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Grim Days for Openspace

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When discussing Second Life with my friends and colleagues, there often comes a point at which I’m asked why I even bother with such an exploit. There are two stigma attached to this platform – that which gave rise to the worst of all jokes, “haven’t you got a first life?”, and that which questions the cumbersome platform itself. The second stigmus has always appeared worth a good debate, as it calls up Linden Lab’s current and future plans for he service, the manner in which people use the platform, and the degree to which those of us who enjoy it manage to forgive the odd quirk here and there.

Matters have taken an ugly twist today though, and for the first time in a long, long while I do find myself asking how far I can forgive the platform’s negative change.

The usual gripes are either with aesthetic, i.e. the proliferation of advertisements and pornography to be found on the mainland servers, or with crashes and bugs, of which there have thankfully been fewer lately. What bugs do still plague Second Life‘s residents are now being blamed on Linden Lab’s openspace sims. Allow me to interject here, for the benefit of those who aren’t natives to the virtual world.

Everyone seems to understand that in Second Life, one can acquire virtual land. This is either done by purchasing ‘mainland’, which is part of Linden Lab-owned continents, or private islands, in which Linden Lab is still high landlord, but that certain owner rights are allowed for. Hence the “private” part, as these islands are also detached from the mainland. There are two types of island available – standard estates, and openspace estates. The former is a replica of what one finds on the mainland, while openspace islands are a cheaper alternative, for those who want to include stretches of open sea or land in their wider estate. Such settlements come in batches of four, as for every one standard estate there can be four openspace ones, sharing an equal quarter of the available server resources.

This has been a very popular option since the openspace simulators (sims) were introduced at the beginning of the year. In fact, my own pet project on the Grid counts four openspace sims amongst its six composite islands. We designed them as small islands, off the main continental coast so that one or two tenants may live in a sim which also allows free space for visitors to sail boats and fly aircraft. Many other estate owners do the same, with a focus on keeping recreational space. An added benefit is that such spaces are cheaper than paying for a full, or standard sim, which by definition then means we have to pack more tenants in just to keep the rent viable.

Now then. As I say, many estates have deployed openspace sims about their continent in order to enjoy a more leisurely environment. Imagine the outcry then, when Linden Lab announced today that they would be raising tier prices on openspace properties because they didn’t design them well enough.

Allow me to quantify that statement.

In a news article released today, Linden Lab stated that their projections for the ‘light use’ of these quarter-weight sims were misleading. There are more avatars and more objects using these sims than they expected, and the downturn in performance because of that is forcing them to raise prices. The reason? Folks like myself and my co-directors of our estate, and probably 90% of all other estate owners, need to rent space out on these sims for tenants to move into. This is not considered ‘light use’, but is a fundamental principle of land ownership in Second Life. If a sim has no-one living in it, the owner is paying for the rent of that sim directly to Linden Lab. Estate owners offset this cost by sub-letting to folks who join their community, and so the cost is cut (though owners will still be very likely to go out of pocket). Openspace sims are cheap, but they still cost money to rent, and having one or two fairly large plots inside that space available for sub-letting is a good way to keep them solvent. The only alternative would be to raise tier on your standard sims, and nobody likes to see this happen. Such practice would be akin to taxing, for the sake of void space.

The gripe here is that Linden Lab object to this practice now, only after seeing that thir machinery cannot handle a load which viewers allow us. What I mean by that is that owners of openspace simulators have no phyical barriers on what they do with them, save for the resources being capped at a quarter of standard amounts, as would be expected. As a result, communities like ours have built them into our very core design, and now face being charged more for keeping them there because of a design oversight.

The practical options are clear – raise sub-let prices or close down what Openspace sims we can no longer keep. Neither option is a positive one to communicate to a community of tenants, and the latter option in particular puts further restraints on folks like me who’ve devoted so long to designing our virtual space. Consumer blogs all over are now proclaiming this as “the end of aviation and sailing in Second Life“, because the majority of landowners will no longer be able to afford those sims that are specially designed for this purpose.

So, I as a consumer and community manager both am faced with the question which rests at the back of everybody’s mind, Second Life resient or not: “when’s the alternative going to get built, and when can I move into it?”