The Day After ToS’morrow
First things first: I spent a good long time reading Will Burns’ post “Your World? Your Imagination“. Very cogent and very informative. Go read that first then come back here please.
What in the World is Linden Lab Thinking?
This is the question that I hope to address in today’s post. In order to determine our own personal response to this change, it really is critical that we fully understand the motivations and intentions behind it. That is of course true with any adversarial relationship; one must be in some sense a mind-reader and strive to suss out the opponent’s intentions so that they may be counter-acted or at the least survived.
The Adversarial Relationship
This is, for me at least, the best starting point for today’s diatribe. Unfortunately the “Way of the World” these days is no longer about convivial companionship, it is more about competitive advantage and confrontational stance. Relationships that used to be designed around, and in all honesty more functional as, bidirectional supportive partnerships are now instead constructed and operated as though there is a thick rampart that surrounds one of the parties, and the other party is assumed to be constantly in a state of siege and conquest. In our relationship with Linden Lab, they have for many years now operated as though they are the village under attack, and we the Residents of Second Life are the crazed marauders, hell bent on laying waste to the castle walls barely protecting the Labbers.
You: But wait a second Darrius! It’s them that keep attacking US! What do you mean they are acting as if they are under siege?
I mean exactly that. In today’s business world, the primary mental image fomented and reinforced by upper-level management is one of a military division or, in some cases a small village, that is under constant assault by some unspecified and often undefined enemy. Anyone from “outside” that pierces the ramparts and makes contact is seen to be an adversary, is immediately suspect in all their intentions and motives, and is to be treated with a high level of suspicion so as to prevent contamination or accidental success of some nefarious plot to overthrow “Us”. To make it perfectly clear, it is always and forever to be “Us vs. Them”.
Why It Is “Us vs. Them”
In the case of Second Life, the answer is rather complicated and goes back quite a few years, but a lot of it has to do with the way Linden Lab’s original CEO administered his company. Philip, like so many other “Visionaries” in the high-tech world, invested himself in a deeply emotional way. In order to get his team working at the same level of investment, he had to find people that could identify and resonate with him, again in that intensely emotional manner. He succeeded. Unfortunately over time those initial people were never given the chance to swing their heads around to being a cooperative enterprise, they were cleaned out in the “Great Purge” some time ago.
All’s Fair In Love and WAR!
Now that we’re clear on the ground rules, it’s time to extend that understanding into the boardroom, the CEO’s office and the future plans of the company.
As Will Burns points out, Rod Humble is from the Electronic Arts’ School of Grabitall. Their business models routinely consist of throwing their legal arms around any and everything they can see, then working out any conflicts later in expensive legal battles. This model works because a lot of the “stuff” they lay claim to is owned by rather poor independent developers that can ill afford to mount a successful challenge. Any lawsuit NOT filed is one they win, so by shafting little people with no way to defend themselves, Linden Lab wins hands down from the start.
But even so, there are people within the Lab walls that have a conscience. Even if Rodvik has convinced himself that stealing from poor people is a justifiable business plan, there are employees that have at one time or another been that little guy and they find the routine shafting of people to be “uncomfortable”. What about those people?
Back to the underlying ethos .. Us vs. Them. The nameless, faceless, ill-defined but obviously antagonistic hordes that are routinely pounding at the castle gates deserve to have flaming oil dumped on them. They are clearly irrational, obviously have no idea the good that Linden Lab is doing, and cannot even be bothered to try and understand how beneficial these changes can be. So if a few of them get BBQ’d in the process .. Oopsie! Oh well. Remember that this IS WAR! Those piss-poor Content Creators that get the shaft are in reality Enemy Combatants, so their demise is not only acceptable, it’s expected. If by chance some of them seem to be more innocent civilians caught in that fog called “Collateral Damage”, well that’s expected too.
Fork(s) In The Road
My Crystal Ball gets a bit fuzzy from here forward. Not so much because I don’t understand the situation Linden Lab has created, but more because they have a number of other paths they can follow. They may choose to follow all of them or just some. But I’m putting real money on them taking at least one path that is wholly dependent on them putting the screws to the actual content developers.
One path says that they are going to cherry pick from among the bazillions of creations populating Second Life then assemble them into “Developer Packs” that they can offer to Independent Game Developers on their Desura game distribution site. If I was an Indie Developer and I was looking through a selection of these packs, after I got past the initial “Oh holy mackerel! Look at all this neat stuff!” phase, I would start asking myself where it came from and how it can be offered so cheap. A little bit of research points out that it’s content ripped from Content Creators on Second Life. Content that Linden Lab confiscated in a massive grab that has yet to be tested in a court of law.
Of course this leads me to a thought on the situation: Considering that Linden Lab was willing to shaft the original developers with no remorse whatsoever, there is a tinge of concern that maybe they’ll do the same to me should my game start making some serious money. “Surely they wouldn’t cheat me, even if they DID cheat those other folks, right?” Well .. hmmm .. maybe they would.
Is There “Good” Content in Second Life?
