UPDATED! Linden Lab Caught Deleting Users’ Questions About Tilia

There has been a great deal on conversation over on the official Second Life community forums about Linden Lab setting up Tilia accounts for all SL user accounts to meet U.S. regulations. In response, Linden Lab set up an official FAQ thread which has seen many comments and questions posted.

SL blogger Chic Aeon, who has been monitoring the situation closely, reports that Linden Lab has been deleting some users’ questions from that thread:

I am not going to comment much about Tilia and the upcoming changes to Second Life here until AFTER the Tilia Town Hall Metting on Friday.  I am hoping some adjustments will be made to the original announcement; there certainly has been enough outcry to warrant some rethinking of position.

I and others have been VERY vocal however on the SL Forums (Tilia Takes Over thread).  It is very BAD form to make an official FAQ thread and then delete many long, thoughtful and important questions — let alone not answer any of the hard questions for over a week now.

Post deletion continued throughout the day with many people repeating their original questions and demanding answers. Unfortunately comments continued to be deleted and the week and a half thread remained volatile with  arguments within the questions — most to be deleted once again when a moderator returns to work.

I am not a big fan of censorship in order to control the conversation. Linden Lab needs to step up to the plate and address everybody’s questions, instead of deleting them and pretending they didn’t exist.

Smarten up, Linden Lab!

*sigh* The Tilia Town Hall meeting this Friday should be interesting…

UPDATE 12:42 p.m.: Someone pointed out to me that LL said in the introduction to the FAQ thread, that “off topic commentary may be removed or moved from this thread”.

HOWEVER, who is deciding what is or is not “off topic”? That’s right, Linden Lab. According to Chic, people are posting perfectly valid questions, and Linden Lab is just deleting their questions instead of answering them. THAT. IS. WRONG.

One commenter on this whole situation said something I agree with:

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the whole Tilia situation, Linden Lab need to seriously reflect on why they bother paying their PR team anything. The vast majority (but not all) of the complaints raised have been down to their poor wording of their initial announcement; and overzealous moderation at a time like this is akin to pouring petrol on the flames of outrage. It’s been amateur hour around here, and the damage is almost entirely self-inflicted.

And another commented:

One might actually expect a semi-competent PR team to, as Blush says, “control the conversation”: that is what PR teams are for! And yes, that is a form of “censorship”: controlling the narrative, manipulating the online “buzz” to your advantage, absolutely does attempt to shut down damaging counter-narratives. And we should be entirely unsurprised about any attempt to do that: LL is not a government, it’s a privately-owned corporation trying to make profits, or in this case retain disgruntled customers. This is not exactly a new or weird thing, right? Every corporation with a public presence does this, when they package good news, or try to contain the damage from bad news.

What’s really weird about this is that they are doing such an honestly gawd-awful job of it. There is almost no apparent logic or pattern to the stuff that has been removed. And it’s not just questions that have been deleted, but sincere attempts by residents to answer the sometimes panicky and generally poorly informed posts from people who have heard rumours of what is happening, and haven’t bothered to read through the FAQ at the beginning of the official Tilia post. And indeed, so poorly presented and organized is that material, that its no wonder. If this is “censorship,” it’s a laughingly incompetent version of it; if it’s “public relations,” it’s an utter disaster. It’s like they want to be evil, but are almost endearingly awful at it. And in the final analysis, there’s a chance that it will not just be LL and SL that suffer as a result, but everyone with any kind of stake in the ongoing health of the platform.


Philip Rosedale Talks About His 30 Years of Experiences with Virtual Worlds and Social VR

Philip Rosedale

Numerous people have posted the following YouTube video to various social media and community forums in the past few days: a classroom presentation by Philip Rosedale at the University of Washington in Seattle on May 21st, 2019, as part of their Reality Lab Lectures series.

Philip is a pioneer and a visionary, and he is an engaging speaker, leading his audience through a history of how he became enamored and involved with virtual worlds and virtual reality, and how he built Second Life, founding Linden Lab in 1999, and then, in 2012, starting his new company High Fidelity. You need to watch this; it’s great! (There are a few minor sound issues with the video.)

In response to a student question, he talks about how High Fidelity is working on an app where you can take a single photo of a person and create a 3D avatar from that (at the 43:30 mark). I love this idea (especially since I happen to live a long way away from the closest Doob full-body scanner!), and I hope that HiFi has not dropped this project in their recent pivot to the remote business teams market.

He also says that they already have a version of High Fidelity that runs on the Oculus Quest (at the 1:00:25 mark), but he’s not sure when they will release it. The company may decide to allow people to sideload the app, which would get around having an official release on the Oculus Store.

UPDATED! Linden Lab Announces Some Significant Changes to Cashing Out of Second Life in Order to Comply with U.S. Regulations

Well, as they say, some of us have been waiting for the other shoe to drop, ever since Linden Lab’s announcement of increases in some fees on May 29th, 2019. And yesterday evening, the other shoe dropped. Linden Lab made the following announcement on the official Second Life blog:

We’re making some important changes to Second Life that will help us comply with U.S. laws and regulations. To do this, Linden Lab formed a new subsidiary, Tilia, to offer certain financial services to the Second Life community…

Effective August 1, in order to continue using Second Life you will have to agree to Tilia’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.  A Tilia Account associated with your Second Life Account will automatically be created for you and you will not need a separate username or password to access your Tilia Account.  

