Of Visionary Art and Unpaid Tier: Ina Centaur vs Linden Lab

by Alphaville Herald on 15/06/11 at 3:02 am

by Lora Constantine

Two years and L$15 million fundraised later for an arts nonprofit based completely in Second Life, Ina Centaur gives up the warcry that galvanized hundreds of thousands to donate.

“The arts vs. tier” was Ina Centaur's call - a call that united the residents of Second Life to support the once-heretical cause of contributing not to a real life fund, but “to create good within Second Life for the world to thrive from.” With her account locked and due for deletion, under the weight of a hefty unpaid bill, it seems that the inevitable has happened – art has lost to tier.

On first blush, this sad tale seems the classic Second Life story – builder creates and falls in love with their SL creations, becomes a slave to tier, and is forced to part with their creation when they become unable to pay tier. Thousands of creators have suffered this same vicious cycle of creation and forced abandoning of what they create on Second Life. As with any game with uneven odds, “the house always wins.” Ergo, tier will always survive the resident and their creations. This is simply the way of Second Life, nothing more.

And yet, if you look at the whole picture, there is truly something remarkable in Ina Centaur's case. Most ventures that become self-sufficient for tier on Second Life are either externally funded or based on microeconomic funds from an evident inworld business. Centaur's sLiterary Initiative, however, was based on the doubly disruptive idea that a nonprofit cause dedicated to improving the arts in Second Life can garner both traction and significant funding completely from inworld means. And, it worked – despite the odds, Centaur achieved the mass support of her idealist's nonprofit arts enterprise in a materialistic Second Life.

The emphasis is on the past tense. At this juncture, it seems clear that Linden Lab will be winning this war on tier vs. the arts. Yet, on further consideration, this may be a false victory for the Lab.

The immediate question the destruction of Ina Centaur's content raises is this: “Should virtual content exist only if it is financially viable enough to support a disproportionate tier?

The real world analogue might go like this, “If you can't pay your rent, you get kicked out, and if you can't pay the other bills, your stuff gets repo'd.” Complications to this view arise when you consider what you can do in real life, vs what you cannot do in Second Life, when finances reach this level. In real life, you'd try calling up friends and family. When your account is locked in Second Life, you become unable to communicate “as yourself” with those on your contact list. In real life, you don't get put on death row for bankruptcy. In Second Life, you lose all of your creations, and your avatar as well – effectively, a virtual death penalty.

The natural question that one might ask is this: “Is there really no way that Linden Lab can preserve a resident's content?

Currently, neither Linden Lab nor Second Life provides any support for preserving or exporting a resident's content. Third party tools exist, but are imperfect in their ability to export rezzed builds on an entire sim – even if the builds are created by the owner, script functionality and missing prims are bound to arise, and the process of fixing the bugs becomes arduous.

Content created for Second Life exists in a unique ecosystem based on a hastily-designed prims-based platform. The fact that this labor cannot be exported renders the content as worthless in environments beyond the Second Life and OpenSim systems – indeed, the Lab certainly treats the content as such. The fact that there is no way to preserve the content without paying tier fees mean that everyone is fighting Ina's fight when they cash out those hard-earned Lindens to pay tier. We are all fighting to keep our content alive on Second Life, turning the other face on realizing that we've all become slave to tier. We don't want to lose what we created, but there is no other way to keep it, but to pay tier.

When you look at the number of OpenSim startups, you notice the trend of lack of content. It's an unfortunate matter, that many are hopeful that time would ameliorate. Despite latency issues, Second Life has a wealth of content, but does Linden Lab value any of this content? It seems that a creator's work is expendable to the Lab. Indeed, the platform thrives as a virtual world because people are willing to create for free for Second Life:  

Second Life, as a virtual world, is unique in that it inspires its residents to “crowdsource” over US $1.6 billion per year in “unpaid labor” content creation (metrics released from Joe Miller, Kapp and Driscoll, 2007). Considering that Apple's wide-reaching iOS ecosystem only garners third party developers US $2 billion a year, that's a very, very significant number.

Unlike Apple, however, Linden Lab is unable to pay its content creators. Thus, the Lab's strategy and pull in the realm of virtual worlds, is to take content creation for granted. The Lab has a history of getting all that – and more – for free. Virtual creations, photos and machinima's, if selected for usage by Linden Lab, is considered an honor in Second Life. In the creation of its “themed mainlands,” the Lab has also managed to “inspire” builders to create and relinquish all rights to their virtual content at pennies above minimum wage – again, this is considered a “great honor.” For creators: by design, Second Life is a tantalizing but dangerous sweatshop.

