Posts Tagged ‘sl visions’

slvision

Three other blog posts generated a fair amount of feedback over at SL Universe this week.  First was a protest over in world copying promoted by the Shopping Cart Disco blog.  Second was an article at the Pixels and Policy blog about how real life gender affects second life play. Third was a proposal by Hamlet Au at NWN about integrating Facebook and Second Life in an effort to get more players into SL.

My response to all three was decidedly negative.  Even though these three separate issues have little to do with one another, they all deny the whole vision and purpose of Second Life as if they are a part of a concerted effort to turn SL into something it is not.  Have we lost the vision of what SL is supposed to be?

The bulk of my venom is over the second and third posts, but I should begin and end with the first.  I did not participate in any protests over copyright issues.  Not that I am opposed to copyright protection or removing counterfeit goods, or punishing those that violate copyright in world.  I am opposed to changing the rules of SL to accommodate copyright protection.  I have explained why in previous posts.

Every now and then we get an article about how people play avatars that are nothing like who they really are. Men pretending to be women, women pretending to be men, adults pretending to be children, children pretending to be adult, humans pretending to be animals, animals pretending to be human.  You get the picture.

My response is always: That is why it is called SECOND Life. Yes, there are fake people in SL. In fact the vast majority of players look nothing like their avatars in RL, whether it being a few inches taller, or 20 pounds lighter, all the way to playing fantasy alien species.

The truth is there are plenty of fake people in real life as well, the fake people in Second Life are a much more interesting fake.  In real life we pretend to be something other than ourselves, because societal norms tell us we should.  In Second Life what we pretend to be is a personal choice, a creative representation we choose to project.

As I have pointed out before, there is a large part of the general population that doesn’t get this.  They believe that our online persona should be real, that the virtual world should mirror the real world, they are offended by even the idea of “role play”, and they are likely to show up more often in social networks like Facebook.

I did finally get a Facebook account and use it to talk to family and old friends.  I don’t bother with all the other crazy stuff that goes on there like Mafia Wars and Farmville.  So yes I understand that SL’ers may be ok with social networks.

I’m not so sure a typical Facebook user would be that interested in Second Life.  Advertising SL or integrating Facebook in SL will not work.  The TOS policies in FB are decidedly anti role play, and they will occasionally suspend accounts of people using fake names or 3D rendered profile pictures.

Bringing in the Facebook crowd means bringing in the kind of players that reports people wearing child avatars for being under age; that think it is cool to “out” the gender benders; that take offense at furbys and goreans and nekos; the type of people that don’t understand “role play” and generally cause problems for those that do.

These kind of players don’t last long in SL anyways. If SL wants to attract future loyal players, they need to hit sci-fi and comic conventions, SCA and Renaissance fairs, war reenactors, and other places likely to attract the role playing types. I’ve met lots of SL players who are into all of this stuff IRL as well.

Second Life is a world designed and built for role players of all types. That is what it has always been and needs to remain.  Concerning yourself with real life identities is a waste of time.  Trying to “mainstream” Second Life is counter productive and wont work.

Linden Labs needs to stop marketing Second Life as a place to make money, especially since only about 2-3% actually do. They also need to stop marketing as a social chat environment as there are dozens of better places to chat.  It is far more effective, I believe, if SL were marketed as a fantasy mecca, as a place to create your world. Its what those misleading ads for Evony and IMVU do, and they have attracted millions of players.

Which brings us full circle to those concerned with copyrights and stuff.  SL was not designed to protect copyright. Many real life 3D artists don’t bother with SL for that reason.  I figured this out a long time ago myself. If you release something cool in SL, it will get copied and stolen, and spread around.  Somehow this idea that SL is a place to make money has caught on and has turned into an entitlement, they are demanding that the Lindens protect their investment with draconian rules to limit play for non-paying players, or to limit what can be uploaded and by who.

From a role play perspective this whole thing is silly anyways.  I build my character, make or buy clothing, make or buy housing and enjoy the world.  If I want to play the role of “fashion designer”, I design avatar clothing, and have fun doing it, and if I make money too, great!  It means I can play the role of successful fashion designer.  If others are making cheap knock-offs of my product line, well that’s the life of the virtual fashion designer.

Worrying about what others are doing with your stuff just leads to stress and burnout.  Aside from filling out the occasional DMCA ticket, people shouldn’t waste their time over it.  This is all antithetical to the whole spirit of Second Life.  SL was designed as a fun diversion, a fantasy escape, with as much freedom as possible, not a big business platform that needs to be scrutinized and regulated.

With the recent departure of some key players, Second Life seems to be at another crossroad point. In these times, there is always this serious risk that things could change enough to destroy what has been built.

