At the Second Life Community Convention in Chicago over the weekend, participants debated the changing business landscape within Second Life. As ABC News points out in its coverage of the event, small- and medium-sized business owners are now grappling with how to turn a profit in virtual worlds, while many larger businesses are scaling back the amount of resources they are willing to spend on virtual storefronts. After a massive first-mover land grab bonanza, it now appears that Second Life entrepreneurs "looking to strike it rich or just make a few extra dollars" are encountering "a daunting combination of both the traditional problems faced by any small business owner in the "first" world plus new challenges unique to the youthful, Internet-based economy of Second Life."
While fans of Second Life might find that news a bitter pill to swallow, I actually found the ABC News article to be immensely encouraging from a business and marketing perspective. The conversation about doing business in virtual worlds has shifted, from a "get-rich-quick" mentality to a more nuanced perspective that takes into account the essential factors needed to create a thriving small business. All of a sudden, people are starting to appreciate the need for business contracts rather than simple virtual handshakes. They are even talking up the idea of something along the lines of a Better Business Bureau for virtual shopkeepers and actually considering things like formulating a real business strategy rather than simply applying a "build-it-and-they-will-come" approach. To me, that's the sign of a maturing business category.