There will always be the outliers that will keep the dreamers in, and the others hoping. But, for every Stiletto Moody or Anshe Chung, there will be hundreds of thousands of failed businesses – or modest businesses, barely achieving the same returns as a struggling mom'n'pop shop in real life. If Second Life were a country, its per capita would rank among the lowest – down there, next to nascent African nations, still wartorn for lack of stability.

The point I argue is that if Linden Lab were to default by deleting Ina Centaur's account and content, it would mean that not only does the Lab not value its resident's creations, but it also has no respect for the time and love they put into it.

For those who don't know the story, Ina Centaur locked herself up in a room for two years to create content for her sLiterary Projects – primarily Primtings and mShakespeare (formerly SL Shakespeare Company). She started from a single prim in an empty sandbox, with no land of her own. She created, and people donated. She put these donated funds into tier. Her creation mantra was simple, “I'd put in my time, but not my money.” What she has achieved through thousands of hours of creating and in-kind labor is phenomenal. On any other platform, it would be enough content to create a standalone game of high caliber.

On Second Life, however, Ina Centaur effectively has to sacrifice herself, just to make a statement that her content is worth something.

There's love, and then there's the inevitable destruction of it in Second Life...

73 Responses to “Of Visionary Art and Unpaid Tier: Ina Centaur vs Linden Lab”

  1. Senban Babii

    Jun 19th, 2011

    “The amount of effort I expend in this ? As much as it takes to go to each shop and pay the rent each month . in other words, basically no effort at all. I don’t advertise, I don’t create new content, I just convert the profits to Real Life money and use it to make my RL better.”

    A perfect example of why the SL economy is doomed to failure. You are in effect a leak in the economy. Your other possible activities aside and speaking purely of the bottom line which people feel is so important, you created once and now you simply take from the economy without giving anything back. In effect your Linden dollars are taken out of circulation apart from the money you pay in rent. This is one of the reasons why countries have limits on how much currency you are allowed to take out of the country.

  2. JustMe

    Jun 19th, 2011


    So be it. I look at it this way. The Linden Dollars I take out of circulation were purchased from Linden Labs by someone. If I didn’t take them out of circulation, they would continue to be spent and respent , “circulating” throughout Second Life from person to person. Each of those transactions would be a (very small) load on Linden Lab servers. It’s better for Linden Lab that I cash them in and people buy more Linden Dollars to replace them!

    See? It’s possible to justify just about anything LOL

  3. hobo kelly

    Jun 19th, 2011

    Wouldn’t it be really cool if…

    Wouldn’t it be cool, if, while walking along waste deep in prim litter, also known as SL8B, half out of your mind from taking in over 9000 sims full of coloured shiny sparkling rotating prim “art “, wouldn’t it be cool if suddenly after wading through all of that useless crap, suddenly you came across something that was relevent, timely, useful, important, something that was big and tall and stood out like some kind of lighthouse that was shining out of beacon of Truth, Justice and the Catatonic Way… yes a giant Proky Head, er um, I mean a giant Crazy Cat Lady head, wonkey eye and all, that would light up at night and there would be smoke and particles coming out of it, sometimes the mouth would move and this roaring sound would come out of it and sometimes on the quarter hours just like Big Ben it would strike the Frisky’s “meow meow meow meow” theme and then from its mouth it would eject hundreds of Crazy Cat Lady Talking Hand Puppets like some kind of PN bomb, and all the fair goers around the immediate vicinity after recovering from watching that wonderous display could hurrredly click and “Take” copies for themselves, and of course, they could also “Take” copies for their family and friends, for which they would recieve eternal gratefulness. Then, after the main rush to grab Crazy Cat Lady Talking Hand Puppets has died down, all of the unclaimed Talking Hand Puppets then explode in a ball of fire and hundreds of ghost cats come out of each Puppet and dissolve as they fly away. But not before each one utters a useful but obvious Cataclysm like “Techno Communism Kills” and/or “Stop Edge Casting My Sausage Casing” things like that. And there would also be a pile of “Boxed Crazy Cat Lady Talking Hand Puppets” or BCCLTHP which would be piled up at the base of the Giant Proky Head statue for those fair goers to take that dont want to wait for up to 15 minutes to get a fresh one.

