UPDATED! Second Life Bans Gacha Machines

Have you read this blogpost? The Top 20 Controversies and Scandals in the 15-Year History of Second Life (August 2018).

Gacha machines in Second Life are devices which you pay to play. For each play, you receive a random non-copy item from a selection illustrated on the gacha machine. They have become extremely popular, and many SL brands use them. For example, Second Life shoemaker Garbaggio also has an entire section of her store set aside for gacha machines vending dolls:

The massive gacha machine section at Garbaggio
Four drag queen dolls (I did not play the gacha machines from Garbaggio to obtain these; instead I purchased them from gacha resellers on the SL Marketplace)

Today, Second Life dropped a bombshell announcement, banning gacha:

Due to a changing regulatory climate, we’ve had to make the difficult decision to sunset a very popular sales mechanism for content in Second Life.  It’s widely known as “gacha”, and is defined by a chance-based outcome as a result of a payment.  

We know that creators plan their content releases far in advance and will need to re-tool their products, so to mitigate the impact to those affected, we are giving a 30-day grace period, until midnight SLT on August 31.  After that time, selling content via gacha machines will no longer be permitted in Second Life.  Enforcement won’t start until September 1; after that date an Abuse Report for “Gaming Policy Violation” will be the preferred method of reporting this content to Linden Lab.  

We will continue to allow any sales where a payment is given for a known item, which means that items that had been purchased as “gacha” will be allowed to be re-sold as long as the buyer knows in advance the item and quantity they will receive. We will, of course, still allow fatpacks, and any other currently-allowed distribution mechanisms. 

We did not make this decision lightly and we understand that it will impact creators as well as event organizers and certainly the shoppers! We look forward to fun creative ways of engagement that will come instead. 

We realize that this announcement may leave the community with questions.  This forum thread is going to be monitored and we will answer any related questions in there. 

This announcement mentions a “changing regulatory climate”, and several comments in the above linked thread bring this up, for example this one:

For people who haven’t been paying much attention to the gaming atmosphere…

Government regulatory bodies have been critically eyeing loot boxes as the gambling mechanisms they are and starting to enforce new regulations on them in various countries; and gachas are, basically, the exact same thing as a loot box.

So, I would imagine that is what is behind this decision. It’s better to be ahead of the curve than behind it.

For example, loot boxes have already been banned in Belgium and the Netherlands (both countries that Second Life operates in).

The impact of this announcement cannot be overstated. Gacha is big, BIG business in Second Life, and even with the grace period, many content creators are going to have to make significant changes in the way they sell items formerly only sold via gacha machines.

Some SL folks (myself included among them) am happy to see the end of gacha sales, feeling that they only encourage excessive gambling, especially if you only want one item from a gacha machine. I am glad to note that resellers can still sell their items won from a gacha machine, however. (However, the gacha resellers themselves might not be so happy that the sales mechanism that enables their business is ending!)

More details later as I receive them!

UPDATE 2:45 p.m.: Patch Linden has posted the following update to the official thread on the Second Life Community forums:

I wanted to address a few themes I’m seeing so far.  

One of the bigger one’s is ‘why’?   As we mentioned in the post, the regulatory climate around these sorts of selling mechanisms abroad have been under scrutiny for some time, as many have also already mentioned.  This includes the formation of some precedence already in place.  We did not make this decision without a lot of thought on the impact this has and sadly we know how burdensome this can be for many.  Through legal guidance, we are giving as much notice as we possibly can, but we also understand that it may not be enough is all cases.  While we will begin enforcement on September 1, we will not start this out with an aggressive approach.  Your account will not be at risk on a first offense basis.  Please don’t take that as an opportunity to break the rules until you get caught, but we are committed to taking a proactive approach to any enforcement. 

Next, is some of the comments on the mechanism or the gacha machines themselves.  It is the act of paying for something and in return the item/thing you receive back is based on chance.  The level of chance does not matter, or if you disclose it, including the ratios, percentages, etc, if the output is unknown (chance based in any way), that combination of mechanisms is what will be prohibited moving forward.

I have seen some interesting counter-points to how to handle the sales of the content themselves.  Of course any already purchased gachas will continue to be able to be re-sold by resellers so long as the sales mechanism doesn’t use a chance based outcome to give you the item.  Limited quantity items is another that would be perfectly ok to do, so long as the item being represented for purchase is what you receive upon purchase.

As posts are still coming in faster than we can respond to, we will do our best to respond as quickly as we can.

