GoPets CEO Erik Bethke is set to break new ground in the area of virtual worlds by proposing to turn his service’s end-user licensing agreement and terms of service document into a plainly written bill of rights. [Via GamePolitics.com, pointed out by Nate Combs.] In a recent LiveJournal post, he offers $5,000 for help in drafting the document, but sets out 16 points for discussion, starting off, rather remarkably, with a right of due procedss and habeas corpus. If Bethke can get all this in place, it will represent a great step forward for virtual worlds and massively multiplayer online games. In his post, he mentions Raph Koster’s Declaration of the Right of Avatars, which <pimp alert>Peter and I reference in our book.</pimp alert> There isn’t a terms of service doc out there that comes anywhere close to this. But if virtual spaces are to have a real, robust future, they’re going to need much better governance structures than they enjoy at present. Bethke’s new style of ToS, if it can be implemented, would be a big first step down that road.
It looks like MindArk, the company behind Entropia Universe (whose virtual currency is pegged and freely tradeable at 10 to the U.S. dollar), is getting in on the Washington lobbying act. Congress has been looking at issues of taxation related to virtual worlds since at least last October, and the Joint Economic Committee is long overdue with a promised report. (Or did I miss this?) This week, it seems, they’ll hear from Marco Behrmann, MindArk’s CIO, who is in Washington to speak to the IRS as well, according to this post on the RCE Universe forums. [Via RCEUniverse’s Nate Randall.] I’ll be interested to see where this all ends up, of course, but the most sensible take I’ve heard on this issue comes from Bryan Camp of Texas Tech University, who noted last year that, for the most part, the legal issues are settled, it’s just a matter of figuring out (or deciding) where virtual worlds fall within them. There’s probably slightly more to it than that, but not much. For my money, a more interesting issue is the related one of whether these environments can be ruled to be public places (like some shopping malls) and the implications of such a ruling for governing them. <shameless plug>You can read more about that kind of thing in our book when it’s published at the end of October.</shameless plug>
David Liu, chief executive of Beijing-based Cyber Recreation Development Corp., compared the upcoming Chinese virtual world with a three-dimensional eBay, where users can shop online through a more visually appealing interface.
(CRDC is backed by the Beijing government and is responsible for the project.) Continue reading
With thousands of islands to choose from in the virtual world of Second Life, you would think finding something new would be easy. Not so. Most islands are either given over to resident plots or are blocked to ramblers — or sometimes, both. Tonight I, once again, spent ages trawling for something I thought sufficiently worthy of blogging — and eventually I think I found it.
It may come as no surprise to regular readers of my personal blog to hear that this is another Dutch site, this time belonging to Faasen & Partners. According to the notecard supplied, “Faasen & Partners is a fast-growing young law firm and civil law notaries office in The Netherlands with offices in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. We have a specialization in corporate and employment law and distinguish ourselves from other law firms by our entrepreneurial way of thinking.” Continue reading
According to a court brief I’ve just been emailed, a Pennsylvania court has allowed a lawsuit filed against Philip Rosedale and Linden Lab, makers of the virtual world of Second Life, to move forward despite Rosedale’s motion to dismiss the suit or have it arbitrated. The decision is significant in that the court has judged the SL Terms of Service to be insufficient to the job of adjudicating this particular dispute, and the judge in the case went so far as to characterize the ToS as a contract of adhesion — a contract that isn’t necessarily enforceable because it has more or less been forced on a party with weaker bargaining powers (i.e., the SL user) on a “take it or leave it” basis. The brief itself is linked from this Web page. The decision could have important ramifications for the way in which many virtual worlds come to be governed, possibly giving more rights to their residents than they have enjoyed before. Continue reading
Mitch Kapor, an early investor in and board member of Linden Lab, creators of the virtual world of Second Life, will give a talk this evening in SL, all about the Level Playing Field Institute, where he also sits on the board and which “promotes innovative approaches to fairness in higher education and workplaces by removing barriers to full participation,” and about philanthropy in general. Mitch’s talk at last year’s Second Life Community Convention was a really informative and insightful look at how disruptive technologies happen (something Kapor knows a lot about, having helped make computers useful for large numbers of people). If he can have the same effect on reducing the kind of subtle bias in education and the workplace that holds people back without many people even being aware of it, it’ll be a great thing. Mitch’s talk goes off at 8pm SL Time (11pm Eastern), and you’ll be able to listen to it at »Sheep Island Auditorium«, »Crayon Theater«, and »Reuters Auditorium«. The late time unfortunately puts it out of reach of most European SL members, but hopefully the talk will be archived somewhere on the Web.
