Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016: The Year In Review

By Bixyl Shuftan

2016 in Second Life had it's share of prizes and pitfalls, triumphs and tragedies. Before heading on, time to take a look back at the highlights.

In real life, 2016 was known by some as the "Year of the Reaper" as many public personalities met their ends. And sadly in Second Life, a number of residents passed away as well. Ladyslipper Constantine was well known at Burn2 as one of the leading people there. But she was also involved with the "One Billion Rising" women's rights event and other activities. Shady Fox was a regular face at Raglan Shire as well as the Giant Snail Races and it's Relay team. Nikoli Redmayne was a passenger aboard the EgyptAir 804 airliner which was destroyed by a bomb, murdering all aboard. Others who passed away. Catt Gable of the Relay for Life Relay Rockers, Zaphara Cazalet of the Relay's Team Strange Journeys. Brandi Maltas (Kalli Birman) a live music performance manager, Motoko Moonwall one of the builders of the Abyss Observatory, Latif Khalifa a key engineer of the Singularity viewer and the Radegast text viewer and others, Nichus Berman, a child avatar of the Steelhead community that lost it's land last year. One user well known in real life who passed away was Tony Dyson (Azar Shelman), the creator of the "Star Wars" robot R2D2. Of the Newser's neighboring community the Sunweaver/Angels, although no active members passed away, the mother of community leader Nydia Tungsten had died.

A number of sims and locations also faded away, the number of sim closings stil slightly more than the number of openings. The vanished sims included the thirteen sims large Greek Island, the US Government-funded NOAA Island aka Weather Island, the Ponyland sim, Misty Island which belonged to one of the staff of the Giant Snail Races, and Laluna Island. Locations closing included the Art by Nature museum, the Lupus Prime venue. The LEA would see many exhibits come and go, but Skull Island was the one that had recieved the most attention from the Newser. The Sunweaver community would see two venues close. Primal Passions was an adult activity friendly castle that appealed to mixed couples. Club Fur had been Second Life's oldest furry club and probably the oldest existing venue, although a copy exists in the OS Grid.

But while some sims vanished, others were saved. The manager of the University of Western Australia sims annonced due to budget cutbacks by the real-life institution three of the five sims would be closed, with the fourth handed to a supporter. But the following month it was announced the three sims would remain, thanks in part to people writing the university. The Insilico Roleplay community had a roller coaster of a year when the sims were briefly closed following the owner of their sims, Skills Hak. The community got a reprieve when the sims were handed over to a leading administrator. But they had increasing difficulty covering their costs, and in October it was announced the sims and roleplay would soon be closing. But before the end of the year, one or more persons had stepped forward to cover their costs and would continue to do so. Mont Saint Michel, which had a sim deathwatch hanging over it for months, finally vanished a year after it's owner announced she was no longer able to pay for it. But then a month later it was back up under Linden ownership. The Lost Gardens of Apollo, which had been closed a few years ago, were back in spirit when a fan opened a tribute sim. Then later in the year, Linden Lab brought back the original. In less than a month, Linden Lab had doubled the number of resident-built locations it had resurrected, and for the first time brought back one more than a year after it's closing.

Besides bringing back two lost locations, Linden Lab would also act in other proactive ways that stood in contrast to clumsy moves of theirs last year. In the spring, they announced that they would be lowering the sim tier to the lower "grandfathered" rates for anyone willing to pay a fee per sim. This was welcome news to most sim owners, at least those who could come up with the cash, but there were some concerns for a few weeks afterwards that this contributed to some minor instability in Linden dollar rates, inconveniencing some who depended on their Second Life incomes. Later in the year, Linden Lab announced that they would be expanding the prim capacities of sims, starting with the mainland areas. Private sims were expanded later in the year, with the option for owners to further expand the capacity for a small monthly fee. It's development announced last year, Linden Lab would continue to work on Project Bento, the biggest development in avatar design in years. Finally in December, it was made part of the official viewer with the more popular Firestorm viewer's team releasing their Bento-compatible viewer a week later. Linden Lab would also launch a new game, "Horizons," and open a new "Horizons" residential area with high-tech looking homes. The Lindens themselves would interact with the residents more, with their "Lab Chat" events, "Meet the Lindens" at the Second Life Birthday, and continued the Halloween-themed "Creepy Crawl" venue crawl, adding a "Holiday Crawl" for Christmas, in addition to the Linden snowball fights. One thing done by Linden Lab that got mixed reviews was their "official announcement" on April 1 that turned out to be an April Fool's joke in the form of a "Rick Roll."

