Be Careful What You Wish For …
Filed under: Internet Life and Humanity, Linden Lab and Second Life, Steam and Internet Gaming, The Project to Save Second Life
I have to start off by admitting that my thoughts are still on a whirlwind path through all the ramifications of the blogs and posts I’ve read in the past day. As often happens with me, I gather a number of “seeds” from the many sources of information I have available, then plant those seeds and allow them to grow for a bit before I reap the crop. But today’s post is a bit different in that I’ve only just planted those seeds … and already the crops are sprouting weeds that are overtaking me faster than I can chop them down and cook them up.
Before you dive deeper into my words today, please do yourself the favor of reading some of the blogs that I’ve used as my thinking seeds. I began with Inara Pey’s piece titled “When griefing crosses the line“. From there I wandered over to Yordie Sand’s post titled “Relentless Griefing Attacks“. Next stop was Saffia Widdershins’ Prim Perfect blog post titled “When will we get to grips with griefing?“. Then finally a visit to Honour McMillan’s post titled “There is no Second Amendment in Second Life; Crimes & the Lack of Punishment“. I’ll wait here while you open and read those first.
Okay, welcome back. As you’ve just read, those posts all center around a specific target of the New Breed Griefers … the Junkyard Blues club. (The Club’s Parcel Web page is HERE. You can find them on the SL World Map HERE.) The club is owned by two long-time SL Residents Kiff Clutterbuck & Dina Petty. I don’t personally know them, but that’s of no significance … to me or to anyone. The simple fact is that they’re members of the Second Life Community, and also co-owners of a rather large and (so far) successful Club. The fact that they’ve managed to maintain and even grow their club in the last year is a major testament to their skills as venue owners and business people. And now that success has rewarded them with being the targets of a rather sophisticated and brutal series of griefing attacks. *sigh*
The First Crop
But here is where my thoughts will diverge from those expressed (quite well) in the blog posts above. Being the type that tends to look not just at the event itself, but at it’s causes and outcomes, I’ve wandered down the road a bit and begun to think about what this portends for the future.
The CEO of Linden Lab, Rod Humble (AKA Rodvik Linden) has directed and recently announced the release of several new titles that capitalize on what he considers to be the “Magical Element” of Second Life … User Created Content. Peering at Second Life through his tinted lenses and seeing only the Gaming facets of Second Life as being worthwhile, he has packaged up a few developers from within the Lab (and some folks he “bought” from outside companies) to produce new software titles that work harder on being true Games, but include the ability for the Player to shape the outcome and the play itself based on their own contributions and creations. While they have to some extent lessened the Community attributes of Second Life, they do still offer the ability for interaction between different users. And that’s where the fertilizer hits the whirling blades of the spreader.
The “Criminal” Element
Anyone with any experience in online platforms that provide for User-to-User Interaction will always include some element of disruption and vandalism. From the rare pornographic graffiti that decorates in-world buildings to the “Bump and Shove” bullying tactics, there is always a subset of players that define “fun” as their ability to make other’s time miserable. While I’m sure that Rod also accepts that those types will exist in his new titles, I don’t think he’s latched on to the concept of the precedent he’s setting in Second Life.
As recently as a few years ago, the Griefers in Second Life were just that … Griefers. While from time to time they managed to escalate their hooliganism to the level of crashing Sims or causing the shutdown of other’s Viewers, they always reached a point where their fun was gone and they moved on to other targets. The conventional wisdom in the past was that the victims somehow played into it by overreacting or going all freaky about the situation and thus prolonged the attacks. (A bit of wisdom that has some measure of merit IMO.) But any time the antics of the negative types reached a level where they began to really cause long-term problems or when they stayed in one place too long, someone from Linden Lab would move in and find a permanent method of ending their “fun”.
And then the Lindens stopped.
Hands Off The Game
For some reason as yet totally unclear to me, and at some point in time as yet equally unclear, there was a change in the way Linden Lab responded to such behaviors. I personally think it was a logical outgrowth to their Hands Off attitude regarding Content Theft. As more and more truly skilled and profitable Content Creators began drawing a reasonable wage from their efforts in Second Life, there arose another element that saw that as a means of making a fast buck. The Copybotters started growing in number and audacity, some even elevating their actions to the point of bragging about their criminal acts in their profiles.
A recent (and very public) conflict between two sellers of Skins was in large part turned from a simple issue into an all out flame-war due almost exclusively to Linden Lab’s refusal to take on the issues and deal with them decisively. To put it bluntly, because the Lab refused to actually get involved, the level and criminality of the thieves grew to the point where it finally turned into a drawn out legal battle. (Sadly a resolution in that case was reached in which the Copybotter wrestled the Victim into a stalemate, and both agreed to just back off. In other words, the Victim got screwed again.)