Virtual entrepreneur Anshe Chung will launch a virtual world-spanning financial market in early June, according to a news release on the Anshe Chung Studios site. The service will “allow direct capital flow and investment across virtual world boundaries,” and will link the markets of Second Life, Entropia Universe and IMVU. Anshe Chung Studios — which is run by German citizens Ailin and Guntram Graef — will provide “a virtual financial market, financial products and a set of services” linking the three worlds. Among other things, the service will allow Second Life residents to invest their Linden dollars in things like malls and other locations in Entropia. Second Life land funds and similar instruments would be available for investment by holders of IMVU and Entropia currency, and IMVU fashion businesses might receive investments in L$ or PED (the Entropia currency). It remains to be seen whether there’s much of a market for such inter-world investment, but Anshe has a very interesting take on the possible effects of making financial borders more porous: Continue reading
This year’s iCommons Summit, the annual gathering of 300 leading thinkers working toward a free Internet for all, will be held in parallel in the virtual world of Second Life, according to the summit’s Web site. The summit, which takes place this year in Dubrovnik, “will be run in parallel in Second Life,” according to the site. In addition, “all iSummit keynote addresses will be streamed into Second Life, and video and artwork from the Summitâ€™s Artists in residence programme and some parallel sessions will also be available on the USC Center on Public Diplomacyâ€™s »Annenberg Island« in Second Life,” where the summit will be hosted. (The USC site also has an announcement regarding the event.) Held this year on 15-17 June, the summit is a three-day meeting of “300 of the worldâ€™s leading intellectuals, authors, lawyers, artists and technologists on the cutting edge of Internet policy” who meet to talk about “the importance of a free Internet for free culture, new rules to keep the internet free, how to build free culture communities and the lessons we can learn from pirates.” I’d say this is valuable stuff to make available through Second Life. Last year’s summit, held in Rio, was apparently quite the hot event. What will be more interesting is when the organizers bring the two realities together, so that the virtual event isn’t held in parallel with the real-world event but is simply another part of a single whole. This’ll do for now, of course. Anyone planning to attend, in either reality?
Nate Randall of RCE Universe sends along the news that Second Life mogul Anshe Chung has won one of five banking licenses recently auctioned in the virtual world of Entropia Universe. Though billed as “banking licenses,” they really give their holders the right to use the in-world interface and non-player characters to make collateralized loans and collect interest, which is an interesting way to go about it. Entropia notes, of course, that “Should an interested party hold a real banking license in the real world, many more services and features can be added.” It doesn’t appear any of the winners meet that qualification, although they are listed only be avatar name, so you never know. It’s an interesting prospect.
