The Drax Files 38: economic empowerment in Second Life

Eboni Khan in Second Life

Eboni Khan in Second Life

The 38th video of The Drax Files World Makers arrived on Wednesday, June 8th, focusing on fashion designer Eboni Khan, who has been designing women’s apparel for the last decade, marketing it through her Hucci brand. However, this segment isn’t simply another examination of the creative and income generation opportunities offered by Second Life. While Eboni’s experience is very much central to the video, there is a lot packed into the three-and-a-half-minute running time, which makes this another fascinating piece.

As we learn in the video, Eboni’s ability to use Second Life as a viable means of income generation wasn’t entirely a conscious decision; trained in information management and employed as an IT manager, Eboni’s world was turned upside down when she was laid off. Second Life offered her the means to work for herself and earn an income which would enable her to raise her son (now in his 20s and attending college) – all through the power of her own creativity and that of the micro transaction.

Entering into a virtual business from a physical world business background provides Eboni with a keen awareness of the real power of virtual environments – as spearheaded by Second Life – which is worth considering when looking at things like Project Sansar and understanding where the Lab is coming from with that platform.

Eboni in the physical world

Eboni in the physical world

“Second Life has such a low barrier to market entry,” she notes early on in the video. “You don’t have that with any other kind of business; you can come in on your first day and set-up shop. It’s basically the perfect proving ground for international business  – the GDP, the amount of residents – Second Life is not a game.”

Of course, setting-up shop does not guarantee anyone of automatic success. Eboni mentions some of the secrets to building a successful brand within the platform, but there is also much more that cannot be packed into 3.5 minutes. Just like real life, running a business in SL requires not just time and effort, but forethought, planning and an evolving strategy.

This is something perhaps demonstrated in 2006-2008, when business from around the world rushed into Second Life without any definitive idea of what they were trying achieve in terms of basic marketing, leave alone trying to generate any revenue. Thus, they ended up tripping over themselves and leaving, dismissing SL as a viable proposition as they went.

The fact that effort and strategy are required is also why I tend to shy away from using the term “democratising” when referring to original content creation as a business enterprise in SL. The term suggest the platform offers a level playing field for everyone, but the reality is it doesn’t; there are skills and requirements involved which, with the best will in the world, not all of us either have or can learn well enough to succeed.

But creativity also doesn’t have to be about generating revenue and income. It’s worked for Eboni and others, because this is the path they chose to take; however, it’s important to remember that Second Life is as much about fun and freedom – escapism, if you will – as it is about anything else. This is something Eboni notes in the video.

“The world will be a better place if more people had a little escapism in their life,” she correctly observes. “Because real life is hard, and your Second Life should definitely be fun.” It’s an outlook those who sit outside SL and sneer at the platform would do well to consider.

Eboni's Hucci store

Eboni’s Hucci store

She also freely embraces the “sexier” (some  – even those who report on SL – might prefer the term “sleazier”) aspects of SL both directly and indirectly. Her designs are  unashamedly sexy, whilst her brand name is an open play on the name of a famous design brand and the fact that some dismiss SL as the home of hoochies. This approach, coupled with her views on escapism are refreshing. Second Life offers a huge freedom for people to positively express their individuality away from the constraints which might otherwise be imposed upon us in the physical world, so why not embrace it?

All told, this another fascinating and insightful piece, one which – as with every World Makers segment – but pushed into from the media. I say this not only because of what it says about Second life as a platform, but for what it reveals about virtual spaces being a genuine social environments and being both a melting pot and barrier breaking in the way they bring people together from all of the globe, from all walks of life and social backgrounds. It’s been a massively important (and oft overlooked) aspect of Second Life, and as Linden Lab and other have identified, it will be a significant part of the more immersive VR / AR / MR era we’re about to enter.

It’s’ also, I’m pleased to say, the perfect vehicle by which Drax and I have been able to re-engage in our conversations about each episode of World Makers, which tend to take place as they are being put together, or shortly before going to press with them. Catch our chat on this episode below the video.

In Conversation 9: value, potential and the freedom of expression

Inara Pey (IP): Thanks so much for making the time to have this conversation, and for pushing me to make time for it as well!

On the surface, this seems to be just another story about the Second life fashion world, of which there have been two or three during the course of World Makers, but that’s really not the case is it? What we have is more an examination of the reality and potential of virtual environments, practical, creative and even “escapist”, which both reflects on Second Life and looks to the future.

Draxtor Despres (DD): I felt this was an important aspect to focus on. Eboni mentions it herself, that Second life “rescued” her; she was able to become an entrepreneur, and that’s something that often forgotten; that a single mother like herself, or anyone confined to their home, has the ability to use flexible working hours to build a virtual business from scratch, because the barrier to entry is so low. That was a very important aspect to me.

IP: But as I note in the article, that same low barrier to entry doesn’t equate in any way to the potential for success – or failure of a virtual enterprise.

Discussing The Drax Files World Makers with the man behind the camera

Discussing The Drax Files World Makers with the man behind the camera

DD:  Absolutely! I don’t want to gloss over the fact that this is obviously not true for everyone who’s tried to have a successful business in SL. It’s not a foregone conclusion everybody will be successful. In many ways, Second Life really mirrors the real world, and rewards certain people who have a better starting position, so to speak. Just like in the real world.

