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  Wells Fargo’s Island Relocation Irks ‘Second Life’ Contributors  
 
 
Posted 2006-01-11 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
An experiment by financial giant Wells Fargo in the virtual world of Second Life has come to an unfortunate end. The company's "Stagecoach Island" advergame project launched last September, but never moved beyond its testing stage in Second Life. Instead, as discovered this month, Wells Fargo's island was transplanted to a competing virtual environment known as Active Worlds. While the original island was built by contractors and volunteers from Second Life's resident community, the relocation in Active Worlds was a shock to the residents involved. While the core contractors have been paid for their work on the Second Life version of Stagecoach Island, at least one contributor is still awaiting payment and another seems to have had their original work copied over to Active Worlds without permission.

The project's history is relatively brief. Wells Fargo worked with San Francisco-based Swivel Media in planning an advergame targeting young people. Somewhere along the line, San Francisco-based Linden Lab--the makers of Second Life--got involved, successfully positioning their virtual world as an ideal game platform. Linden Lab then referred Swivel to a game development team known as Bedazzle, which comprised of Second Life residents. Swivel subsequently contracted Bedazzle to develop Stagecoach Island for a purse rumoured to be worth around $17,000 USD. Other deals (mostly verbal, it seems) were made with a handful of Second Life's resident content-creators and vendors to flesh out the island's features.

Resident Eggy Lippmann played a major role in the development Stagecoach Island's foundation development, working closely with Bedazzle principle Jimmy Thompson, programmers Christopher Omega and Jeffrey Gomez. "I developed the core banking system together with a shopping-cart-based e-commerce solution that was supposed to mimic RL shopping," Lippmann told me. He earned $1000 USD for his efforts, and although he enjoyed working on Stagecoach Island, he understands not everyone benefited from participating. "The people who were invited to sell stuff in the island were never really hired or told anything about the project," he wrote on the official Second Life discussion forum. "They gained nothing from it and devoted a significant amount of their time to our project."

Fashion designer Beryl Greenacre alleges she was promised payment of $100 USD by Swivel Media. "I haven't seen a penny of that $100 I was promised," she told me. "Judging by my experience," she reflected, "I'm not sure I'd agree to participate in another project like this unless it was something I really, really believed in or wanted to do." As the dust settles from Stagecoach Island's departure, those involved don't seem to agree on the exact details of the original agreements. Content creator Torrid Midnight explained via the Second Life forum that vendors were offered a small amount of money in exchange for control of their items by Linden Lab, adding "this was all handled poorly from the beginning." Only Foxy Xevious, the leader of Bedazzle, seems to know exactly what was signed away, and to whom. "Bedazzle was only hired to design and build the layout of the island," she wrote on the Second Life discussion forum. "It was nowhere in our contract to hire vendors. All vendors and game creators [were] to be [handled] by Linden Lab. Our contract only gave [Swivel Media] rights to the building and layout of what we created... Anything that you now see in Active Worlds was recreated without our knowledge until yesterday."

It appears that the confusion experienced by the Second Life residents involved with Stagecoach Island extended all the way to Active Worlds. Second Life content-creator Cubey Terra discovered his work was apparently copied in the move to Active Worlds. Terra shared his concern via the Second Life community discussion forums. "It looks to me like [Swivel Media] duplicated the designs of my [skydiving] pods, the launch pads, the parachutes, and even the shelves and signage. Textures that I created myself in Paint Shop Pro now appear in Active Worlds somehow. At no point did I make any agreement to give away the rights to my designs and textures to anyone."

After learning about Terra's dilemma, Second Life residents raised questions about the reasons for the apparent infringements. Some viewed Swivel Media and Wells Fargo with distrust, while others hoped the transgression was all just an innocent mistake. Still others cast a wary eye towards Linden Lab. Not only did the company's exact role in the entire affair come into question, but some residents pointed out that a clause in Second Life's Terms of Service allows Linden Lab to exploit user-created content in the promotion of Second Life--perhaps Terra's content was exploited in this way. At the time of this writing, Linden Lab had not responded to direct questions about the apparent infringement, but did offer an explanation for Wells Fargo's departure from Second Life.