Sansar, Linden Lab's next generation virtual world, would be continue to be worked on by it's development team, and continue to be the source of much discussion by Second Life's residents, wondering just what it was and what it meant for their existing virtual home. In September, they announced they would be allowing the first content creators inside, although those entering were limited in what they could say about the place. Previously called Project Sansar, the "Project" part of the name was dropped, and it was officially called just Sansar. Linden Lab would occasionally publish screenshots, and in October at a global teleconference Ebbe Linden would show off Sansar to some journalists. While the question of just exactly what Sansar was still didn't have a clear answer. a picture was slowly forming over time about it to the point fewer residents felt Linden Lab was planning to replace Second Life with it, and more began thinking this was not a place they would be spending most of their virtual world time in. One Sansar user did come forward, speaking anonymously, saying that comparing Sansar to Second Life was like comparing an amusement park to a residential neighborhood: you could go there for some fancy sights, but you couldn't really "live" there like you could in Second Life. With Sansar due to be officially opened sometime in January 2017, curious residents at year's end wondered what they would see.

2016 was a US Presidential election year, and like the previous two this one was reflected in Second Life to a degree. Second Life's "Trump Organization," which had no connection to the organization owned by the celebrity billionaire candidate, led by JP Laszlo, made news with it's "Trump Manor," a build based on Trump's house in Florida, and later the Trump HQ. Then Sanders-themed locations began complaining about griefers griefing them in the name of the candidate, and pinning the blame on them. The drama reached a high point when JP and his friends pranked the Sanders HQ with the "Trump Wall." Accused of using racist language amongst themselves, eventually the Trump Organization closed it's organizations and retreated to their own sim, leaving Clinton supporters to put a building in their own location in an ironic twist. Then Linden Lab intervened, banning JP and several others of the Trump Organization, a move which Democratic supporters saw as vindication of their claims. When JP revealed herself to be a supporter of the infamous Woodbury group, the Democrats saw this as further evidence the Trump supporters were griefers, some commenting Trump supporters in real life were just as trollish, if not worse. The remainder of the Trump Organization retreated to their Trump Pub and kept to themselves while Democrat supporters set up a Clinton HQ in Bay City. But the Trump supporters had the last laugh when their candidate won on election night. Stunned and frightened, some Clinton supporters began holding a "Safety Pin" support group. Other residents were just simply happy the election ended, not particularly caring who won, one saying political discussion had deteriorated to the level of shrieking monkeys.

Second Life and real life would continue to interact in other ways besides the US election. Garrett Wang, the actor behind Ensign Kim of "Star Trek: Voyager" was interviewed in Second Life at it's Sci-fi convention. Following the Pulse Nightclub massacre, collections were taken inworld to help the families of the victims. Following the terrorist attack at Nice that resulted in over 80 dead, a memorial was set up at the Paris 1900 sims. A man arrested in 2015 for virtual real estate fraud in Second Life was convicted and sentenced in real-life court, helping to establish a precedence for the prosecution of virtual crimes. A man whom had been denied new hearing aids by his insurance company was helped by a fundraiser by Furry Fashion.

Second Life would continue to see many major events, from the Second Life Birthday celebration, to the Relay for Life Weekend and other Relay events such as the Fantasy Faire, The Burn2 art and music festival and it's spinoffs, One Billion Rising, the Linden organized "Creepy Crawl" and "Holiday Crawl," and more. Many charity events were also held inworld. The Relay for Life of Second Life, the nineteenth largest chapter of the American Cancer Society's signature fundraiser, would see another record year for it's fundraising. A number of locations would continue to hold games, such as the Madpea area, which also gained attention with a joint fundraiser with "Feed a Smile."

Of computers and the Internet, there were a number of developments and changes. The smash hit was "Pokemon GO," an "augmented reality" game that had over 45 million playing at one point, but after a few months numbers were plummeting. World of Warcraft, once the towering giant of MMOs, launched it's latest expansion "Legion," but found itself looking callous towards its fans with the takedown of a fan-run "Legacy" server. Bitcoin, the most famous of the crypto-currencies, suffered a setback when a longtime supporter publicly announced it had "failed," the attention exposing some problems with the virtual coin, though it continued. Bitstrips, a popular comic maker used by some people on Facebook, was shut down. One of the longest running online comics, Sabrina Online, was concluded by it's artist after a twenty year run. Microsoft made an experimental AI program accessable to the public via chat, but after it's personality was warped by trolls it was taken down. The Oculus Rift headset was now available in computer stores, but at $600 USD the majority of computer users will probably pass on it. Inworldz, perhaps the largest virtual world after Second Life, celebrated it's seventh anniversary.

For the Second Life Newser, it was a busy year, having published one thousand and thirty-three articles, press releases and announcements, reader submissions, and cartoons, the most we ever had. We've had to say goodbye to a few writers, but have had the fortune to welcome in some new talent. We have had the fortune to gain two full sponsors, as well as the support of secondary ones. In the middle of our seventh year, we will continue to report the news, large and small, of the people, places, and events across the Grid.

Bixyl Shuftan
Editor/Head Reporter
Second Life Newser


  1. Excellent article! I'm surprised so much happened in just one year.

  2. Great review of 2016 and lets hope 2017 there will be great stuff happening.