Saturday, 27 March 2010

For want of a nail

In the last few weeks, SL has been watching the Tragedy of the Commons acted out in virtual miniature, in the widely lamented but apparently inevitable demise of a popular and socially successful roleplaying worldlet based on the film "Avatar."

Pandora began three months ago in the usual way (i.e. as a labour of love and personal obsession/interest) and has grown to four adjoining regions, beautifully landscaped and filled with story-appropriate flora and fauna — and megaflora, the 115-metre-tall trees have to be seen to be believed. The RP seems to be populated largely by Na'vi characters; there are humans in the storyline but in my times in Pandora I've never met one.

The landscaping and story have been widely praised, the stores (merchandising subsidises the arts in SL just as in RL) are apparently doing well, and at last count there were over 2000 people registered in the four storyline groups (I don't know how many of those are regularly active; as I write this post, 31 group members (including myself) are in the RP sims).

Nonetheless, it is probable that one of the four regions will close down forever this week, and possible that two others may be gone by the end of April. [Updated: the region is safe for another month, they managed to raise enough money to pay the tier.] [Updated again: it's over, the landowners have announced that they are pulling the plug on all four regions.] [Updated a third and hopefully final time: some sponsors have come forward, the regions are all safe for the near future.]

The problem is, of course, the money. Nothing "free" is ever really free, the word just means that you don't see the bill being paid. To date the tier costs of the four RP sims have been covered largely out of the pockets of the founders, and they are getting tired of doing it. The landowners need to find L$42 thousand per week, but have been unable to get the RP community to contribute even half of that. The most generous donors of the week are listed on a subsidiary webpage, the current twentieth-highest donated all of L$100 = 37 US cents. (Which is fine, really, it's much better than the hundreds of group members who donated nothing at all.)

Now, if you divide those tier fees by 2000 group members, you get US 7 cents per person per week, times 52 weeks in a year is US$3.64. So go look up how much a cup of coffee at Starb*cks costs. You'd think that it would be possible to get people to donate a single cup of coffee per year.

And so we get the Tragedy of the Commons: it is in everyone's common interest for all of us to keep the sims open by pulling together in generous cooperation, but it is in nobody's individual interest to start doing so. For the price of a single cup of coffee, we all lose out.

(If you want to see for yourself: pick up quite good free skins and (modifyable!) shapes here, then customize your appearance here, then go to the central starting point here. There is a free-of-charge group for non-RPing visitors, please join it and wear the tag. Please make generous use of the donation boards at the arrival point.)

And just by the way, for those who are thinking "so put your money where your mouth is:" I did. Although I am merely an occasional visitor, not a roleplayer nor even a member of the community, I have donated L$4000 to Pandora so far. Your turn.