ING has made a serious stab at extending its presence beyond the realms of the physical world by announcing plans to open a Dutch mini state in screen-based 3-D universe Second Life.
In making the move, the Dutch banking group is following in the footsteps of its compatriot ABN Amro, which in
December opened a virtual financial advice centre for Second Life residents.
ourvirtualholland Website explains the aims and motivations of the bank, and also parrots the usual stats about the Second Life economy:
"Almost 4 million people worldwide have created a virtual alter-ego (avatar) on Second Life. A whole new economy has sprung up in which virtual goods are being bought and sold using Linden Dollars (the microcurrency of Second Life). Linden Dollars can be
exchanged for US dollars. Daily more than 1 million US Dollars are exchanged."
The Second Life economic phenomenon has been excitedly reported by respected financial press, including the FT and BusinessWeek.
But Second Life and its creator Linden Labs is not without its critics. Last month I
blogged on the experiences of venture consultant Rudolph Harrison, whose futile attempts to make a quick buck out of the game led him to conclude that it was nothing more than a massive pyramid scheme.
UK techwire The Register has also published a more considered take on the press handouts issued by Linden Labs’ PR agency, Flashpoint. In an article headlined
The phoney economics of Second Life and subtitled ‘What the business press doesn’t tell you’, Reg reporter Shaun Rolf estimates the active population of Second Life to be closer to that of a small town, with “typically only 15,000 clients logged in at any
one time”. Only about 3000 of those log-ins are economically active, alleges Rolf, most turning over only token sums.
Whatever the true figures, ING may find the real economic return on its investment in ourvirtualholland rather harder to measure than the illusory short-term payback generated from a few glowing press notices.