Randall seems to have scooped Entropia itself, which is still running the auction announcement. According to Randall’s figures, Anshe seems to have been almost the shrewdest bidder, winning her license for PED600,000, or US$60,000 — the Entropia currency trades at a fixed 10 to the U.S. dollar — while the other winners bid PED590,608, PED900,002, PED950,001, and PED999,000. The auctions were held in the in-game auction system, Randall reports, where bidding was fierce in the final minutes. Continue reading
Reuters carried the news Wednesday that Linden Lab, makers of the virtual world of Second Life, had invited FBI agents to look around the Grid at the gambling activities going on there. And though the Lindens say they “know of no law enforcement agency that has opened an investigation into gambling in Second Life,” the company has decided to no longer accept from residents “any classified ads, place listings, or event listings that appear to relate to simulated casino activity.” Now, Giddyup Holdings, a company based in the British Virgin Islands and which runs Internet gambling site PalmVegas.com as well as a Second Life casino, has issued a press release — apparently signed off on by LL’s PR agency — stating that it will no longer allow access to its SL casino by U.S. residents, and that it is talking to Linden Lab about ways to automatically restrict access to U.S. residents and computers being accessed from within the U.S. There may not be an investigation going on, but it sounds like people are nervous. I’d say it’s even money as to whether we see a ruling from the government on gambling in Second Life, since current laws (as I recall) pretty clearly state that U.S. residents aren’t allowed access to gambling via the Internet (which of course is the network through which we access SL). There’s sure to be a hue and cry from a few cyberutopian SL residents out there, but my guess is that the issue’s already been decided.
The Virtual Worlds, Real Profits blogs has the news (which I spotted via Raph) about a new player-to-player real-money-trade service called Sparter that has fortuitously launched just after eBay started pulling all game-related RMT from its auctions. The new service is notable for two reasons, and could spell the beginning of the end of the wild-west atmosphere that currently holds around virtual item sales — though conditions will probably get more messy before they get neater. Continue reading
Add Sweden’s to the growing list of governments considering taxing monetary transfers from virtual worlds, if not the in-world earnings themselves. According to an AFP story, Swedish authorities are “planning a clapdown.” Said one Swedish taxman, “Most people play and keep their money on their game account, but if they move it out of the virtual world into the real world, then we’re interested in them.” Any move is at least two to three years away. The U.S. Congress seems to be moving more slowly on looking into the issue, but is headed in the same direction. In a way, this is an encouraging sign, in that with taxation most often comes some compensatory protection of rights. If my activities in a virtual world can be considered, in some way, to be work or investment, they should be due similar protections to other forms of work or investment. Note that the Swedish taxman is not contemplating exactly that, but is looking only at transfers of cash from virtual worlds into the real world. Still, it pushes virtual activities closer to the status of the real. Good thing? [Via SL Insider.]
The virtual world known as Entropia Universe announced last May that ATM cards would be made available that would allow members to withdraw their in-world currency as hard cash at real-world ATMs. (Entropia’s PED currency is fixed at 10 to the US dollar.) Now comes the news that the bank that had backed that service will no longer be supported by MasterCard, effectively shutting down the ATM project for the moment. The Financial Institutions Commission of British Columbia reportedly called the bank a “rogue financial institution” having “shown complete disregard for the laws of British Columbia.” It’s impossible to tell whether Entropia picked a lame horse or the Commission took exception to the bank’s distributing virtual currency. Either way, it spells the end, at least for the moment, of one of the more interesting crossovers between the virtual and the real — though it may have been a crossover that was doomed from the start, given the regulatory issues involved. [Via Virtual Worldlets.]
Raph Koster flags a report from Korea’s ETNews (subscription only) that describes a new trade association that’s been formed by Korean gold farmers and real-money trade sites to lobby the Korean government, which has been considering regulation of the sector. This is just the kind of issue we’re often concerned with over at the Second Life Herald, and which Herald founder Urizenus Sklar (aka Peter Ludlow) and I address quite a bit in the book we recently wrote (which should perhaps appear between covers by the end of this year). While it may be quite apparent to most readers of this blog, a lot of the general public has little notion that there’s so much more going on in virtual worlds than simply games. Real-world issues like this and related issues of taxation, law and contractual obligations are only just now beginning to be examined and worked out by the courts in various countries. Call it a first step in the rationalization of the metaverse. In the best case scenario, it should lead to the online portion of our lives becoming more secure and more grounded, and less of the wild-west scenario it’s still often portrayed as.
