Opinion: LL, NFTs and a “WTH?” moment in Second Life

via Linden Lab

On Thursday, October 21st, Linden Lab took to their blog and to social media to announce the Zenescope x Second Life Sweepstake. Featuring some 40 NFTs – non-fungible tokens – the announcement met with a certain amount of “WTH?” reactions, my own among them.

The NFTs concerned are produced by Epik, and are focused on a series of digital images related characters from the Zenescope Entertainment’s “Grimm universe” (that is, characters somehow connected to stories associated with the Brothers Grimm).

Some may recall that Zenescope (and Epik) are in a partnership with Linden Linden that launched on August 4th with the opening of the “Zenescope Metaverse” in Second Life; a place promoted by LL as “bursting with magic and mystery” where people could “Experience storytelling and comic books in a whole new way”, a “huge” region “so highly detailed that it might just take several visits to see everything”, but which I found decidedly underwhelming.

The sweepstake is a continuance of that partnership, and marks a further extension of it that many SL users may not have been aware of, so I’ll just dip into here to offer a little more context.

As a part of this partnership, October saw Epik start to offer through their Epikprime marketplace, NFTs tied to nine individual Zenescope character images (apparently sponsored by LL) in various quantities. So, for example The Gretel and Belle images each have 1,000 NFTs (with each NFT having a minimum price of $27.00) while the Sky Mathers image only has 125 NFTs (with each NFT having a minimum price of $147.00.

For sweepstake prizes, I believe LL has taken 10 each of the NFTs bound to the Belle, Gretel and Cinderella images, and a further 10 from a “Halloween” image to be issued on October 25th.

What is an NFT?

VERY simply put for the purposes of this article: an NFT is a digital “certificate of authenticity” created using blockchain technology that represents an easily-reproduceable digital item (a piece of art or music, a game, a document or photograph, etc.), recording the provenance of that item – its origination (creator, date + time of creation, etc), and its subsequent chronology of ownership / custody location in the digital ether. 

It is the uniqueness of the data in the NFT that generates its value, not the item to which is bound, which can still be copied and shared just like any other file on the Internet.

One of the character image / NFTs purchase pages on the Epik Marketplace – Gretel is one of the characters for which NFTs are being offered as prizes in the sweepstake

When it was launched, the Second Life / Zenescope / Epik partnership was framed by LL as a part of a drive to expose SL to potential new audiences. But as noted, the “Zenescope Metaverse” revealed itself as a tepid environment, and even now, some 2.5 months later shows no sign of delivering on  hyperbole surrounding its launch, or present itself as a gateway into SL for Zenescope readers. Of course, that could change quickly – I’ve no idea what LL / Zenescope have planned; but right now it does feel like a hollow promise, and combining it with the sweepstake event leaves one feeling the whole LL / Zenescope / Epik partnership is decidedly lopsided and lacking in reciprocity¹.

Insofar as the sweepstake itself is concerned, another cause of a “WTH?!” reaction came when reading the rules for entry as published by the Lab. To whit:

[winners] may be required to execute and return an affidavit of eligibility, a liability release and, where lawful, a publicity release within seven (7) days of date of issuance

– from the Winners Notification section of the sweepstake rules

And:

Each winner, by acceptance of prize, except where legally prohibited, grants permission for Sponsor and its designees to use his/her name, address (city and state), photograph, voice and other likeness and prize information for advertising, trade and promotional purposes without further compensation, in all media (including digital media) now known or hereafter discovered, worldwide in perpetuity, without notice or review or approval.

– from the General Conditions section of the sweepstake rules

Obviously, given NFTs are intended to prove the provenance of a digital collectable, the recording of the owner’s identity in some form is to be expected. However, that the Lab – a company that has traditionally prided itself on respecting its users’ anonymity – should offer the suggestion that any personal information might be requested could be passed to whomever they designate (such as Zenescope and Epik) for purposes of their advertising and promotion, makes for uncomfortable reading².

For me the biggest “WTH?” reaction, however, came with the idea that Linden Lab – a company that oft wears its social conscience on its sleeve  – would opt to engage with a technology (blockchain) and format (NFTs) that has been repeatedly shown to be environmentally unsound.

The most common blockchain environment used to create and curate NFTs is Etherium. According to the Digiconomist website, a single Ethereum transaction, such as creating an NFT or selling it, a carbon footprint of about 33.4 kg of CO2 – the equivalent to 74,000 Visa card transactions or watching 5700 hours of You Tube videos, – and consumes enough electrical energy to power an average US household for a period of 6 days³. Others put the impact of individual NFT transactions even higher, indicating the “minting” of an NFT produces up to 83 Kg of CO2 and consumes up to142 KWh of electricity (enough to power the average US house for around 12 days), with an subsequent transactions generating an average of 48 Kg of CO2 each.

So, if I’m reading the Epik marketplace pages correctly, if all 5,125 “Zenescope x Second Life” NFTs currently being promoted. are all minted, they will generate a total carbon footprint of 171,175 kg (using the Digiconomist figures), with a further 33.4 Kg added with each sale or other transaction related to each of them. By comparison, were 5,125 print of the images to be made and individually shipped anywhere in the world, each would only generate (according to Quartz and others) a carbon footprint of just 2.3-2.6 Kg, it’s a far more ecologically responsible option.

True, printed copies removes the animated uniqueness of the actual images – but this could be compensated for by the prints being individually signed and numbered by the artist., something that would also help the prints maintain there resell value. And you’re thinking any such resale value would be less than that of any NFT equivalent, let’s just be honest: these particular NFTs really aren’t going to set the NFT collector market on fire and demand stellar prices.

