Archive for November, 2010

How do you explain where you are going to someone when you enter a virtual world? Is it a secret adventure, another world or just a game?  Or is it a curiosity into the new. For those Gamers and Second Lifers, it’s a question we really never ask. In world – our world – the world we enter, is a way of life. To question it is the same as questioning the concrete world that we inhabit. Why do we exist? What is our purpose here? What is this existence for.

Sitting in front of a computer screen, we click buttons and move the mouse and then emerge as a character in an inexplicable world that sends the adrenalin flowing. It’s a new world, one devoid of many of real life constricts. It’s a creative, challenging, secret world. It’s a world that we can either shed all inhibitions or play out a life we wish we had. It’s an addictive form of escapism.

I’ve criticised the way that the controllers of such environments have manipulated such environments for commercial reasons. Second Life is run on real money with a real economy and creates real problems. Like any addiction, Second Life or many MMORPGs, the inhabitants find it hard to leave behind their concrete world and create a mirror image of it in world. But the potential of these environments is vast on many scales – the potential to breakdown barriers, to allow everyone to cohabit in harmony (albeit often at war with each other). We hide behind masks. We drag our alter egos into virtuality. We sit in front of screens en masse across every continent. Going there is just another inexplicable concept that we accept.

If the Spacexcape Project had gone according to plan, we would be celebrating over 2 years of success today. Even though it was a very new installation, it was immediately featured on the projects page of the Second Life website as a ‘hotspot’. Phase One, that was open for just over three months, attracted over 500 people on peak days with 10,000 unique visitors in total.  The Artist in Resident programme was in full swing with a large gallery to showcase the work. On a monthly basis we were running art markets with various discussion group evenings and other events planned to attract people to the site. The potential was immense or so you would think. So what went wrong?

At a time when Linden Lab is being highlighted for its rejection of the non profit organisations, it opened up old wounds. The Spacexcape Project was not unique in its story. Projects like this need financing and for the first phase I did that personally, outlaying around $3,000 over the first year. $1k of that was on the purchase of a main island (sim) with two low usage islands – an investment of a sort. We rented the low usage land to the team at cost price on which they could build and experiment. The business plan seemed solid and would have allowed us growth. With the current phase operating well, we were in a strong position to prove the worth of such a project and raise sponsorship. Then came the crash.

The crash arrived in two different forms. The recession began to bite and the dollar against the pound weakened. Although we had outlaid $1k to buy the islands we still had a rental to pay to LL of around $300 per month! So the rental went from the equivalent of £200 to £280 almost overnight. In addition to that, LL made the extraordinary decision to hike up the tier on the low usage sims by 60%. It created a tsunami of anger. By the time LL realised what a huge mistake they were making, there had already been a mass exodus of residents. The community that had made Second Life what it was, was collapsing.

My official protests were never acknowledged by LL, apart from banning me from posting on the forums for being ‘hostile’! In an attempt to recuperate some of the money outlaid, a buyer for the main sim was found for less than half the price originally paid for it three months before. Damage limitation. The two low usage sims were surrendered and deleted and with it the initial outlay. LL process all sales of sims – only they forgot to deduct the $100 fee for the transaction before processing the sale and I refused to pay it back to them. The money had been swallowed up into overdraft.

The consequences of that were that they deleted the account – Spacexcape Bridges. With that action they deleted over $700 of inventory and nine months of art installation work.  The entire Spacexcape Project was gone with one flick of an administrator’s finger.

So whatever happens to Second Life, there can be no going back from that. Mark Linden (CEO) did a fast exit from LL in the summer and now Philip has now announced his departure along with many rumours. They claim that SL is on the up again and that they have growth. I strongly contest that. Unless someone deletes their account or has it deleted like Spacexcape Bridges, then you are one of their statistics. A statistic in an apocalyptic virtual space.

The Spacexcape Project will never exist in Second Life again. Is the Spacexcape project dead? We hope not. But at the moment we are living in a cardboard box under a bridge. Like so many that Linden Lab evicted.