Well, Second Language has been quiet for a little while, but that is about to change. Over the next few weeks, I will be adding a series of interviews with some of Second Life's most interesting, controversial and provocative residents, collectively called Chat History. These interviews will eventually become part of a permanent and ongoing collection on the main SLUniverse site. In the meantime, each new interview will be published here.
With this introduction, I am proud to present my first interview with one of Second Life's most recognizeable names, the self proclaimed Business Girl, Anshe Chung:
Cristiano Midnight: Ok, first of all, thank you for agreeing to do this interview, Anshe. You are the first interview in a new series of interviews with prominent and interesting personalities in Second Life.
Anshe Chung: Thanks Cris. I hope I can give you some useful answers :-)
CM: How long have you been in Second Life, and what attracted you to SL originally?
AC: I have joined Second Life in March 2004. My first motivation to take a peek was when I read the Terra Nova blog. There was a discussion about Second Life mentioning a game company giving its users intellectual property rights for things they create in world. I struck me with surprise. How can "players" create things in a "game" that are worth to have copyright? That was my starting point when I downloaded the free trial. Pure curiosity with, frankly, no expectation that this strange beast would keep my interest for more than an hour.
CM: Had you been involved in any other online worlds prior to Second Life?
AC: Yes. My hubby introduced me to Ultima when we moved to Europe. I spent much time with Asheron's Call and Shadowbane.
CM: So you came from a purely RPG background?
AC: Yes, if you don't count me spending time in Chinese chat rooms ;-)
CM: While you have done a variety of things in SL in the span of 8 months, you are most associated with your land business. How did you get started selling land?
AC: I needed shop outlets to sell my creations. Well, I soon found out that it doesn't cost me to set my land for sale, just in case it is worth more to somebody else than it would be worth to me. To my surprise I started to earn money that way and my shops became kinda nomadic. Which I liked as it allowed me to advertise in different locations of the Second Life world.
CM: What led you to start selling land on such a large (and previously untried) scale?
AC: I reinvested much of my profits. However I never planned things to become that big. The time my business kinda exploded was when Linden Lab started flooding the land market with snow land, back in September. A lot of people were leaving the market in panic. In this situation it became grow or die for my business. So I decided to take some more risk and grow :-)
CM: Do you think Linden Lab miscalculated the interest in snow sims?
AC: Yes, greatly. The timing was not very good. First they underestimated the demand and even made if worse with taking sim from the market when prices were already much too high. Later they overreacted to demand and brought too many sims at once. It would have been better to spreading the introduction of snow land over time. Well, in this situation I guess we realtors can help a little, but it wasn't easy 'buffering" so much land for so long.
CM: Let's talk for a moment about for sale signs, which as you know have been quite controversial at times. Why do you feel they are necessary when there are already multiple tools in place that indicate land is for sale?
AC: I found out that a lot of people are not very comfortable using the map feature or land finder list, but really browse the area and let themselves be guided by sale signs. In some cases were I only put signs on part of the parcels I had for sale people really bought land with signs on, then IMed me and asked if I have more land in the sim for sale, not seeing that other land without signs was already setup.
CM: It should be noted that you made an effort to make your signs visually pleasing. Do you think you have been targetted most often for complaint about it simply because of the amount of land you have for sale?
AC: Yes, I would think so. Actually after I introduced my current sale signs I first received a lot of praise. It took several weeks until certain people found out that sale signs can still be critisized, even if they look nice ;-) I think the issues most people have who voiced concerns about my signs lie deeper.
CM: Over the course of SL history, many issues and people have become the focus of the moment, and then the attention seems to die down. Why do you think you became such a polarizing figure for some players?
AC: This is hard to tell, but probably a number of things came together. Certainly trading with land is controversial for some. When you add size and visibility of my business you probably have enough to draw a lot of attention. If you are in this situation and then you have somebody who wants to harm you by spreading stories about your business things can easily explode. There were those Anshe-screws-newbies rumors starting in August that only months later I was able to track back to a certain resident whom I ruined his fun by stopping him from exploiting one bug that allowed him buy up an unlimited number of First Land :-(
CM: What do you think the biggest misconception people have about you is?
AC: One certainly is that many people think my success is somehow based on real life wealth and that to do what I did is not possible for them. In reality I started with one 9,95 US$ lifetime account and reinvested what I earned in Second Life. Everybody could do that. Anywhere. Even in poor counties :-) That is something that makes Second Life great IMHO.
CM: A common impression of you in the forums is that you don't care what others say, that you don't let it change your business. How would you respond to that?
AC: In general I care much what other people think. But if I have the feeling they are misinformed or not making an effort to understand a situation, then I prefer to rely on my own judgement. I would be worried if I would see unhappy customers. But that has not been the case so far.