But if LL feels it must jump on the NFT hype train, then I cannot help but agree with this tweet on the subject:

SecondLie may be a parody account with a slick hand for the snark – but it can also offer clear and honest commentary

Obviously, this is in many ways easier said than done, but there are potential opportunities to be had:

  • It would demonstrate LL’s engagement with and support of their own users and platform, removing the perception they are simply “shilling” (to use a term that has popped up in several places in reference to this sweepstake) for a third party.
  • Properly promoted and broadcast, the availability of NFTs produced through SL could speak to the world about relevance of the platform as a place of creative endeavour and expression, potentially encouraging other artists from all walks to come and give it a go.
  • It could be combined with other opportunities for outreach and promotion to more broadly demonstrate the “multi-role” nature of Second Life in addressing use-cases from all walks of life, and offer a place of relaxation, learning, fun, business, and so on at a time when others are still struggling to define what they mean by “metaverse”.

As it is, this “sweepstake” is generating a lot of “likes” and “loves” on social media – although it is hard to tell if this is the result of people actually reading the associated blog post / wanting to winner one of the prizes, or simply the result of instinctively clicking the “like” / “love” icon in response to a posting from an official SL social media account. Whether it results in the Lab seeing this particular offer a “success” and thus worth possibly repeating, or whether they’ll heed the largely negative comments that have similarly left on said social media posts and so think twice about any repeat, I’ve no idea. Purely from my own perspective, I’d rather they didn’t run with any repeat, and instead continue to devote their time and effort on those things that are actually going to raise broader awareness of SL’s continued presence, vitality and relevance – and which can encourage people to come and experience the platform for themselves.

  1. It was recently pointed out to me that Aura Linden recently opened a viewer repository focused on puppeteering, something which has lead to some wild speculation on my part. Might this be a means LL are looking to use within the Zenescope region to allow visitors to “Experience storytelling and comic books in a whole new way”, through the use of NPCs based on the characters being promoted via Epik? Given the state of the repository code, this does seems an awfully long guess (and so probably wrong).
  2. I have actually contacted LL on this and the idea of distributing personal information, but have yet to receive a reply.
  3. And if you think that is bad, Bitcoin is even worse: Digiconomist estimate a single transaction carries a carbon footprint equivalent to 1,880.406 Visa card transactions or watching 141,404 hours of You Tube videos, while consuming enough electrical energy to run an average US household for two months!

10 thoughts on “Opinion: LL, NFTs and a “WTH?” moment in Second Life

  1. WTF indeed!! I wasnt interested in the images and reading ‘the rules’ made me even more incredulous as to the offer. No amount of money is worth it to me, for a company being able to use me in that way!

    Like

  2. Second life has a culture, many really, and this sweepstakes just shows that the new owners just-don’t-get-them. Giving up our privacy- no, just no.

    More worrisome is that the experienced Lindens either didn’t feel safe speaking up against this or see actual value in this “thing.”

    Warning Linden Lab- don’t pave over the croquet lawns for a tennis court and then wonder why no one is playing croquet anymore.

    I must quote Ms Thunberg on the energy issue :

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “instinctively clicking the “like” / “love” icon”

    Is what I always do when I read a post by Inara. ^.^

    Like

  4. I think the thing that puzzles and worries me most is why LL is not doing more with works created by creators in SL itself (the article mentions Bryn Oh for example)? There is so much incredibly creative work going on in SL. However, there is also a lot of mind blowing stuff going on on platforms like VRChat and as time goes on SL is going to face more and more competition and their visibility is going to potentially be more and more diluted.

    To be honest I had never heard of Zenescope before and it was only by random chance I heard about their region in SL. When I went to visit it it was, as Inara mentioned, totally underwhelming. Not only that, it was so laggy that I gave up on looking around and won’t go back (I’ve been in SL nearly 15 years and have a pretty good computer).

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  5. I feel I have to comment because a friend forwarded me an absurd claim from another social network which I am not part of. Good piece Inara, I share a lot of the concerns about NFTs myself however having worked with the moles (in documenting!) on the Zenescope project I disagree with your assessement: it is quite amazing what they built and the longterm scope that has been hashed out in record time! Especially kudos to the moles who were hands on working with Zenescope writers. Now my main reason for commenting after such long absence = I hope folks are aware that our tiny video team churns out 3 videos minimum per week and the MADE IN SL series has an OPEN DOOR policy where we profile residents. So even people LESSER KNOWN than Bryn Oh are VERY WELCOME. Actually especially those. Please do not hesitate. Only if residents knock on that door will I be able to interview them and make good videos. Now back to editing …. interviews with … SL residents 😉 have a fab Sunday folks!

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    1. Re: the Zenescope Metaverse region: I have to go with what I see and compare it with the launch blog post’s hyperbole. As noted in this piece, things can change rapidly – and if / when they do, I’ll be the first to say, “OK, what I said before doesn’t hold any longer, just look at this!” But right now, I think I’ve offered a fair assessment of the region as it stands compared to what was said in the official August 4th blog post announcing it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. All the people bringing to attention the issues of energy usage – you’ve been sat on servers for over a decade preening your virtual dolls and using a massive amount of energy in the process, ( remember one avatar uses about as much energy as 1 human in a year) with gaming machines that are made from conflict materials and toxic chemicals, built in communist factories by low paid workers, that end up in land fills in third world countries, while supporting fiat currencies that rely on petro-dollars that come from war ravaged middle eastern nations.

    Like

    1. Ironically, I made the point re SL usage in an earlier draft of the article, but in one of the final run-throughs to revise and trim it to a more readable length, I ended up cutting it out. My bad.

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