Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The end of feudalism:
Deep Changes in Second Life Culture

There are, in progress, changes in second life culture which are being remarked upon, but not really written about. It is difficult to see their effects, but they are happening with a speed that makes all of the implications difficult to trace. Any first thoughts, as these are, will necessarily seem precious on the other side, and I can only hope for some doses of prescience among them to make them worthwhile. The two that I am seeing as radical shifts in second life come from the same source.

The first part is the great shake out. People who are not making money here are folding their tent's and leaving. Because the middle wave of people in Second Life were charged high rates from a giddy atmosphere of easy money, and not given the privileges and coddling of many earlier waves, they are hit the hardest. Many of them are my friends, and I am deathly sad for their leaving second life. I also know that there is little I can do about this shift: they have to make their livings and do things that meet their rl obligations. Many have lost more money in SL than I will ever make here. Within a week of each other Ten Book folded up her rental sims, and Clever Zebra sank theirs into the sea. The middle wave, charged 295 dollars a month, and charged high entrance costs, had a very larger barrier in front of them. The passing of gambling and the banks, as well as the land crash, hit them very hard. They bought at the top.

This shake out has rocked down to the bottom of the worlds I have spent time in, in fashion, in escorting, and in worlds that I have seen tangentially. One effect is the shuttering of many of the bondage and orgy rooms. This has lead to a flood of people into the ones that remain, and a very interesting effect. For the first year I was here, if you wanted random sex the best place to go was a bondage room, not an orgy room. The people who were serious about second life sex went to such places, because they had a taste for something they really could not have in first life.

As these have collapsed, because there are only so many places a kinky-o franchise can make money, people have gone from them, to regular orgy rooms. This has meant an influx of submissive women with slut fantasies, and that means a lot more ugly newbies scoring. It has also meant a loosening in many of these orgy rooms of one of their most cherished rules: no money of any kind. When I first came to SL and researched them, asking for money, even small amounts, was to be booted instantly. I was once banned from a major orgy room because I took a client to one who wanted to have sl sex in public with me. Even earning money there was aggressively stopped.

That has ebbed almost completely in many places, and that means that people willing to do sl sex for pennies are able to provide sex that is worth pennies. 100L buys someone in the United States... 11 ounces of gasoline, a shot of hazlenut syrup in a latte, 3 gumballs, or one lindt truffle at the 24 hour store around the corner from me. If random sex of a bad kind is your fantasy, this is the best time ever to seek it in my time here.

The collapse of old clubs, the leaving of many people who were not making enough to get on, the general pulverizing of the middle wave has also had a secondary effect. Many people in that middle wave who grasped the power of things like sculpties have flourished. Shoes are different forever because of sculpties, and where as before there were a few models of shoe, now, it is really possible to have an sl shoe rack that looks like, well an rl shoe rack. The people who were burned were the ones who wanted to do the old ways better. Instead, the old ways the same have done alright, Galaxy churns away, but it is no different in content than the clubs it replaced, where as Arsheba, which tried to be a true "gentleman's club" is gone.

Instead, the old ways done old, or the new ways done new has been the mark of the new successes. Charity and Dilbert left SL, came back, started Sweethearts, and it is much the same as PhatCats under their direction, with some additional advertising. The new phats tried to do things better, but better wasn't better, because while it had a wonderful build, SL is a game of people, not things. Charity and Dilbert are two of the great club owners of sl, and it is their presence and direction, not the prims, that matter.

Another new way is in the rental business, and this is what I have been doing. Our group owns and rents OS sims. My agreement with my business partner was that if I quit escorting, I would keep the profit earned in the rental business. I took that bargain, and here we are.

Open space sims change the nature of the rental business. For the price of a quarter of a sim on an old estate, almost exactly, you can control a sim. That is, have estate manager rights, virtually unlimited terraforming, no neighbors, the ability to set a theme, even the ability to have tenants. It has lead to an explosive growth in the area of second life, and an explosive growth in people who own or operate sims. We manage 90 OS sims. There are dozens of people who are estate managers who not long ago were spending their time wheedling with their estate owners. Thousands of these sims have been created, and dozens of land groups have grown explosively with them.