UPDATE 6:45 p.m.: Nodoka Hanamura has posted a Twitter thread FAQ about this, which I would like to thank her for, and reproduce here:

I will be giving a FAQ in this thread.

Now, fair warning as a conflict of interest, I am technically a gacha reseller, who sells them on the Marketplace, though that’s mainly because I still have some stock left there, and even then It’s not that much of an income for me – but regardless, I thought that It’d be best to note.

Q: I am a content creator that distributes content via Gacha. What do I have to do?
A: All Gacha Machines must either be disabled or removed from your store effective August 31st to avoid punitive action from Linden Lab. You are not prohibited from selling the contents of the gacha as individual items or as a ‘fatpack’ in a conventional sales format, in fact, i, and I would assume Linden Lab as well, encourage that you do so.

Q: I am a gacha reseller. Do I need to stop selling my Items?
A: Due to the fact that gacha reselling does not involve gambling, gacha reselling is permissible under the revisions to Linden Lab’s Skill Gaming Policy, under which gacha now applies.

Q: Why is this happening? Why Is Linden Lab destroying a profitable method of selling Items in Second Life?
A: The reason being is that, for anyone familiar with the video games industry and subsequently, legislative bodies’ interests regarding the industry, many national and regional legislatures have made their intent known to either ban or extensively regulate gacha and loot boxes, seeing them as equivalent to gambling.

While there is a debate to be had on the efficacy and justification of banning and regulating gambling, this is not going to spare Linden Lab, nor content creators, the gavel if they are taken to court by California, U.S., or other state and national courts for violating their laws. I know this will frustrate many people.

I know many people will point at Linden Lab and say it is their fault. But this is for the best. For the longevity of Second Life and the prosperity of our platform, we must sacrifice gacha so that we can continue legally existing…Again, I cannot stress this enough. This isn’t something LL did to spite people. This is because it was either they banned gacha, or LL would be in hot water for hosting it…

UPDATE 7:24 p.m.: I particularly like this comment from the official thread, especially the final point made:

Ok, lets break this down to rawest principles…

1: $L are directly convertible to and from $US and so to a regulator they are “real money” assets, in spite of any “in-game token” language. Anything you pay for with $L will be viewed as a “real money transaction” by those regulators and their enforcement arms.

2: loot boxes, i.e. random rewards for a fixed payment in-game, which can be purchased with “real money” are being regulated and/or banned at a swift clip around the world in many jurisdictions including several US states. These jurisdictions almost uniformly class such things as “gambling” and draw their regulation and enforcement authority from the laws that exist almost everywhere to control gambling. Loot boxes for real money are regarded as equivalent to slot machines.

3: Gacha machines are loot-box vendors in which the chances of a particular item and the relative value of the items it is possible to get are completely outside LL’s control.

4: Whether such a definition as in #2 above is right or not is irrelevant. It either is, or is becoming, the legal lens through which such things are viewed almost everywhere. As such, LL MUST become compliant with those laws and regulations. Since they CANNOT regulate Gacha machines to the extent required for their existence to be compliant, due to their lack of control over their configuration, they are gone. Period.

5: Merchants who “make more money from Gachas than I ever would selling the individual items” are not victims here. They are the “poster children” for the predatory nature of a gambling-based sales model, setting the reward odds to “favor the house” every time. If selling the individual items as known items for a price commensurate to their actual value leads to lower profits, that difference in profit level is entirely due to the odds favoring the house in the gambling element. As such rather than protesting they should be allowed to continue fleecing their marks it would be better to zip it, quietly fold their tents and go looking for the next bunko game that hasn’t been caught yet. Any carnie knows how that part works.

Harsh, but accurate!

Teaching Using Tivoli Cloud VR at Simon Fraser University

Steve DiPaola and Jeremy Turner at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbis, Canada, are using the social VR platform Tivoli Cloud VR to teach courses. SFU News reported on their work:

Virtual teaching has become the new norm at post-secondary institutions during the current pandemic. As instructors adapt, SFU researchers Steve DiPaola and Jeremy Turner see opportunities to push virtual worlds further—as they are doing this semester by enabling their students to become avatars.

Students and instructors are using Tivoli Cloud VR in classes led by DiPaola, a professor in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology, and Turner, a Cognitive Sciences instructor, to set up their own personal avatars and join the virtual classroom. The researchers are using the new, open source virtual reality platform to experiment with advanced and cutting-edge VR techniques.

In the virtual classroom, users can navigate about the room and talk to other users. The platform is built to have fully functional media surfaces, allowing users to display slides, media files, and show videos within the virtual classroom.

