Wednesday, July 10, 2019

News and Commentary: Reflections on the SL16B

After seven years, Linden Lab is back in charge of "The Birthday."

It was a surprise in Spring 2012 when Linden Lab announced it would not be organizing any Second Life Birthday celebration in June that year. The result was disappointment, followed by a group of residents getting together to organize it on their own. The overall result was a success, and a collective sigh of relief to all involved. After a few years, the Lab would gradually began to be involved once more. There came presents from the Lab, such as it's robot, bear, and dinosaur avatars. There were the Music Fest. There were the "Meet the Lindens" events. There came the shopping events. And last year there was the Swaginator Hunt. Still, it was the resident-run team that was in charge.

This year, the Lab assumed full control of the Second Life Birthday. The volunteers were still there, but the Lab was in charge. I heard one resident express disappointment, saying that the Lab should have just given the volunteer group the sims and let them run it. A few expressed disinterest in the whole thing, "My bank is important to me too, but I don't celebrate it's anniversary." But the general feeling I got was most were okay with or happy that the Lab was in charge again. Why was the Lab back in charge? One Linden stated that over time, they were analyzing what worked for The Birthday and what didn't. So apparently they felt they were confident they were up to the task again.

A man once stated with change inevitably comes loss. And with the Lab back in charge, a couple traditions from the resident-run Birthdays came to an end. Gone was the "Cake Stage," in it's place a much simpler Festival Stage that could handle the traffic of four sims. Also gone was Stage Left, which in the past few years had wowed crowds with it's detail. One volunteer told me that The Birthday was probably just as good without the fancy builds as while they looked fantastic, all that detail meant extra lag. Others however missed the Cake and the fancy builds that Stage Left offered.

One detail about this year's Birthday that raised a few eyebrows was the 1950s theme of "Sweet Sixteen." Some residents felt "why celebrate the past when Second Life is about the future." Others disliked it as they felt it was a decade with backward values. But most were fine with the theme. Between a decade that saw a world war that killed tens of millions worldwide and about 400,000 Americans, and another decade that saw a great deal of social change and anxiety and a war that seemed to drag on and on without any end in sight, the Fifties were seen by many as a quieter and more innocent time. It was a time when there was a great deal of optimism of the future, and (most) Americans were enjoying economic prosperity like never before. Plus this was the decade that a number of things we take for granted came about such as transistors, affordable televisions, passenger jet service, the popular concept of the teenager, and of course the birth of rock and roll music. As Linden Lab put it, "It was an era that rocked and rolled."

The exhibitor builds as usual were, as a whole, well done. While some seemed to have little or nothing to do with the overall theme, the majority fit in it. There were a few 50s style diners and drive-in theater areas. Some builds were made to educate about certain aspects of the time, such as the "Postwar Prosperity," Korean War, and 1950s Britain exhibits. And some made clever use of the theme such as the Fantasy Faire Literature Festival's exhibit, which was a tribute to a number of Fantasy novels published in the decade. There were people and groups I hadn't noticed before at the SLB, such as Rocket City and All Fur Radio. 

Two events took place that put a small damper on the festive spirit. Just a few weeks before The Birthday was when the Lab announced price hikes to Premium accounts and a doubling of the cashing out fee. A week ago, they announced that at the start of next month, residents cashing out Linden dollars would be required to use the new Tilia service. The announcement of the former following the success of the new Linden Homes encouraging people to sign up for Premium accounts at first could have been seen as the Lab getting greedy for money. But with the announcement of the former, it looks like the recent fees are needed at least in part to pay for and upkeep Tilia. Indeed as there was a paper published in early May by the US Governments Financial Crimes Enforcement Network about online applications possibly qualifying as "money transmitters" under US law, it could be seen as Linden Lab getting nervous about Uncle Sam and deciding to play it safe, though it would cost money that it decided to pass on to it's customers.

One other thing that made the SL16B different was beyond Linden Lab's control. In past years when the Birthday wound down, residents still had one more big event in the summer to look forward to: The Relay Weekend. This year however, the Relay's big event had taken place a few weeks before. With the Second Life Birthday over, the next big event is Burn2 in October. So perhaps this year a number of residents will be making plans for their real-life summer a little early.

It was quite a party, and the Newser was happy to be a part of it. Special thanks to the volunteers, the Lindens and moles for running things smoothly, Silvia Ametza for her first-class exhibit that she made for us, the other exhibitors, and of course the residents who made it possible.

See you at the SL17B.

Bixyl Shuftan

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