In the Hands of the Enemy

In the Hands of the Enemy
Balancing Your Second Life

Pat Miller | 7 Feb 2006 07:00
In the Hands of the Enemy - RSS 2.0

That's right - law enforcement. Unlike most real-world liberal states, Linden Lab has a higher authority to appeal to - namely, the FBI. While the GriefSpawn incident was handled mostly by in-game methods - bannings and the like - Linden Lab's response to a recent "attack" staged at the in-game holiday party of Philip Rosedale, Linden Lab's CEO, was not so forgiving, and instead of mere banning and relying on "social pressure," they simply released the names - actual names from actual credit cards, that is - of those responsible for the disturbance to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation. Here, Cory pauses for a bit - he isn't familiar with this particular happening - and says to me, "In most cases, laws come down to either damage to property or person, right, and so when we're dealing with an attack, we're spending developer time that could otherwise be used to make the product better. And then there's both the fun and measurable economic loss to the residents," he continues. "The way we deal with it is, if it looks like what people are doing would be breaking the law under any other context, there's no reason why it shouldn't be in Second Life."

But not every case of social breakdown stems from mischievous behavior. We begin to discuss a fairly high-profile Second Life event from a few years ago, where a group of concerned SL residents banded together to protest Linden Lab's in-game taxation system by going to the island where new residents enter the world and setting their avatars on fire. Cory elaborates for me on some of the nuances of Linden's unique position as both company and governing body: "What's interesting is actually differentiating things like tax protests from an attack on the grid. There was tremendous pushback from the resident community about [the taxation system], panic, everybody saying they were going to leave. We spent hours and days in-world just having ad-hoc meetings with residents and talking about what this meant and where it was going. If you look historically at Linden Lab's involvement with protests, we've always gone in and talked to protesters and really tried to understand what their point is, because it would be bad business not to. These are our customers, of course we want to understand their issues." Eventually, Cory tells me, the goal is to devolve the actual governing issues of Second Life to the in-game landowners.

Before I know it, we're nearing close to the end of the interview, and our discussion has meandered from individual marketing in Second Life to the structure of the economy to in-game dispute resolution to Cory's upcoming vacation cruise (courtesy of Microsoft, amusingly enough, despite the fact Linden Lab apparently doesn't really use their products). "The profound difference between Second Life and anywhere else is that we put all this power and control in the hands of the residents. There are plenty of game designers who have gone out and said, 'Oh, that's stupid, you gotta be crazy to do that.' Which is fine, they have the rights to their own opinions. I think that SL isn't a game, and so we get to play by a very different set of rules in [our residents'] design than [most developers] do," Cory says to me. "I certainly don't regard our residents as adversarial - if anything, they're a part of Linden Lab. Remember, this is a world that the residents are building. For the vast majority of the residents, they're building this place - why would they burn it down?" Finally, as I stand up to stretch my legs, he spells out that perfect quote for me, that sentence or two that encapsulates the entire theme running behind our discussion, and, I suspect, the theme that keeps him so zealously employed with Linden Lab.

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