    This is the best time, right before SL8B opens up, because you can still dream of what could be there…

  4. Blackjack Texas

    Jun 19th, 2011

    @Senban Babii
    “Read this

    Read it. Comparing herself and her inability to come to terms with Linden Lab on some billing terms with the people who fought for Chinese democracy back then is nothing but grotesque and shameful.

    Personally, I never had any interest in Shakespeare in SL but if you want to re-enact the works of a dead English playwright in SL, by all means do it.

    I just don’t see any reason why this deserves special treatment over other places. Midian City, Sexy Islands or Bondage Ranch are also run by people who invested time and effort into what they think is worth to have in SL and have to pay the bills.

    Linden Lab didn’t ask Ina to build and run this. If the people who are enthusiastic about it are unwilling to finance it to the level needed why is Linden Lab to blame?

    They communicated the change of tier months in advance which was plenty of time enough to react and restructure if necessary. It is also being always clear what happens to your content when your account is cancelled.

  5. ina centaur

    Jun 20th, 2011

    Hi all:… thanks for the kind words and others…

    Lora: um… nice article, although this was completely unwarranted with some inaccuracies as well. If we go with your point/conclusion, then:

    Unfortunately, it looks like Linden Lab does not respect content creators. Confirmed that the 4 sims are down and off the map. 4 years of my life gone.

    I feel younger?

  6. ina centaur

    Jun 20th, 2011

    @alphaville staff and lora – i meant no disrespect in my post above. i s’pose there will always be inaccuracies.

    @blackjack texas – sorry for the late post on this. been busy with RL. but, no, LL is generally a mess with billing, and here’s the stuff with just the facts:


  7. Senban Babii

    Jun 20th, 2011

    @Blackjack Texas

    In all fairness, most of your points I actually covered in a post on Friday or whenever it was but I ended up giving up trying to post it because my email address seemed to have been blacklisted from posting at the Herald. It’s happened before. I sent a post from a different email address as a test and it went straight through. Go figure.

    So just work on the premise that I pre-empted the points you just made, partially agree with them to some degree but posted some good points of my own which actually backed up my own arguments convincingly whilst highlighting what I believe were the mistakes in Ina’s approach to supporting her sims, including failing to adapt well to a changing environment. You’ll just have to take my word for it though because I can’t be bothered recreating the original post.

  8. bod

    Jun 20th, 2011

    Sad as it is, the Lab is between a rock and a hard place on this one. Somebody has to pay to maintain the servers and pay the electricity bill so content cannot be hosted free without radically changing the structure of SL. (Advertising everywhere in SL – do we want that?)

    That said, it’s the fault of the paranoid creators themselves that you cannot export, it’s not really the Lab’s fault.

    Talk of backing up your paid-for content and you will hear cries of rage from the creators “thief! thief!”.

    So there’s nothing to be done in the end.

  9. Reader

    Jun 20th, 2011

    “…because I can’t be bothered recreating the original post.”

    For someone that proclaims to not playing second life anymore and for someone who probably writes more words per capita than ANYONE on this site – your above statement absolutely holds no water what so ever. You have more time than most it would appear.

    Actions do speak more loudly Sen.

    It’s summer, go out and get some sun and air. It will do you a whole lot of good.

  10. archie

    Jun 20th, 2011

    It was always bloody obvious what would happen.
    A better title would be:

    Art versus Profit?

    Now can you see the bleedin’ obvious?

  11. Senban Babii

    Jun 20th, 2011


    Let’s see then. Do I write a lot in the comments? Perhaps but I’m a writer so I tend to write a lot. What some people might think of as a lot I actually think is too little (quantity I mean, not frequency). Do I write more words per capita than anyone else? Probably but that’s partly down to the fact that no one else writes anything here anymore so I tend to stand out a bit.

    Why do I write so much? Simple really. I get to sit at my desk all day being paid by a university to be all clever and stuff. The university that employs me to think about things like SL and advise accordingly. When I’m sitting there writing and my brain is melting from caffeine overload, turning to this and other sites (most related to other activities that involve *gasp* daylight and fresh air!) for some light relief and to think about something else provides a break. Do I think about SL a lot? The issues surrounding subjects like identity and how they relate to virtual worlds, yes. It pays the bills and I’m interested in the subject. So if it appears I have more time than most, now you know why.

    I don’t log into SL anymore. No really, I don’t. I honestly have no alts (beyond the couple of disposable ones I created in the course of researching for a couple of blog posts, fully discussed in my blog – link in my name above – so I won’t bore you with the details). If LL hadn’t made such a mess of things by allowing all the datamining crap that went on, I’d probably still have been logging in to some degree but the truth is that I’ve been logged out for so long now that I’ve just lost interest in logging in. On the couple of occasions I’ve tried to motivate myself to log in, I’ve usually logged out within a few minutes. The last time I logged in I even had to request a password reminder.

