It's been really exciting to watch major brands (American Apparel, Major League Baseball) start to experiment with Second Life. AdAge just published an article where one agency claims it gets "an inquiry about Second Life basically every day." That's pretty cool, but later on another industry wonk says "think if Snickers puts its candy bars in Second Life, and they gave players real energy." And I can respond with two statements - one, that's not all that creative and two "be careful (brands and Linden Lab)."
The magic of Second Life has always been rooted in the idea that an object's properties (is it cool, does it work well, is it beautiful) are a product of the creator's ability to build something amazing in a virtual environment, not hard coded because of a business deal. Ask failed game The Sims Online about user reaction to the invasion of brands, where Intel and McDonalds were to make your character smart and satisfied quicker than their respective virtual world generics. Ask implosion There.com (which to be fair has recapitalized and righted itself) about doing a deal to make virtual Nike sneakers cause your avatar to run faster than sneakers which could be created by a There subscriber. The message was clear to users of these two systems - "you don't own this world, we do. And we're willing to sell you out."
Let me guess that Linden Lab would never do a deal with Snickers that causes their virtual candy bar to be "better" than anything else in the world. In fact, I'm pretty sure that all these deals have little to do with Linden except maybe some co-marketing/PR effort and enhanced technical support.
So is it a truly level playing field in Second Life? Well, kinda. Where Snickers has an advantage is in the resources to hire the best coder in Second Life and give their energy bar some cool properties that are very difficult for another resident to recreate. Even then though it wouldn't surprise me if Snickers finds itself second fiddle to a random virtual candy bar developed by a 22 year old resident from Australia. It's just that kind of place.