As with every medium since cave paintings, sex is a big part of Second Life. The virtual world is a haven where people can fulfill their sexual fantasies. But it also has a dark side.
Linden Lab generates most of its revenue by leasing server space to content providers -- known as "selling land" in Second Life jargon. Much of that land is owned by sex establishments.
"When they shake loose all the land barons and sex workers, who is going to be paying for Second Life?" Fitzpatrick said. "It's a little premature to shake off those people."
How much of Second Life is sex-related? Nobody seems to know -- certainly nobody I asked. Llewelyn wrote:
The adult market in SL -- especially the one pursued by amateurs is huge. How many percent of all transactions in SL items, land, services is on adult content? We don't know the exact data. We only know that it must be huge, or the landscape would not be crammed full with shops offering all sort of kinky clothes, escort clubs, casinos, and all types of very mature items, animations, and attachments. They're so ubiquitous as to come to us as second nature – they're part of the landscape....
But Rosedale said the amount of sex in Second Life is often overestimated.
Linden Lab requires landowners to disclose if there's mature content on their land by checking a box on the contral panel. As of Thursday, about 15% of the land parcels in Second Life had that box checked, or 18% by land area, Rosedale said.
Moreover, not all that mature content is sexual in nature. When I first logged into the world, I thought it was. But I quickly learned that the "mature" rating is equivalent to the R rating for movies, not XXX. Simple use of swear-words can get content flagged as mature.
"People's assessment of how much sex is going on in Second Life is overblown," Rosedale said.
Sex is simply not a huge part of Second Life, he said. If Linden Lab were to ban sex tomorrow -- not that the company is thinking of doing that -- the virtual world would continue on relatively unchanged. And, contrary to Fitzpatrick's speculation, Linden Lab would not suffer significant financial harm, he said.
Should The Sex Make Businesses Think Twice About Second Life?
Reuben Steiger, founder of the Second Life business consultancy Millions of Us, made an estimate famous in the Second Life community, that sex accounts for 30% of the Second Life economy. He later said the estimate is arbitrary, absurd and altogether meaningless.
Let's face it, there's adult content in SL. Does it matter what percentage it is? I guess I'm often struck by how rarely I encounter it, but I think that sort of reinforces the point we often make to clients concerned about their brands in an environment with adult content. We simply ask whether they have offices in New York City (they do) and ask whether their customers get confused because New York is also home to adult clubs (they're not).
Which raises the question: Should the sex in Second Life give businesses pause about establishing a presence in SL? Hundreds of real-life companies have already done so, (including Toyota, IBM, Cisco, American Apparel, AMD, Dell, and more. Are they making a mistake?
"No, I don't think so," said Gillian Farquhar, director of public relations at Egenera, which makes virtualization software and blade servers. Farquhar is active on Second Life. "I don't think the sex in Second Life intrudes. You don't have to see it if you don't want to."
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