There is a stream of thought that appears fairly regularly in the various sources I’ve used to keep up to date on this matter. That stream follows the concept that the content within SL is so pitifully abysmal that Linden Lab would be daft to co-opt any of it for their own use or for resale/sub-licensing to anyone else. I disagree passionately. Yes, indeed, there are scads and scads of overly massive, poorly optimized, horrendously unworthy content represented within Second Life. But …
It is my strong suspicion that the ratio of “Good” content to “Crap” content is roughly the same as the ratio that would be found if you grabbed any random selection of 100,000 people off the street and asked them to paint a portrait. When you factor in the availability of top-notch development tools for free (such as Blender), the ability of content creators to spend many hours over many days to optimize their stuff, and the general tendency of really good amateurs to create mounds of really excellent stuff then put it where others can see it .. the mathematical proof to determine if there is “Good” stuff on Second Life becomes a virtual certainty.
One of the other forks they may follow is to start calculating some form of bookable value to all this content they now “own”. Keep in mind that they don’t actually own the content, but they do own the rights to use it as freely as if they had created it themselves. If you doubt this point, go back and read my prior post “TOS’ing My Hat In The Ring“. Those rights have a certain value that can be arbitrarily assigned and calculated. The reason they do this is a bit less clear. It could be that they are filling in all the blanks to ready the company for acquisition. It could be that they are simply trying to polish the brass for another round of Venture Capital investment. Frankly I have a hard time getting behind any of these options, but they are there so I’ve called them out.
Readying Second Life and/or Linden Lab for Resale
While some folks have stated that this move is simply Linden Lab pulling their wagons into a circle so they can be properly prepared for resale, I just really cannot get behind this concept at all. A few have said that the language in the ToS is necessary so that the Lab can legally sell the SL Servers without running afoul of the previous ToS. As pointed out by Chosen Few in a forum post called “Please Tell Me I Am Wrong – TOS Woes“, YouTube had language in their ToS that was essentially the same as the previous ToS for Second Life and yet they managed the sale of their entire business to Google, so obviously it’s no big deal to accomplish a change in ownership with the old language intact.
I further have a problem with the whole resale proposition because of the actions and thinking of the head gummy-bear, Rod Humble. He is at a place in his career where he is looking to establish himself among the CEO’s of the community, not rest on his laurels or attain a comfy, danger-free assignment that will protect his paycheck and keep him relatively stress free till his retirement. Rodvik joined the LL team looking for a set of tools that he could put to work building a legacy, a reputation and a company footprint with his name boldly emblazoned right above the words “Unqualified Success”. That is NOT something you get by spending a couple of years dusting the shelves, replacing the carpet and patching the drywall so you can get top dollar in a sale. Add in the release of Linden Lab’s other titles, their moves regarding distribution, and all the other stuff we can see, and it just doesn’t ring true as the actions one takes before dumping the farm on the market.
The Laziness Angle
A slight detour so I can address again the theory put forth by many that the new ToS is so ill-suited to the way things are done in Second Life because the lawyers just decided to punt and put up one version for everything under Linden Lab’s roof. WRONG! Legal Advice is not only the most expensive consultant’s product one can purchase in today’s business world, but anyone that would pay for it and then accept “laziness” as the reason for something being done is just plain STOOPIT! Linden Lab is far from stoopit .. nor are they stupid either.
But what about them saying “We want it done cheap, so just do one giant umbrella ToS and we’ll apply it to everything”? Again, WRONG! No lawyer worth his/her fee would allow such a lame-brained decision to stand without raising all sorts of alarms and protestations. Even if LL Management overrode that (very expensive legal) advice, the furor that has been raised by their attempts to do it on the cheap would surely have clued them in to their mistake. But have they changed it or “fixed” it? Nope.
Back To Them Forking Us
Linden Lab has seldom made big changes like this without some very compelling reason driving it. They have attempted to make big changes in the past, but when they stuck their foot out and started tripping people left and right, they also engaged in some form of damage control. They justified their thinking, defended their thinking, made efforts to convince some folks that their thinking was correct and beneficial, and then eventually just said “screw it” and either abandoned the idea or amended it to be more palatable. They have done none of that this time around.
Yes there was an early attempt at placating the peasant hordes by salting a few influential sources with a “Statement” meant to allay our fears. Somewhat akin to having Igor stand at the ramparts and holler down “Dr. Frankenstein is a good man and means you no harm. Now go home and enjoy your bread and peas!” It had roughly the same effect too. But since then they have not changed the ToS in any way whatsoever. Their total lack of “Post-Coital Chit-chat” is very informative. To me it says they made the change in the ToS with full understanding of what would happen, and they are now merely sitting back and waiting for the shelling to stop so they can get on with the next stage of their plans.
CAN They Change the ToS?
This is actually a very important question to ask as it just might not be possible for them to change it. I don’t mean anything as pedantic as website issues or the like, but more along the lines of Corporate Vision and Direction. Assume for a moment that whatever the reason for the change, it is just one brick in an entire patio of similar pavers. What if it is a critical component in an overall plan that must all be in place in order for the whole thing to succeed? And what if they can’t say a word to us, the people looking to get screwed, because if the truth gets out then the value of the whole thing would go down the tubes?
