When I saw the numbers for 2009, showing that residents took out more than US$50 million from SL last year, I started wondring how much of that was actual revenue for true SL products. Could it be that a lot of this money really was spent on RL sex related products and services, merely using SL as a convenient payment solution?
With that in mind, I set out to explore the red light districts of SL.
The Sex marked in SL is large, but for the purpose of this post I will divide it in three:
1. Sale of scripted gadgets (sexual organs, animations and beds, inworld video streaming)
2. Inworld escorting, including voice
3. Web cam escorting and porn distribution, where you pay in SL but the product is actually outside of SL (Skype, MSN, video download)
The first 2 categoryes I think of as being true SL products and services. The last category is merely using SL as a cash register.
1. Scripted gadgets
It seems to me that sex gadgets are the only items people are willing to fork out several thousand of lindens on. 1000 linden for a penis, 4000 for a decent bed or HUD. I am quite sure that several of the top 50 are creators of such items.
2. Escorting, club dancing
Lots of clubs, and lots of avatars doing SL-only escorting. 399 hits on "escort" in search. When I talked to some of the girls, it was clear that the competition was fierce, and there was no abundance of customers. I get the feeling that this is a game for a lot of people; they don't do escorting merely for the easy money, but also for the fun of it. Sure, I have not covered it all, I am sure some do good money on this business too, but the extent of this was not my major concern here.
3. Web cam escorting and porn distribution
First, I went looking for simple RL porn movies. Did not find too much, and what I did find did not seem to be any gold mines:
Icarus video player: For L$495 you get 1500 adult videos, with a promise that new ones will be added to your set each month.
At SLDVDs you can rent movies to play inside SL, or just use SL to buy movie files that downloads to your computer. They charge L$1250, or about USD5. Traffic was less than impressive though.
So, it seems porn is not really big in SL. What about webcam escorting?
According to BBC, the webcam sex marked is worth more than 550 million USD/year, that is 10 times as much as the total income from ALL SL businesses. A quick search using Google reveals an endless stream of pages, all offering a peek at girls undressing and performing live on camera.
This is also advertised in SL. 15 minutes of web cam is about L$8000, give or take, or USD30. That also seems to be the going rate for the same services bought on the web.
You have to organize 45 such sessions a day to get 500.000 USD out of SL. Now, a search in SL for webcam services resulted in a meagre 19 hits. Some of those was not web cam related, and 2 of them was just single girl operations. When I landed at places advertising web cam girls, I found that more that half of the escorts was NOT doing web cam. (A few offered reverse webcam though; a concept I do not quite get: You pay them to look at YOU, not the other way around LOL. Not my turn-on I guess).
Anyway, after spending a few hours searching for the more doubious places in SL the last 2 weeks, I have to say I am releived. The big part of commercial SLex activities are just that: SLex. Our virtual world is still mostly virtual, and that's a comforting thought (at least for me:-).