    And no, I really couldn’t be bothered recreating the post. I tried posting it several times and gave up when it was clear my email account had been blacklisted. Suddenly this morning it’s back but honestly, I did my thinking about the issue last Friday and have moved on. Seriously, that’s all that particular point amounts to.

    As for getting out in the air? Eww that stuff has been linked to tooth decay and sociopathological diseases of the elbows! Better to stay in my basement and eat pizza and similar flat foods that can be slid under the door whilst listening to some of those pop music stereo cassettes all you cool kids keep telling me about. Or I could, you know, go cook dinner for my ratbags? Then I’ve got reading to catch up on before a conference later this week followed by a big birthday thing at the weekend for one of my friends turning thirty where I hope to drink too much and make a complete fool of myself. FML ;)

    PS – Feel free to comment about z0mg0dz0rs too much words again ;)

  12. someone unimportant

    Jun 20th, 2011

    where does this idea come from that you cannot export from SL?

    As long as you have full rights on your builds, there’s no problem in exporting them and uploading them again into open sim for instance.

    Granted, the viewers that can do this are seen as copybot viewers but if you are careful which sim you choose to copy your stuff there shouldnt be a problem.

  13. Reader

    Jun 20th, 2011

    Sen, that was very lucid.

    I’ll try to digest your future posts with all this in mind and whilst wearing your rose colored glasses.

  14. Dave Bell

    Jun 21st, 2011

    I suspect that the SL bubble burst long since, and the lab is trapped by sparsely-populated Mainland. They have to charge the tier rates they do to cover the costs of the empty land.

    They’re also unwilling to reorganise Mainland. Look at the chain of regions which finally provide a navigable water route to Bay City. If canals had been dug across a couple of regions they wouldn’t need the extra space. But that would mean some Residents having to be relocated. In the end, SL is dragged down by poor historical choices, which can never be changed.

  15. Selby

    Jun 21st, 2011

    @bod The price of electricity at $295 x 4 = $1180 per month per out-of-date server… That there be some expensive electricity, mate!

  16. bod

    Jun 21st, 2011


    If electricity is the only cost that LL has to deal with then the solution is simple: trickle cheaper no-commerce land with high prim allowance onto the market.

    I’d love to have more than just 512 sq m with a paltry 100 some prim limit.

    @someone unimportant,
    I didn’t say you couldn’t export *at all* I said you couldn’t export *paid for* content. That’s way different than being able to export your own made content.

    That said, you *can* export paid for content as long as the creator is willing to give you the files. Typically, however, you will pay 10X the price for that and you have to negotiate each individual item you purchase.

  17. GG3

    Jun 22nd, 2011

    Yet the SL fanboys/girls continue to drag the cup across the bars
    Wonder how many customers got ripped the crap of by LL?

  18. GG3

    Jun 22nd, 2011

    It’s obvious LL likes to loose customers, not keep them. It does not mater how long a customer has been on LL, it does not matter how much content a customer creates. Default on your tier and your account is repo’ed and sent to “lock-down”. Chasing false dreams under the guise of a promised “Second Life”, a second-life that cannot replace the first life, most important life of them all.

    Hook, Line, and Sinker. LL tips its hat in corporate gesture.

  19. Orca Flotta

    Jun 22nd, 2011

    Sure, LL ave made some poor choices during the past 8 years, some so dumb it’s hard to believe they weren’t made by a bunch of pre-school kids but by handsomely paid professionals. To make it short: LL as a company isn’t worthy hosting their own product!

    in the case of Ina Centaur it’s all clear as glass. She wanted to do her Shakepear project, she did so by her own free will, because she had fun doing it. Now the poor thing is broke and can’t afford the (admittedly absurdly steep) tier payments anymore. There is only one way for any economicallly thinking enterprise (and yes, LL are hosting their product SL to gain some profit, even if they are not very good at it) to act: Customer doesn’t pay – cancel business with that particular customer! It was Ina’s choice to rent land from LL, so she must pay for it!

    It’s indeed as easy as eating pancakes. In fact so easy even LL are doing it right this time.