This change has meant that SL has become more decentralized as well, with more people spending more time in environments of their own choosing and creation. This changes also the content requirements. Right now builders steal people's prims for profit. They don't have a choice. Land earls ban huge prims, not because of lag, but because of drama and theme breaking. Also because barons sell prims, so being able to restrict the value of a prim is a way of devaluing the currency of second life: the prim. However, on an os sim that someone rents whole, there are no others to have drama with, and there are a fixed number of prims. We can't go to LL and ask them to put 5000 prims on an os sim instead of 3750, hence we want people to be as happy as possible with their 3750 prims, which means we have every incentive not only to allow huge prims, but hand out boxes of them.

Thus builders must build with 10x10s. But that means in order to sell more copies of their work to people on estates they must steal from people who can use huge prims. Since people on estates are willing to pay a premium to have a nice environment, they are the ones with money to spend. Thus like Texas and Evolution, barons and huge prims edit what other people can do. I feel confident that since most builders love to save prims, and love different effects, that this is temporary, that builders will start making hp versions of content to sell to the rapidly expanding market of OS buyers. Many use hps in their own builds, and are familiar with them. Baron built content is a thing of the past, even if we must live with it in the present. But like prim shoes without sculpties, they are not long for this second life world.

Now for the insight: the end of second life as feudalism. Right now second life is feudal: a few large owners own most of the land, or there is anarchy of mainland of a war of all against all. In the future people will control their own sims. Either os sims, or interopability sims which are coming. Barons want to stop content going inter op, but content providers will quickly learn that people willing to pay for their own interop sim are a huge market. It will take time to protect content, but that is a priority.

The end of feudalism means an end of many feudal institutions. It goes hand in hand with the coming of professionalism in content creation, escorting, and a host of other things. Ebbing are the people who make things for nearly free in hopes of taking off, coming are the days when people who have revenue, not land, will hire them in order to make content and create vibrancy. I am doing it, others have done it longer. Anshe was ahead of the curve on this, but has not been able to leverage into the new world effectively. That may be a matter of time, but many of the old players are not making the transition. Used to high mark ups and few choices, they have blocked themselves.

This means that many of the os sim vendors, like us, are new, or were tiny before. They placed their faith on the new done new, even as they leave the old done old to others.

The change, from rent to revenue, is going to have many positive effects, even as it has many negative ones. Revenue is not like managing land. Managing revenue is a different sort of mentality, I know because I was terrible at managing land, but I am good at managing revenue. One difference is that the land manager wants the most out of every bit of land, especially because land was expensive, and the penalty for not making the rent on land to LL was steep. The manager of revenue looks at things differently. Many of the people who come to me are worried they will be tossed out because someone is willing to pay more. It happens all the time in the old estates. We don't do that. We do make people leave who don't pay tier, and we then rent to others, but we don't evict someone because there is another higher paying tenant. Instead, we make a new os sim and move the new person in.

Positively it means that money is going to communicate more powerfully what value is. This is good. Money is a very efficient way, the most efficient way, to communicate value of scarce resources. Negatively it means that Second Life values are going to be tied more firmly to rl values. This is an inversion. Early second life was a moral and social inversion. People came here to do things they could not in first life, but more importantly, to value things differently than in first life.

These other value systems were many and varied. Some were larger than others, and some were funded by the outside, but most were not. No one was funding BDSM or Gor from the outside as a value system as a way of making these value systems take over the outside world. We of the transhuman world didn't see second life as a laboratory for transhumanity, but as a way to practice it.

Some of these value systems are not intrinsically altered by the changes in sl, but enabled by them. The ability of more people to set up their own sim and own area. the more chances there will be for micro-value systems. However, many of the value systems are macro-value. They want everyone, or demand everyone, participate. These value systems, when they come in attempting to impose into vr their proton think, will fail, simply because many of them aren't really value systems of action, but social preference. People who just want to hear other people tell the same bitter jokes, and sneer at the same things.

