Wednesday, March 02, 2005




Originally published here.

The Gates of Central Park came down last week in New York City, as planned, after they'd completed their successful run. Last week, the Gates of Briarcliff Manor were also uprooted from that hilly island. And though their creators also saw them as a temporary art installation, it wasn't part of the plan for them to be steamrolled so a Chinese-European land speculator could turn the place into a gated resort community for the French.

But this is, more or less, what happened.

"I am starting one new grid with zoned residential sims for themed communities," says Anshe Chung, after she teleports to join me on Briarcliff's highest hill. (This is last week, after she'd purchased the island from former owner feniks Stone, but before she'd taken ownership.)

After they're evicted, says Anshe, "I assume that feniks is going to reimburse them their rent." As for their homesteads, the small town-style shopping plaza by the water, and the Gates installations, those are already set for removal.

"I sometimes buy existing projects and continue them," she tells me, "but in this case I simply need one sim for a new project and I don't see how Briarcliff could be continued in a viable way. There are too many shopping sims now."

But many Residents had been renting Briarcliff land from feniks at bargain rates, and they weren't exactly happy to leave. Which may explain the statues holding "Save Our Sim" signs. And the shirtless man with giant pecs, who walks up to Anshe Chung in the middle our interview.


"Anshe. Don't take away Briarcliff," Valiant Darkholme begins.  Then, "Hey, why do you own so much land?"

"Valiant," Anshe replies calmly, "I own so much land because there are many people who like to use land managed by me and pay for the content there. If my land would not be run in profitable way, I could not
have so much."

Darkholme chuckles in disbelief.  "Do you make money off Second Life?"

"Yes, I do.  I work here."

"How much a month?"

"If you don't mind speaking on record," I interject, "I'd love to know myself."

Anshe Chung winks back at me. "I think comparable to some of your colleagues."

She means my colleagues at Linden Lab. Which, were it true, would mean a subscriber to an online world was now making almost as much of an income as some of the people who created it. (And after checking her current Net Worth on the Leaderboard, I have no reason to doubt the claim.)

"What I am doing is very unstable, so I cannot say how much I will earn next month," Anshe Chung amends. "I might lose money next month."

Valiant Darkholme shakes his head, laughing. "Anshe, you got a lot of power," he says. "Seems to me kinda absurd for one person to have so much."

"I don't have power in Second Life," she tells him. "I had power in Shadowbane, but here nobody really has power. I can't buy one army and destroy your town or anything... I cannot use land or money to force people do something. Not that this is something I would wish for. In fact, I can probably do less than other people, as I have business reputation to take care of." Having said that, she sticks out her tongue. "I am servant of my customers now."


I ask Anshe if by that logic, Donald Trump also has no power in New Jersey.

"Donald Trump can use US$ to buy American politicians. I cannot use L$ to buy Philip." And sticks her tongue out at me again.

"But," I press, "Trump exerts a lot of influence also on small business owners and average citizens in New Jersey, just by dint of owning so much land and contributing so much to the New Jersey economy."

"I could grief single retailers by excluding them from my malls," she allows, "But one reason I am successful is that this is not my way. I don't use my business to exert power. This would be kinda wrong and silly."

In any case, after a farewell featuring fireworks and a dance party, Briarcliff's days as the community it once was are over.

"And then work will begin on something new," Anshe says, smiling brightly. "One chapter close, one new chapter going to be written. I have obtained two sims. The first sim will be called La Gaule and become the first sim for the French-speaking community. The second sim will be populated by other Europeans. The original plan was to use it as a German sim, [but] it will depend on how many Germans subscribe..." (And at this point, it's worth pointing out that Anshe is currently based in Germany, herself, and a founder of an in-world group of German Residents.) "So far interest was much stronger from the French [Second Life] community. In the SL Deutschland group, I think I have about twenty members now, but most are not yet ready to buy land here.

"I think there are twice as many French speakers as German speakers now," she continues. (Anshe also founded a French-speaking Second Life group.) "I started those two groups since they represented one very huge market of countries with broadband. And this market has not been approached by Second Life [the company] yet."

"So," I observe, "you're sort of doing Linden Lab's job in the European Union!"

"It needs local areas to make Second Life attractive to most people in France and Germany," she affirms. "I consider approaching existing [French and German] chat communities, but this might be in future one day. First these sims must be successful."

"So is Second Life primarily a job for you," I ask Anshe, "or is it also entertainment, or what?"

"It has started as entertainment," she says, grinning, "became an experiment, and now you can call it Second Job. I think to succeed here you have to enjoy it. People who would not enjoy Second Life as entertainment might not find the motivation to work hard here."

Despite her success, Anshe thinks there are other Residents who are just as successful.

"I know content creators who already make almost as much as I do, mostly unnoticed and without risk," she says. "There are probably more than ten people who make [about as much as me.]" And while she, like other Residents with massive real estate holdings, are pejoratively known as Land Barons, "I think all of those except for myself are 'content barons'. What makes me stick out is that my business is all public and people see my assets while the content barons are allowed to hide their transactions..."

By "content baron", she means the most successful creators of avatar clothing, custom animations, and other avatar fashion and personality accessories, for example, or the people who make and sell mini-games and other items that Residents purchase at a regular rate.

"Content barons don't need land or money to operate," she says. "They just move their L$ to Gaming Open Market every day." She believes this, Anshe says, because she's "talked to some people and received concrete figures. In addition, I am watching L$ movements between accounts (as seen on Leader Boards) carefully to predict L$ value fluctuation, and by doing this, I noticed how much L$ slowly piled up in some people's accounts during the week, until they disappeared to presumably get cashed out. It would be suicidal for content barons to admit how much money they make or to let cash pile up in their accounts. People would start to complain and ask them to lower prices. Other content creators would smell the money and copy their products."

For all her own enterprise, though, Anshe Chung still hasn't given up her real life job as an instructor.

"Teacher by day," I suggest, "capitalist land speculator by night?" And Anshe just grins at that.

As for Briarcliff Manor, she tells me later, "It is Friesland now. Avalon II has become Petite Gaule and Briarcliff has become Friesland." Once she bought those sims in preparation for her EU market, the names of these islands names had to go, too. "I completely terraformed both and offer land there to members of French and German/Dutch communities."


When I visited Friesland early today, several lots had been snatched up, with a few homes already there and sitting proudly on the newly engineered shoreside. Dozens of Dutch flags dot the land, indicating plots still available for lease from Anshe Chung.

"So, yes," Anshe concludes, winking, "Briarcliff has finally become conquered by the Germans."


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