CM: Who are some people in Second Life that you admire?
AC: There are many people I have great respect for. It would be kinda unfair to try make a list here. I for example admire people who create and contribute or people who think independently and ask questions :-) I also greatly admire people who have courage and stand up for what they believe in :-)
CM: How do you feel about the abundance of malls, casinos and clubs in SL? There are some that feel it is stifling creativity and making SL a generic wasteland.
AC: Mmmm, this shows there is much demand for this type of content. I also see many creative people there providing fun entertainment and creating demand for products from designers and builders. The only problem I see is with town planning. I am in favor of zoning and I am happy there seems to be a trend for commercial places and clubs to move to private islands or to cluster at telehub areas. I also hope that sometime in the future there are some tools that allow residents or land developers create stronger incentives for businesses to avoid residential areas. The presence of one type of content does not prevent people create other kind of content :-)
CM: Certainly not, but it can create a cycle - when you see that only clubs, casinos and malls are in popular places, it tends to feed into making more.
AC: This is a problem with the search system in Second Life. Dwell is the amount of time spent by people in one place during the last day is only one metric. If you run a mall it would be more interesting to know how much L$ changed hands in that location. I hope the search feature will be revamped with more subcategories for different kind of content :-) A rating system for places could help too. Or a metric how many different avatars have visited a place in the past.
CM: It seems the hot issue currently is player run government in SL, which is met with a lot of anxiety and controversy. What are you feelings on this subject?
AC: Government already exists in the form of the dictatorship by the Lindens. In many areas at the same time is anarchy. I personally look forward to see more choices for residents in Second Life, created by players. I believe the current system should remain as one choice, but special areas with player governments would be a good thing. In Shadowbane for example we had different nations with different governments and people were able to vote with their feet and choose what appealed most to them :-)
CM: If you could change anything you have done so far in SL, what would it be and why?
AC: I would be more careful in some business situations. It is easy to fall victim to fraud if you are too trusting to people on the internet.
CM: You have been the central focus of a lot of posts in the forums, many of them quite negative. What are your feelings on the forums, and Linden Lab's handling of them?
AC: Linden Lab is doing their best. But they can not police the truthfulness of people's statements, even not when they contain accusations towards another resident. It would require different institutions to improve this. They exist in real life, but in Second Life they have yet to be created.
CM: You used to teach a class on virtual lovemaking. What are your views on avatar sex in SL, and the whole sexual nature of SL?
AC: Oh, well, it is fun :-) But I wouldn't say that SL has a sexual nature. I think there are many people who chose not to explore this option. What strikes me as funny is that in most other online worlds they encourage you to become a killer while they rigorously "protect" you from most natural thing in the world.
CM: That is definitely an interesting contradiction.
AC: This makes those worlds incomplete, the same way I feel life in China for many young people of my generation was incomplete. Making love is part of life, so of course it should have its representation in Second Life :-)
CM: I think SL is unique in that it is the first game world that seems to have openly embraced it by specifically having mature areas, instead of pretending it does not exist.
AC: Yes, and I think it clearly helped in its development, especially during early stages. It created a niche to start from.
CM: What would you most like to see SL add that it does not now have?
AC: On top of my list I would say there would be some kinda legal system with contracts, law enforcement and courts. This would greatly help with huge projects for example. And just imagine how I could buy one sim, then resell the land with a contract that enforces a building code. Such as residential-only, or more detailed building guidelines :-)
CM: As you come close to your one year anniversary in SL, do you find your interest in it fading, growing, or staying about the same?
AC: My interest still remains strong. And I must say that I am amazed by how few of the people I got to know here have left.
CM: I am nearing 2 years in SL myself. :)
AC: I think this is because social interaction and new content keep it alive. It is more open ended than games :-)
CM: My final question for you...
CM: I don't think anyone could have predicted the explosive growth of SL over the past year - it is a much different place as we near December 2004 than it was in Decomber 2003. Why do you think SL continues to grow when others before it (notably TSO and There) have failed, and where do you think SL will be a year from now?
AC: I think Second Life it unique in its way to employ the skills of its residents to grow the world and content. In other worlds, the creation of content has been and still is a major cost factor. This allows Second Life to grow in interesting and unpredictable ways. And with its economic model there is also incentive for people create quality content. Limited resources in terms of land I think also help quality. Land in Second Life also means mindshare. If the world would be too large and displaying creations would be too cheap IMHO quality may suffer. In one year from now I hope we see many different little states and countries in Second Life with their own rules and flavors :-) Of course the Wild West ruled by anarchy would be one ;-)
CM: Thank you so much for your time, Anshe
AC: Thank you too. It was one pleasure :-)