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Making Virtual Worlds

Linden Lab and Second Life

Thomas M. Malaby

Publication Year: 2009

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.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Cover

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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-8

CONTENTS

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pp. vii-10

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. ix-x

In the course of this project I have relied on the good graces, brilliance, and support of many people. First, I want to express my appreciation to Linden Lab, for being willing to let an anthropologist cross into their domain of synthesis and world creation. In an industry only...

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INTRODUCTION: A DEVELOPER’S-EYE VIEW

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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...

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1. THE PRODUCT

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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...

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2. TOOLS OF THE GODS

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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...

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3. KNOWING THE GAMER FROM THE GAME

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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...

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4. THE BIRTH OF THE COOL

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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...

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5. PRECARIOUS AUTHORITY

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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...

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APPENDIX A. THE TAO OF LINDEN

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pp. 135-138

On Linden Lab’s Web site (http://lindenlab.com/about/tao) there is a statement of the company's approach to work (its mission and culture). This was cited by Lindens as a pretty good approximation of how they did things (meaning that it is at least a good approximation of how...

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APPENDIX B. THE MISSION OF LINDEN LAB

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pp. 139-143

The statement below was posted by Philip Rosedale (under his Second Life name Philip Linden) to the official Second Life blog (http://blog.secondlife com) on Monday, November 6, 2006. It had prompted 196 comments in response as of March 1, 2008. The main post is reprinted...

NOTES

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pp. 145-150

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 151-157

INDEX

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pp. 159-165


E-ISBN-13: 9780801458996
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801447464

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1