Sharing in Second Life: Charity in the Virtual Economy

Relay for LifeRelay for Life

Many virtual worlds have a large, overarching economy, based on market economy principles. However, these economies can also contain smaller economies that function somewhat differently from the overarching economic features of the world. While Second Life is based largely on a market economy, there are other economic elements such as charity that also come into effect in ways that can be both interesting and potentially useful for understanding both online and offline giving.

Charitable works within Second Life can be remarkably effective. While there are many smaller charitable causes supported throughout the world, there are also examples of significant and highly successful charitable drives. For instance, Second Life’s 2010 Relay for Life raised US $222,804 for cancer research while the 2009 event raised US $ $274,000.

The success of these endeavours raises the question of what makes charitable efforts so successful within the virtual world, and centres on three main features of the world and its economic system: resident generosity, small but frequent donations, and the ability to offer virtual goods in order to benefit charitable causes.

First, although there are also elements of Second Life and its economy that may facilitate charitable donations, a great many Second Life residents are inclined to be generous in a multitude of ways, as seen in the significant amounts raised for Relay for Life and other charitable causes.

There are, however, elements of the virtual world that can help to redefine and increase charitable giving. In the case of donations, it can be easy to give relatively small amounts in Second Life. Donations of 20, 50, 100, or even 250 Lindens are common, but with the exchange rate of around 250 Lindens to one U.S. dollar, 20 Lindens equals about $0.08 and 100 equals about $0.40. Although the amounts may be relatively small when converted to USD, many small donations can add up quickly. At these levels, most residents can afford to donate. As a result, it is appears that more residents are donating than otherwise would if donations were expected to be higher. Consequently, the frequency of donations can drastically increase the total amounts donated even when the amount of each donation is relatively small.

While many residents give generously on their own and without expectations, there are also charitable efforts in Second Life that are based around more reciprocal arrangements where virtual goods also come into play. Because virtual goods do not usually have many associated material costs, it also very common to find items donated for charitable causes and then either given away to donors or sold so that profits can be donated.

Offering goods is an established technique for generating charitable income in three interrelated ways. First, the act of giving something away – a flower, perhaps, or return stickers for addressing envelopes – generates a sense of expected reciprocity. This tactic can make the recipient more likely to feel that they owe something in return for the small gift they have been given. Second, getting something in return for a donation is rewarding for those who are giving. This is the model frequently adopted in fundraising drives of public television stations as well as by charities who based their fundraising efforts on reciprocal arrangements. Receiving a tote bag, CD, or pin as recognition for making a donation is an attractive way to encourage giving by allowing the giver to receive something in return. Finally, releasing specially created items for purchase with proceeds going to charity is an effective way to generate funds. With goods available for purchase, residents can go about their normal consumption activities while still supporting charitable works.

Generally speaking, it is the latter two models that seem to arise most frequently in Second Life, especially with regards to some of the larger fundraising events. Given the extremely high quality and established generosity of many Second Life designers, there is no shortage of donated goods available on which to base charitable efforts. Furthermore, because they are virtual, there are few, if any, costs required to create a large number of whatever goods are offered for sale. At the same time, by offering goods to individuals in exchange for their Lindens, those who support charities with their purchases also get something of their own choice in return.

Despite the fact that funds are spread out over a huge number of charities and causes, the potential effects of such efforts are not lost in Second Life. Although there are hundreds (if not thousands) of in-world charitable causes and efforts, Relay for Life is one of the largest examples of charitable giving in Second Life with their US $222 804 contribution in 2010. This amount was raised using a combination of sponsorship, stand-alone donations and the sale and auction of a huge variety of virtual goods.

While virtual worlds are certainly worthy of consideration in their own right, perhaps there are lessons that we can take from instances of charitable giving to apply in other situations. Offline we are perhaps not as free of the costs of offering goods in exchange for donations. However, the combination of many small donations and the offering of virtual goods as a form of donor recognition is a powerful way of generating contributions that can raise significant funds for charitable causes that have very definite and positive effects.

Ratio of Total subscribers compared to MAU or even DAU

Companies are so eager to tout total subscribers but I don’t think I’m alone when I say that number is fairly useless when it really comes down to it.

What we really need to know is the MAU at the very least and then the DAU to top it all off.. I have a few examples but I’d love to hear more if anyone has any.

Runes of Magic for example has a 20% rate of active users. When they had 3 million registered accounts they were reporting roughly 600k active. Altough I’d really love to know when they say 600,000 active users if they are talking about DAU’s or MAU’s. I have to assume it is MAU just to give them the opportunity to use the biggest numbers possible

WeeWorld: When they had 26 Million registered accounts they were reporting 1 million active

Fantage: Now Fantage says that they have 3.3 million unique visitors per month and 7.7 registered accounts. A few sources have foolishly taken it upon themselves to report Fantage with 3.3 Million MAU’s based on this unique visitor count. Which isn’t the case as we have no idea how many of that 3.3 are actual members or people just passing through

PCCU = Peak Concurrent Users

Gaia online: When they reported 15 million registered accounts they had about 64,000 PCCU. The PCCU rate is about 5-10% of the Active User rate(as juddged by Runes of Magic having 600k active and 30k PCCU). So that would put them at about 800,000 active users

Dark Orbit: 35 million users and 80,000 PCCU or about 1.2 million Active users.

Obviously this active user rate is going to consistently go down the older the game is and the more registrations they accumulate so time needs to be included in the calculations. With an average industry churn rate of 33% that shouldn’t be too hard to do though.

I would just love to have a framework in place where we can easily look at these numbers being spit forward by companies about how many users they have, take a look at how long they’ve been in business, and quickly translate their total reg’ed users into something we can actually use in our business models like MAU and eventually DAU

Plot user growth over multiple years

Wondering if any one has any stats on the growth of an IP over mutliple years.. We see a ton of stats showing Title X reached 1 million users in the first week, or that Title Y has 100 million users after 5 years but I’d be keen to see how the growth rate changes in relation to time as well as relation to in game population.

Obviously if Title X maintained that growth they would be at 52 million users in the first year which I can’t see happening as a rule so I assume the growth rate begins to slow.

The same goes for the virality of a product, something will reach a critical mass when enough people are talking about it that it spurs growth.. Just curious about these two topics if anyone has done the research and tracked the numbers

Actually the latest Universe chart from Kzero contains a lot of intermittent quarter by quarter pop numbers in it that indicates, surprisingly enough that a lot of mature titles maintain consistent growth rates even at the 30+ million player count