Excess Inventory revisited

Last time around, an article by Hamlet Au was the spark for me to write my own take on the excess inventory issue; I must admit that my previous article was coloured by my disgust at the formation of factions within Second Life: “premium” account holders on one hand, “free” on the other – and both sides engaged in an idiotic flame war, with each side labeling the other “freeloaders” and “parasites”, with claims of Linden Lab “subsidizing” large inventories thrown in the mix (oh, do add the “free accounts are all griefers” stuff I’ve often seen in the cesspool known as the Second Life forums, despite the fact that many “free” accounts are actually former “premium” account holders who, like me, decided to downgrade). Child murderer-admiring psycho “philosopher” Ayn Rand would be proud of this moronic behaviour. Now, Mr. Au is revisiting the idea of having LL charge users for large inventories, although most SL oldbies are quick to point out that it’s far too late now for this to happen.

Why is it too late?

Because, to put it simply, LL had its chance to install and enforce this policy years ago, when SL was still a very young platform – and passed on it, believing that having a large number of registered users is where it’s at. Now, with perhaps 3 million registered users and anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 users logged in at the same time (this level of concurrency is actually what SL’s grid can actually handle) and with more and more sim owners opting to abandon or sell their land every day (which, of course, causes a massive fiscal haemorrage to LL, as SL’s primary source of income is rental of virtual land,  it seems that letting everyone have huge inventories (i.e. links to database entries) for free was not such a great idea after all. So, let’s start charging people for their consumerism.

Now, is this really such a great idea?

No. You see, SL is driven by a consumerism that serves its users’ escapism. Ask yourselves a bit: Why am I in Second Life? What am I doing here? Chances are, you’ll admit that you’re trying to escape from your Real Life, which is quite likely to be tedious, boring, tiresome, agonizing (many friends I’ve had in SL were coping with serious diseases and even disabilities, while some great SLusers have sadly passed away, succumbing to their illnesses), lonely and perhaps even traumatic. In SL, LL provides users with this virtual world and a set of tools and capabilities, as well as a social substrate, for users to create their own personal worlds where they can be what and who they want to be, effectively reinventing themselves (if you want, SL allows everyone to let his/her inner Walter Mitty go out and play), and even sell their creations and help their RL income. That’s what brought (and still brings, but this time to a far lesser extent, as the hype has practically died) people to SL.

All these people buy various products and services to create their own worlds, their own reinvented selves, their own new life stories that differ so much from their real ones that they want to put aside for a few hours a week or a day. So yes, you have consumerism in SL, and, save for a few very big companies that have established themselves over the years (such as Xcite! or Anshe Chung’s land business and its subsidiaries), a cottage industry of craftspersons and artisans who create the products that enable others to indulge in their dreams and fantasies.

And where is a user supposed to put all these goodies s/he bought? Where will you put all that beautiful furniture, or that little tiki hut that’s cute as a button? On a piece of land. Yes, now you’re going to need some virtual land to rent; you don’t want all these things to simply sit in your inventory. So yes, there’s (naturally) a positive correlation between consumerism and land rentals. If people don’t consume, they don’t really need large pieces of virtual land to make them their homes; they’ll see no justification in this expense, so they won’t rent land.

I said it before, I’ll say it again: SL’s economy is driven by consumerism. Which brings us back to something I said last time…

In a consumerism-driven economy, you’d be an idiot to penalize consumerism (time to say it again)

We buy stuff. At in-world stores, on the marketplace… It doesn’t matter where; what matters is, we do. Clothing, shoes, jewellery, skins, hair, vehicles, furniture, genitals, you name it… We buy all sorts of things, often without even thinking twice about it. We buy, because:

  • We can afford to do so with relative ease
  • We can “buy and forget”, i.e. buy now and use at a later date without any “penalty”, save for perhaps the object becoming aesthetically and/or functionally obsolete after some years
  • The objects we put in their inventories (and, let’s face it, most are of a far higher quality than the stuff we receive from LL in our inventories when we sign up) help us create our dream world in SL: you might be unable to afford anything better than a moped in RL and a rented two-room apartment in a poorly-maintained 35-year-old building that was built without being designed first, but in SL you may very well live in a majestic villa on a gorgeous tropical beach, own a supercar and have fun beach parties whenever you wish.

What would happen if a new user found out that, if s/he wants to be allowed to have a large inventory, s/he’ll need to either go on a usage-based paying scheme (which is not unlike the extortionately overpriced anti-net neutrality schemes pushed by the ISP and telephony oligopolies ad nauseam) or get a “premium” account?

Such a policy change could easily be construed as penalization of people’s consumerism, a typical error that the neo-classical “economists” of the grossly overrated Chicago School make, but are too stupid and arrogant to understand. Ideas like this can easily reduce consumption, thus reducing the “churn”, the turnover of the virtual economy. And without turnover, you can’t hope to generate income.

But are large inventories really a problem?

This depends on what you do with your inventory. If you’ve never edited a single item in your inventory, it’s all just a bunch of links to existing database entries. Edit an object, though, and you immediately get a new database entry with its respective link(s). Edit a copy of it? New database entry and link(s).

But it’s just text and numbers, right?

Yes, but if we gather a few hundred thousand or even one or two million accounts like yours and they all have huge inventories (in the region of 100,000+ objects), then LL needs massive storage space for its asset server. And this storage doesn’t come cheap, you know. Storage servers are notoriously expensive to put together and maintain, with all those hard drives in them.

Seriously now, how big is SL’s database?

I don’t know, but it’s quite large. It needs a rather large number of storage servers to host it, and these babies consume significant amounts of electricity, they’re – as I already said – expensive and they require personnel to monitor, administer, maintain them and even perform programming work to improve their performance.

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