CTV News also covered their work (there’s also a video you can watch at that link):

DiPaola, who specializes in virtual reality at SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology, said students “attend” class by logging in to the open source virtual reality platform, or they can stream the class on Twitch.

The technology is also being used to train nursing students in Australia, allowing them to complete their practicums virtually, because they’re not currently allowed in hospitals.

“We’re starting it in Australia where we’ve got approval to do it,” DiPaola explained, “and we’re doing it in simulated ways with simulated avatars.”

What’s next? The professors said it is not out of the realm of possibility for an instructor to recreate environments such as dig sites for an archaeology class, for example.

“We think there’s advantages for all kinds of training,” DiPaola said.

For now, Turner teaches two cognitive sciences classes, each of which has between 80 to 100 students.

Inside Jeremy Turner’s virtual classroom in Tivoli Cloud VR (image source: SFU)

I’m looking forward to see what Steve and Jeremy do next!

Rec Room Adds Full-Body Costumes

Rec Room‘s current avatars are pretty basic, consisting of a head, torso, and hands, but in a brand new feature, the social VR platform allows you to create full-body costumes with arms and legs!

A couple of examples of Rec Room’s new full-body costumes (image source)

Scott Hayden wrote in a July 13th, 2021 story on Road to VR:

Ever since the social VR platform Rec Room launched in 2016, its avatar system has notably lacked full-body inverse kinematics like you see in its contemporary VRChat, which essentially leaves users with a stylized appearance lacking arms and legs. Now the studio says it’s releasing an update that will allow you to buy more articulated avatar outfits which should add more flexibility to how you can look in the game.

The studio tells us that the new costumes will let you look like “almost anything imaginable.” 

Here’s an 8-minute YouTube video walking you through the process of creating a full-body costume:

Full-body costumes will no doubt be added to other user-generated content such as avatar accessories, rooms, and gadgets, which form part of its Community Commerce initiative. Scott Hayden points out:

And the name of the game is content creation, it seems. The studio says it now hosts over five million user-generated rooms. With its mounting currency-earning opportunities for users, the company seems to be well on its way to paying out to creators what it says should amount to $1 million by the end of 2021.

This content expansion follows a landmark $100 million financing round, bringing the company’s valuation to $1.25 billion. This makes Rec Room one of the most valuable VR companies outside of platform holders Facebook and Sony.

In the coming months, Rec Room is also readying an Android version which will feature cross-play with all supported platforms, which include iOS devices, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC via Steam, Oculus Quest, and all SteamVR-compatible headsets.

It would appear that Rec Room is going to strength to strength! The social VR platform is especially popular among the highly-desired youth demographic, attracting many children and teenagers with easy-to-use in-world building tools. The addition of full-body costumes will provide a new way for users to flex their creativity!

For more information about Rec Room, visit their website, join their Discord, or follow them on social media: TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and YouTube.

The Unreal-Based Social VR Platform Helios Launches in Early Access on Steam

I decided it was time to pay a return visit to the social VR platform called Helios, created by SubLight Games. The game is now available via Steam for US$9.99 under their Early Access program, for tethered PCVR headesets such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Valve Index, and the company recently announced via Twitter:

Helios is now available for Early Access purchase for all who wish to join our little Social VR revolution! Everything made through Early Access purchases will go towards making Helios a viable and robust alternative to what is currently on the market!

Helios is unlike most other social VR platforms on the marketplace, in that it is based on the Unreal game engine (most other social VR platforms use Unity). It is also interesting in that it has attracted a significant number of former Sansar users—in some cases, even porting entire worlds from Sansar over to Helios! I think the attraction for former Sansar users is the way that Helios is catering to world builders, in a way that is similar to the early days of Sansar.

I immediately recognized C3rb3rus’ 2077 sci-fi world, which was ported over from Sansar to Helios!

The platform definitely is a creator-centered space, with a small but passionate community of geeks who want to see what they can do, even perhaps push a few boundaries! Here, a group decided to stress-test a free world downloaded from the Unreal Store by dropping hundreds of cheese wheels!

Cheese wheels!
An aerial view of the cheese wheel testing

The Community section on the Helios Steam page offers up some examples of worlds that have been created:

Here’s an early access trailer, showing you some of the features of the platform. I was particularly surprised at the modular avatar support (i.e. dressable avatars)!

For further information about Helios, you can visit their website, join their Discord, or follow them on social media: Twitter and YouTube. SubLight Games also has a Patreon; if you feel like throwing some coin their way, I’m sure they’d appreciate it!