Tony Walsh flags a couple of interesting stories from the world of virtual finance today. The virtual world of Entropia Universe is apparently auctioning off five virtual banking licenses, each with a two-year term, for vendors who will provide real-world banking services to players of the game. Meanwhile, over in Second Life, Kyle Polulak’s Crystal Studio (here’s their blog) is already experimenting with automated teller machines that would allow you to deposit L$ to a real-life bank account, with the transactions presumably being reflected in real-world denominations, according to an SLNN article. (Polulak, aka SL resident Fox Diller, is based in Canada.) Continue reading
Episode 48 of SecondCast, our weekly podcast about Second Life, is now on the air. We cover Christmas presents and game consoles and get into some of the more interesting corporate initiatives in the virtual world of Second Life, including the Grid Review, and Pontiac’s Motorati Life, both of which are great examples of promotional undertakings which mesh with and add to native SL culture. We wring our hands a bit over the hand-wringing about Second Life’s population, and Cristiano and I get into a good old-fashioned, chair-throwing smackdown over the issue of Prokofy Neva’s having been harassed over the real-world telephone by what seems to be a virtual-world nemesis. All good stuff. Happy new year.
Reader Sterling Whitcroft tips us to the fact that the Washington Post has a good wrap of some of the legal issues that have been facing the virtual world of Second Life in the wake of the recent CopyBot uproar. What’s nice about the piece is that it comes at the situation mostly from the viewpoint of the law, and still manages to get the SL resident perspective as well. It’s good to see virtual worlds start to get the kind of coverage they deserve, coverage that treats them not as fantasy realms but as an extension of the “real” world around us. More and more legal scholars and legislators are beginning to realize that these places merit more serious consideration as well. It remains to be seen what the eventual disposition of legal and taxations questions will be, but it’s beginning to look like the law will not reflexively accept whatever strictures game and virtual world companies lay down, but will instead seek to bring some kind of more broadly just legal regime to bear on such places. Good news for all.
The joint State of Play / Terra Nova symposium at the New York Law School earlier this month was filled with interesting chatter and debate, as previously mentioned. Now you too can get an earful of what some of the smartest thinkers on virtual worlds are chewing over these days, by downloading the audio files that were recorded during the event. Just navigate over to the program page and click on the panels you’re interested in, which will launch iTunes and grab the files. If you don’t have iTunes or have trouble with the files, contact Elizabeth Reilly at ereilly05 AT nyls.edu. Happy listening.
As previously noted, I spent much of Friday and Saturday at the joint State of Play / Terra Nova symposium at the New York Law School. I’m always happy to spend a couple of days talking virtual worlds with a lot of smart people, and the symposium was no disappointment in that regard. Great panels were held on governance, methodologies of study, diversity, taxation and learning, but what was hardly touched on were the putative topics of the meeting: “How did we get here?” and “Where now?” As revealed below, however, there was much to be learned about both those topics at the symposium. Continue reading
I spent Friday and Saturday at the joint State of Play / Terra Nova symposium at the New York Law School. There was a lot of interesting talk, but probably none more so than the panel on taxation and virtual worlds that was held Saturday morning. Dan Terdiman has an excellent wrap on CNet, though I feel like his take is slightly alarmist. To the tax lawyers at the symposium, taxation of virtual assets seemed only a matter of time. But to the emissary from the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, a gamer himself, the picture looked more grey. Either way, it was clear that the debate was slowly reaching higher levels of policymaking circles, and that it’s only a matter of time (and maybe not that much) before Congress or the IRS starts making rulings that directly affect players of online games and the residents of virtual worlds like Second Life. Continue reading