It is time to remind people of what the whole purpose really is.

This week, two of the more successful creators in Second Life filed  a class action suit against Linden Labs due to lost business resulting from other players copying their items and selling them as their own.  This is a very touchy issue for a lot of people, the thread at sluniverse.com was 15 pages long in the first 24 hours of the post.

I thought I’d share some thoughts on this. I am not a lawyer, and I have no clue how this will play out. My best guess is an out of court settlement that will not change the situation at all. Personally, I believe that there is plenty of blame and misunderstanding to go around.

Lets start with the basics:

1.) Second Life was not designed with security, copyright, or IP protection in mind.  Otherwise, 60% of all textures and 90% of all sound files would have never made it into the game.

2.) It is technically impossible to stop the copying of textures and objects on to people’s hard drives, and damn near impossible to stop these copied textures and objects from being imported back into the game under a different “creator” name.

Linden Labs has failed in two ways:

1.) They failed to publicize facts 1 and 2 above, thus giving most players the false impression that they can make what they want and no one could copy it. Even worse, they instituted a policy early on that the rights to all textures, animations, scripts, etc imported into the game would remain with the player that imported them, thus implying that they can be safely used in game.

2.) They have failed to enforce copyright claims, even at the bare minimum level an internet “service” is expected to do. Claiming to be a “service” and claiming only the users of the service are responsible if they violate copyright or trademarks has not stopped other internet services from getting take down notices, and should not stop Linden Labs either.

The filers of the class action are stating some things in the class action that are clearly not true as well. Take a look at point 6 on page 3:

6. Linden Labs has the means to simply and easily halt the alleged conduct, but refuses to do so because it makes too much money from all the infringement.  Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit in order to prevent Linden Labs from continuing to commit trademark and copyright infringement and to recover damages for Linden Labs unlawful behavior.

This paragraph is for the most part false, and its inclusion undermines paragraph 4 and other parts of the complaint. Especially false are the words “simply and easily” as if a simple command into some SQL database would solve a complex copyright issue.

There are a lot of ideas floating around to prevent copyright issues from coming up in the first place, and I have yet to see one that would not seriously harm legitimate businesses or the SL economy as a whole.  The most popular is to not allow people who do not have financial data on file to cash out lindens for dollars, in hopes that the lack of anonymity will scare away copy scammers.  The flaw is that it is not necessary to use Lindex to buy and sell lindens. If LL starts restricting the Lindex, it will open up third party exchanges.

The only way around these loopholes is to not allow any unverified free accounts to have any lindens at all. This will further deteriorate new player experience, and ultimately hurt the economy as a whole as it limits the customer base.

The least harmful way to enforce copyright is the “You Tube” way. Take it down if a copyright holder wants it taken down. The burden of proof of a copyright claim would be on the copyright claimer, requiring evidence that you uploaded said texture or created said item before the copy, to prevent false reporting for griefing purposes.

Complaints regarding copyright or trademark should be investigated. If the investigation determines the claim is valid, the offending object gets removed and replaced in people’s inventories with a notecard explaining what happened, and who made the complaint. It should also possibly result in the suspension of the copiers account, rescinding of land holdings and lindens.

I know this would result in a lot of innocent victims losing stuff they paid for, resulting in lots of complaints, but it could lead to other reforms for the better, like a rep system or insurance system. Who says these have to be run by SL?

Even this is not a fool proof system, but it is a way of doing something, which is more than they are doing now.

Some other 3DVWs that allow user created content that can be bought and sold by players, namely There and IMVU, have restrictive approval requirements, that also cost money to submit new items, and it takes days to get it approved.  This makes sure people aren’t copying other peoples work, but it also slows way down the growth of content in the virtual world.  Second Life has definitely benefitted from the exponential growth afforded from an open submission policy.  Restricting the policy would completely change every aspect of Second Life.

In conclusion, I believe this lawsuit will never get to court and will end in some settlement.  I’m not worried that SL will close, I am worried that LL will have to make some draconian change in policy that will ruin SL. Getting rid of the offending material, and maybe the offending avatars is fine.

Making changes to the submission process, or making economic changes, would no doubt do more harm than good.

The Second Life world seems to have its panties in a bunch over a new 3rd party utility by Rezzable dubbed Builderbot.

Basically, Builderbot can copy every object in an Second Life sim and put it into an OAR file that can be loaded onto any OpenSim server, thus making a near exact copy (scripts as usual are a problem).  They also are creating an OAR editor, and (even more impressively) a way to port OAR files into Second Life, thus making transfers from OpenSim to Second Life possible.

