Monday, June 30, 2014

Commentary: An Anxious Community Awaits A New Grid

By Bixyl Shuftan

"Happy Birthday Second Life, you're being replaced," was how many residents took the news of Ebbe Linden's announcement of the new virtual world being developed. It seems every major change by the Lab seems to prokove somebody into saying "SL is doomed!," but residents adapted and Second Life went on, (with one change, the third party Linden exchanger ban last year, the Lab made a quick partial reversal). But this time, the change is an entirely new virtual world being developed.

While Ebbe has made an effort to be more open to Second Life's community about what the Lab is doing, unfortunately years of saying little but canned responses in response to questions about a number of it's decisions isn't so easily forgotten. Coming here because of one another, not because of faith in Linden Lab, many residents fear that all they have created here will soon be nothing but memories. Many feel Linden Lab is about to pull the plug on the virtual world that has been their outlet for creativity, their means of communicating with friends that they found here, or both.

Perhaps some found it more than a coincidence that Ebbe chose a third-party viewer developer meeting to announce the news. Team Firestorm, the most popular of the viewers, started out as Team Phoenix. What happened to Phoenix? Over time the team found it more difficult to upgrade to where it could still perform as before, and eventually the team ceased work on it to concentrate on the newer viewer. Might the Lab be doing the same?

The answer to that is no. The big reason is they have no choice if they want to stay alive as a company. Although Linden Lab has diversified somewhat in the past few years, the only other product of theirs that seems to making much money is Blocksworld. And it's income over the months has remained far short of what Second Life has been bringing them. And later on should this next-generation virtual world, called "SL 2.0" by some, become it's more profitable one. As long as the older Grid continues to make money, they'll keep it.

Though comes the question, how will the Lindens run this new world?

When Second Life was first created, the company was fairly idealistic, inspired by the possibilities of what people could create in virtual reality. The Lindens held regular meetings with the residents, some interacted with the residents, and there was a fair ammount of openness. "Your World, Your Imagination" was the slogan, and indeed it was with few rules around.

Today, not a single Linden from the early days remains. Although there are meetings with third party viewer developers, the regular meetings with residents have long been a thing of the past, and for quite some time until recently, Lindens fratenizing with the residents was discouraged. Over time have come a number of rules and changes in the terms of service, the Lab taking more control over the Grid back from it's denziens. Instead of "Your World, Your Imagination," the slogan is now the awkward-sounding "Shared Creative Spaces." The Lab has become more distant from it's residents, leaving them, especially the long term ones, feeling somewhat alienated and unappreciated. On occasion, I hear some wonder if the Lab feel deep down if they would be happier if the the old-timers just went away.

It's because of this distrust of Linden Lab's motivations, competence, or both, that many wonder what lies ahead.

That Linden Lab will be having more control over this second world is a given. They've already stated it will not be open source. No Third party Viewers here. You will either use whatever viewer the Lab gives you, or you don't get on the world at all. Hopefully the Lab will offer something easier to use than the "Viewer 2" so disliked by many longtime residents. If they don't, well, the "oldbies" are going to have difficult times from the start. Then there's the third party Linden exchanges. Many use them because they can't, or won't, use the Lindex. Assuming the new Grid disallows third party cash exchange services, unless the new grid's official currency exchange has more options, these residents won't be able to do much in the new Grid, if they come here at all. There's also the issue of content created and who owns it. Will the Lab state they have just enough control to maintain it on the Grid, or will they insist anything created here, or uploaded here not copyrighted by a corporation first, is theirs to do with as they please?

Will more adult-oriented content be allowed to exist? Although it's been profitable for the Lab as many residents buy Lindens to get lingere and animation poseball beds, it's also been someting of an embarassment as the masses outside the computer world sometimes see Second Life as a sexual playground more than anything else. That is, if they realize there is anything else. Those who come to Second Life to explore their friskier sides or to maintain a long distance relationship could find themselves frustrated in it's sequel if the Lab insists on keeping things squeaky clean.

Will residents be allowed to bring content with them from the older grid to the newer? Many residents have made some great and fantastic things here. The thought of what they've spent years making vanish and having to rebuild it elsewhere is just too much for some, whom would reluctantly let it fade if they can't maintain what they've made here. Assuming the new grid is mesh and prims won't be a part of it, only more recent items could be moved over. If so, will there be some procedure for this? If the Lab doesn't allow content to be transfered, will they offer compensation of some kind if they make a new place in the new grid?

Will residents need to buy new computers? Most likely many will, possibly most. This will cut down on what these residents can spend inworld for a while.

Of course there is the option of simply sticking around Second Life. Team Firestorm's Jessica Lyon predicted residents would be slow to move to the new world at first, that is, until the Lab continues to open up and talk with the residents about it, listening to them and accepting suggestions. And if residents simply go back and forth between worlds, this won't be a problem. But what if Linden Lab's move ends up being a big financial blunder? Suppose the Lab ends up making little to nothing from the new grid while on Second Life anxious residents slow down buying Lindens and virtual land?

Perhaps it was just a matter of time Linden Lab had to make a new virtual world. This one has been around for over a decade, the technology involved originating in the 1990s, and Linden Lab still has not found a way to reverse it's declining income.

But to many of Second Life's residents, especially those whom have invested much time and money, this is worrisome news. Linden Lab will need to keep talking to them, and listen to their concerns, if they want to avoid trouble.

Bixyl Shuftan

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