Friday, April 15, 2016

The 'is' and 'isn'ts' of Virtual Money

We love what you do when you do it with heart
Truelie Telling, the Safari song

It may have been Pathfinder who brought it up, at this week's Safari, the subject of some sort of hypergrid friendly virtual currency. His comment was to the effect that it would give him the opportunity to support content creators. There followed a little polite but determined chorus of 'hypergrid currency?? thanks but no thanks' from many of the other attendees. Why is it that? What is it that makes people like me feel so passionately that the predominantly no money culture in open sim is the better way?

It's not about sim rent. This article is not about money in the sense of paying rent for a sim or for real world products such as music CDs and downloads, real world art, or contributions to keep a grid going. It's about paying for pixels.

It's about imagination.    Most of us come out of the SL experience. Remember the slogan.. "Your world, Your imagination?" Eventually we came to see that no, actually, SL wasn't our world, it was subject to terms and conditions, tier and in some cases account termination, fees for uploads, for making a group, for selling stuff on Marketplace. It's not just the Linden's world; you need zero imagination to become a land baron, for example. We live in the real world where we are subject to gravity, to atmosphere, to society's dress codes, and the treadmill of money. In virtual worlds, we happily give up the first three... but keep money? How unimaginative.

It's not about politics.     In my travels I've gotten to know very right wing conservative types who inhabit free grids and give away creations that have taken them weeks, even months, to perfect, whether it be scripts, prims or meshes. And equally, I've had more than one real world leftie, with a shop full of pixels, make scathing remarks about 'freebies' and the superiority of commercial grids.

It's about give and take. One of the biggest excuses made to justify charging for your creations in open sim is that 'it pays the bills'. According to this article by Daniel Wesley, the average American spends about 6% of income on entertainment, roughly $3000 a year. If you'd like to give yourself a heart attack, click here to see current pricing of a sim in Second Life.
So, OK you're not paying the big bucks in SL, but what's wrong with making a virtual living off the things you create inworld? Well, how much did you pay for your Firestorm or Singularity Viewer? Did you remember to send in your payment to OSGrid to defray the costs of testing and developing the opensimulator code?  If somebody visited your grid and blogged about it, did you pay them a publicity fee? If you like to travel around the hyperverse, did you buy a ticket to join the Safari, to go to a concert at Event Plaza or on 3rd Rock, or to play on one of the sims of Lost World Grid or Outworldz? And have you cut a check to Aine Caoimhe, Linda Kellie, Taarna Welles, Ferd Frederix, Arcadia Asylum or any one of the dozens of other free content/knowledge suppliers whose stuff you are almost certainly using? Or is their hard work worth less than yours? Maybe you think free content makers are rich, or stupid, or both. If in your heart of hearts you do, then maybe there's something wrong with your heart.

It's not about profit.     Here's the thing. You're never really going to earn any decent money from making pixel products in opensim. You're just not. The vast majority of people here are producers, not consumers. The often prophesied mass exodus from SL will never happen, and if more come, they'll find a way to bring their crap with them.
The biggest money makers in SL, after rentals, have traditionally been sex related, and body related - things like hair and skin, and of course nowadays mesh avies and mesh clothes. Much of the (slim) profit in SL is generated by making one item and then selling it no mod in a variety of colors. That's not going to work with the savvy open sim crowd who are just going to take home your creation, go into God Mode, and mod up your stuff any way they want. 
And there are already more free full perm sex beds available in opensim than you can shake a stick at. 
Blocking what people do with your creations is only possible if you don't let them off your home grid. Which makes your stuff pointless to the hypergridding public, and reduces your market share to the local population, who are probably also trying to sell their crap to you. So now you're just handing the same grubby VirtuDollar back and forth between yourselves... for what? The satisfaction of having 'made money'? The only person making anything out of that is your grid owner, grabbing a percentage from every sale. And you'll have an ulcer from worrying about people 'taking your stuff'... how sad is that. 

