Meet Anshe Chung, a real-estate tycoon in the online game Second Life, and the first virtual millionaire (her holdings in the game are legally convertible into $1 million in real US currency!)
In Second Life, subscribers get a tool kit that enables them to build and create an avatar (a character in the world). They also get a small quantity of Linden dollars to start out with, enabling the participant to buy additional tools and objects within the world itself. Linden Lab converts currency at a floating rate that, at the moment, is about 257 Linden dollars per U.S. dollar.
Though you can buy additional Linden dollars from Linden Lab by paying U.S. currency, Chung says she has made all her additional Linden dollars via in-world buying, building, trading, and selling. The lion's share of it, she says, has been made by buying, developing, and then renting or reselling "land"--i.e., control over the virtual real estate simulated by Linden's servers. Each of Linden Lab's servers simulates about 16 acres of in-world property. At the time I wrote my article in November 2005, Chung was developing private islands and setting up communities restricted to, for instance, East Asian, Victorian, or Gothic architecture, or to French-speakers, or to gays and lesbians, or to fuzzy avatars known as "furries." Because Linden Lab has added simulation servers more slowly than it has accumulated subscribers, virtual property values have soared.
This is seriously a little more depressing than the elephant hanging post you had me cry about before..