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Making Virtual Worlds

Making Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Making Virtual Worlds
    Book Description:

    The past decade has seen phenomenal growth in the development and use of virtual worlds. In one of the most notable, Second Life, millions of people have created online avatars in order to play games, take classes, socialize, and conduct business transactions. Second Life offers a gathering point and the tools for people to create a new world online.

    Too often neglected in popular and scholarly accounts of such groundbreaking new environments is the simple truth that, of necessity, such virtual worlds emerge from physical workplaces marked by negotiation, creation, and constant change. Thomas Malaby spent a year at Linden Lab, the real-world home of Second Life, observing those who develop and profit from the sprawling, self-generating system they have created.

    Some of the challenges created by Second Life for its developers were of a very traditional nature, such as how to cope with a business that is growing more quickly than existing staff can handle. Others are seemingly new: How, for instance, does one regulate something that is supposed to run on its own? Is it possible simply to create a space for people to use and then not govern its use? Can one apply these same free-range/free-market principles to the office environment in which the game is produced? "Lindens"-as the Linden Lab employees call themselves-found that their efforts to prompt user behavior of one sort or another were fraught with complexities, as a number of ongoing processes collided with their own interventions.

    In Making Virtual Worlds, Malaby thoughtfully describes the world of Linden Lab and the challenges faced while he was conducting his in-depth ethnographic research there. He shows how the workers of a very young but quickly growing company were themselves caught up in ideas about technology, games, and organizations, and struggled to manage not only their virtual world but also themselves in a nonhierarchical fashion. In exploring the practices the Lindens employed, he questions what was at stake in their virtual world, what a game really is (and how people participate), and the role of the unexpected in a product like Second Life and an organization like Linden Lab.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5899-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-16)

    I am standing in front of a whiteboard—the dry-erase boards seemingly ubiquitous in high tech company offices—looking at a drawing that offers a bird’s-eye view of Santorini on a letter-sized color printout taped to the board. At least I think this is Santorini, a picturesque Greek island formed from the remnants of a collapsed volcano. In the picture I can see its c-shaped landmass, its steeply rising elevation, indicated by a panoply of colors, all surrounded by a deep blue that also fills its bay, where a smaller island sits. A Cartesian grid divides up the image into...

  5. 1_ THE PRODUCT: Second Life, Capital, and the Possibility of Failure in a Virtual World
    (pp. 17-45)

    Sitting at a free desk in Linden Lab’s Second Street offices, I have just finished some work on my avatar, ending up with some slightly spiky red hair that I like and a frame more human than superhuman (though perhaps a touch more trim than my own). A Linden on the QA (quality assurance) team walks by, and I catch his attention to point proudly at my handiwork. “Very nice,” he says, “but, my friend, you need clothes.” I look at my avatar. It is (I am) not naked; I am wearing the jeans that one begins one’s Second Life...

    (pp. 46-78)

    It is Friday lunchtime at Linden Lab in mid-2005, and everyone is filing into the kitchen area to partake of the company-provided weekly lunch, an occasion frequently cited by Lindens as a key site for generating company solidarity. This sense of belonging is accomplished, they acknowledge, not only through the act of eating together but also through the shared experience of viewing demos of “secret projects,” hearing addresses from Philip Rosedale, and similar, somewhat ritualized activities (for example, new employees may be asked to take a taste from a jar of very, very spicy hot sauce known as “The Man”)....

    (pp. 79-106)

    The day wears on at Linden Lab’s Second Street office in March 2005. As five o’clock approaches, I see a developer here, a marketing person there, start to gather personal possessions and head home for the day. But the room is still mostly full as the first shout rings through the air: “Yes!” Some scattered laughter follows, and a quick look around the room shows about six Lindens, their faces illuminated by the swiftly moving and colorful graphics on their monitors, sitting in the classic PC gamer pose: one hand on mouse, another with fingers poised over the w, a,...

    (pp. 107-124)

    I received my eye-in-hand pendant, attached to a thin, black leather cord, during a visit to Linden Lab in the late spring of 2005. It is, in essence, the logo for Second Life turned into a wearable symbol of connection to Second Life. I had already noticed the pendants around the office—Rosedale was always wearing his, and I counted thirteen visible out of thirty-eight present employees during a trip I made in June. They have a hand-wrought quality, with the symbol—set in relief over a rough gray background—shiny and polished as though from long natural wear (see...

    (pp. 125-134)

    The distinction I have highlighted between those who contrive a system and those invited to be creative within it marks a number of business efforts in the context of Internet connectivity and the rise of “user-generated content.” In 2007 in Second Life, Coca-Cola announced a contest to design an “online ‘virtual thirst’ Coke machine,” a competition aimed primarily at Second Life users and created through the work of two Second Life-located virtual world-marketing companies: Millions of Us and Crayon. As the press release began:

    Imagine a vending machine that dispenses entertainment, adventure, or happiness; a device that satisfies curiosities and...

    (pp. 135-138)
    (pp. 139-144)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 145-150)
    (pp. 151-158)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 159-166)