There are two things that are upsetting to the Second Life community: 1. Builderbot does not look at copy permissions or ownership, it just copies everything on the sim. 2. Rezzable was planning to release the SL to OAR part of the Builderbot for free.  These things had the whole community grabbing torches and pitchforks ready to boycot Rezzable. Rezzable finally gave into demand and will not be releasing the SL to OAR part free.

Hate to be the person that disagrees with pretty much everybody on this issue, but maybe I’m the only one who sees the big picture. Builderbot is an awesome idea and a key component to expansion of the 3D web. It is probably the most important 3rd party SL utility ever, and if Rezzable doesn’t release theirs, someone out there should release something similar, including the ignoring copy permissions and ownership part.

Mobile Building

Lets start with the obvious need for Builderbot. Currently, putting a build in Second Life requires that you actually be in Second Life and spend sometimes weeks building there, paying monthly tier as you build. If you want to take your time and do it right it will cost you. Then there is the occasional system hiccup that could cost you hours of work.

Builderbot does two things, it moves the building part of the project off the SL grid. You can now build your server build on your own computer, no system outages to worry about. You can save and backup your work to OAR files as often as you like. If you make a mistake, just load the latest backup. When you are done building and ready to move your build to SL, it can be moved into SL in a matter of minutes, or at most hours. This is the primary design of this program.

Fixing SL’s Design Flaws

Second Life as it was initially concieved is a flawed system. Whoever thought it was a good idea to equate Real Estate with computing power, I hope they have learned a valuable lesson. I have written about this major flaw before. Bottom line, SL runs on thousands of computers, and as many as 80% are not doing anything at any given time.

The obvious fix is to store unused regions in memory and load them up to an available server as needed. Linden Labs could cut their server need by 50-75% with such a system.

They could also bring up mirrored instances of extra busy servers. Want to give a concert that 1,000 people can attand? Just copy the build on 10 different servers that can service 100 people each. If more people want to show up, add more instances.

None of this is possible without a reliable backup system. OpenSim has OAR files, SL has got copybot (basically nothing). What Rezzable is doing is creating a tool to save SL regions as OAR files that can be stored when not in use, quickly loaded when needed, quickly mirrored on multiple servers. Obviously there is some extra programming involved to do all this, but considering the cost savings it is definitely something worth doing.

Why it is necessary to ignore permissions

The biggest concern from most of the Second Life players, is that Builderbot ignores permission. Copy a region, move to OpenSim, and everything in that region has no permissions at all. Anything in Second Life could be quickly copied, permissions be damned.

Rezzable argues that there is nothing in SL that cant be copied already. Players argue “True, but you shouldn’t make it so easy.”

Building a region is like building a website. I build websites myself and anyone can steal my code by right clicking and click “view source”, and there is nothing I can do to stop it. It is super easy.

What most Second Life players  are asking for is DRM management for SL content!

DRM has been a failure everywhere it is tried. Music, video, ebooks, the case against DRM is pretty clear. Read boingboing.net to find out why. How many of you asking for DRM for SL have stripped DRM off a music or video file so you can play it in the format you want?

A Future Marketplace

I come from the 3D Artist community where people build and sell detailed models for use in other people’s projects. All of these models are distributed DRM free and fully copyable and sharable. Yes, there is piracy in 3D models, but it is part of the cost of doing business. But since I do artwork I may want to sell, I pay for all my models and commercial licenses.  This business model is where the 3D web (SL and Opensim) will eventually go.

Most SL players are thinking in L$ economic terms without seeing the big picture. Eventually there will be an xstreet for all grids, and the ability to buy a pre built full region builds (OAR files) to load on to your personal server or hosted server is likely to be a new popular alternative method to static build exploring.

There is much money to be made in building custom regions.  Especially commercial clients who would not dare copy other people’s work. Individual objects and props have their place in the new marketplace as well, especially if they include commercial licenses that will allow the objects to be put into other builds.

I believe this could be a huge market. If I could explore lag free by loading OAR downloads to my computer based open sim server, I would love it! If I could edit them and share with others to show my edits, that would be really awesome as well. I’m quite certain I am not the only one.

The possibilities for Second Life are numerous as well. Can you imagine the fun of going to an SL club that has a different build for every event? Random combat locales? Roleplay setting that can be brought up as needed?

Like it or not this is the future! Second Life is just the early primitive beginning. In a few years we will probably wonder what all the fuss was about.

In lieu of a real original post (taking a short break), here are some other blog posts and form topics worth a look see.

