Second Life upgrade creates Second Life anger

May 22, 2007

Second Life is becoming synonymous with bad news, as the euphoria about a shared virtual community gives way to a very first-life phenomenon: complaining!

Tuesday the game’s developer, Linden Labs, announced that Second Life 1.16.0 would be released Wednesday — and that this would result in an unexpected six-hour outage from 6 a.m. to noon, PST. But what if you’re running a virtual business? “[M]y patience has gone…” complained one Second Life entrepreneur. In a comment on the company’s blog, he asked “how can we run a business with the amount of downtime, rolling restarts, weekend breaks…maybe a smoke break?”

Linden Labs is correcting a bug that affected some of the world’s virtual objects. If it was a “no-copy” object, it would sometimes…disappear. (From the user’s perspective, it became: “No-exist!”) Another bug they’re repairing could make it impossible to leave a group Instant Message session. The luckless Second Life user would continue receiving the messages — whether they wanted them or not!

Some genuinely new features are also being introduced, including Sculpties — an advanced graphics feature offering a new way to integrate Quicktime or Flash with an object’s shape or texture. But even this news prompted skepticism in the comments on Second Life‘s blog. “Maybe I can cancel my LSD order,” joked one user, anticipating changing colors and shapes from unexpected glitches. Another complained even about the progress, saying they’d mastered the old feature for creating commercial objects, only to have their skills rendered obsolete.

More complaints came about what didn’t happen — a release of in-world voice features. (“What’s the point of a roll out then?” asked one user.) Another user even speculated they were fixing a bug caused by a previous rushed release. adding, “Only a matter of time before they break it altogether.” But not everyone was unhappy. One Second Life user posted “Ignore the naysayers! Patch away!”

It mirrors the negative tone of the press coverage, which tends to focus on Second Life experiences gone wrong. Today AFP reported on in-world terrorists releasing “virtual bombs” on a Second Life property owned by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation — matching a similar earlier attack on a Reebok store. According to the article, warring political factions even tried to set virtual fire to each others’ Second Life headquarters.

Last week a London newspaper even reported that police in Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands were investigating claims of “online sexual abuse.” The Times said police were “considering” whether virtual stalking and assault are a crime, adding that “experts” believe the online evil-doers “could be vulnerable under laws prohibiting harassment and the sending of malicious messages.” But like any game, the ultimate verdict will come from its users.

“It has the potential of being a widespread problem, but that doesn’t mean it will be,” one regular gamer told me. “Second Life is not a highly-structured, theme-driven amusement park like say Disneyland. Second Life is a virtual world, a very broad world, where virtually anything can happen.”

As the game continues to develop, that will mean good things, bad things — and everything in between. According to another article, Second Life has just been graced with an unexpected honor — an official virtual embassy representing the real-world republic of Maldives. The island nation in the Indian Ocean was reportedly rushing to beat Sweden, who had wanted to open their own first virtual embassy next week.

People reading news coverage may be developing a strange picture of Second Life. It’s got bugs, it’s got terrorists, surprises and frustrations.

And people are really excited about being a part of it!

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