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Second Life Users Furious Over Barely Understandable Controversy

WARNING: BY READING THIS BLOG POST YOU WILL LEARN A LOT ABOUT SECOND LIFE. VERY LITTLE OF IT INVOLVES SEX.

So. What do you do in Second Life? BESIDES that (I *warned* you there was very little sex involved here).  You build stuff.

To build stuff, you need a place for your stuff (George Carlin taught us this). Linden Labs, the people who run Second Life, make most of their money off selling server space. It’s their revenue model, since the vast majority of SL “residents” do not pay a monthly fee.

Some folks do in fact pay a monthly fee to lease space directly from Linden – this space, called the “mainland”, until recently looked much like you’d expect reality to look like if zoning laws encouraged spammers to build 700 foot high rotating billboards every 30 feet. People who didn’t particularly like living next to pulsating advertising for penis enlargement, even virtually, fled to “the islands” – servers that were rented en masse from Linden by land resellers (this blog’s occasional bête noire, Prokofy Neva, is one of these). Casual users pay resellers a small fee, usually in in-game currency or L$ instead of RL cash, to lease a portion of this land. The users get the benefits of living in a “walled garden” community away from the free-range chaos of the mainland and the convienence of renting from another user directly in world (and through L$, which for users that try to use as little RL currency as possible can be important) and the land resellers hopefully make a small profit through land rentals.

However, “islands”, or server farms are expensive: monthly fees, or “tier” for a full island is a cool $295 a month and $1000 sign-up fee, which, while well within the norm for renting rackspace for a server that *isn’t* running Second Life, is beyond the reach of all but the most dedicated virtual land speculator.

The currency of servers are “prims”. Prims, short for primitives, measure the stuff that you build. The more stuff you put on a server, the more it’s stressed (since objects in SL can be and usually are highly scriptable). So, some sort of clamp on what you can pour into a server is kind of required from a technical standpoint, and also nicely encourages users (who never have enough room for their stuff) to pony up more money for more stuff-space.

An island has a prim allowance of 15,000, which is large enough for nearly anything, and thus why it’s easy to carve up islands for rental. Renting a chunk of land from the mainland will get you a varying prim allowance based on how much you’re paying a month. Most rentals from private island owners have comparable fees; here’s an average rental – $16 a month for a 468 prim allowance, or $1 a month more than an identical prim allowance from Linden’s mainland (and on a private server which has a restricted “land covenant“, or neighborhood association, basically).

So. Now that you know everything there is to know about virtual land speculation, let’s mix things up a bit! Enter “Openspaces”. Openspaces were intended to be, well, open. Forests, oceans, etc. In a paradigm where everything is measured on how much stuff you can cram into a given space, openspaces were created as space where there was, well, less. To quote Linden,

We figured that if Governor Linden can have ocean and green spaces, we should let private estate owners do the same.

Specifically, an openspace island gives you the same virtual space, but only 1/4th the prim allowance, and 1/4th the montly “tier” or rental fee. This put islands far closer financially within the reach of the average SL power user, and since even 1/4th the prim allowance of a full island is well enough stuff for most, thus became really popular.

So popular, in fact, that openspaces became not that open, really. Not too surprisingly, there was a run on openspaces as opposed to the standard server. People bought openspaces, built high-traffic clubs and stores there, and the openspace servers (which, not coincidentally if you were following along with the prim allowance and tier fee, were running on… you guessed it… 1/4th of the rack space) started to cry. A lot.

So, Linden announced that, um, maybe you shouldn’t be using openspace sims for your average everyday SL putting-stuff-in-your-place usage. And to encourage that, pricing for openspace was going up, and people would no longer be able to resell openspace land.

In response, there was rioting, panic in the streets, wailing and rending of garments, and in the true sign of an incipient apocalypse, one of the most reasonable voices on the controversy was, um, Prokofy Neva.

From my viewpoint, the rioting and panic is a sign of a badly handled community, but the actual action taken is necessary. It’s pretty clear that the usage policy for openspace sims wasn’t thought out too well, and something had to be done to encourage heavy SL users to pull their own weight. But telling your most avid (and most financially contributing users) “hey you’re all a bunch of deadbeats dragging us down” isn’t that popular. And especially not when an open-source alternative is in the process of rolling out.

How will this all shake out? Well, mainstream media sources straining to tie this to the RL housing market crash notwithstanding, it’s not really that clear. Currently most of the vocal Openspace users burned by this are insisting that they are moving to the open source SL-equivalent, but it’s not really ready for prime time as of yet.

So – signs point to continued OMGZDRAMA and eventually everyone will revert to complaining about crashes due to overloaded server infrastructure.