Monday, August 2, 2010

The Problem of Alts in Second Life and a Proposed Solution

Just about every person I know in Second Life has one or more alternative avatar accounts. "Alts" are used for many purposes, such as:
Unified Accounts Proposal
  • corporate avatars used within jobs
  • art-related avatars for machinima or photography
  • role playing avatars for gaming and social interaction
There are some significant problems related to alts for both individuals and for the Second Life community as a whole which stem from a complete lack of account integration between a person's individual avatars:
  • Virtual goods purchased for one avatar can not be shared (or sometimes even transferred) to one's other avatars. 
  • Many Second Life statistics are inflated, ranging from concurrent users to user-to-user monetary transactions.
The graphic on the right depicts the change from the current structure to a straightforward solution which would give residents the option of privately connecting their avatars under a master account with a merged inventory. This approach would free digital consumers to make full personal use of the virtual goods they purchase (at least within Second Life) while keeping the DRM in place that protects unauthorized copies.

The change would also reduce inaccuracies in statistics which now treat multiple avatars from a single person as multiple concurrent logins in the tracking statistics. It would also reduce the transfers within a person's family of alts which should not be counted in the economy numbers.

Anyway, just a brief thought. I have no idea what level of effort it would take on the programming end, and I'm sure I have not considered all of the potential consequences (positive and negative) of such a change.

24 comments:

azafterthought said...

It's a good idea but there are a number of pitfalls. For example, there's nothing stopping me and a group of trusted friends sharing the same master account.

I think people just need to accept that what they're paying for are licenses. Loads of software licenses now are limited to x amount of installs, machines, users, or whatever. SL goods are just the same - it's just a factor the buyer needs to take into consideration at purchase.

Botgirl Questi said...

That's a good point. There are a couple ways to mitigate that possibility. The first would be to connect the account to a RL identity through at least a validated credit card. The connection between the avatars would, of course, be completely confidential.

The second would be solution that Apple uses. They could limit the maximum alts to five at a time. I think this would serve the vast majority of people's concurrent alt needs.

Lalo Telling said...

I see the most important negative effect preventing implementation to be: the Lab's numbers would immediately deflate. Can't have that...

Botgirl Questi said...

Very true Lalo. But at this point I think they'd be better off biting the bullet and recalibrating to more valid stats. Anyone that has the money to acquire Second Life is going to hack into the real numbers. Actually, it might provide an opportunity to demonstrate a better growth percentage over the next couple of years.

Wizzy Gynoid said...

i wasn't aware that there was an alt problem. after this post i'm still not convinced there is one. and this post doesn't clearly describe what the "problem" is. stats aren't accurate? is that the problem? if "bots" are the problem, that is a different issue. or is the problem that you can't share your inventory with your alts? why would you want to? i can share my transfer inventory with my alt and i can transfer monies. isn't that enough? doesn't that solve that problem?

Alidar Moxie said...

I like this idea. As far as the problem of people banding together with their friends on the master account, if they wanted to tie it to a RL identity it sounds like a natural 'perk' of having a premium account.

Annyka Bekkers said...

I think its a great idea, but you could only do it if only one of the linked alts could be logged in at a time. Otherwise, as azafterthought says,it would be too easy to abuse.

That means that it wouldn't be a big help to someone like my photographer friend who often does group pictures with her main and her alt. But then I dont think that's an extremely common use. Plus, this system wouldnt prevent anyone from using separate alts in the same way they do now, anyway.

Botgirl Questi said...

Wizzy: I think inventory is a big hassle for many people. I haven't done a complete inventory that would allow me to share exact numbers, but a significant percentage of the items I've purchased are non-transfer. Generally speaking, it's the better quality goods that have the most restrictions.

And even for those items that are transferable, it is a lot more hassle to switch items between alts than to select something from your own inventory. For instance, you're logged in as Avatar One and decide you want to browse for something to wear. If you want to look into the inventory of Avatar Two, you either need to log in on a separate viewer or log out and back in as the other avatar.

The second problem is that many of the key statistics about the health and growth of Second Life are skewed by alts being counted as unique people.

Botgirl Questi said...

Alidar: Good point. I bet linking this new capability to premium accounts would do a lot more than Linden Homes to increase the percentage of people choosing premium.

