linden Lab's Second Life in Mach 2004, paying $US9.95 to purchase an account - a requirement that is no longer mandatory.
Earlier this year, the Graef's branched out , opening an office in the Chinese city of Wuhan where 21 people are employed providing services and creating content for members and prospective members of the Second Life community.
Second Life, which is now run by San Francisco-based Linden Labs, was founded in 2003 by Philip Rosedale.
It's technically a so-called massively multi-player online (MMO) game which can be played by any number of people from anywhere at the same time. However, it differs from many other games in this genre in that there is no objective or goal.
In fact many of its player - called residents - merely use the platform to hang out, socialise and create, buy and sell virtual goods. Because the platform confers property rights, residents retain ownership of anything they create, buy or are given,
While Second Life's membership is much smaller than, for instance the World of Warcraft MMO game, it has developed a cult following. This has led to a rapid influx of corporate members, including retailers, hoteliers, car and computer companies which hope to influence the buying habits of the online puppeteers behind the avatars.
A number of real life performers have also appeared in Second Life. A few months ago, Suzanne Vega gave a small concert and last month, Ben Folds launched his new album inside the 3D world.
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