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...