Interesting thought hit me recently:
- Linden Lab frequently reports that Second Life users cash out about $60 million yearly from sales of virtual content.
- In 2011, Linden Lab reported making $75 million yearly from Second Life
- As private sim ownership in Second Life declines, so has Linden Lab's revenue -- conservatively estimated, a loss of about $1 million in annual revenue since 2011.
So flash forward to 2017 and make some quick-and-dirty math, that means Second Life users are earning $60 million from Second Life content, while Linden Lab is earning about $65-70 million from Second Life content. In other words: Second Life users are making nearly as much revenue from Second Life as Second Life's actual corporate owner.
Maybe it's just me, but that's amazing and rare near-equity for an Internet-based content creation platform. By contrast, for example, YouTube earned an estimated $9 billion in revenue in 2015, but only paid out $5 billion to content creators/rights-holders.
We could even go further and estimate that Second Life users are probably making more money than Linden Lab's actual staff:
After all, about 200 Linden Lab staff people are specifically working on Second Life, and they earn an average of $100,000 a year. (Executives earning low six figures, low level support staff making maybe $50-75K.) On that view, they take $20 million total from Second Life, while Second Life users take $40 million more. Including someone, as Linden Lab's CEO once said, "who makes hundreds of thousands of dollars making hands and feets for avatars and feeds her family by doing that." (Which would also mean the maker of avatar feet is making about as much as a Linden Lab executive.)
There's a lot of valid talk about how much Silicon Valley companies are exploiting their users, so it's notable that Linden Lab seems to be a unique exception to that criticism. Though of course it's likely Linden Lab wishes it was still making a lot more from Second Life than it currently is.