A Linden Lab representative said that Wells Fargo cited several reasons for leaving, "including cost, system requirements and the [in]ability to separate the Stagecoach experience from the main grid." Linden Lab's rep said the company is disappointed at seeing Stagecoach Island move to Active Worlds, but considers the experience an exercise in learning.

Eggy Lippmann, the creator of Stagecoach Island's overarching technical structure, thinks the lessons to be learned here are clear. "Second Life is a bit ahead of its time, but is overly ambitious for a simple social environment. Non-technical users do not care about the technical underpinnings that limit their experience, they know only how limited their experience is. Whereas Active Worlds supports a whole country on a single server, Second Life simulators are too small and can't handle enough people or objects." Each platform may have its perks and limitations, but Lippmann thinks Stagecoach Island's move to Active Worlds was "an act of insanity" and will result in a lack of rich, complex, interactive content compared to Second Life. But there are still a number of major hurdles for Linden Lab to clear in terms of making Second Life a viable platform for big business. "The company needs a fundamental change of attitude regarding enabling versus controlling," Lippmann told me. "They should allow serious projects full control over the simulators. It's not really up to them to tell a Fortune 100 corporation how many [building blocks] they can have, or how big their objects can be, or how fast they can send email out."

"We are moving towards having a much better idea of what works and what does not in this type of project," stated a representative for Linden Lab, "and also towards understanding how to handle such projects better in the future." Linden Lab's ultimate challenge in becoming a serious platform is in finding the resources for a major upgrade to the Second Life virtual-reality engine, something that doesn't seem to be planned for 2006--instead, the company aims to support more users before working on new features. Based on community reaction to Stagecoach Island's unannounced departure, Linden Lab's upcoming challenges aren't just technical, but social as well. The company's success relies in large part on content created by its resident community. It is the content of residents, not Linden Lab, which comprises nearly all that is experienced in Second Life. A disgruntled Wells Fargo may be a business setback, but a disgruntled community of creators is perhaps even more significant.
 
     
 
   
 
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  8 Comments  
 
   
 
Comment posted by csven
January 11, 2006 @ 7:05 pm
     
 
There's another Linden post on the subject. I've posted it and noticed that we're both thinking the same thing re: disgruntled creators. Will LL ever get it right?

I've posted the Linden post in its entirety here: http://blog.rebang.com/index.php?p=542
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
January 11, 2006 @ 7:25 pm
     
 
I read Reuben's post a few minutes ago, and was considering updating this story, but I think it stands as a slice in time. Besides, I don't think we've heard the end of this matter. There are still some information gaps and doubtless developments to come. It would have done LL some good to strategize a satisfying response to this issue, but it seems that they're in knee-jerk mode.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
January 12, 2006 @ 5:47 am
     
 
Perhaps this is what happens when you don't create an open process? When you have a secret sim, no open bidding, a closed throw of a job to a special set of friends in a feted group? That's what this whole thing was from the get-go, and it was Tony Walsh that broke those stories as well here.

The Lindens probably felt they had to make the entire thing a closed circuit. And I think that is related to its failure. And I'd love to know if in Active Worlds, it's just on its own server and closed off to others, or whether it is integrated with the larger world space.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
January 12, 2006 @ 11:02 am
     
 
Prok, I believe the AW version of Stagecoach Island is self-contained. Reuben said one of Wells Fargo's dislikes with Second Life was the inability to operate in complete isolation from the main grid.

With regards to the process surrounding the Stagecoach Island project, I'm not sure being completley open would have been the best choice. But there seem to have been some major communication problems across the various individuals and groups involved, and that's something that could easily have been prevented. Better communication would have hedged any confusion (and probably a good deal of resentment) after the project ended.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by csven
January 12, 2006 @ 1:23 pm
     
 
Without checking Reuben's exact words (which I've already found to be questionable), I do recall his comment re: operating independent of the main grid. When I read that I mentally translated it to mean that WF wanted something LL couldn't provide. But that seems odd. Surely LL can set up truly independent sims. So what occurs to me is that perhaps LL claimed something they couldn't deliver: availability to pre-existing user content on the Main Grid and secure sims. This would have been a compelling pitch, since it would leverage the abundant content of the Main Grid to keep Stage Coach a fresh experience and also keep Wells Fargo's long-term costs low.

