Allegations of Ripping in Insilico Illustrate Challenges of IP Rights in a Mesh-Enabled User-Created World

Insilico Second Life XCOM Unknown

Longtime SL builder Ifrit Skytower has a controversial but important post alleging that many buildings in Second Life's renowned Insilico sim -- back in SL after the fraught departure of Skills Hak, the original owner-- are rips of 3D models from well-known games. Skytower's post has a host of comparison images, such as this one here, of a portal in Insilico that looks suspiciously like one from XCOM: Enemy Unknown. (One of my favorite games of all time, goddammit.)

I've twice contacted the person alleged to have made these rips, and will post their reply if I receive any. (And in the meantime, any mention of the person's name in Comments will be auto-deleted.) In any case, emphasis on "alleged", because many of the models may not be direct rips, but inspirational reference points. 

Speaking more broadly, mesh rips are fairly common in Second Life, so specific instances are generally not worth reporting. In this case, however, Insilico is one of Second Life's most well-known and admired sims, often featured in Linden Lab marketing materials of SL (including business cards.) Perhaps even more relevant, the allegations illustrate a challenge that's existed since Second Life enabled mesh-based objects. As Skytower notes:

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Insilico, Inaccessible: After Reported Permaban of Owner/Lead Creator, Second Life's Renowned Cyberpunk City Blocked from Public Access

Insilico Skills Hak Second Life

Meeting Skills Hak in 2008

Insilico, Second Life's universally acclaimed and extremely popular cyberpunk city, currently seems to be blocked from general public access. This follows an announcement last weekend from the sim's owner and lead creator, "Skills Hak", who writes that she's been permabanned after committing some unspecified abuses:

I am still not sure what exactly caused my ban... In fact, some of the stuff I did was pretty fucking bad so honestly LL is in their full right to remove me from the game. Whatever Linden employee thought it would be a good idea to kill me, Thank You. I think that the chances of finding out what’s actually happened are absurdly low so i’ll just move on. I’d much rather be happy than right any day.

Skills seems more relieved than angry to be leaving, citing a long list of past dramas she and the sim have been involved with. Moderators for the Insilico community say they are working with Linden Lab to bring Insilico back to general access. This from "Abeus" on Insilico's web portal:

I'm not too sure if I am allowed to discuss the terms of the deal. To be on the safe side I won't get into it the fine details. Just suffice to say that we've been given a period of time to hopefully recoup the losses that this lock-out has incurred for the sims. Once the transfer of ownership documents are received and completed, the sims will be reopened again (they did mention this could take a day or two, so please just a little more patience).

Linden Lab is in a very touchy place here. There's always been a boatload of drama surrounding Insilico, an exhaustive and near-impossible-to-verify list of claims and counter-claims of abuse and worse. At the same time, Insilico is also one of Second Life's most beloved, admired, and active locations, a regular subject of official Linden Lab promotion. The company even sponsored this marketing video tribute to Insilico:

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New World Notes Readers Overwhelmingly Support Sanders & Clinton - Typical Politics for Virtual World Fans?

On the eve of the New Hampshire primaries, here's the US political candidate you're most likely to support:

New World Notes RL Presidential poll

So Bernie Sanders has the most support, followed somewhat closely by Hillary Clinton -- both of whom are trailed far behind by all GOP candidates. (With Donald Trump, somewhat surprisingly to me, the most preferred Republican candidate by NWN readers!) I'm also surprised that neither of the Libertarian candidates I included in the survey, Gary Johnson and John McAfeee, rated a single vote.

Question is -- how typical are these results for fans of VR in general or Second Life in particular?

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MMO Racism: Slurs Usable as Search Terms in Both Second Life's Marketplace & In-World

Linden Lab racist terms Second Life

Second Life blogger Aemeth Lysette, who has African-American heritage in real life, recently noticed something fairly disturbing in Second Life's web-based Marketplace and in its in-world search engine: Racial slurs usable as search terms, and fairly commonly so. (See screengrab, which I'm leaving blurry for obvious reasons.)

This is also surprising, because hateful speech is explicitly banned by Linden Lab's own Community Standards:

Intolerance Combating intolerance is a cornerstone of Second Life's Community Standards. Actions that marginalize, belittle, or defame individuals or groups inhibit the satisfying exchange of ideas and diminish the Second Life community as a whole. The use of derogatory or demeaning language or images in reference to another Resident's race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation is never allowed in Second Life.

... and only last year, the company had a similar controversy when users discovered the racist Confederate Flag being openly sold in SL -- after which, apparently removed these items without discussing it publicly. I just double-checked you can use slurs in the Marketplace, and sad to say, I can confirm you can. 

The solution, as Aemeth writes, is pretty obvious:

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Most Second Life Users Self-Identify as Roleplayers & Other MMO Game Types -- Very Few as Educators

Second Life roleplayers

Canary Beck has a very interesting survey of over 3000 Second Life users (one the biggest data samples I've ever seen), asking them to describe their main activities in SL, and whether they recommend Second Life to others. Respondents could choose three categories, and by far, the largest preferences were Roleplayers, Socializers, and Explorers. These are very familiar and core types of activities in most other MMOs, while other top preferences like Decorator, Fashionista, Creator, and Photographer are very much consonant with activities in sandbox-type games like The Sims franchise and Minecraft.

Just as notably, "Educator" was among the very least designated categories. Taken together, this should finally put to bed a long-running controversy among the SL user community and Linden Lab itself: "Is Second Life a game?" As I've argued before, most people who use Second Life use it for game-like activities or explicitly play it as a game, and this survey data seems consistent with that. 