In order to stay in compliance with regulatory requirements, if you wish to process a credit, we will need certain personal information to verify your identity, including your name, address, date of birth, and social security number (or government-issued identification if you are not a U.S. Citizen).  You may be required to provide additional information to complete the transaction. Tilia will securely store this information so that you should only need to provide it once…

As always, Second Life remains free to access and enjoy!  However, if your Tilia Account is inactive for a period of 12 months we will charge your Tilia Account a fee to the extent permitted by applicable law.  If you have questions about the inactivity fee, please see Tilia’s Terms of Service.

I have been diligently hunting through the Tilia FAQ and the Tilia Terms of Service, and I cannot seem to find any mention of exactly how much this “inactivity fee” is. Frankly, this is a rather hamfisted announcement, which has generated no end of upset, uproar, and controversy among SL users.

After several pages of confused and angry comments posted to this very active thread on the official Second Life community forums, Linden Lab issued some additional information:

Is this an extra fee on top of the recently changed credit processing fee?

No. The credit processing fees remain unchanged for you as a Resident. You will not be charged anything extra for a credit processing fee by Tilia. The only other fee which may apply is an inactivity fee. This fee would only apply to those accounts with USD balances which have not accessed their Tilia account in any way (for example, to check balance) or had any credit processing transactions over a period of 12 months or more.

Can you clarify whether there are ID requirements and fees for basic Linden Dollar purchases?

These changes apply to USD credit processing and do not have any impact on the routine purchasing of Linden Dollars. Only Second Life Residents who Process Credit (cash out) of their USD balance to their payment method (e.g. PayPal)  are impacted by the ID verification requirements (which are necessary for compliance with U.S. laws and regulations). The inactivity fee applies only to those accounts with USD balances which have not accessed their Tilia account in any way or had any credit processing transactions over a period of 12 months or more.

One frustrated commenter spoke for many when they posted:

I’m just sad that I had to spend half an hour reading forum posts and LL’s answers to the forum posts to find out what the heck it all meant. Pointing people at a mile long TOS page full of legal jargon wasn’t ever going to go smoothly, was it?

Amen. This could have been handled much better, in my opinion.

One thing is very clear: the days of being able to cash out of Second Life (relatively) anonymously are OVER. And if you are earning an income from Second Life, it would probably be best if you were to talk to your lawyer to understand this mountain of legal jargon now being thrown at you. I feel sorry for any content creators in SL who now have to deal with all the headaches that these new regulations will cause. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some content creators finally decide that they’ve had enough, and that it’s no longer worth the hassle to do it anymore.

And the timing of this announcement is dreadful, happening AFTER Linden Lab encouraged so many Premium members to resign up for another year at the former rates, and AFTER all the Meet the Lindens events of Second Life’s 16th birthday celebrations, where they could have answered questions about all this. It’s rather clear LL waited to make this announcement so as not to cast a pall over the festivities.

Also, will other U.S.-based virtual worlds need to follow suit? Obviously, Linden Lab can’t speak to what other companies are going to do, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if other American-based metaverse companies are going to have to draw up similar rules for their users in light of tightening U.S. financial regulations. Significant changes could be in store for a number of different platforms.

UPDATE 3:47 p.m.: Scylla Rhiadra has taken it upon herself to pull together all the information from four different official sources:

The Blog Post announcing this is couched in legalese, and not very useful, but you should probably read it anyway. It is at least short.
The FAQ is not as helpful as it could be, but does include some specific information about valid forms of ID, etc.
The FIRST comment here by Linden Lab does contain useful information, and is quite clear. It is on page 5 of this thread.
The SECOND comment by LL is on page 7, and is also quite good.
Here are the answers we’ve been provided by LL thus far, in my own words. Needless to say, check out the above yourself, and if I’ve got anything wrong here, I’ll correct it.
– Everyone will need to agree to the Tilia ToS to continue to use SL after 1 August.
– ONLY those who are cashing out L$ to USD need do anything else. You do not need to provide additional information or ID to buy L$ or spend L$
– Those who are cashing out (only) will need to provide what is, apparently, US government-mandated ID, including name, address, date of birth, and Social Security Number.
– Those who are cashing out, but are not US citizens, will be asked to use a government-issued ID such as a passport or driver’s licence, along with some form of verification for address.
– There will be an “Inactivity Fee” applied ONLY to balances of USD in your Tilia accounts, if it is not accessed or used for a 12 month period. There is no information how much this will be yet, but it will apply only so long as there is money remaining in the account, and you have not accessed it.
– The Inactivity Fee does NOT apply to your L$ balance. This can remain dormant without penalty.
– This will have NO impact on your Premium stipend. A USD balance that you are using to pay for your Premium will NOT require additional ID. (But you will need to be aware of the Inactivity Fee.)
– The processing fee for transactions charged by Tilia is NOT in addition to the one currently charged by LL. One will, I gather, essentially replace the other seamlessly.
– The Privacy Policy for Tilia is fully compliant with the GDPR (for European residents).
– According to LL’s second post here, “In general, most Residents will not need to resubmit the information if it has been previously provided.”
Why…is it necessary for everyone to agree to the Tilia ToS, and have an account, if only a small minority will actually be using it (to cash out). My suspicion is that this is about efficiencies.
What are the workarounds for non-US residents who may not have a passport or driver’s licence? It would be good for LL to provide more guidance on what they will accept from non-US citizens.