What a week to be away. While I was busy chatting to fans of the best MMO going, the virtual world of Second Life was getting its knickers in a twist over something called CopyBot, an application that intercepts data flowing between the Second Life servers and client and can be used to re-create objects that would otherwise not be copyable. For a variety of reasons, perhaps chief among them the fact that many people earn not insubstantial incomes selling their creations in Second Life, the episode has roiled the community in some pretty ugly ways. (For reference, here is the del.icio.us page and the Digg page on the topic.) I’m unavoidably late to the blogging game on this, so rather than recap the controversy in depth, I’ll look at something I think the CopyBot episode helps illustrate on a broader scale: the fact that Second Life has now grown to the point at which it’s no longer possible to speak of the “community” I just mentioned in a meaningful way. Second Life is no longer the walled garden that it was perhaps originally intended to be, but now belongs to the billion-plus users of the World Wide Web. Interestingly, though, that kind of community is still possible in SL, it just takes a bit more work. Continue reading
State of Play is one of the most important conferences on virtual worlds held each year, as it generally features not just game and world developers but academics, economists and legal scholars who have devoted a large part of their careers to investigating just what role these places play in our society today and going forward. This year’s event, to be held in Singapore, is intended to knit together the global community of such people in a closer way than they have been before. That in itself is an important undertaking, given the fact that legal and tax regimes in the Asia-Pacific region arguably take a more forward-thinking approach to virtual worlds than we do in the western hemisphere. But the conference is apparently short of funding, according to a recent post on the Terra Nova blog. So if you have some extra cash or know someone who might be interested in being associated with the event, get in touch with Aaron Delwiche, who’s organizing the whole thing and whose details can be found in the Terra Nova post. As he puts it: “When Beth Noveck and I set out to plan this event, we overestimated the readiness of our Western colleagues to embrace this groundbreaking project. Five months down the road, we are still trying to raise enough money. We are rapidly approaching a ‘go or no-go’ decision point.” It would be great if the decision were a “go.” Help make it happen, if you can.
As mentioned previously, 3pointD held its first Think Tank event last night in the new »Dirty sim« to discuss issues of sustainability as they relate to the broader metaverse. We had a gratifying turnout of 40+ people, with around half staying more than two hours until the proceedings were done. Thanks to everyone who showed up and contributed ideas, or just showed up to listen. A handful of really nice ideas came out of the meet. You can read a full chat log of the session, posted by SL resident, SignpostMarv Martin, but I’m going to sum up and extend a couple of the ideas that came up below. And look for our next Think Tank coming soon! Continue reading
One of the first stories from the new Reuters bureau in the virtual world of Second Life flags the fact that the U.S. Congress is in the preliminary stages of looking into virtual economies such as Second Life’s and World of Warcraft‘s, and the public policy issues surrounding them. The story quotes Dan Miller, senior economist for the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, as saying, “Right now weâ€™re at the preliminary stages of looking at the issue and what kind of public policy questions virtual economies raise â€” taxes, barter exchanges, property and wealth.â€ Many SL residents already pay taxes on their virtual earnings, of course, but a Congressional investigation could lead to legislation governing tax and intellectual property issues in virtual worlds. Whether lawmakers will treat such places any differently from other Internet-based commerce sites remains to be seen; it’s not clear that the issues are very different. VW economies, of course, do feature their own currencies, which could make things sticky for Congress and game companies alike. In any case, it will no doubt be a matter of years, not months, before legislation is even contemplated. But it’s heartening to see the issue being taken seriously in Washington. The challenge will be to educate lawmakers in such a way that early steps will not have a chilling effect on activities in the virtual world.
That said, some Congressmen are already educating themselves: â€œI can almost guarantee that there are some members of Congress spending time in Second Life or World of Warcraft,â€ Miller tells Reuters.
