The excess inventory problem and how LL can deal with it

As Second Life loses more and more privately-owned regions every day and slowly but surely approaches the point where its current land-based business model becomes unsustainable, various ideas keep getting thrown all over the place for it to make up for some of the losses and forceencourage users to opt for “premium” accounts. Over the years in SL, I’ve heard various suggestions, mostly hare-brained, as they were half-baked and based on overly broad, blunt and heavy-handed approaches: from axing “free” accounts (which have often been demonized by ignorant “premium” account holders) to charging more for “excess inventory”, an idea that I’d first heard RL years ago (centuries in computerspeak). Now, this idea has made a comeback, and what’s even more annoying is that the door through which it got back into our virtual world is the blog of a person who is considered by many to be somewhat of an authority on all things related to SL: Hamlet Au.

In support of the ideas of an SL land baron nicknamed Desmond Shang, Au promotes the idea that SL users be charged for what both he and Shang call “excess inventory”, especially if said inventory is owned by “free” users. Shang claims that SL is a “maze of unspoken subsidies”; in his view, certain (who?) users pay for others to have a “free ride” – Randroids would rejoice in his thinly-veiled attempt to divide SL users into “freeloaders/parasites” and “profit-generating/useful members”. It is true, of course, that excess inventory requires additional storage space in the asset server and that there are many inactive accounts with lots of inventory that pose a great burden. But Au’s and Shang’s approach is shallow, reeks of social automatism and does nothing to address the problem; if we fall for the ideas of Mr. Shang, we’ll get back to the 2006-2007 paranoia where we wouldn’t talk to someone who didn’t have “payment info on file”, as we were led to consider them “freeloaders”, potential griefers etc.

What makes this idea so daft?

What exactly are the objects we have in our inventories? Basically, every “item” in any user’s inventory is a link to a single database entry. For instance, a vehicle that I have in my inventory is nothing but a link to the database entry that defines and describes this object. If I have more than one copies of this vehicle, I have more links to this database entry. Every SL user out there that has bought this vehicle has (at least) one link to this single database entry that’s stored on the Asset Server. Again: One database entry (the object), multiple links to it. So, the idea that just because someone has many items in their inventory, they’re posing a problem for LL is daft, as it’s overly broad and overlooks an important aspect of the issue.

But what if I edit an object I have? Is what I wrote above still valid? No. When I edit a copy of a modifiable object – or an object I created myself in any way (from editing the settings notecard in an animation overrider to performing major alterations to its size and shape, even adding and/or removing prims), a new item is spawned; a new database entry, which of course needs to be stored. LL’s asset server does not overwrite the original entry, as this would break the item for all the other people who have bought it. It creates a new entry instead. It is true, of course, that all these entries are small in size – but if we add them all up, the total size is considerable. In that case, yes, a very large inventory that consists of multiple modified copies of various items can pose a problem, if combined with thousands of other such inventories. But this was not what Au and Shang said, and it makes their proposal daft.

Then, the proposal a 100-item “limit” for “free accounts” is put forth. One hundred items? That’s less than the items SL “endows” us with when we sign up (clothing, body parts, avatar accessories, textures, that sort of thing). That would automatically enter a hidden charge (very RyanAir) into the equation; the new user would say “wait a minute; so, you’re telling me that, if I start buying stuff from content creators, I’ll have to pay for you to let me keep it in my inventory?” and would never sign in again, joining the millions of inactive users that haven’t logged in for ages. It will also act as a deterrent for people to buy stuff from SL merchants, further pushing the virtual economy downwards and putting it in a death spiral, especially as news of this practice go viral all over the internet.

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