Second Life, and the dangers of DRM and lock-in.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Second_Life_logo.svgA friend sent me an article today about news that every Ozimal digirabbit in Second Life will soon starve to death (or, rather, go into permanent hibernation) because a legal threat has shut down their food-server, since the virtual pets are designed so that they can only eat DRM-locked food.
[Source: boingboing.net]

This is very sad for breeders, of course, but it also raises some interesting questions in my mind about Second Life in general and also real life.

The concept isn’t just limited to Second Life, of course. There have been high profile cases of people having iTunes libraries worth many thousands of dollars and wanting to transfer or bequeath them upon death, and been unable to do so. Likewise people being banned from Steam and denied access to all their purchases. In fact any system where you buy digital products that are locked by DRM and reliant on a remote server are susceptible to being locked out from you for whatever reason. This raises the question as to whether you have actually purchased that item or merely have an open-ended license to use it that can be unilaterally revoked by the seller. This is one of the reasons I still buy physical CDs and DVDs, although I often make use of “buy the digital version and we’ll send you the physical disc as well” services offered by Amazon, Sky, and others. With Steam purchases I don’t bother with physical media any more as the games are DRM-locked and reliant on the Steam servers (and useless without them).

If Linden Lab were to shut down the Second Life servers, we would lose everything. Sure, we could migrate to various other virtual worlds based on OpenSim, but it would be without all our DRM-locked inventory and our Linden Dollars. I don’t know about you, but I have spent literally thousands of real life actual GBP pounds sterling buying L$ and have spent all of it, and many more tens of thousands of L$ that I have earned in-world, or been gifted, on the Second Life economy. All that would be lost, like tears in rain. Same goes if Linden Lab banned me for whatever reason, as it is notoriously difficult to get un-banned again. I very much doubt I would start again if that happened.

Linden Lab could shut down Second Life for any number of reasons. One is that they go bankrupt of course, but another is if Second Life were to become unprofitable for Linden Lab and not worth continuing.

Although Sansar isn’t intended to replace Second Life, perhaps Linden Lab will pour all their development effort into it at the expense of Second Life. Or, more feasibly, the content creators could decide to move away from Second Life to newer and more interesting pastures (whether that be Sansar, or something else). With no new content to buy, the Second Life economy would wither and die, and shopaholics everywhere would starve to death, just like the rabbits.

I’m definitely not the only girl with a massive investment in Second Life and who would be reluctant to throw it all away and start again, so hopefully Linden Lab will keep the Second Life servers running for many many years to come, and the wonderful people who make and sell content for Second Life will continue to do so too.

After all, who wants to see rabbits starve?