But... and again, this is just me thinking aloud... when LL couldn't ensure security on the sims and the only option was to cut ties with the source of all that nice, low-cost content, the advantages went out the window. And while it might have been possible to port selected content over to a new instance of the grid created for WF, the rules of the game changed and perhaps WF didn't appreciate that.

Problem really is, no one should be even thinking about this stuff. And if LL had made a simple announcement last November, this kind of potentially harmful speculation wouldn't be happening.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by csven
January 12, 2006 @ 1:45 pm
     
 
{From the forum thread (I'm getting myself updated now)}

Moopf Murray:
The content that we put out was taken over by a Linden to supposedly help ease the copying process when creating the copies of the islands and in case things needed to be moved.

This seems to support what I said above. And since this transfer appears to have been done later in the beta, I'm going to guess that LL determined early on they couldn't provide the security/isolation they advertised and decided to create an entirely separate grid and WF wasn't happy with that solution.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
January 12, 2006 @ 1:54 pm
     
 
It frankly sounds to me from the limited data you've put forth that the problem isn't really the build or the textures or the project or the main server vs. private server issue. The problem is the 20 vendors. They didn't just sell content as a one-off deal and were done with it. They wanted to keep selling copies of their original content created likely before there was a Wells Fargo, and likely in keeping with its theme, and wanted to keep getting paid for it. Understood! But then the WF people had the issue of having to collect from vendors and send them money to their accounts in the game, though they wanted to be an isolated sim. Or those creators had the problem of not being able to interact with WF to service their vendors, update them, and collect funds from them. The vendor issue and its need to interact with SL outside of the WF sim set up some issues obviously.

Perhaps a workaround could have been found whereby a one-shot US dollar amount was paid, but that didn't work out. I have no idea if in AW, they solved all this by not having to deal with vendors, or at least not vendors with these kinds of integration/segregation problems.

And as Moopf pointed out, the permissions issues and the need to keep copying modules together with the island itself also created obstacles.

So the moral of the story appears to be: the Lindens will throw you a gig with RL cash like this $17,000 US deal, but you won't get to keep the copyright fully yours due to the need to isolate the project.

Of course, why does this isolation need emerge? Because the Lindens can't provide security. Even with isolation, the WF sim was still gamed and griefed. And with Lazarus, W-HAT, and all kinds of "actions" and "happenings" when the rude boys of SL go to town munching their irony sandwiches, how could they just leave it open? Imagine trying to teach kids to bank in a little toy world when the Bush sign appears over the horizon.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by csven
January 12, 2006 @ 2:47 pm
     
 
But then the WF people had the issue of having to collect from vendors and send them money to their accounts in the game, though they wanted to be an isolated sim.

I believe this would have fallen to LL as the (false) "creators". They would then perhaps have found themselves in the awkward position of not just managing the sale of goods for their own residents (I'm not sure how some comments square on this issue) but more importantly, and perhaps by default, having to deal with the same issues resident creators have to deal: updates to the client, broken content and unhappy customers. Whatever the details, it appears that LL was getting inserted here somewhere.

So the moral of the story appears to be: the Lindens will throw you a gig with RL cash like this $17,000 US deal, but you won't get to keep the copyright fully yours due to the need to isolate the project.

That was never the issue afaik. Bedazzle's deal with Wells Fargo/Swivel Media was to create content which they then handed over according to Bedazzle rep Foxy Xevious:
The contract was not a whole package. Bedazzle was only hired to design and build the layout of the island. It was nowhere in our contract to hire vendors. All vendors and game creators where to be handle by Linden Lab. Our contract only gave them rights to the building and layout of what we created along with Scripting.
Of course, why does this isolation need emerge? Because the Lindens can't provide security.

More importantly perhaps, they couldn't provide the security they might have promised together with an expandable/content-updateable world. I can imagine that second part being strong incentive for someone like Swivel who is probably very aware of the both the time and cost to develop new content under most circumstances. For an experiment (which is really what this was), even Wells Fargo with its deep pockets would be watching expenses. Actually, I would expect them to be tracking expenses especially because it's a new venture.
 
     
 
     
   
 
 
     
 
     
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