If you have assets, if you have family helping you out in starting a business, or something like that, naturally you have a better starting position.   So I want to make that clear; while Second Life is certainly a wonderful place, with a lot of possibilities, it’s not the panacea to equalise everything.

IP: One of the things the episode really brought into focus for me was the emerging power of the micro transaction. We’re exposure to this day-in, day-out when using Second Life, yet it is something we all too easily take for granted. As we look into a greater age of virtual goods, be they for VR, AR or mixed reality (MR), this is something that is liable to have a profound impact on all of us engaging in these virtual domains.

DD: Exactly. I think micro transactions are a phenomenon – although they tend to work better in Second Life than perhaps in other places – because if you do it right, if you have real volume, with an easy means to produce those goods, then you have amazing potential. Because going forward into the VR era, to my mind, the market can only really be successful if it is open to regular people, just like SL. And it need to have a low barrier to entry – which current it does not.

But there’s something else here that makes Second Life incredibly powerful. That is you are transacting with an individual; you’re not purchasing from some anonymous corporation where you don’t even know the supply chain. That’s why I’m fascinated; the supply chain is very apparent.

Also, this episode again opened my mind to that fact that the fashion phenomenon in Second Life, if you’re just a consumer, is so much more nuanced. We may poke fun at Second life for being a form of escapism, and of course I’d like to get people to read (laughs) big books, instead of shopping for shoes, but maybe people can walk and chew gum at the same time. [So] it dispels the notion that role-play, even if it is just “playing dress up”, is just so beneath any other form of activity.

In conversation

In conversation

IP: And the idea that it’s not a valid form of self-expression.

DD: Right. It’s healthy; it’s fun. Maybe from this we can learn that we have to slow down a little bit, the efficiency and productivity thing in real life. We have to slow down; it’s all too alluring, the prospect of squeezing even more work into the day; we have to stop the machines dictating how productive we must be. Then there’s the whole aspect of the minimum income, but that’s going off at a tangent!

IP: May so, but it is an interesting point for perhaps a future discussion: working hours, living income, micro transactions, virtual environments, goods and services, et al. Thing which might, at some point down the road, become enablers in making something like the Universal Basic Income more palatable to people

DD: Well, I think that if you present the full smörgåsbord of virtual spaces as a distraction and as continuous entertainment, and combine that with a guaranteed monthly income, that might really result in people just checking out of everything, and just sort of drooling, and entering the cliché of people who are already kind-of addicted to some kind of digital entity.

IP: But as something presented constructively, possibly as a suite of opportunities by which we can change our working habits, our ability to drive our own income – or even to become less dependent upon “traditional” forms of income as our accepted working spaces and opportunities change over time?

DD: If you can make an income with micro payments, if you can be creative and you can monetise your creativity in virtual spaces, and don’t have the pressure thanks to the support of UBI, then you can be really creative.

UBI is to me, the only way we can make the future a non-dystopian one, because automation will make jobs obsolete on a grand scale; machine learning is the same. So we need to solve the economic question of how do we survive in the world; we as a society will need to renegotiate the hamster wheel question. We need to stop competing with the machines.

IP: Certainly something to return to when we can, perhaps even outside of the context of World Makers. But to re-focus on this segment of the series, and to draw our conversations to a close as time is working against us: the end of this segment encompassed another element: the idea that Second Life is a social melting pot, which offered a further and different aspect to the piece.

DD: Eboni very much raised that in our conversations. I didn’t include this in the video, but we talked at length about how it is easy, coming from a middle-class background, where people have gone to college, people have professional careers, to be arrogant or judgemental about people who haven’t gone to college. To think they’re not “worldly” – that’s the term Eboni used. Second Life really changes opinions like that, and because we did discuss it, I wanted to illustrate it it, that’s why we have the mix of images from past episodes and from Login2Life. Like Eboni says, exposure to the world through Second Life makes us more open.

IP:  And as time is catching-up with us, any hints on the next segment’s content?

DD: Scripting!

3 thoughts on “The Drax Files 38: economic empowerment in Second Life

  1. Kat Feldragonne

    I totally agree that the low entry barrier for a business is not a guarantee of success. These days, when most of SL content creation actually happens out-world, you need RL computer/tech/modeling skills to be competitive.

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  2. Kyllein MacKellerann

    While “low entry barriers” and such are handy for the beginning businessperson, I am continually unhappy with the marketing of clothing for anyone who isn’t wearing a female avatar. There are guys in Second Life who choose male avatars (we may be a minority but we do exist) and while for the female avatar there are clothing sets for literally any situation or activity, for us male avatars there are pathetically few choices that are not extremely “scene” or “club” or ‘leather” specific (and forget about the Furrs unless we go human style plantigrade in our boot and shoe selections). Perhaps, when an alpha layer that shows head, neck, and hands things might get slightly better, but for now good clothing is the province of the female to an almost exclusive degree.
    While there are no guarantees of success, finding an under-served market and serving it can angle the success potentials much more in one’s favor. Check the markets. Find the under-served or “specific use only” markets and hit them; people will buy simply because the usual competition isn’t there to stop them.

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