Linden Lab, the company behind the virtual world of Second Life, banned 60 accounts this week over what amounted to two distributed denial-of-service attacks perpetrated on the same day. The attacks, which involved seeding the SL Grid with self-replicating objects which soon choked off processing power, forced Linden Lab to disable much of SL for long periods on Monday. Past attacks have shut the Grid down altogether. Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale, reported the banned accounts in an audio Town Hall meeting held Tuesday. Continue reading
The latest episode of SecondCast, our podcast about all things Second Life, is now on the air. In episode #32, we hear from SecondCast cast member Torrid Midnight, who reports that she’s leaving Second Life (and SecondCast, unfortunately) for an indefinite amount of time. Her exit was precipitated by a nasty conflict over IP rights in Second Life, during which Torrid was pretty badly abused, by people who didn’t really have a leg to stand on. More after the jump. Continue reading
Mark Warner, former Democratic governor of Virginia and likely “fallback” candidate for president should Hillary Clinton not run in 2008, will visit the virtual world of Second Life today for a chat with New World Notes’s Wagner James Au, at 12:30 SLT (3:30pm EST), in an event produced by Reuben Steiger’s Millions of Us (a sponsor of James’s blog). The idea for the visit seems to have come from within Warner’s Forward Together political action committee itself, according to an interesting interview Au has with Nancy Scola (SL resident Nancy Mandelbrot), whose job at Forward Together consists in part of trying “to connect with the technology/geek community.” While there have been local political candidates in SL before, this certainly marks the highest profile politico to visit this (or probably any other) virtual world. It also raises interesting questions of what’s public and what’s private in a place that (on the surface) is primarily governed by a Terms of Service rather than by a Constitution. [And see update below.] Continue reading
Aaron Delwiche of San Antonio’s Trinity University and the Terra Nova blog posts the news that the next State of Play conference will be held January 7-9 in Singapore. “We are convening thought leaders from Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas to engage in a lively discussion about the unique regulatory and cross-cultural challenges posed by the growth of transnational virtual worlds.” It’s an interesting choice of location for what’s probably the most forward-thinking conference on virtual worlds. Asia has more virtual world “residents” than any other region of the world, and has seen a number of legal decision handed down that treat virtual worlds more like real places — with real property laws — than any in the West. Singapore will be tough to get to for many Western-Hemisphere VW pundits, but it also opens the dialogue to people we haven’t heard that much from on te other side of the world. Continue reading
Second Cast Episode #29 is out, and it’s a real snoozer! Actually, I haven’t listened to it yet (I missed the taping yet again, unfortunately), but as Johnny Ming puts it in his show notes, “The show was so riveting that Cristiano fell asleep.” The crew also interviews SL resident Tony Tigereye, owner of the Tropics Casino, discusses the recent Suzanne Vega concert in SL, and more on texture IP rights. Your challenge: stay awake through the entire thing.
SLBoutique is a shopping site for all things Second Life. Started by SL resident FlipperPA Peregrine in early 2005, the site has steadily grown since then, with residents listing items for sale, and SLB’s in-world operation delivering them automatically to purchasers (similar to other SL shopping sites like SLExchange and SecondServer). Yesterday, SLB saw a resident list the 100,000th item on the site, which marks some kind of retail milestone for both SL and SLB, and is probably a good indication that SLB is the largest such site going. Continue reading
Well, John Swords and I warned them when we interviewed the pair for our Metaverse Sessions podcast, but former Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble and his son have finally been banned from Second Life. Young Patrick Scoble is only 12, not even quite old enough for the Teen Grid, but Robert lets him use his main Grid account anyway. The mistake was to do so as part of a presentation at a conference. Linden Lab‘s reaction was perfectly in keeping with their Terms of Service. But do the Terms of Service make sense? Continue reading
Attention, SL resident Jeffrey Gomez! Jeffrey, of course, is the guy who brought us the ability to export SL objects to Blender. Now comes the news from Ogle Earth that the latest release candidate of Blender can also import KMZ files created in SketchUp. Of course, this doesn’t imply it’s an easy step to get those into a format that SL understands.
But Jeffrey was close to writing something that would export from Blender to SL, but held off because of IP issues. [See comments thread.] Here’s a great, non-IP-infringing use for such an app. It would be great to see Jeffrey or someone else complete the process. SketchUp is a fun tool, and there are great resources for SketchUp models out there, including a free warehouse and a marketplace for user-created models. Being able to get this stuff into SL would immediately open things up even more than they already are. The potential seems pretty exciting to me.
[NOTE: Second Life now supports maya and soon other formats in the form of scultped prims.]