  20. GG3

    Jun 22nd, 2011

    True dat would be with any company to cancel business, regardless of online or not but their terms of service verifies. Ina’s steep debt (converted to $3,000+) is staggering and shows clear signs that LL doesn’t mind over-charging and ripping their customers off for fake land that they have no real rights to. However it’s not certain how long Ina has not had payment for those lands for that amount to accumulate, but she did own 4 full region sims., all which were surviving off L$ given in-world by donations.

    Tis still B.S. thou mate, who ever thought having pixels could result in having debt like a credit-card or something like in real-life. LL cancels and locks ALL your accounts down, even twas one in “due” or not. Dat true if u miss one single tier too? Dat’s one of da reasons why LL’s “customer service” is crap0la burning on da poo stick. In order for dis lady to get back in-world she g0tta fork over da L$’s but in da process LL deletes all her crap. Dey act like dey can’t do roll-backs or “hold” accounts for people till its paid for a certain amount 0′ time, dey literally give em da boot n trash all their stuff wit em. Jur in “debt” with da jollie LL boat lawl.

    But i herdz some in-world, e-businesses n such like surviving off der land by leaning on tiers. Dats like handling ur phone-bill to a total stranger n expecting dem to pay for it on time every-time or ur in a bind lol, but den half of em dun make enough to pay dat tier off L$’s strictly.

    Tis bait hook n sinker. LL wants people to be dependent on der system for them to “enjoy” demselves. It’s not just about creating stuff, trying to have fun, and running fake mini e-businzzes (wit no “”license”", LuL), it’s about milking da consumer as much as possible. LL makes land expensive cus dey greedy and want to make da consumer have “value” in their land by putting crazy pricing on eet. Da consumer becomes addicted to SL, u want some creations? Pay a small fee. U want land? Get main-land. Can’t build what you want? Buy bigger land. Moar land more moonies for da cr00kz at the top. N before u know it u’d spend hundred’s of 1,000′s of dollarz on da peice o crap, all locked up under LL’s unless u make jur stuff outside da system. Tis ridicolous pe0ple buy dis crap for the pricing itz at, cus at da moment SL is da most “recongnized” virtual world, so dey get away with the chump-change routine by hitting ur wallet full o mush.

    Even Anshe Chung can’t survive if der’s no SL around to supp0rt her. Tis crazy how serious business people lean on dis company for financial support when der’s so many loop-holes n gaps it ain’t funni3, and da legit people who hence, are basically pr0moting/supporting LL for free get da axe like dey bugs under a rock.

    Not ta mention LL enjoys “sponsoring” people’s work but dun give em a dime for it. LL is da task-master n its customers are the ”free” sweat-shop slaves. I’ve s33n better crap den dis hoshposh.

  21. noone important

    Jun 23rd, 2011

    First off, GG3, would it hurt to at least try to type comprehensive English? I stopped reading your post at the second line, it hurt my brain.

    I see a lot of ‘LL ripped off’, ‘overpriced’ and such flying around. But lets just be honest here, if you are renting land you know in advance you’ll be paying trough the nose for basically nothing. And we all also know that if you dont pay the bills you lose everything. If such comes as a surprise, why werent you paying attention?

  22. Orca Flotta

    Jun 27th, 2011

    My point exactly!

    LL’s service stinks, but we love SL for our own reasons. Because we can do stuff we couldn’t do in RL, because we love our fancy pixelated friends, because we can build or whatever. So we keep up with LL and tolerate their shenanigans up to a certain point.
    The fact remains: LL sets the prices for membership fees, upload costs and land. We decide if these services are worth our money or not and act in accordance. It’s our own free will that makes us pay 10L to upload a snapshot or monthly tier fees for land.

    SL is your hobby, be prepared to pay for it. If cycling is your hobby and you can’t afford a spare tyre after you had a flat – too bad, no bicycle riding for you until you have money again. If you can’t afford the costs for your hobby SL – too bad, no land for you. Tier down until you have the financial strength to buy land again.

    Isn’t that a bitch? No, that’s how it works, that’s life. Don’t even need a university degree in commercial science to know these things.

    So, sorry, I don’t have much sympathy for Mrs Centaur’s problem. I’d like to have 4 sims myself. OMG, what great things I could do with all that land and all those prims. But no, my financial situation doesn’t allow for spending so much money on a video game. So I let it be and do my stuff on a humble 8192 sqm parcel instead of a giant multi-sim operation. Life is hard. LOL

  23. noone important

    Jun 27th, 2011

    Yup. It roughly translates to bawwwwwing because of a sense of entitlement for being an artist. Hey, I can make something artsy. Where is my free sim, LL?

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