US$10 Investment Generated US$2.5 Million in Revenues

Mrs Graef, who hosted a press conference inside a virtual Chinese teahouse in Second Life, said: ‘I must admit that at first, I thought it was just an interesting experiment with a small community. At some stage, something special…Things became very real here – friendships, doing things together with others, ‘living’ here and, well, doing business.’The first sign that her small business could become a big one was when she was not only able to send part of her earnings to her parents in China, but also have enough left over to help support a poor boy in the Philippines, whom she met through a church organisation.

That was when she said she realised that her entrepreneurial activities in the virtual world could reap her real-world profits.So, together with her husband, she set up Anshe Chung Studios, a real-life design company that buys virtual real estate in Second Life, then builds houses, offices, recreational facilities on them before renting or selling them to others in the virtual world.Business became so brisk that she opened a branch office in Wuhan, China, earlier this year. Today, her company has 25 employees, a number she hopes will double in the near future.

Mrs Graef declined to reveal the identities of her virtual real estate clients, but said they included individuals, academic institutions and corporations.’Last night we rented 12 (plots) to a major TV station,’ she said. ‘We also have real-life billionaires as clients who live on our lands.’ At last count, she reckons her avatar owns about 550 ‘regions’, or plots of virtual land, in the Second Life world.

While her business has made her a millionaire, she said that she is not exactly enjoying an extravagant lifestyle because she re-invests all her money into the business.Her company also plans to sponsor non-profit organisations that hold events in the Second Life world. ‘At the moment, the focus is more on Second Life and to support the non-profit groups there.’

She also stresses that the millionaire in question isn’t her, but Anshe, explaining that she prefers to keep her real-world life separate from the activities of her virtual alter ego.And Anshe clarified this during the press conference too, saying: ‘All the assets are inside Second Life. It is not money that my creator has put in her bank account.’

But when pressed, Anshe admitted if she were to liquidate all her virtual assets, Mrs Graef would be an instant millionaire.SECOND Life started in 2003 as a 3-D virtual world for gamers to ‘hang out’. But since then, it has turned into a bustling community of over 1.8 million ‘residents’ with a bona fide economy and currency of its own.

Apart from property, players in Second Life buy and sell items like virtual clothes, furniture, gadgets and musical instruments, with an estimated US$500,000 changing hands daily.Global news agency Reuters even has a website dedicated to Second Life, with a reporter living in and ‘reporting’ from the virtual world.The website also features a chart that monitors the commerce going on and shows the latest exchange rate between Linden Dollars and the US dollar.The popularity of this online game has drawn some of the world’s biggest companies to set up shop in the virtual world.

For example, car maker Toyota, computer seller Dell, and sports apparel company Adidas have virtual outlets in Second Life.Many residents also make use of the Second Life world for educational purposes.So a professor in Toronto and students in Boston can log into Second Life and meet their virtual selves to conduct lessons.Ms Catherine Smith, a spokesman at Linden Lab, the San Francisco-based firm that created Second Life, said that the number of things you can do in the virtual world could make it more than just a game in the future.

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