Second Life Killer Apps and Weak Ties by Grace McDunnough

A good analysis of why Second Life has failed to reach “Killer App” status as “promised” by Linden Labs CEO M Linden (Mark Kingdon). M Linden responds to this post himself (see comment #10)

Second Life vs. Open Sim by Zonja Capalini

Thoroughly notated long post about the experience of moving from Second Life to Open Sim, including the reasons why and the advantages and pitfalls. This post is a first hand account of a move I believe a lot of people and companies will be making soon.

Symbolism and Second Life Forum thread at SL Universe.

A thoughtful philosophical discussion about how we experience Second Life. In the real world, we run into symbolism on a daily basis that partly defines our reality. The symbols themselves are immaterial just as cyberspace is immaterial. The “real” experience of Second Life is in the symbolic representations of the people, places, and things. Good discussion.

Second Life is falling off the mainstream radar, ironically Linden Labs is making a potentially hazardous move to try to become more mainstream. I have to ask: Is the party over in SL?

SL’s Declining coverage

I am noticing a major shift in the attention that Second Life has been getting lately. Mainly it is getting a lot less of it.  I have an RSS aggregator dedicated to SL which pulls stories from the biggest and best SL outlets I can find.

I used to feature Reuters, they dropped covering SL. Same with Wired. Electric Sheep Company seems to be pulling out of SL and blogging less. I yanked them all.

Of the ones that are left, they are still covering SL, but at a reduced rate. Former Second Life Herald, now Alphaville Herald (thanks to trademark enforcement) is shifting to Metaplace and other VW coverage. Massively, a site dedicated to all online gaming that bought up SLNN for more SL coverage, still has the occasional SL story, but only when there is some interesting development. They no longer seek out the stories themselves. Of the other blogs I list, only New World Notes continues to blog regularly. To keep the aggregator busy I added Koinup popular places and the Second Life Bloggers group at ning.com.

Mainstream press in general no longer seems that much interested. Part of me suspects that when SL was being judged by the number of accounts, the tens of millions generated some interest. Now that the “active” account number seems to hover around 500,000 and hasn’t grown much in nearly two years, its considered old news.

A couple of years ago the announcement to section off a continent for “adult content” would have gotten a few mentions in the mainstream press. Today nary a blip. The last SL story to get mainstream press coverage was last November’s headline of a real world divorce over the husbands SL “cybering” with another player. It was a strange human interest story, but that kind of thing happens a lot more often than you think. That story reinforced SL’s reputation as a “cyber sex” haven. The recent “adult content” announcement was an attempt to lessen that reputation.

“Adult Content” Continent

As  I have said before, the age verification is a game changer. There has been quite a confusing discussion about what exactly counts as “adult content” and many players are upset that Linden Labs is engaging in censorship.

What LL is proposing is a new mainland continent where adult content will be allowed reachable only by acconts that have been age verified or that have used a credit card for billing. The general consensus is this will be a “ghetto” continent, which could eventually be closed completely if LL decides it is necessary.

Personally I have a suspicion that this may backfire completely on every level. First of all, you are going to lose some of the 500,000 active players who no longer want to have anything to do with SL, best case is that they are replaced with new active players not looking for adult content.

But from my perspective, there are unforeseen benefits to this island. Adding verification for admittance means there will be no “kids” on this island, no “alts” or “alt griefing”, the vast majority of people allowed will be paying customers with lindens to spend, few “noobs”, few free accounts = no lag due to “camping”, and no one complaining about the content there, because everyone goes in knowing what to expect.

No doubt the immediate focus of this continent will be on the adult content, but these other ancillary benefits may actually drive more really active players there, possibly making the adult continent more popular than any other continent, possibly making the rest of SL the “ghetto”. A recent NWN post agrees with my assessment.

If Linden Labs sets the adult content bar real low (like no nudity) and strictly enforce it, this will almost certainly be the outcome. If this does occur SL’s reputation may continue to sour. New players will find new obstacles to the “good content”, ultimately driving a wedge into the community as a whole.

On the other hand, If they set the bar real high (like no XXX porn anything less is OK) and don’t enforce it much, it will change SL not at all and then LL can tell anyone interested that they are doing “something” about it without really doing anything.  The new adult only continent really will become a “ghetto” no one wants to go to.  Unfortunately, lax enforcement will lead to more player complaints ultimately driving a wedge into the community as a whole anyways.

Either way the community loses. Linden Labs has put themselves in a tough position that will affect every player one way or another.

Based on interviews at NWN and reports from the SL forums, there is lots of contradictory info coming out of LL’s offices. If they hope to have these policies in place by the end of summer, they got a lot of work ahead.

A divided community is an unhappy community, opening the door to the next cool thing taking away LL’s business. The party in SL will truly be over, moved to another venue.