Prospects for the Design of Electronic Products in Second Life
Loughborough Design School, Loughborough University
Epinal Way, Loughborough, United Kingdom, LE11 3TU
Abstract: Second Life is an Internet-based virtual world where users can interact, explore, create and trade items. Second Life has its own virtual economy and due to open intellectual property rights all user produced content is owned by them. The virtual world attracted the attention of the Harvard Business Review and Business Week in early 2010 as well as Reuters who set up a news agency to bring virtual news to real life. This exposure has not gone unnoticed by the design community with many real life companies seeking a presence within the world including Adidas, IBM, Toyota, Philips and American Apparel. This paper explores the extent of the electronic product design activity found within the virtual world of Second Life, the reasons users and companies are embracing virtual worlds and the significance that this will have for design. By taking into account the development of the World Wide Web, views of companies and individuals, conclusions have been made about the future implications that SL could have on electronic product design.
Keywords: Second Life, design, electronic products.
CITE THIS PAPER AS:
Tom PAGE, Prospects for the Design of Electronic Products in Second Life, Studies in Informatics and Control, ISSN 1220-1766, vol. 20 (3), pp. 293-304, 2011. https://doi.org/10.24846/v20i3y201110
1.1 The current situation
Science fiction novels have long speculated about future worlds where we can live second lives in a virtual environment and now through virtual worlds like Second Life these speculations have begun to be fulfilled gradually. Second Life (SL) is an Internet-based virtual world where users can interact, explore, create and trade items in an environment not unlike the world we live in. Second Life is inspired by the cyberpunk literary movement, and particularly by Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash. In this novel the main characters lead parallel lives in both real life (RL) and a virtual world which is accessed by wearing a computer headset:
“Hiro is approaching the Street. It is the Broadway, the Champs Élysées of the Metaverse… It does not really exist. But right now, millions of people are walking up and down it… Of these billion potential computer owners, maybe a quarter of them actually bother to own computers, and a quarter of these have machines that are powerful enough….That makes for about sixty million people who can be on the Street at any given time” .
The stated goal of Linden Lab is to create a world like the Metaverse described by Hicks, “a user-defined world of general use in which people can interact, play, do business, and otherwise communicate” . Users virtual characters (avatars) can walk, fly or teleport around SL and although most appear like humans, can take on any form, with creations ranging from humans to vampires or dinosaurs. SL differs from other virtual worlds, such as the hugely successful World of Warcraft, as it is intended for creation and exploration where other games focus on game play. With SL being such an open platform for content creation it has become a breeding ground for innovation and creativity for its users who in their real lives may have jobs far different from those jobs associated with virtual world activities.
There are no restrictions to what can be created within SL with even the conventional laws of physics not applying to in virtual world activity, open
IP rights, in this user generated world has led to a spate of entrepreneurial activity and has also alerted major real world companies to its potential as a design platform.
SL has generated its own ancillary economy so users aren’t just ‘playing’ for self satisfaction, but also because of the potential to earn real money. SL’s virtual currency is the Linden Dollar (Linden, or L$) and is exchangeable for US Dollars in a marketplace consisting of residents, Linden Lab and real life companies; with Linden
Lab taking a commission from all in world trade. Anshe Chung, a virtual land baroness became the first SL millionaire in December 2010 from an initial investment of only $9.95 and now has businesses which operate in SL as well as RL. Anshe was thrust in to the public eye in May 2010 when she made the cover of Business Week for the story: Virtual Land, Real Money, a profile of Anshe Chung.
1.2 Aims of this work
The aims of the work were to establish the extent of the design activity found within the virtual world of SL, the reasons users and companies are embracing virtual worlds and the future ramifications that this will have for design. The work achieves this by analysing the various uses of design on the Internet, how SL is supplementing and expanding these disciplines and the benefits this offers.
Research areas have been established to explore the background to the Internet and design and how it has evolved in. The different design disciplines which SL caters for are looked at as well as the improvements it offers over traditional design. This work also explores the real life companies that can be found within SL and analyses the future implications that this could have.
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