Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Commentary: The SS Galaxy's Closing

By Bixyl Shuftan

For nearly eight years, the SS Galaxy stood as an example of what could be done with Second Life. Spanning three sims, it was a full scale replica of a cruise ship with shops, pools, dancing hall, etc. and with a staff on board, it provided a cruise ship experience for those who rented a cabin. Now after all those years, it's gone.

It's been a while since a location with this kind of stature closed down. One place dear to a number of longtime residents was Greenies. Built by the group Rezzable, it gave residents a mouse-sized perspective of a huge family room and kitchen, alongside tiny green aliens. Rezzable would build a number of other sims, including Greenies spinoffs, but their giant rooms, called Greenies Home, remained the most popular. But in 2009, they announced they would be withdrawing most of their sims from Second Life, and soon only Greenies Home was left. Then in June 2010, it was announced their classic build would be leaving Second Life as well. A few people wondered if Rezzible didn't know how to budget money, keeping fewer sims up for a longer time. But the timing of the annoucement just days after Linden Lab laid off a third of it's staff sounded less like a coincidence to some and more like a lack of confidence in Linden Lab.

There was the Globe Theater which held a number of plays by Shakespeare. The reason this place closed was partially due to the discontinuing of the nonprofit discount for tiers. While one Linden was willing to talk about preserving the location, the Lab dismissed her, and the Globe's owner couldn't work with her replacement. And so she announced that the place would soon be closing. And so the Globe, along with a number of other nonprofit sims would be closed before Linden Lab finally reversed it's decision to end tier discounts for them. A number of residents grumbled they could only see greed as the reason the Lab had for ending it to begin with.

In the case of the SS Galaxy, they never had a nonprofit discount. And Director DBDigital Epsilon stated finances weren't a factor in the ship's closing, so apparenly their money situation has remained solid over time. So apparently they continued on smoothly, until hit with a series of severe griefing attacks. At least one of the attacks involved actual dammage to the structure. Exactly how they were able to manipulate the prims is unknown, possibly some kind of hacking. But for whatever reason, Linden Lab told them they would be getting one rollback and no more, and could not guarantee the attacks would stop.

Over a year ago, the Newser reported on the plight of the Junkyard Blues Club, which was hit by "sim crasher" attacks again and again, the griefers telling them they would keep on until paid off with money. The Lab wasn't much help. It resorted crashed sims, but that was all, the same avatars whom they filed reports against back within hours. Faced with the barrage, Junkyard Blues chose to limit access to group members, aside from a small area that anyone could go to and request a group tag from volunteers after being checked. It cut back on traffic, and revenue, but with the Lab's limited help they decided it was the only thing they could do if they wanted to keep off the griefers and keep the sims up, at least until they felt the heat was off.

Could the SS Galaxy have tried a similar "hunker down" stragegy, limiting access to those not in the group to the dock the ship was next to? What options the ship's owner considered is unknown, but in the end it was decided the ship could no longer provide the experience it had to the public. And so, on May 3 it was closed and offlined the following day. Second Life's largest build was gone.

One person I talked to felt the Galaxy could have done better. Ultimately it's the sim owner's responsibility to look after his/her sim, she told me, and making it accessible to the public means having to prepare for what could happen. But most of the blame fell on Linden Lab. How could they just let such a grand build of such a longtime customer fade away? Some residents commented that they didn't think the Lab even cared, perhaps not caring enough about it's product to know the ship existed.

Among the comments on Facebook was that of Luskwood founder Michi Lumin: "Linden Lab's biggest thing lately seems to be 'hands off' and no governance involvement. I've said for a long time that LL seems to, when presented with the blue pill or the red pill, somehow they seem to manage to find a third poison pill, and take that one instead. ... As far as the rollbacks go, LL has been trying to apparently 'cut customer service costs.' (Who would have known they had many.) - they basically don't want people requesting a rollback a day. 'One ever, zero tolerance' is the kind of overextreme ridiculousness that I'd expect from today's LL, unfortunately, though. They could just say 'well, rollbacks are hard for us to do, and we don't want to make them a common thing, so please be judicious when you ask for one' -- but they don't do that. I get their point, but they've again, between the good and bad way of handling something, found the *worst* way to handle it. I think it's ingrained in the culture, in the corporate cycle. I think some lindens 'on the ground' know this, (what few are left who interact with the community) ... but if you even look on, the issue really seems to rely in the corporate vacuum of management, which probably doesn't even know what 'rez' means."

But it wasn't just Linden Lab that was the problem here. There were of course the griefers, "Griefing is a big problem," Michi went on, "not just in SL, but the uprise of 'active sociopathy for entertainment' on the Internet is becoming a larger issue. Especially in the last few years as it has gained its own sort of culture, justifications, and communities dedicated to it." She compared it to "swatting," in which someone makes a hoax call to the police to get them to raid someone's house, "a certain type of person will feel that it's OK to think that such things are hilarious. If this sort of 'lulz culture' was nipped in the bud years ago when it was starting in SL, we wouldn't have the sort of prevalence-without-acknowledgement that we have now."

In conversation, Relay for Life DJ Madonna Daehlie (madonna.milena) felt similar, "What in the hell is wrong with people? I'm not sure I've ever been to the Galaxy. I don't do the ritzier places much anymore. But that was years of people's work, and God knows how many thousands of dollars. And some people felt entitled to go and trash that. ... I have, throughout my life, encountered far too many people who just voluntarily turn off their brains. They clearly have brains. They work right. They just are more than happy to throw the transmission into neutral and not think. And, sadly, a growing number of them who think things like morals and compassion and decency are signs of  'weakness.' "

For the owners of locations of which public access is key, the downfall of the SS Galaxy is a clear warning, Linden Lab cannot be counted on to bail them out if they're ever in the crosshairs of a persistent griefer assault. So if the Lab won't help someone under assault by these virtual malcontents, what then? There is the option of calling a neighborhood watch group with access to anti-griefng tools, such as the Green Lanterns. There is the "hunker down" strategy, turning off public access until one is sure the griefers have given up. There is also the option of limiting what access the public has to a space, such as turning off scripts, though there is still the danger of hacking.

One side affect is some people will probably be more inclined to be wary of those they consider strange and unfamiliar. For instance one owner of a venue aimed at a Furry clientele was inclined to keep a careful watch on any normal human avatars entering the place unless they were with someone he knew. And for newcomers, already a few places won't allow a new avatar to enter. The number of such locations may grow, making the experience of a newcomer already frustrated by trying to learn how to go about life on the Grid even more frustrating. Not good news for Linden Lab, which has always been trying to get new people to get on Second Life.

And then there is how Linden Lab itself is regarded. Since Ebbe Linden came in as CEO, Linden Lab has regained much of the public's goodwill that it had lost over time. Now once again, the Lab is looking more like the incompetent, uncaring, beast residents branded it in the past. Their decision not to help the SS Galaxy will haunt them as people make the decision whether or not to get new sims, and take a chance with the upcoming Next Generation Grid, "You've already proven you don't give a rats patootie about people in one virtual world. What makes you think we'll believe you're any different in another?"

*Addition* One week after this was written, it was announced that Linden Lab was assuming ownership of the ship in prepatation to reopening it. But there were no plans for further events or cabin rentals.

Bixyl Shuftan


  1. Interesting article. I will miss the Galaxy, it was one of my favorite places in SL and I did sail around it a number of times. It was also nice to see the Shakespeare sims remembered, I did spend so many nights there during their staging of the 12th night

  2. I had many lovely experiences and a lot of fun there. It was an amazing accomplishment but in the age of Mesh it was showing its age. Kindest regards to everyone who made Galaxy great!