Friday, October 31, 2008

Second Life uproar over high "taxes"

A quick note to virtual gods: If you create a virtual world, you're probably going to wind up with virtually everything that occurs in the real world, and that includes crime, sex, economic upheaval and so on. No one knows that better than Linden Labs, the creators of Second Life, which has seen a variety of such behaviour over the years.

This time, the virtual proletariat are up in arms about an increase in what might be called virtual taxes -- the fees that Linden Labs charges for various features inside the world/game. In this case, it's a fee increase for what are called "Openspaces." Here's a description from the Second Life blog:

"An Openspace is a type of private island that we made available for light use countryside or ocean ... but Openspaces differ from normal regions in one particularly significant way; unlike normal regions that effectively get a CPU to themselves on the server, there can be up to four Openspaces on a single CPU (so 16 on a quad core machine), sharing the resource (hence them being ‘light use')."

The issue, Linden says, is that people are using the Openspaces for things that they weren't intended to support, and that is putting a strain on the company's infrastructure. Just as cities and states raise taxes to pay for repairs to highways and so on, Linden clearly feels that it needs to charge more to offset the cost of maintaining these private islands. Sensible enough, yes? Not if you're a Second Lifer. Or rather, not if you are a Second Lifer who has built a business based on the services and features that are attached to that Openspace. Here's the problem as one person sees it:

"There is demand for the 'original' OpenSpace 'void sim' application: lower primcount, very few scripts, very few avatars–just very light load, and only in areas surrounding other, full-primmed sims. There is also a clear demand for heavier use OpenSpaces–still much lower density than full-primmed sims, but posing much more demand on the backend services than does the 'void sim' application. These need to be separated into two distinct products with different fee schedules; let's call them 'Void' and 'Low-Density' sims."

Don't feel badly if none of this makes any sense to you. I'm pretty familiar with Second Life, and a lot of it makes my head hurt too. It's a little like reading a science-fiction book, in which the author has made up new words for everything, and you have constantly flip to the index to figure out what everyone is talking about. The issue is whether Linden underestimated what people were going to do with Openspaces and priced them too low, or whether people are misusing the world somehow and should therefore be expected to pay more. Regardless, people are upset. As Wagner James Au notes in his piece for GigaOm, the problem for Second Life is that there is an open-source version of the game/world called OpenSim that has been attracting more users as a result of the changes at Linden Labs. It's hard to maintain a half-decent world when people who don't like the way things work can just move to the one next door.

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