March 1, 2024

What on earth is going on with Second Life?

It's been a confusing week for the long-running platform.

What on earth is going on with Second Life?
Photo by Igor Omilaev / Unsplash

This past week has been a roller-coaster of half-missing information, arguments, withheld statements, and thinly-veiled references in blog articles. The problem? Some kind of commotion(??) at the offices of Linden Lab, the parent company of Second Life.

Here's what we know.

  • Five days ago, a Medium account named "Robert Bartos" posted an essay which makes serious allegations of inappropriate behavior by Linden staff, both within Second Life and in the workplace. Bartos alleged that several company employees were involved in these acts, including some pretty notable names in leadership. The essay also complains of rampant sexual content for child avatars on Second Life's marketplace.
  • The essay's allegations aren't soundproof, save for obvious marketplace violations. Bartos includes screenshots to connect accounts he lists allegations for, but other claims are merely stated. Interviews presented are also kept anonymous (along with the author's own identity). As damning as some of the claims made in the essay are, it's still important to recognize the status of its reliability in reporting what's happening.
  • Second Life is rife with blog posts and blind items of countless scandals. This time, however, the accusations were enough to rile up the userbase for real. A Discord to discuss the essay among Second Life residents was created shortly after, called "Let's Talk About It"; there were roughly 266 members sitting in its channels as of two days ago. A petition for Second Life merchants also attempted to gather signatures, requesting Linden Lab publicly respond.
  • A request earlier this week from The Metaculture to Linden staff for comment was also made, which went unanswered.
Source: Zooby announcement on Facebook
  • On February 26th, Second Life merchant Zooby announced a discontinuation of their child avatar products in light of the hot-button topic.
  • Adding further confusion, it was noted by writer Inara Pey that two Linden Lab employees, Mojo and Styfy Linden, had departed the company. Although the two could have left before all of the commotion began, Linden Lab waiting until the week of the scandal to scrub their company's About page just throws another spanner into everything. At that point, the company also still hadn't offered a public statement. This fact is included not to implicate Mojo and Styfy Linden, but to highlight the clumsiness of Linden Lab's handling.
  • On February 29th, New World Notes reported Linden Lab was finally investigating Bartos' allegations. A thread in Second Life's official subreddit was created to allow discussion of the issue. Somewhat.

This is a mess. Companies can be slow to respond to PR issues, but waiting a whole week while your userbase begs for a statement just isn't the way to go. Whoever directed the response for this crisis needs to be fired.

It also brings up questions about Linden Lab's future in navigating trouble as it expands its financial offerings (Tilia) to other virtual platforms. If the Lab can't quell its own angry users and at least say "we're looking into it" (how easy is that?), then how can it offer reliable business solutions for anyone else? If a scandal like this happens again, will Tilia's clients, VRChat included, eventually be forced to switch to a different system?

Reporting on this week's events is daunting, but is a great example of what happens when communication breaks down between a platform's administration and its users.

This is Linden Lab's EAC moment. Hardly anything gets Second Life users upset. Motivating them this much means something has gone terribly wrong. Let's hope the staff can make this right again.