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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Getting Money, and Setting Maturity Levels

This post has been updated to reflect conditions as of June 2014.

Hello, avatar! Last time we left you staring about yourself at this strange new world. Now, I know that one of the first things you will want to do is customize your appearance. It’s the most common reaction, and I promise to talk more about that in future entries. But I’d like you to postpone that shopping expedition for just a little bit, close the Second Life viewer window, and browse on over to the Second Life website, http://www.secondlife.com . When you get there, log in with your user name and password. You’ll be taken to a page that says “Yourname’s Dashboard”. Over on the left side of the page you’ll see a sidebar called My Account. You should take some time looking at the various items there. Today, I want to talk about two of them: Billing Information and Age Verification (Update: these days, there is no longer a separate Age Verification step, and it's not shown on the Dashboard any more.  But we'll still talk about age and SL later on.)

You don’t need to have payment information on file to use Second Life. A basic user account is free, and if you are clever and lucky you can find or earn enough money in world to cover your basic shopping needs. But you’ll have a lot more fun in SL if you consider spending a little money there. Living a luxurious virtual life is surprisingly cheap – a budget of $20.00 per month will buy all the lovely shoes, clothes, and accessories that most people could want. A budget of $40.00 - $50.00 will enable you to be a landowner, and have a spacious home filled with beautiful furniture and lots of toys. Consider it an entertainment expense, like going to the movies or buying DVDs. You don’t even need to spend that much…a Premium membership is $9.95 per month, and comes with a small free home and a weekly stipend of $L300.

It’s safe to give Linden Lab your credit card number, or a link to a verified PayPal account (well, as safe as it is to give that information to any internet merchant). You will not be charged unless you do one of the following:
  • Upgrade your membership plan to Premium.
  • Buy land from Linden Lab (through a land auction or a direct purchase of your own private island region).
  • Buy “linden dollars”, or $L, the in-game currency of Second Life
  • Make a purchase on the Second Life Marketplace (a huge catalog of virtual goods that’s part of the main SL website).
You cannot use most pre-paid credit or debit cards for SL. My own preference is to use PayPal, for two reasons. First, you can limit the amount of money in your PayPal account and the bank account that backs it up. This provides an automatic cap on any potential losses should some mix-up or security breach occur. And second, linden dollars can be bought…but they can also be sold. If you have a business in SL that makes a profit, you can cash that profit out and turn it into “real money”. The proceeds of such exchanges can be transferred to your PayPal account. You can’t do that with a credit card.

This two-way currency conversion is unique to Second Life. Linden Lab has created (despite their denying it in official legalese) a working micro-currency. The exchange rate stays pretty constant, at around $1.00 USD = $L250. LL takes a cut of about $L10 – 15 per dollar for a round-trip conversion.

If you don’t like using the “official” currency exchange, the Lindex, there are approved third party sites like VirWox that will also let you buy $L.  Due to new US regulations on virtual currencies, even the authorized $L resellers can't buy $L back from you.  You can only "cash out" through the official exchange and PayPal. 

Real Life Age and Second Life.
Second Life regions have one of three Maturity Ratings: General, Moderate, or Adult. Kids 13 to 15 are permitted only in certain "sponsored" General regions, generally ones run by their school.  All other General regions are suitable for ages 16 and up. Nudity, profanity, and sexual content are not allowed there. In Moderate regions (the majority of places in SL), strong language is allowed. Nudity and sexual activities are permitted in private locations, such as homes and members-only areas. The minimum real life age required for Moderate or Adult areas is 18. Adult areas permit public nudity, sex, and extreme violence. There used to be a separate age verification process to declare that you were 18 or older, but nowadays, this is handled when you input your Real Life birthday during the registration process.(For any kids under 18 reading this – please don’t lie about your age.  Linden Lab takes age violations VERY seriously, and if you are caught you will lose your account permanently.  In fact, your computer will be blocked to keep ANYONE in your household from using SL.)

You also need to set the maturity rating in your viewer preferences. Log in, and go to Me/Preferences. In the General tab, find the section “I want to access content rated…” and make the appropriate changes. There are also maturity level checkbox filters in the Search window, and on the Marketplace.

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