Having realized that by totally disconnecting from any involvement in the conflicts that arise in any game populated by human beings, Linden Lab has effectively ducked not only the expense of such involvement but also washed their hands of any legal entanglements too. By simply stating “Not Our Problem!” they have realized that they saved money, avoided legal bills, and came out of the whole affair smelling like a rose.
Or at least, that’s what they think …
Stage Two – Griefing Turns to Extortion
It’s a pretty good bet that most of the people using Second Life are some smart cookies. Unfortunately, a number of those people use their “Smarts” to figure out ways to screw the person next to them. They realize that with a little effort … VERY little effort … they can not only disrupt the enjoyment of Second Life for others, but they can also apply enough disruption to totally decimate a business. Having come to the conclusion that they’re “work” can destroy a business, they also realize that they can also use that tactic to extort money from those businesses too. In the world of Organized Crime, that technique is called a “Protection Racket”. The typical routine is to first vandalize or terrorize a successful business, then come in later with an offer to put an end to the disruptions by paying a small Protection Fee. Sometimes the Protectors come pretending to be good guys, sometimes they’re brazen enough to say up front that they’re the bad guys. But no matter which color hat they wear, it’s the same deal. “Pay up or the damage continues.”
When Linden Lab actually gave a damn about what went on in Second Life, the acts of the Griefers never got a chance to escalate to that level. Whether it was because a Linden put a stop to it before it reached that point, or perhaps the real criminals realized that they’d never get to make their pitch … whichever it was, while the Lab was actually involved, Griefers seldom tried to turn their vandalism into profit.
There was a brief period, call it a “Trial Period” for the thugs, where they began using bad reviews on the Marketplace as a means to extort products or money from victim Merchants. It still goes on, but because the reviews on the Marketplace are so widely derided and seem to have little or no leverage on Merchant’s or their sales, it’s a fairly ineffective technique to extort money. Besides, if they DO get someone to “pay up”, the amounts paid are so small and usually paid in products or Linden Dollars, both of which can be yanked away in a big hurry. So those types don’t generally get very far before they tire of the ploy.
But when it comes to profitable businesses such as the aforementioned Junkyard Blues, businesses that bring in sufficient money to support Tier Payments in the thousands of dollars per month, suddenly the potential for profit by illegal activities increases into the realm where it becomes feasible. The fact that Linden Lab has disconnected from Second Life and no longer takes action against the criminals just makes the profit motive that much higher. In fact, it makes it possible … period.
Reaping What You Sew
So now I come to the “down the road” part of my post. As I mentioned above, Rod Humble’s new ventures are Games that focus on User-to-User interaction and User Generated Content. As I have blogged in the past, so far those platforms have little or no capability for people to promote their creations or generate income from them. So far …
But there will come a day when the “newness” wears off. Given the 5-second attention span of today’s Gamers, the profitability of those titles will fade away within a very short period of time. Eventually I expect that Rod (or his replacement) will tumble to the idea that they need to provide some means for people to add a lifespan to their content. Life span means distribution and sales … and income. And that’s when the crop of weeds will come full circle.
Linden Lab has demonstrated, time and time again, that they have no interest in protecting their customers. Their inaction in stopping Content Theft, their refusal to get involved in clear cases of Copybotting, their complete and utter disconnection from policing their platform … that all will ring loud and clear among anyone that might want to create a bit of longevity and potential for their content. They will remember that there is no future for them whatsoever in any of the titles that try to woo them into making a profit or building a business.
The net result? Linden Lab will have sewn the seeds of their own failure simply because they did not take care of what they have now. Because their method of dealing with conflict is to wash their hands and turn away, the profits and growth that could have been theirs will disappear. No doubt the wagging tongues in the Boardroom will lament how they can’t seem to keep the interest of people with money to spend, totally missing the point that they are only seeing the logical outcome of their own inaction. They will probably fire a few more CEO’s and eventually blame the whole sad affair on the impatience of the customer base. But from what I’ve seen, they will in no way ever suspect that it was they that caused their own decline.
It’s a shame that I have to actually write all this out … it really is. Now that I’m past 21 (stop laughing, yes I’m a LOT past 21 .. now hush!), I’ve learned that there are consequences to every thing I do. And everything I don’t do. The sad part is that Linden Lab hasn’t yet matured enough to realize that same truth.
Before you spend that next wad of cash on your Premium Account, before you drop another $25 on a chunk of Linden Dollars, stop and think about the maturity and wisdom of the people you are paying that money to. And then stop and think about whether or not you want to continue paying them by buying their other games too.
And it’s a damn shame that I had to write all this out. *sigh*
While replying to a comment on this article, I happened to look up and noticed that the ad at the top of the page was for Second Life. For some reason the motto in the ad just got me to giggling, so I thought I’d share it too.