Wednesday, April 15, 2020

News and Commentary: Mixed Reaction to The Return of Last Names

For years, Second Life's users have asked for Linden Lab to bring back account surnames. Although display names were an option, some continued to call people by their account names. Finally in March 2018, Linden Lab announced they were working on finding a way to bring them back. To the Lab's credit, they were looking for a way to allow those with "Resident" as their surname to change it, which was the hard part as the Grid had been built with the assumption one's name would never change.

Finally on April 13, Linden Lab felt confident enough that they could release the option to change one's last name. And the reaction from the residents has been, mixed, some of which can be seen in a thread in the official forums. A few cheered, "Awesome!" "Woot!" Some grumbled along the lines of "It's about time." Some laughed at several of the choices, notably "Covfefe" which was seen at a poke in the ribs by the Lab at a certain President whom doesn't always correct his spelling before sending out a comment on Twitter. And a few were seen as clever, "I'm delighted to see 'Bellisserian' on the list, that was a genius decision."

But overall, I've noticed two reactions that are more widespread and/or louder than most. One is an overall disappointment of the choices of surnames Linden Lab gave. There were some early signs of this in February when the winners of the Last Names Contest were announced, "Please tell me they will go through another batch?" "Most of these are horrible in my eyes." So it was no surprise when there were reactions like, "I'm blocking anyone with the last name Covfefe, PERIOD!" "This one is a bit of a disappointment but then again, my expectations have become so low by now, they're practically flatlining."

Personally, I feel Linden Lab was a bit hard-pressed on the matter as they've committed themselves to the old process of a list of surnames being available for a limited time and never used again. And over time, thousands have been used. By 2010, some Lindens tasked with the job of finding new surnames were finding themselves at wit's end, supposedly one just grabbing a list of dessert names. And being a writer of fiction before my time at the Newser, I've had people tell me that my choices of names for characters can sometimes, leave something to be desired.

But the biggest criticism fired at the Lab was the money that residents would have to fork over. A few such as Hamlet Au called the $39.99 / $51.98 charge "a small price to pay." But far more common were reactions like Ryan Schultz whom called the fee "an outrageous price. ... I knew that it would cost me, but I am shocked at just how much it did actually cost me. ...  approximately double what I was expecting to pay for such a feature. This is outrageous." He would go on to say that thanks to the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus crisis, people overseas were suffering from currency devaluations, and many US residents as well were suffering, and that Linden Lab was morally obligated to keep this in mind, "these fees seem particularly harsh, tone-deaf and out-of-touch." Some residents also felt Linden Lab should have at least made the first change free for residents, especially those who had to live with the generic surname the longest.

One person responding to Ryan offered one possible reason for the high fees, guessing "they were worried about being hammered with name change requests, so they made it expensive enough that people will think twice. I have no idea how much of a burden large amounts of name changes would be on their system ..." So it could be that the high fees were not done out of greed, but a calculated move to deliberately keep the number of people changing their names low. Oz Linden is on the record as saying they wanted to charge enough to discourage people from changing the name a lot, "Not something you want people to do too frequently. It creates trouble. One of the ways to slow down things we don't want to go too fast is charging people for it."

So will the Lab lower the fee in the future? Probably not any time soon as it's easy to imagine that with the complaints coming in now, there would be more from those who paid early. As the Lab has lowered the price of sims gradually in the past, I imagine after a while as they're more confident of they're system holding up to more people doing so, or few people make the change, they will lower the fee for changing names. Considering right now, some early changers have had trouble with games like Tiny Empires, there are already reasons to wait a little to change.

Of the economic crash caused by the Coronavirus Crisis, this is something Linden Lab couldn't have forseen until just as it was finishing up the feature. Assuming the decision on the fee was a done deal, should they have waited until the economy recovered? Considering it took years for the world to bounce back from the crash of 2008 (and some feel we never really did), probably not. As one of the unofficial rules of Second Life since the beginning has been "real life comes first," those whom have had to tighten their belts due to finding themselves out of a job will have to wait before making the change, even if they like the current list and by the time they have the money the Lab will have gone over to another one they feel is bad.

When the Lab ended last names, it affected Second Life society by creating a dividing line between residents whom signed up before late 2010 and those after. Those with surnames were instantly recognized as longtime residents or "oldbies." As old habits take some time to change, most will probably still assume those with surnames are from 2010 or earlier, at least unless it's one of the more recognizable new ones such as "Covfefe," until they bother to check the profile and the rezz date. Should a lot of people decide to open their wallets and pay the fee, this assumption may start to fade away among most. But if residents hesitate due to the high cost and/or economic troubles and few make the change, many users will likely continue to make this first assumption for some time.

So what do I personally think of the names? On the whole, not a bad choice. There are some that resemble real-life ones such as Takeda, Timmerman, and Ravenhurst. Many are amusing ones, such as Jazzhands, Puddles, Float, and Whimsy. Yeetly and Doge sound like names for meme fans. Melodious and Heartsong sound like a name that someone from the music scene could use, or perhaps a bard in a roleplay community. Mainsail sounds like a name for someone from the Blake Sea area, or perhaps a pirate or Colonial Age roleplay. Littlepaws and Alpha could see some use among the furries, the former among tinies as well. Bellisserian will be popular among fans of the Linden Home continent. Nimble sounds like something one thinking of himself as quick would use. Mercury could end up being used by fans of the late musician of the name, or perhaps space fans thinking of the Mercury Seven. Hexem could be used by someone seeing themselves as a magic user. Of Covfefe, I know a number of opponents and supporters, both enthusiastic and reluctant, of the current President, and can see people of both affiliations using it to poke fun at the other side. As for including "Resident" among the list, I can only call it Linden Lab's sense of humor at work as it's very difficult to imagine a longtime user changing their surname to that.

For better or worse, Second Life's residents since late 2010 now have the option to get a real surname. Like so many things in real life and virtual life, it comes with a catch. So will large numbers open their wallets willingly and reluctantly and pay up, or will most continue to rely on display names? It will take a little time to tell.

Sources: Second Life forums, New World Notes, Ryan SchultzUSA Today

Bixyl Shuftan

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