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The Virtual Whirl: A brief history of Second Life, the middle years

This week, we cover the second installment of our summarized history of Second Life and Linden Lab (or check out part one, if you missed it). From 2005, there's an impossible amount of material to cover, but there are some interesting stories lurking among it all.

Join us as we work our way through some of the interesting highlights from 2005, 2006 and 2007.

2005: Video, the Lindex, verbing the GOM, a gold rush, and griefers

Second Life version 1.6 rolled out in March 2005, bringing with it a number of features including quicktime media streaming and what is now the standard Second Life building interface. The building interface was considered to be quite difficult to use, though few users now remember anything different.

The GOM and the Lindex

For more than a year, an MMOG currency trader called Gaming Open Market (or GOM) was one of several third-party businesses that provided currency-exchange services for Second Life, trading between US dollars and Linden dollars.

On the surface, it appears that the GOM simply quit trading in Linden Dollars after repeated indications from Linden Lab that they would be starting their own integrated currency exchange. That's the common tale and the one that the former president of the GOM affirms.

On the day of the GOM's announcement, some Linden staffers were telling a different story: That the GOM had been contractually partnered to provide exchange services for a year until Linden's own exchange was ready, and that they had allegedly reneged eight weeks too soon and without notice due to failing revenues from game currencies. We recall two Linden staffers angrily telling this tale in-world and on the Second Life forums. The forum posts were deleted, and the staffers who repeated the tale were fired.

You can pick whichever version you're happiest with. Most people went with the first version at the time. The Lindex, Linden's own currency exchange, launched less than two weeks later, and the term "GOM" became enshrined as a verb in Second Life slang for any occasion when a surprise move from Linden Lab destroyed the business models of established users or co-opted users' revenue streams to Linden Lab.

The perception was that this happened often enough to warrant its own common-use term.

The myth of easy money

Ailin Graef, better known as entrepreneur Anshe Chung, was featured in CNN's business magazine in December 2005, just three months after Linden Lab began offering free basic accounts.

The article caught the attention of many who were looking for "easy money" (a seductive, but entirely mythical thing), and large numbers of new users signed up mistakenly assuming that Second Life was a game in the "click to kill an orc" style of play, and that the cash obtained from such 'game' activities could be converted to US dollars.

As it happens, the methods for making money in Second Life were and are no easier nor substantively different from how money is made anywhere else in the world. The time and effort required is about the same.

The dichotomy between the wide variety of misconceptions that new Second Life users had and the realities created immense amounts of confusion, friction and a lot of ill-feeling between established users and the newcomers.

Griefing reaches its peak

This was exacerbated by griefers who used the free basic accounts as an inexhaustible source of alts. Griefing in Second Life was already heavy in 2005 with griefers happy to pay-to-play but reached a lifetime peak in the last quarter of 2005, before starting to taper off into 2006.

During this a number of groups created a variety of offensive builds, and attempted to publicize them to media as being creations of (and signs of the intractable decadence of) prototypical Second Life users. Despite the news media's traditional obsession with sex, however, many of these attempts wound up simply being too extreme to manage more than a footnote in the media.

Others found ways to cause the entire Second Life grid to collapse for greater or lesser periods of time. One such incident even disabled Second Life for days.

By the time that free basic accounts were being offered, much of this activity was in decline, Second Life was becoming more robust, and flamboyant mass-griefing became increasingly less common.

I see grey people

October of this year brought version 1.7, which included integration for the Lindex currency exchange, but more or less banjaxed all manner of texture loading. The cause of the problem was never really made clear, but texture loading was extremely balky for weeks following the update, and textures loaded very slowly when they loaded at all.

It wasn't until nearly the middle of the following year that the last of the problems with this issue were finally sorted out.

December brought 1.8 and a dismantling of the old telehub system, allowing users point-to-point teleportation that would save them a lot of travel time going from place to place. As with the founding of the economy in 2003, it was considered by a number of outspoken commentators that the change would (once again) spell the imminent death of Second Life.

Also this year, Linden Lab's marketing chief sent a memo around, instructing staff to not refer to Second Life as a game, but as a platform. Over the next five years, many staff would have trouble with that and say game or players, including vice-presidents, company officers and board members.

These slips, however, were less of a Freudian admission, and more a reflection of the overwhelming pressure of mainstream media, which referred to Second Life almost unfailingly as a game, even though scarcely any journalists who wrote about Second Life would ever actually see either the world or even the website (most of the rest logged in and went looking for sex).

This article was originally published on Massively.