I suppose this is possible. Unlikely but possible. Always in the past, Linden Lab has acted with only one beneficiary in mind: Linden Lab. When there was clearly an adversarial situation existing, obviously the Lab’s Management acted to protect their own interests first. That’s not only expected, but good business. If they had acted in any other fashion then the Board of Directors would be right in considering removal of the offending officer. But even in those situations where adopting the “Us vs. Them” mentality was not necessary, and even when such an approach was demonstrably more damaging than adopting a cooperative stance, the Management of Linden Lab has always acted to take everything they could see .. even when taking it directly from our mouths.
Do They Need The Language For Other LL Titles?
This is an important question as well. Linden Lab has a number of other titles that they have released in recent months. Some have landed with a very sickening thud-splat dead body sound, while others have landed on their feet and seem to be making some headway in establishing themselves. All of them follow Mr. Humble’s stated intention of providing “User Created Content” as their central theme. Which is why the language in the new ToS should concern not just Second Life customers, but anyone looking to any Linden Lab owned software title.
The titles shown on the Linden Lab website include:
- Blocksworld – An iPad platform for adults and kids that uses blocks to build imaginative shapes and objects
- Patterns – A 3D real-world simulator style game with a more realistic ethos
- Creatorverse – Movable inventions built from motors, joints, teleporters and many other stock components
- Versu – Interactive storytelling built around social interaction (fictional drama fests? j/k)
- dio – Interactive photo sharing
- Desura – Community-driven software distribution; essentially LL’s take on Steam
With the exceptions of Desura and dio, the titles currently offered appear to allow players to create new things using their imagination and the tools/resources available. Those “things” can be persisted .. made to last .. and thus there is the potential for them to be shared with others in a fashion similar to the User-to-User sharing that is at the core of Second Life.
Desura appears to be the mechanism by which those things will be shared .. along with many other things ranging from entire software systems all the way down to itty-bitty piece parts. dio seems to be somewhat amorphous yet, given its rather paltry description and, at last notice, reviews from those that have actually tried using it.
Any Method Thinkable Forevermore
That nasty section 2.3 of the new ToS really does bugger up the whole equation for Linden Lab’s other titles. They all seem to rest squarely on the concept of user-created content. The new ToS grants LL full rights to those creations in any manner thinkable until a few days after Hell freezes over. So pretty much anyone that uses one of those titles also has to be aware their “things” can easily be broken loose and put up for sale on Desura without Linden Lab paying them anything at all! Quite honestly that stinks IMO.
Man-Hour Costs and the Cheap Hobbyists
Lets assume LL finds something that’s pretty close to distribution standards. They cut it loose from its anchoring surrounds, drop it into their development group, pour on a liberal coat of finishing polish .. and post it to Desura for others to acquire. Right away they have spent a lot of money in employee paychecks to bring a tiny widget up to snuff. Even if it only takes two hours to accomplish that, it is still at least $100.00 USD in hard currency that they’ve invested.
But what if Linden Lab rolled back their monopolistic and evil-minded ToS with its stupidly over-reaching rights grab, then worked in concert with the developer that owns the desired “thing” to make it releasable? They would not only get the “thing” with all the quality and features they want, they would get it without having to invest as much in employee time, AND they would train an outside contributor to produce content that lives up to their internal standards. In the future, that creator (or what Rodvik likes to call the “Hobbyist”) will automatically make content that is suitable almost immediately for distribution.
LL could strike a fair and balanced royalty rate for each “thing” they pluck and resell. The creator will make a tiny bit of spending cash, either to reinvest at Desura or perhaps pull out and spend on things like real-world rent, food and the like. It will build a NON-adversarial relationship between Linden Lab and the creators, and could even explode into a lot more profitable content as a cadre of creators gets in sync with the Lab’s needs and the desires of the Game Developers living at Desura.
The Partnership as a Good Thing
So here is the point that I think lives at the heart of every single Linden Lab screw-up: They insist on treating everyone not drawing a paycheck from their account as “The Enemy”. Not only can it be seen very clearly by the way they insist on keeping their customers in the dark, even when it would go SO much smoother for them if they simply shared a bit of information, but it also shows in their habit of firing employees that do anything slightly beneficial or friendly toward a customer. (Traitors must be shot on sight. Fraternizing with the enemy is also a capital offense.) This is a mandate that has lived within the Lab’s actions for as long as I can remember, and has only gotten stronger in recent years with newer iterations of the management.
Final Thoughts on ToS’morrow
As of this post, Linden Lab has shown no indication they will change the wording of the ToS. They don’t even show any sign they think it is in error or has problems. Everything they’ve done so far gives the impression that they like it exactly as it is worded, and they think anyone reading mal-intent into is just plain paranoid. In other words: They ain’t gonna change it for nuffin! So deal wid it!