The other value that is changing is professionalism. I had a run in with one of Second Life's egomaniacs today, Bal Lubitsch. He insulted me and wasted my time. He thinks he is very funny. Really he's just another sexist bastard, of the kind who walks up to a girl on a pole and abuses her, knowing that as long as she thinks he might be a customer, she has to put up with him. Then, after doing that and she gets angry, he complains to the management. His profile says he is a pianist, but really what he likes to do is push people's buttons, safe behind anonymity. He gets to abuse other people, and knows, or thinks, there is no penalty for his being an insulting and abusive monster. He knows that since he has paid money to LL, that he won't be tossed from LL for the kinds of small things that non-paying accounts are tossed for. He's harassed and abused others, and takes advantage of privilege. He regards libel as one of those privileges, the right to attack people's livelihoods with willfully false and defamatory statements.

The value system, of the poverty of people, is going to end, because fewer and fewer people are going to try and scrape by in Second Life in ways that create chances for Bal Lubitsch to abuse them for trivial amounts of money. There will be more and more people like me, who, secure in what we earn here, will be able to stand up to people like him, and his tactics of intimidation and insult. Thousands of times a day a cockhead walks up to someone who he thinks he can abuse. But if people really are free, or can live free, or really are secure in what they do, and have the freedom of revenue, then people like Bal, and the thousands of insulting cockheads of second life that are like him, will find rapidly that their supposed "funny" behavior is treated with the public contempt it deserves.

Poverty is its own value system. If people are poor, and trying to participate, they can be abused in all sorts of ways that people of even trivial means, or complete detatchment, cannot be treated. With interopability, giving away space will be far more common, since there will be no need to pay for LL's mark up and customer support (I am going to pass on from the EO his opinion that LL's concierge unit is among the very best customer support he's encountered. He's had nothing but good things to say about Patch, Leo, Dee and the other people who he's talked to or submitted tickets to in LL. So while we do pay, it's his opinion that at least we are getting conscientious, helpful, and knowledgeable people. I only know that of the requests we've made they've been handled relatively quickly.) Lower cost of resources will mean that giving space to friends or potential creators will be more and more possible, and thus more and more people will not have to put up with abuse to make petty rent on small mainland skyboxes.

This is a good thing. Money is freedom, and freedom from money is a freedom. The world of people being half way is less free. This is because they have a harder time ignoring money, and they have a very hard time getting enough of it. I've had tenants who felt the weight of payments. They were very happy to move into a sim and make their own world, they were also happy to have the weight of payments removed from their minds.

It's also a change, because it does mean that many people who came to SL to belch their lower impulses, will find that it is much harder to reach through the screen and attack people who must put up with it. It means that many of the "businesses" on sl that have relied on treating people as if being there was a job, will not do so. People will be really voluntary, or they will be really compensated, and not in that twilight world of having an rl dom scream at you because you show insufficient attention to his cock. That happened to me early here, and it is a lesson I will never forget. How bad it felt to leave a place because I wouldn't put up with abuse for minimum wage.

This means that there is a price to be paid: the rl value systems are ones many of us tried to escape. It also means that there is a freedom from the anti-value system of constant belittling. I've seen both, and have never put up with the culture of nasty that seems so endemic in many internet communities. It won't go away, but there will be in old sl, the people scraping a few linden were the ones that felt it entire weight of the heavy hand of internal censorship, choking back the truth for the chance of a 500L sex session (20% club rake! 400L net!). The people who previously could hide behind having a few dollars will, and do, resent the loss of privilege.

These are small examples: more random sex in orgy rooms (and I mean a lot more, like triple or more the usual rate from even a few months ago), more sim owners, more micro-values, new vendors, a growing new look to sl based on sculpties and huge prims and more space, the collapse of much of the middle wave of sl that wanted a better old sl, but never got a fair chance at it (Yes Ten Book, I know, and weep).

