Have We Lost the Second Life Vision?

Posted: November 7, 2009 in Second Life
Tags: , , ,


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.

  1. Benjamin says:

    Interesting points on copyright, identity and product positioning.

    If I may, I would have a few comments:

    – Your point on copyright is very valid: re-engineering SL as a place DMCA-compliant is going to be tough, but not impossible if various DRM / Creative Commons schemes are put into place. There are additional problems such as: (a) do users actually “own” anything? (b) which authority would enforce copyright / trademark protection? Digital law is for sure a promising specialty, as it is still in the making.

    – For identity / roleplay, the evolution of communities is difficult to manage – this is known since first human groups but also since first online communities in the mid-80s/early 90s such as Habitat, The Well and more. Of course, most virtual worlds builders today never heard of those. Early adopters rarely stick for long, as they are… early adopters! They move on to some new things, and the service or business model might morph (or the other way around: service and model change and early guys move on to other things). Regarding identity, I found your remark on “offline fake people” interesting – you are onto something there – but you assume that there is something like “a real ourselves”. If you dig into behavioral sociology, you will be surprised (if not shocked, as I was) with how environment-dependent human behavior is!

    – Your last point on product positioning is good too – and connects with the issue of “the early guys start the pump but are not the mass market”. If a service wants to grow, it has to evolve and become “mainstream”.

    Now, to give a few general comments on SL: AFAIK the vision was formed from the book “Snow Crash” by Neil Stephenson. Unfortunately this novel was also the “business plan” and strategy – hence the problems SL had with revenue model (even more capitalist than the offline world!) and community management (no rules lead to chaos. While SL did a great job at educating millions of users and bystanders with the possibilities and promises of 3D environments, it might be struggling today with limited growth, niche usage, unadapted business models and aging technology. Maybe time for another company to surface and do a “2.0”?

    Keep up the great work on your blog!

  2. It’s the (enviable) challenge of how to seek further growth – double down and extract more from your core user demographic or seek to expand the appeal and go more mainstream and younger in age, in which case the community becomes more fragmented and totally different cultures emerge (then you maybe need mechanisms to have a second life within a second life)..

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