Reuters opens virtual bureau . . . for real

Kai Ryssdal Oct 16, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Imagine for a second you’re a business reporter. And you’re assigned to cover an economy that’s growing 10 to 15 percent a month. There’s a catch. The world that economy’s in doesn’t really exist. But the money sure does. It’s an online game called Second Life. Reuters announced today it’s setting up a Second Life bureau to cover the virtual news. Adam Pasick will be the correspondent. Hi Adam.

ADAM PASICK: Hello.

RYSSDAL: Help me understand this for a second. You’re with a real news organization, operating now in a virtual world.

PASICK: That’s right. Second Life is a 3-D virtual world. But they have their own economy, they’ve got their own currency and, even though it’s a virtual world, there’s people who are running real businesses and they’re making real profits.

RYSSDAL: What kinda profits?

PASICK: Well, the most well-known person is a woman named Angie Chung who’s a virtual real estate developer. By most accounts she’s making a couple hundred thousand dollars U.S. a year.

RYSSDAL: Explain for me, would ya, the nexus between this virtual economy and real-life economics. I mean, they come together at a certain point.

PASICK: They do. Well, I mean, the laws of supply and demand hold true just as well in Second Life. And the interchange is a currency exchange called Lindex,where you can trade between U.S. dollars and Linden dollars. It’s a floating exchange rate totally set by supply and demand.

RYSSDAL: What’s the rate today?

PASICK: I can tell you. It is currently at 273 Linden dollars to the dollar. And that’s one of the things that we’re piping into Second Life. We’re giving people kind of a live currency feed, so if you’re making a business decision, that’s the kind of information you’d want.

RYSSDAL: What kinds of things can you get for 274 Linden dollars?

PASICK: Uh, what could you get? You could probably buy quite a bit of virtual clothing. There are people selling virtual vehicles, helicopters. . . . You could hire somebody to build you a house.

RYSSDAL: This is a tricky thing to wrap your mind around.

PASICK: It is. It’s hard to get used to. When I first got into it, it seemed very strange. But the more time I spent in Second Life, the more I realized that it’s really not all that different than being a reporter in the real world.

RYSSDAL: What kind of stories ya gonna cover?

PASICK: Uh, if you look at the Reuters website where we’re hosting these news — it’s Secondlife.Reuters.com — you get a basic idea. But I’m concentrating on the business and finance stories. There’s a lot of stories that also touch on the real world. For example, I wrote a story about a U.S. Congressional committee that’s looking into whether virtual economies should be taxed.

RYSSDAL: Congress is really thinking about taxing this Linden economy?

PASICK: Absolutely. They’re studying it right now.

RYSSDAL: How are they gonna do that?

PASICK: Uh, that remains to be seen. And there’s quite a few interesting questions about how you, uh, . . . Can you have capital gains in a virtual economy? Should it only be taxed when you cash it out to a real currency? All those questions need to be answered. But there’s a lot of money floating around, so it’s clear that something’s gonna have to happen.

RYSSDAL: Now, is this your fulltime gig? Or are you doing real world reporting as well?

PASICK: No, I’m fulltime in Second Life.

RYSSDAL: Adam Pasick is the Second Life reporter for Reuters. I guess you’re the bureau chief, aren’t you?

PASICK: I’m the bureau chief, thank you.

RYSSDAL: You’re the whole thing, there you go. Adam Pasick, thanks a lot.

PASICK: Take care.

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