The depth of content creation in Second Life

What do people do in Second Life?

Socialise? Of course. Many people use SL to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances, in some instances purely on a virtual basis.

Explore? That too. With a landmass and population comparable to a real world city, there’s a lot of places to visit and check-out.

But what about content creation. As Linden Lab puts it, Second Life – Your World, Your Imagination, nicely sums up a key aspect of SL – the ability to create. And, it’s this aspect which demonstrates the depth and involvement related to a new type of user generated content – virtual items.

For the uninitiated, many of the items created and available for sale in SL are showcased on the SL Exchange website. SL Exchange is in a way, Ebay for Second Life products, except that none of the items are second-hand, well, not in the typical sense anyway.

Interestingly, it’s not really until you visit a site like SL Exchange, or the Electric Sheep Company version called Onrez, that you begin to get a sense of the scale of virtual creation – it’s bigger than you think.

SL Exchange lists by category items created by SL residents. In-world, these items are typically available for purchase in the stores owned by the creators. The website however, allows quick and easy access to product listings with SLurls to take potential customers directly to the purchase point.

Using data openly available on SL Exchange, a series of pie-charts have been created to assess the different product types available as at Feb 2008. The chart below shows at a top level the range of items available to purchase on SL Exchange in Feb 2008. In total, almost 326,000 items have been created and made available for purchase.

Looking at these major categories and their respective values provides a great insight into what we (avatars) consume as products in a virtual world – what we want – what we need. The largest category is Apparel, accounting for almost 35% of total items. This equates to over 113,000 items.

Now, although this data is based on supply of products as opposed to demand, manufacturers (be it virtual or otherwise) don’t make things unless they think they can sell them, so what conclusion can we draw here?

A major conclusion, which appears obvious, it that we all want to customise our avatars. Why? Because (just like in the real world) we care about our appearance. We want to look different or at the very least, we want to look as though we’ve given consideration to how we look. And, let’s face it, no-one wants to walk (fly or teleport) around looking like a newbie – the virtual world equivalent of a tourist. The white T-shirt and jeans look might have worked for Nick Kamen in the 1980′s Levis commercial but unfortunately doesn’t cut the cloth for the avatars of today. However, maybe Levis’ missed a trick by not supplying (branded) jeans on orientation island for new avatars ;)

Sure, there’s more than one look available per sex when a new account is created (there’s six in total), but that’s still pretty limited, hence the popularity of clothing. But in the context of apparel creations in SL, as shown below in the chart showing the breakdown of items within the Apparel section, the focus here should be on womens clothing as opposed to mens.

Almost 75% of the Apparel items available are for women – over 83,000 items and a classic Pacman pie-chart. Attempting to put this into an analytical context, a simple indexing stat can be applied here to investigate likelyhood or propensity by gender to buy clothing (remembering this is looking at supply not demand). Based on the latest LL data, the male/female split in SL is 59.3/40.7. So, applying this against the 15.2/73.8 for apparel results in an index of 1.8 for women, meaning they are almost twice as likely as men to want clothes.

Whichever way you look at it, the market for virtual clothing is heavily weighted towards women.

slexchange002.jpg

And without getting too metaphoric, ‘What do women want?’ The pie-chart below shows the breakdown of the Woman’s Apparel category.

Costumes, dresses, outfits and footwear are the top four categories here. No real surprises. Although what’s interesting is that trousers/pants are very low in terms of supply, indicating that female avatars prefer a more dressy/glamourous/non-functional appearance. Why wear trousers when you can have a flowing haute-couture dress?!

Diving into the psychology of avatar accounts for a moment and the suggested prevalence of men having female avatars, one could assume they would want to create glamourous appearances as opposed to a more mundane look.

Switching over to Men’s apparel, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most popular item is Shirts, three times more popular than Trousers/Pants. Come to think of it, I haven’t changed my Trousers in months.

Now let’s take a look at Avatar Accessories, the third largest headline category with over 47,000 items. Jewelry clearly rocks in this section, accounting for almost half of the items with hair in second place. This logic follows suit using the ‘demand for avatar customisation’ argument.

Unwrapping the Jewelry/Watches section, the sub-sections are shown below. Most jewelry segments are well represented here, albeit with another bias towards women based on the prevalence of necklaces, earrings and bracelets.

So, as shown, clothing for avatars and accessories for avatars are extremely popular categories for items available on SL Exchange. Therefore, it makes sense that people also want to change the actual look on their skin – their avatar form. Avatar appearance is the fourth most popular category and shown below.

Moving away from clothing and appearance, finally, here’s the Home and Garden segment – the second largest headline category. It’s important to point out here that whilst anyone with a L$ cash balance can purchase clothing in order to customise avatars, not everyone has a ‘home’. Nevertheless, this is a popular category on SL Exchange.

So what does all this mean for real world brands?

It means they’re playing catch-up against the hundreds, if not thousands, of creators in SL providing products for avatars. The sheer volume of products available on SL Exchange and Onrez clearly proves that (weird or not to some) there’s a major market for virtual items. And, it’s as good as a fact that pretty soon after account/avatar creation, that person wants to dress themselves their way.

Looking at it this way, real world clothing/appearance-based brands have a major opportunity in virtual worlds and not just in Second Life. They already have the brand awareness and equity that is hard to build up in virtual worlds. However, what brands have to focus on is not just the opportunity but also the tactical execution of virtual world activity. Some projects to date have been successful, whilst others have not. Here’s a selection of real world brands that have entered this space:

Adidas

L’Oreal Paris

Bershka

Armani

Wella Shockwaves

No.7

But what about you? Do you like to shop for avatar clothing and accessories?