It's about trust.     The problem with virtual money is that... it's a problem. A layer of risk and responsibility that seems pointless... unless you're the one running the virtual currency scheme and hoping to make real money off it. 
Oh, you're just cheap, Thirza, you don't want to put money into vws. Not true. I've tipped musicians, and bought music, and art, paid rent and contributed to various grids in open sim. I've also sold a Safari Calendar, still available on this blog. You know how that all happened? With PayPal. It's quick and easy. In many cases, 'real names' of buyers and sellers were not visible to the other party, but where they are, who cares? It's not 2008 any more, guys. PayPal is trusted, international and truly hyper-meta-versal, and there's no extra Marketplace middleman taking his cut, messing with rates, or possibly disappearing with the loot, like some latter-day BitCoin. 

It's not SL.     Hands up who wants open sim to turn into Second Life. Here's the bad news, it never will. Or maybe that's good news to you. Either way, it won't happen. SL isn't hg friendly for a very good reason - it's a world run along completely different lines. Second Life is a single entity that exists to make a profit. Open Sim has some mini SL clones, but generally, it is a vast constellation of wildly different entities, run for the most part for fun. 
The motto Liberty, Variety, Instability sums up the difference between the two. And while I personally think money in virtual worlds is kind of stupid, unless you're the banker, that doesn't mean I don't respect your right to play the game that way if you really want to. The JOG idea, is nice. Residents can charge money for their objects, but when resident buyers run out of cash, they can just go to an inworld  ATM and get a refill of their bank balance - without spending a dime. It's just funny money.

It's about community.     This is embarrassing. One of my earliest memories of SL was going out and buying a shape. I had no idea that I could go into Appearance and make my own. Nobody told me! I was too dumb and lazy to research SL and find out about stuff like that, so I handed over cash and bought it. You may say, that's a tax on stupidity; you may say, it's the price one pays to have something instantly ready to use, because you don't have the time/talent to do stuff. But really? You couldn't learn a new skill? You can't share with someone who needs help? 
In a big impersonal dog eat dog world like SL, it kind of makes sense to be out only for yourself. But on a small grid, where your fellow residents ought to be like your family? Is it OK to take freebies you find on other grids, or free full perm scripts you find on websites or lift from SL,  and then charge your poor ignorant fellow residents for them? What kind of sick shit does that?

It's not about Good and Evil    It's not money that is the root of all evil. Check your scripture. It's the love of money.  Human nature plus money equals temptation followed by paranoia. That's not to say that everyone is dishonest - interestingly, dishonesty is a charge made equally often by the pro money people and the no money people against the other side. Probably the majority, if they do have a virtual item with questionable permissions, are careful not to pass it on to anyone. But once you start putting the prospect of money into the mix, you just make life so much more complicated. An upload of a piece of mesh from one of the hundreds of websites suddenly becomes fraught with speculation about your right to sell it. The same goes for textures, sounds, fonts, intended for non commercial use only. That's a lot of headaches for a tiny Phony-Penny profit.

It's about appreciation. All of this doesn't answer the heart of the matter, which is, how can I show appreciation for someone else's hard work, if I don't give them money?
How about you send them a thank you IM? That is good for starters. You'd be surprised how much a kind word means to many people. This applies to a beautiful sim you visit as it does to a nice pair of shoes. What else could you do?
Can you bring friends to see the goodies you have found? 
Do you have a skill with scripting, or textures, or music, or building that might, down the road, be of use to that person? 
Do you have a server, or a region? Could you offer them a space on it for a shop? 
 How about simply taking a photo of the goodies you found and publishing it on social media, with the creator's name, so they can see you appreciated their talent?
What about - and here's an old idea, but still a good one - what about you start a blog, possibly with some other opensim residents, where you post about nice stuff you've found on different grids? 
Keep a note of all the people you 'owe' as you go around open sim and plan to pay forward the good you have received. Do something nice for them, or for others. 
Now, all of these things would take more time than just pushing a 'pay' button and handing over some Fake-o-Dollars. But wouldn't that draw you closer into a living, breathing, caring community?
Wouldn't that be better for us all?

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