Yesterday, April 22, was my fourth rezday. It was four years ago yesterday that I logged in to Second Life for the first time, and the persona of Jacek Antonelli was born.
Yesterday was also the last rezday I’ll be celebrating in Second Life. A recent culmination of circumstances has pushed me away from Second Life, and triggered my migration to OpenSim. I’ll be wrapping up my affairs over the next month, then putting my Second Life account on the shelf. By this time next year, I expect SL to be mostly irrelevant to my day-to-day life.
I’ll explain why I’m leaving below, but I don’t want this to be a completely whiney frumple post. Yes, I’m leaving Second Life, but it has been a rich and amazing four years. Here are a few of the interesting things I’ve done in my time in Second Life (in no particular order):
- Built hundreds of silly little things as part of a weekly speed-building competition at The Shelter.
- Worked a variety of odd-jobs: scripter, texturer, builder, animator, artist, teacher, clothing designer, shop owner, and more.
- Taught dozens of students how to build with prims. (I was an instructor at NCI for several months, teaching one class at first, then later three.)
- Exhibited my artwork in several virtual galleries.
- Discovered countless things about myself that I never knew.
- Met the best friends I’ve ever known. (And hope to keep even after I’ve left.)
- Fell head-over-heels in love. (More than once.)
- Opened up a shop to sell several of my creations. (Some were more useful than others).
- Earned thousands of US dollars working as a metaverse development contractor. (And found out how much fun it is to pay self-employment taxes.)
- Created a series of “chibi” comics featuring toon versions of me and my friends in various silly situations.
- Organized the Creator’s Playgroup, a small group of friends who would do show-and-tells, themed creation games, and collaborative builds.
- Exploited a short-lived server glitch in order to build a giant megaprim sculpty octopus.
- Won second place for my entry in a UI design contest, earning a cash prize of over USD $700. (I also earned a multi-post tirade about the Leninist and anti-populist concepts my design supposedly exhibited, and about the downfall of the SL economy that would occur if I ever had the opportunity to implement my design. That was almost as good as the $700.)
- Owned a variety of homes: a modernist house built into the side of a cliff overlooking an icy waterfall; a peaceful garden facing out to the sea; and a sky platform high above a volcanic island that resembles a sea creature when viewed from above.
- Took an epic multi-day sailing trip of the mainland waterways, navigating my trusty Flying Tako through narrow channels, shallow waters, and hundreds of perilous sim border crossings — and lived to tell the tale. (My motto and catch phrase was “Sand bars and ban lines be damned!”)
- Developed a tool to create avatar animations with Blender. (Then gave it away for free.)
- Attended the Resident Experience Team Office Hours for months, providing feedback, ideas, and patches.
- Organized the User Experience Interest Group after the Resident Experience Team abandoned the above mentioned office hours. (We’ve met weekly for a year and a half, generating countless great ideas for Linden Lab to ignore.)
- Contributed numerous software patches to improve the Second Life viewer. (Linden Lab even got around to using a few of them, eventually.)
- Got fed up with LL and started a new viewer project with my friend McCabe — despite neither of us being much good at C++ at the time.
So you could hardly call my time in Second Life dull. There were ups and down, excitement and frustration, good times and bad. All considered, I’ve had a good run in SL. But the time has come to move on.
I’m sure some of you have guesses about why I’m leaving, but it’s not as simple as it seems. I could point to the kerfuffle over the Third-Party Viewer (TPV) policy as the reason for leaving, and people would nod in understanding. But that’s not the whole story.
True, after the annoucement of the new Terms of Service (which requires you agree to the new policy), I was certain I would have to leave SL and cancel my account before April 30 to avoid the legal implications of an overreaching and ill-conceived policy. But the policy has recently been revised enough that, although I still don’t like the policy, it’s no longer an urgent danger that prevents me from logging in.
So, I could stay in Second Life — if I wanted to.
But you see, by my own nature, I’m a creator. I can’t help creating things. It’s what I do, and I love to do it. It’s what attracted me to Second Life in the first place. SL was the ultimate canvas, a “game” where the goal was to create and share cool things with other people. My own skillset and interests in art, computer graphics, and programming served me extremely well in SL. There wasn’t (and still isn’t) much in SL that I couldn’t do if I applied myself to it. And as you can see from the sizable list above, I’ve tasted a huge variety of what SL has to offer.
Yet for the past year or two, I’ve had the growing feeling that the things I enjoyed about Second Life have been slipping away. I attribute this feeling to a number of factors:
- Frequent policy missteps by Linden Lab. Seriously, LL screws up so often that I have an entire blog category devoted to their messes. After a while, I just stopped caring enough to even write about it. Linden Lab pulling a serious policy gaff has become less novel than a cat playing the piano on YouTube, and far more depressing. A cat can learn to paw at the piano keys, but Linden Lab apparently can’t learn to respect or understand its user base.