The larger force is that the ability to move the world is going to shift more and more. There are more and more organizations here that have hired people to do things in second life. They are more and more willing to pay rl wages to inworld talent. But also free is meaning freer. Content, of many kinds, by piracy, gift, and experiment, is flooding downwards. Newbie areas have a lot less true newbie in them. People who are a day old look better than many one month olds did when I came here, and the number of super-avatars, of the kind that you used to pay the Avatar Company for, are proliferating.

This means that people will pocket change rl money are not going to be able to abuse as they once did, it means that people with ideas will have greater impact, and it means that those who really want to leave behind the money value system will be able to do so, because their world is opening up more and more.

The end of feudalism in sl is another step away from old sl. The old feudalists will hate it, and fight it. It will not be a perfect world, because we are not perfect beings, even if it were a perfect platform. But it is going to be a better world, in that people may not be truly free, but they will be freer to chose their future. Now a bit of money can get you set up as a small landlord. What I spent on sex gear would do it. That means that now there is an entry, or near entry, level profession in second life for people. In my time their virtually wasn't.

This alone, that people no longer feel pulled into the underworld to play here, is a huge victory for the new sl. There will always be an underworld, because people need that part of their existence made manifest, but now, it is not the most powerful gateway into sl. And that, as someone who entered second life through it, is something we should all welcome.


  1. Thanks for a long and insightful post again - I missed them. As you know I ahve little to none experience with land, being happy with my 100 L$/week office.

    However I absolutely agree to what you say about money as freedom. Unlike RL, where I have to make ends meet, SL has provided me with financial freedom derived from my own work. I realized I am good at running buisness(es), and enjoy the virtual riches that come with it. I can have a very relaxed attitude - byuing sims, even OS sims, is still out of my league, but other than that I experience no limits to my lifestyle. It makes for a relaxed living and I am thankful it worked out that way.

  2. Lillie,

    What a profound interpretation of the signs of the times. I have no doubt that it will indeed prove to be prescient. Thanks for investing the time to share these insights. I'll be digesting this post for a long time!


  3. Just, "yes, yes, yes!" all the way through.

    Brilliant, insightful and true, as always!

  4. I'm getting a big horse laugh out of the idea that the hypocritical Yifu hawking humper bunkers isn't "land baroning" but "revenue management" ROFLMAO.


  5. Revenue Management is what businesses do to manage the cash flow coming into the business, it has nothing to do with earning the revenue; the revenue is earned from the sale of goods or services.

  6. My ass. This isn't the end of feudalism. It's the start of shameless oligarchy, much the same way that former democracies around the world are copy-catting the Bush U.S. and its approach to erosion of civil liberties and theocratic nanny police state.

    Arsheba closed its doors because Linden finally made it clear that they had no intentions of providing a level playing field, and that it would arbitrarily decide who would see success or failure.

    They've been doing it for years, but only recently did they proudly announce the fact.

    Do you really want to do business in an environment where the de-facto government advertises your competition, and makes your business virtually invisible?

    There is no opportunity in SL any longer.

  7. My ass. This isn't the end of feudalism. It's the start of shameless oligarchy, much the same way that former democracies around the world are copy-catting the Bush U.S. and its approach to erosion of civil liberties and theocratic nanny police state.

    Arsheba closed its doors because Linden finally made it clear that they had no intentions of providing a level playing field, and that it would arbitrarily decide who would see success or failure.

    They've been doing it for years, but only recently did they proudly announce the fact.

    Do you really want to do business in an environment where the de-facto government advertises your competition, and makes your business virtually invisible?

    There is no opportunity in SL any longer.

  8. Wow, have you said a mouthful. Being a typical romantic bon vivant here in SL, bedding when the spirit and the conversation moves me, spending much more lindens than I should out of RL pockets, and creating little. I am not a baron nor a creator.

    I have noticed the shifting sands of Second Life in the past couple months, at least on a avi to avi level. Not sure what that feeling is/was, but this article seems to at least begin to articulate the subtle changes. Places once opened are closed, once filled with people are hollow.

    This freedom will generate great accomplishments, but how will we find them if we are all fragmented.

    Not sure what all of it means, and will re-read your post again, but I hope it will be a fun ride and that all the women will find their way out of the orgy dens and back into the world of play.