During a recent book interview, an ABC news anchor asked me what kind of impact the real world's subprime mortgage crisis and related fallout would have on Second Life's economy. I speculated that it would probably provide an ironic boost, noting how the last recession of 2003 was important to Second Life's early growth. "I can't tell you how many people I met then," I told her, "who were out-of-work programmers and web designers creating content in SL while they looked for jobs."
That was an off-the-cuff answer, but the latest economic figures from Linden Lab suggest a similar pattern may indeed be happening now. In-world spending activity has been increasing steadily since the mid-2007 prohibition against virtual gambling. "The Second Life economy," Zee Linden noted, "does not appear to be affected by the slowing economy of the United States." SL blogger Roland Legrand took a look at the numbers, and had a similar thought to me: "Could it be that people find refuge from the 'real world' troubles in virtual worlds and that the SL economy 'profits' in that way from the crisis?"
Chasing that hunch down, I put the above figures side by side-- take a look. On the left, Linden's internal economy performance, on the right, taken from the housing crisis' Wikipedia entry, the rate of house foreclosures. Please note, I am not in any way making light of people losing their homes-- one way or the other, in any case, the shockwaves of that loss are hurting us all. Still, the pattern is hard to miss; as housing foreclosures go up, and the consequences ripple through the global economy, metaverse spending goes up, too.
What do you think? Coincidence, or causal correlation?