Users Creating Content Implies a Need for Power
Second Life is a unique virtual world environment because of the ease and possibility that the common user has to create his or her own objects and environment. For a platform like SL to focus on making this the primary goal leads to a fairly simple idea of features leading to creativity. The means to these features, and the protection of our our creative works resides from the same source - raw, unadulterated power!
Okay, so, minus the raw and unadulterated parts. (Who ever heard of "adulterated power" though, seriously?)
Government: Communication Outlet, But Not Effective at More
When someone hears the word "power", government is usually the first thing that person imagines. It's hardly the only thing, though, and in SL, it's far from being sufficient at achieving developer goals. There have been a multitude of attempts at governing bodies in SL, and each with a small range of success and creative ability generated.
Let's examine a few categories of approaches at government in SL.
Groups are the most basic form of government in SL, with simple voting and powers over land and objects given to officers. It allows the sharing of resources and control, and have been an ideal setup for small projects. They are generally only successful when a strong leadership is maintained, and clear roles defined. They are completely lack the features needed to be sufficient for complex forms of government, such as democracy.
On occasion, a few residents will get really infuriated with Linden Lab and form some Justice Democracy League entity. These groups gather to talk out issues, and wind up the loosest form of governance in SL, because they inevitably distrust government in SL - even though they are one form. They are ideal for discussing issues and sharing ideas. Since they lack organization, they are completely inadequate for getting anything done.
The trick of one of these groups is to get some power-users involved, and then the meetings serve as a venue to persuade the power-users to do the bidding of the group. Usually, power-users already realize that they have the power, so they are often not persuaded away from their original sentiments. Should like-minded power-users come together, they can coordinate their efforts, and that's about the best result a Committee-type group could hope to accomplish.
Governments, with a capital "G"
There are attempts at making governing bodies that span all of SL; folks have made stabs at creating legislative bodies, dispute resolving systems, and representative bodies. These all have failed and will continue to fail. The main problem is that the very nature of SL is that of doing what you want - and that would include not being involved with any government, or be subjected to their rules. The secondary problem is that we're talking a worldwide community, and there's simply too many opposing viewpoints and agendas to reconcile.
In Summary ...
So, in conclusion for governments, I don't foresee any sort of governing body really empower residents of SL, and such I see little creative value in pursuing them other than from a simple communications channel. I don't want to understate the effectiveness of this, though; spreading the word about issues and getting people to voice their opinion to LL is a very power thing.
Residents Banding Together to Ensure Legal Protection
One of the quickest ways to lose creative ability is because of angry people with lawyers. SL is still flying under the radar, but lawsuits like Marvel's attack on City of Heroes makes gives me pause to wonder when SL will be in some corporate crosshair. Issues such as copyright, trademark, user-disputes, even large scale griefing could become nightmares for using both on the giving and receiving end of lawsuits.
If the idea of SL is to enable individuals to create, explore, interact, and generally merely exist in SL without being hassled, what's the biggest hassle out there? How about being tied in court for years on an issue?
Richard Bartle, MUD co-inventor, brought up the issue of developers banding together recently in Terra Nova. It got me thinking again, that a big way for SL developers to secure power would be to protect ourselves from the constant threat of creative disenfranchisement.
Does the average SL user have the ability to fight off a big corporation? No.
Does the average SL user have the ability to stop copyright violation in sl? Yes, through LL's intervention, but this is an unscalable solution.
Does the average SL user have the ability to collect money for damages done in a copyright theft of their product, or griefing interference of their business? Absolutely not.
Rewind to: State of Play III, "Law In Virtual Worlds" panel. You can check out the video here. At the end, you can watch me stand up and ask the panel if they could envision some way to provide scalable, affordable legal representation to the average SL user. I got shrugs and "that's tough" consolidations.
I believe there's a mentality out there, even in fellow residents, that only big game companies should be allowed to make money. Maybe that's why the overwhelming majority of news articles on SL focus on "Wow, OMGzors! Some individual is making money!" It's such a big deal to people that individual developers can turn a profit, because the game industry has become such a Hollywood-like industry.
If anything acts as a barrier between entrepreneurs and success, it's doubt in one's own ability. Many people think "Oh, I can't compete" and give up. When the mentality is that independent content creators really shouldn't / can't make money, it just acts as a repressing agent.
We have to change this mentality that only big game companies are allowed to make money. It's holding us back, both directly, in the financial sense, and on a larger scale, when we talk about the power we could wield with the wallet.
Money is Power, Too
Perhaps everyone's favorite form of power is the almighty (Linden) dollar. When LL thinks about changes to their platform, naturally they need to think about how it will affect their paying residents - their investors. It doesn't take long to figure out that LL listens to someone like Anshe Chung because she is the equivalent of a major investor in the SL world. Having holdings, and making money makes you a business partner with LL, whether you realize it or not.
The second aspect to making money in SL is that by running an established business, you stand out as a person worth consulting. Anyone who can make a living in SL is clearly determined, talented, and self-motivated, with a great deal of belief in self. Since LL is pioneering SL, they are making things up as they go along. In the same sense, so is the successful business owner in SL. I get a strong sense that LL looks at these people as a model of what things are possible in SL.
Last weekend I wound up at the 2005 Machinima Film Festival. I wound up sharing a cab with Pathfinder, Ryan, and Eric Linden on our trip from the Museum of the Moving Image to our dinner locale (Big Nick's, in Manhattan). A major topic brought up was whether Linden Lab could ever sponsor start-up businesses in Second Life. It came up that LL had dabbled in the idea of how to do this.
Perhaps it's time we stand together and ask that they dabble a bit harder. :)
Rather than a formal conclusion, I'll pose some questions that I hope you can consider and respond here or elsewhere.
- How can independent developers form an organization to offer legal services to members at affordable costs?
- How should indie developers band together to create a union or association for communication, training, and negotiation purposes? (Or is IGDA sufficient?)
- How can we, as developers, set our goals to bring in more spending into SL? (More spending = more of us that can make a living off of SL.)
- What objectives and features of SL are truly critical to our success, as indie developers?
- How can we better empower not only ourselves, but casual players to back our goals?