Thank you, Scylla!

Linden Lab has now set up an official Questions and Answer thread on the official Second Life community forums for people to post their questions about this upcoming change.

Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Social VR Sustainability

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

I have been enjoying my self-imposed vacation from the blog. It’s given me an opportunity to step back, enjoy the all-too-brief Canadian summer, and reflect a little bit. I’m going to start easing back into blogging over the next week. There’s certainly no shortage of things to write about!

Yesterday, Gindipple shared his most recent compilation of Sansar user concurrency statistics, and while they do show a slight increase in the average number of users over time, it’s clear that users have not exactly rushed to embrace Sansar in the way that Linden Lab has been hoping:

Inara Pey has done her usual excellent job of summarizing last week’s Sansar Product Meeting, and she shares the following item from the discussion:

It’s now almost two years since Sansar opened its doors to the public, and general user concurrency is still only in or around the mid-20s level. This has raised questions of Sansar’s sustainability, and whether the Lab have set any goals for the platform that need to be achieved in order for it to be continued, etc.

Landon McDowell, the Lab’s Chief Product Officer, and the person most directly in charge of Sansar’s development, responded thus to one of these questions:

I am not going to put any date on the board. I think we’re taking this day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, release-by-release, and we want to see what is happening and what is resonating and what isn’t … I believe steadfastly in the future of virtual worlds, that what we’re doing here is really important … Are we happy with the result? I’m not happy with the result; I would want a million people in here today, and we’re obviously not there.

But in terms of sustainability, I think we know what our limits are, and we are proceeding accordingly. If we have 50 people in here in a year then yeah, I’m going to be really massively disappointed. I think everybody here is working hard to make this an absolutely monumental success … I feel that everyone that’s here is here because they’re digging something about what we’re doing, and I want that to spread like wildfire quite frankly. So we definitely have hopes and ambitions.

But again, I’m not going to put a dot on the board of, “this date and this time, this number of users”. I think we want many more users in, and we want them relatively quickly, and we go from there.

While it is good news that Linden Lab appears to have no internal make-or-break date for Sansar, the fact remains that the company is putting time and money into a platform that, so far, is not attracting a lot of use.

The elephant in the room of social VR, not just for Linden Lab but for all companies in this marketplace, is sustainability. Many companies are pouring resources into various social VR platforms, in hopes that they will be able to relight the same spark that ignited over a decade ago with Second Life. Most projects have not had a great deal of success yet. The few social VR platforms which have attracted some attention to date (VRChat and Rec Room) face a daunting transition to an in-world economy, plus a slew of technical problems trying to shoehorn their experiences into wireless VR headsets like the new Oculus Quest in order to reach the broadest possible potential audience. Add to that rumours that Facebook is reportedly working on a major social VR initiative for all its Oculus VR hardware users, which will likely upend the current marketplace. The road ahead is rocky indeed.

Given the significant compromises that have had to be made to VRChat in order to get it to run at all on the Quest, and the rather disappointing results, it seems Linden Lab’s decision to not support an Oculus Quest version of Sansar is a wise one. Inara reports:

Oculus Quest support:  As has been previously indicated, this is not currently on the cards. The Quest processor and general capabilities are seen as being unable to handle to quality of content LL want to provide without massive amounts of auto-decimation, which can be problematic. However, as the capabilities of emerging VR systems continues to improve and Sansar improves in terms of performance limits, the hope is that the two will converge at some point in the future.

And that convergence may come sooner than you think. It is interesting to note that at least one eager early adopter has reported that he is able to use the PC streaming app ALVR to play Sansar on the Oculus Quest. (“PC streaming” refers to the use of sideloaded Quest apps to enable your desktop computer to stream VR games directly to your Quest. You’ll have to sideload the app onto your Quest, and then install a coordinating PC program before you can start playing. These programs, such as ALVR and VRidge, are new, highly experimental, and currently require a certain level of geek skills to set up and use. But they will no doubt become easier to use over time.)

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

However, as Landon McDowell says, I’m still a fervent believer in the future of virtual worlds. I still believe it’s a question of when and where, not if, social VR takes off and virtual worlds have a renaissance. High Fidelity’s recent pivot towards business users is just one example of a social VR company adjusting its sails to meet evolving conditions. Expect more such shifts as the market grows and changes.

Stay tuned! As I often say, things are getting interesting!