"I don't agree with corporate hogs coming in and buying up Second
Life," says Astarte Valentino. She's standing on an undeveloped island
holding a sign with a group of fellow protesters. There were more
gathered before, and hours after I speak with her, there will be more
Last week, a rollicking land auction secured an entire island for thousands of dollars. Not only was the amount of money bid unprecedented, so were the intents of its buyer, who works for an advertising/branding agency.
Some feared the worst. Hence the signs.
"I left [Second Life] and came back to a much more restrictive world," Astarte tells me. "I think that many are worried that the sale of land will go towards deep pockets and corporate interests, and the game will become increasingly real life money-related. Or that it will be altered from interesting builds and amazing scripting to a Gap shirt and a cup of Starbucks java."
"The people who have been doomsayers and negative especially about corporate bombardment," the island's tenant wrote in the Second Life forum, defending the ambitions of his group, and what they intend to do with their property. "Why not channel that energy into something positive. I have some contacts at The Fair Trade Organisation. We could have a section on the island highlighting Globalisation fears and Corporate Responsibility."
Some were not impressed by that compromise.
WHAT WILL THE ISLAND BE? (OPTION ONE)
The first warning sign of encroaching capitalism and corporation influence
The story of the protest and the controversy begins January 7th, over an auction for an island simulator called, appropriately enough, Island. Ever since version 1.2 went online in December, portions of virtual property in Second Life have been sold in a Linden Lab-run open auction, sometimes for Linden Dollars, sometimes for US dollars.
Bidding for Island opened at US$5. For the first two days, the competing bids didn’t jump over $100, but with 11 hours left until auction’s close, the bidding jumped to $250, then a few hours later, to $500, and with a little over 2 hours left, to $1000. Toward the end, with all other competitors dropping out, the bidding came down to a test of wills between Fizik Baskerville and Obscuro Valkyrie. Fizik’s final bid, at US$1200, was made 5 seconds before the auction’s closing.
At this point, it’s important to point out that this $1200 does not buy the island itself, but instead buys the right to pay a monthly rental fee on the island of near $200 per month. Whoever this Fizik was, he wanted to rent that land badly, and he was willing to pay a lot just to have that right.
The next day, in Second Life’s General Discussion forum, Fizik announced who he was. Or rather, “we”:
“We are a London and Chicago based Innovation and Branding agency.”
Occasionally using words like "revenue streams" and "real world anchor points", Fizik began describing the plans he and his colleagues had in mind. “We are commercial-based, but we are fans and active participants. We will be supporting a charity and promoting good causes. We will need help.”
Help to do what, now?
And so Fizik described an island that would be divided into regions, some promoting culture, but one promoting commerce. (In-world, and out.) Second Life residents would be invited as collaborators into the project, but creators from the real world would be showing off their work on the island, too.
“One of Europe’s top fashion designers,” wrote Fizik. He included a link to a fashion designer known as Mrs. Jones, whose website indeed seemed to belong to a world-famous designer, associated with the likes of Kylie Minogue and Duran Duran, and featured elegant line-drawn designs, and photos taken from a full-scale runway show. “She has agreed in principle to allow us to convert her designs for online use,” Fizik continued. “Again, before you ask, Free of Charge! The idea is to charge for them in Linden Dollars and use this money to reinvest in other Second Lifers projects and buy items for the island. Again, she is keen to help and work with people, imparting her industry knowledge in helping get the most from our fashion endeavours.”
And that’s about when the trouble started. Accusations, suspicions, and intimations of impending doom.