Brave New World

As readers will no doubt be aware by now, in an almost unbelievable development Linden Labs have announced the creation of a new “adult-themed” continent, to which all mainland businesses dealing in such merchandise will be required to relocate in the very near future. As it is worded the proposal seems to indicate that all adult-orientated activity will be confined to the new landmass, though various Lindens, contributing to the debate on the SL forums, have sought to reassure residents that the regulations will be interpreted in a way that will not affect what individuals do in the privacy of their own homes.

To say that reaction to this announcement has been negative would be somewhat of an understatement. I gave up reading the comments on the forum after 15 pages, but the feeling among residents was unmistakable – almost universally this is regarded as a terrible idea. Objections range from opposition in principle to the limitation of free expression, through doubts about the workability of the scheme (particularly the age verification element), to concerns from retailers worried that they will be forced to exchange their established prime locations for undesirable plots on the new continent. Just about everyone expects in-world trade to take a hammering, mainland land prices to collapse and a mass exodus of disaffected residents.

Linden Labs seem to be taking a massive risk with this move. At the moment they have a solid if limited business model – collecting subscriptions from a core of residents for whom the freedom to do what they want in SL is the main attraction. They may or may not actually engage in “adult” activity, but they like the idea that they could if they so desired – it’s a transgressive edge that is missing from their real lives. The Lindens are betting that the income they will lose as a result of alienating part of their current user base will be more than compensated for by new money from corporate and educational customers who are currently, so the theory goes, scared off by the reports of Second Life’s rampant perversity. I guess they have done some sort of research to back this up, but even so it’s a brave enterprise that will forego a proven revenue stream in pursuit of what may turn out to be an non-existent market.

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