On May 28, thirty or so people gathered for a charity auction to raise funds for the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF). They bid on a variety of items, including one of a kind couture from the world’s top designers and a set of sculptures from an up and coming artist, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. What makes this event so
unique is they gathered in the online world of Second Life and the hundreds of thousands they raised were in the game’s currency – Linden dollars – that were then converted to US$900 on the currency exchange site Gaming Open Market (GOM).
This event was the culmination of a month-long fundraising campaign launched in Second Life by Virtual Economies Realizing True Usefulness (VERTU), a virtual non-profit organization founded by player Sarah Einstein. Einstein, who is known in world as Bhodi Silverman, started VERTU as a way to bring real world philanthropy to the gaming community.
Said Einstein, "I wanted to create a way for the virtual community to participate in real world efforts for social justice and to bring awareness of these issues into Second Life."
The EFF campaign, VERTU’s first, raised over $1,700.00 during a month of
activities that included parties, auctions and even lectures with EFF’s Activism Coordinator, Ren Bucholz, on topics such as Exporting American IP: Trade Agreements, Treaties and Policy Laundering. "This is a great example of what can happen if technology users aren’t treated solely as ‘consumers.’ I’m really happy to have been a part of this," says Bucholz about the campaign.
"The key to being able to make a real impact is the ability to convert game currency into real money," says Einstein. "We couldn’t have done this without Gaming Open Market, which processes all of our transactions without the usual commission fee, and has provided all the tools we need to track in
Jamie Hale, co-founder of Gaming Open Market, has been a strong supporter of VERTU since it was still in the conceptual stage, working closely with the
group’s members to ensure its success. "Gaming Open Market was originally dreamt up as a way to provide the game item trading community with a cheaper and safer alternative to eBay," Hale said. "While drawing a profit was definitely part of our long-term plans, we’re such geeks that we’re just happy to be covering costs. Granting Bhodi and VERTU commission-free trading is our way of saying "bravo" for a wonderful and progressive idea. My co-founder Tom Merrall and I wish her and her campaigns the best of luck."
Similarly, said Einstein, VERTU can only exist because Linden Lab, the
company behind Second Life, is supportive both of its efforts and of the concept of outside currency trading. "We couldn’t do this in a game world that frowned on outside currency exchanges, such as EverQuest," she says, "but Linden Lab has been very supportive since the beginning. In fact, the item that brought in the second largest bid at our charity auction was a fifteen minute in-game meeting with Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale!"