- A gradual shift in Linden Lab’s corporate culture. When I first signed up for Second Life, Linden Lab felt like a cool, creative company full of awesome people who were passionate about SL. Today, Linden Lab still has plenty of awesome people, but it’s not a cool, creative company anymore — because the people with a real passion for SL aren’t the ones driving the company anymore. Maybe it’s inevitable that as a startup grows, the suits take over and it becomes focused more on profits and other serious-business-type stuff, and less on making something cool. But that inevitability doesn’t make it any less unpleasant.
- A growing cynicism towards Linden Lab among Residents. This goes hand in hand with the policy missteps and corporate culture shift. Unfortunately, there is a vicious cycle at work here. As a whole, Linden Lab doesn’t understand the Residents, so it frequently does things that upset and anger them. Having been burned by Linden Lab in the past, Residents habitually see everything the Lindens do and say in the worst possible light, and frequently overreact and lash out. These negative reactions from the Residents drive the Lindens further away, so that they understand and relate to the Residents even less, and are more likely to do things that upset them. Both sides started the cycle, and both sides perpetuate it. (Myself included, I’m afraid.)
- An increasing prevalence of fear, intolerance, greed, pettiness, and viciousness among the Resident population. For as long as I have been in Second Life, there have been doomcriers, bigots, moneygrubbers, and drama mongers. But they were just a nuisance, fringe elements that the rest of us shrugged off as we went about our lives. But today, those things are an integral part of the culture and mindset of Second Life. The dwindling percentage of Residents who are here to create, learn, and enjoy life are being overwhelmed by individuals whose lives are ruled by the most base and destructive aspects of human nature. Or so it seems to me. Maybe I’m just getting crotchety in my “old age”, and resentful of a new generation of Residents with a different set of values. But regardless of whether the phenomenon is real or just my perception, Second Life no longer feels like a haven for folk like me.
- My own shift towards more serious occupations. When I first joined Second Life, I enjoyed it tremendously. I learned new things daily, socialized with friends constantly, created and experimented freely, and explored the grid, eyes wide with wonder. Over time, though, I became more involved in “serious” things, and began to accumulate obligations. Teaching, running a shop, working as a contractor, organizing groups, maintaining a viewer, helping users and customers. The carefree days of my virtual youth are long gone; I’ve drifted away from my old friends, and my emotional connection to SL has frayed. Sure, I could make changes in my life to become more involved in the fun parts of Second Life. But given the overall situation, it makes more sense to start again in OpenSim.
So you see, the TPV policy was simply the impetus to act on my growing dissatisfaction with Linden Lab and Second Life. If the TPV policy hadn’t been so screwed up, I wouldn’t be leaving right now, but my departure was inevitable given the way things have been going. (Besides, given Linden Lab’s reputation for making exactly the same mistakes every time they introduce a new policy change, I doubt they were capable of not screwing up the TPV policy.)
So, what’s next for me? The exciting frontier of OpenSim, that’s what!
I’ve always wanted to have my own sim to mess around with, but a Second Life sim has always been prohibitively expensive for me. (A full SL sim costs USD $295/month, plus a $1000 set up fee). Now I have my own self-managed sim on OSGrid with free uploads, an unlimited prim count, megaprims however I want them, LightShare server-side windlight control, and precise collision meshes for sculpties — for a paltry USD $15/month.
So for me, OpenSim is a creative paradise. A giant, octopus-shaped creative paradise.
That said, OpenSim is still a rough and rugged frontier. I happen to enjoy that fact, and my skills are put to good use there. The reason I can run a sim for only $15/month is because I have the technical know-how to set it up and manage it myself. Less technically-inclined people should expect to pay in the range of $40-$100 per month for a managed sim from a commercial OpenSim host. Still, it’s a bargain compared to Second Life.
But OpenSim is certainly not for everyone. There are still plenty of glitches, and there aren’t all the amenities of Second Life. The number of users is much smaller than Second Life, and they are spread across a large number of separate grids. There’s not nearly as much content as there is in SL, and generally not “professional quality”. Not all of the grids have any money system, so you won’t find such a bustling commercial economy as you do in SL. But the flip side of all this is the fact that it’s easy to make a name for yourself in OpenSim if you’re open, friendly, and have a bit of talent.
I’m sure I’ll be happy pioneering OpenSim; it’s a good fit for me. As for my plans with Second Life, I’ll be tying up loose ends over the next month. I’ll be closing down Cuddlefish Junction soon, but I’m making arrangements for my most popular products to be sold through other shops.
I’m not disappearing, though. I’ll still be responding to emails, I’ll still be on Plurk, and I’ll be posting here about my adventures with OpenSim. I’m not cancelling my SL account, and I’ll probably drop in from time to time to export my creations or attend special events. In fact, given how infrequently I’ve been logging in over the past year, hardly anyone would have even noticed the change if I hadn’t said anything.
So, this isn’t really a goodbye; I’m just moving down the block. See you around the metaverse!