Alidar: As long as the alts were validated as belonging to a single entity and the total was limited (maybe to 5 like apple) I don't think there would be enough abuse to have a negative impact on anyone.

Botgirl Questi said...

oops. That last paragraph was in response to Annyka's comment.

ArminasX said...

I think this would effectively enable you to change your avatar name, too! Just make a new alt with a new name and use the inventory.

Annyka Bekkers said...

If they could prevent abuse with concurrent alts, then all the better.

I think another benefit would be to the long term economy. In the short run, there would probably be a dip, since people wouldn't need to buy entire duplicate wardrobes for their alts. But over the long term, I think people might actually shop more, since each thing would have much more percieved value. It would be easier to push impulse buys. A shopper sees some oddball styles and thinks "oh, this isnt for me, but my alt would just love it!"

GoSpeed said...

Obviously many content creators (clothing mostly) will freak out and say it will lead to reduced sales. They'll be right to a degree. How big an impact would this have on the economy if implemented?

Botgirl Questi said...

Annyka and GoSpeed: It think people generally have some sort of budget for SL purchases, so my guess would be that this would play out as essentially neutral for content sellers.

Lalo Telling said...

Thing is, one of the most common things people do with alts is too explore different "looks", as well as personalities -- in RP, for instance, or maybe just on a whim. "Clothes make the avatar", so to speak.

I don't see the market being affected much by a master inventory... rather, I agree with Annyka: the potential to share items will probably not lead to much actual sharing.

There's another aspect to consider as well: I assume that a master Inventory will indicate which items are being worn by which avatar -- and no more than one can wear the same item simultaneously. This may lead to creators re-evaluating the permissions with which they sell their wares. "No copy" would assure that no two (or more) avvies could wear the same item out of the same Master Inv. On the other hand, there's a huge resistance (rightly so) to "mod but no copy" wearables, because you can't save a backup in case the modding goes awry.

Bashful Pixie said...

This cannot work.

The reason is that it makes way too much sense and besides: all the other really popular MMO systems work this way.

Hiro Pendragon said...

I believe I agree with azafterthought.

I often need to have more than one avatar to log in at the same time to do development. There's the NPC bots - for automated group invites, for dancers, etc. And then there's simply having alts that aren't tied to your main, even trying to hide them from Linden Lab.

I want your solution to be practical, but I don't think it is.

However.

I do like your idea for other reasons. I'd like to see things like:
- Switch which name I show (in my case, Hiro Pendragon vs. Ron Blechner)
- Let me rename my friends for how they show to me, in the same way I can create nicknames on Skype or AIM.
- Let me reveal different layers of privacy and personal data to different people, based on per-person and per-group basis.

sororNishi said...

...sharing invents? I don't think so....don't want anyone else in my wardrobe, and the only person wearing my panties is me...

Wizzy Gynoid said...

i don't have an alt problem. i get along fine with my alts. some of my best friends are alts.

Ziki Questi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ziki Questi said...

@Annyka - Some of us use alts for checking permissions, scripts, etc., (that is, it's important for the person doing the quality check to be someone other than the creator), so not being able to be logged in concurrently would be a real pain.

@Botgirl - If alts shared a common inventory (not sure I like the idea) it could have a negative impact on skin, hair and clothing designers who are currently reaping the benefit of those multiple alt accounts. (After typing this I read GoSpeed's comment, so I guess I'm echoing the same thing.)

And I will admit that more than once I've had an alt rescue me from a sticky roleplay situation. *coughs*

Yordie Sands said...

I like your idea of a Master Inventory. I also like the idea of having verified RL identities you mentioned in a reply. An anonymous identity can be a comfort to those of us who don't want our real life privacy compromised, but with a strong customer system with a secure wall protecting that identity from the actual avatar systems, I think most people would be satisfied. Btw, I hope that exists already.

Botgirl Questi said...

Ziki: I think recent US court rulings underscore an individual's fair use right to use the digital goods they purchase for personal use. So since there is one "person" who uses multiple alts, I think that people should no more be forced to purchase duplicate items for different personas than they should be to purchase multiple versions of a song to play on their CD, mp3 player, etc.

As I wrote before, I think that people tend to have a budget for virtual goods purchases so I don't think there would be significant negative impact on content creators.

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