So why do so many SLers insist Second Life isn't a game? More key, why does Linden Lab keep insisting that, even saying so on national television? Canary's survey provides a strong hint of that too:

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Why Second Life Has So Little Ambient Soundscapes

Voice Meeting

This is an interesting /SecondLife thread on the comparably small market for user-created audio samples, which includes this great analysis from "gothicmuse":

Soundscape is one of the most neglected aspects of environment design in SL. Partly due to platform and scripting limitations and partly because anecdotally many people seem to mute them or to play music and so miss them that way. The main barriers are the falloff distance being very sharp for some sounds - people can't hear them unless they are up close or the volume is set very loud, a persistent bug that prevents sounds from reliable playing for all listeners and the difficulty of making longer loops with enough variation not to sound odd or annoying. Sound becomes a secondary aspect to the design, much like lighting, when your expertise lies elsewhere and you are pretty sure many of your audience will not experience it at all or will experience it badly.

This sounding on sound sounds right. (See what I did there?) Overwhelmingly, the soundscape of Second Life is streaming music and voice chat, neither of which contribute much to immersion (and in fact, tends to mar it).

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Does Second Life Really Have a "Community"?

SL6b

In the very chatty conversation over Friday's post, "The Second Life Community Should Lead the New Virtual Reality Wave, Not Follow It" sirhc deSantis makes an interesting and provocative point:

These continual references to the 'Second Life Community' rankle me. With my 9th rez day at the end of this year I have yet to stumble over this mythical beast. Been involved in communities (plural) over the years made up of people with shared interests (of many kinds) but never met this all encompassing one.

As the word is mostly used as marketing speak to mean 'people who buy/use our stuff we want to make feel involved in a more or less touchy feely way so they buy/use more stuff and act as an unpaid evangelical force' I may be a trifle jaded.

The only thing users of SL have in common is that they use SL. Does that make it a 'community'? In the same way as a FaceBook 'community'?

Fair couple of closing questions. As I've noted before, less than 30,000 people typically attend Second Life's annual birthday celebration, which leads me to conclude that there are few SLers who have a deep affinity with SL as a unified virtual community, and more who are just interested in going to their favorite nightclub or roleplaying sim or whatever sub-community they're affiliated with.

In a follow-up comment to his post that started my Friday post, Maxwell Graf makes a good defense of the community concept:

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Survey: Women in Second Life Less Private About Their RL Than Men - and Harassed Much More

Online Second Life MMO harassment

"Adam harassing Eve", scene from the upcoming SL movie Paradise Lost

Canary Beck queries the Second Life user community on a variety of topics 

Second Life users often raise concerns about maintaining a separation between their avatar and their real life identity, but an extensive survey of SLers paints a more complex picture. Only a minority of users surveyed take proactive measures to keep their SL and RL separate. And remarkably, while women are much likelier to be harassed or stalked in Second Life (a common trend for online communities), they are also less reticent about sharing some of their real life details in SL.

Here’s some of the key findings from this survey:

  • Only 1 in 4 Second Life users take active steps to protect their real life privacy

  • Women report being harassed and stalked far more than men do in Second Life: 60% versus 44%.

  • Nearly twice as many men 36% reported not being harassed or stalked - only 16% of women reported the same.

  • Young women (between 18-29) are far more likely to be harassed/stalked than any other demographic.

  • For both genders, Second Life-based stalking/harassment has led to phone calls (5% of the time) and even real life confrontations (2% of the time).

Below is a summary report of my Second Life / Real Life identity and privacy survey from August, with nearly 800 respondents completing the online survey.* I’ll publish a full report and commentary on these findings on www.canarybeck.com next week. 

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High Fidelity's Philip Rosedale Believes Virtual Reality Will Make the Internet More Civil - SL Griefing Notwithstanding

Cross Platform VR Oculus Vive

Philip Rosedale recently said something very interesting to Christian Nutt of Gamasutra about his upcoming VR platform, High Fidelity, which is already compatible with users in multiple VR setups, so Oculus Rift and Vive owners (for example) can already interact together in the same metaverse:

Interestingly, Rosedale sees VR as a natural antidote to the current abuse-soaked state of the internet: "The more synchronous, the more real-time you force the interaction to be, the better everyone behaves. In VR, it’s much harder to be a bully or be abusive if you’re doing it face-to-face."

This caught my attention, because it doesn't quite square with my 10-plus years writing about Second Life, Philip's first VR platform, where real time interaction often leads to months-long battles, user-to-user racism, and griefing of all variety. And so I asked Philip about that:

"What makes you confident this will happen?" I asked Philip. "As you know, Second Life has constant griefing and harassment, even though avatars make eye contact, and there's real time voice/interaction. There's several memes about SL griefing ("Ralph pls go") and YouTube video channels devoted to griefing (like this guy). Why do you think the opposite will happen in virtual reality's next generation?"

Philip Rosedale answered this way:

"I have two thoughts here: First, you need to consider the percentage of griefers-to-users, which I believe is much lower in face-to-face environments like SL as compared to places like forums or chat rooms. Said another way, even though there is griefing in SL, people are much nicer overall than they are on something like Reddit or in blog comments."

He then pointed to updates as another path to VR civility:

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Are LSL Scripters Too Powerful in SL's Content Ecosystem?

Second Life Reddit

/secondlife's very interesting "Ask Me Almost Anything" thread from programmer "HisRant" (which I blogged last month) led to an interesting conversation from him and "jaggedpuma", who makes a ranty but substantial case that scripters are too powerful in Second Life:

I think scripters have far too much power over the other kinds of content creators... I have yet to find a LSL scripter who wants to be reasonable about commission splits or they charge in excess of $500 USD for a full perm script which could break after a server update or be remotely disabled at any time by the scripter if he thinks I’m too successful. How many artists have been screwed this way by scripters? Too many I reckon.

Agree, disagree? Whatever you think, he goes on to make a salient point about Project Sansar:

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