Friday, June 9, 2017

Ethics Schmethics? Questionable SL Business Practices in SL

Ethics Schmethics?
The Truth of Questionable Business Practices in SL

I'm concerned.  Lizzy and I have been in SL for a very long time and we strive for a high degree of integrity, ethics and principles in what we do and have done.  Even the mistakes we've made along the way weren't based on avarice or maliciousness.  Being mean or manipulative isn't who are .  We all make mistakes and we learn from ours.  There are areas of concern regarding business ethics in SL: building, griping, land rentals and role play communities. While these areas are not always related, they underscore a consistency in how bad behavior is rewarded or at the very least, tolerated in SL. 

Not everyone operates with the same values in SL or RL.    In SL, we have heard of people copying original designs and reselling them as their own.  I don't know what truth is but I'll tell you, something doesn't feel right.

Related to the aviation community in SL, I saw a debate in a group starting with a person seeking advice about general and civil aviation aircraft and devolving into accusations.  There aren't many builders filling this section of pixel pilots. Most prefer the warbirds and fighter aircraft.  When one builder was recommended, the person asking said he wouldn't buy from that builder because he uses "ripped mesh" and followed by saying he would buy from another builder who has also been accused of using "ripped mesh".  What the hell is "ripped mesh" and why be a party to group think? 

Here is my understanding of the "ripped mesh" debate.  There are original creators of mesh inworld.  They start with Blender or another mesh creation tool and modify a six sided cube into an original mesh creation which is then uploaded inworld using LL's DMCA allowances.  Others buy mesh kits from external sources and even others acquire mesh designs from Creative Commons designers or just take what's out there and upload those designs inworld.  An argument ensues suggesting that however a mesh design is acquired, the original designer should be attributed in inworld product descriptions.  "Ripped mesh" is essentially taking from a third party original creator and selling it as your own creation inworld.  Because you didn't bake the cake from scratch, it isn't a cake, some might argue.  It is still a cake!

I've played some with Blender and I'll be the first to say, I'm not that good.  I have also seen the creations of original meshers who upload objects as their own.  With ripped mesh, the objects still require some finishing in a mesh creation tool for upload to SL.  If a builder bought a kit from vendors such as TurboSquid, this doesn't make the build any less legitimate inworld than an original mesh creation.  By comparison, kit mesh (still ripped) may look far better than original mesh and as such, customers may be interested in buying the better looking product.  Don't get me wrong, there are some amazing original mesh creators inworld and given a choice, I am inclined to purchase their products over some of the kits I have seen.  The argument from the naysayers, however, rings hollow and self serving.

Who am I to second guess someone's proclamations they "authored" the creation?  The point here is people are attempting to secure sales and make money.  If a builder isn't continually putting out new vehicles or products, they will not be competing with others.  The purpose of using "stolen mesh" or "ripped mesh" created by others is to generate sales revenue.  I get it. 

Is it unethical to use mesh you have not created without attribution to the original creator?  Some would say yes it is unethical.  These same people are purists and my argument has been if you are upset by a competitors using such a strategy, you aren't able to compete against and alleging unfairness, that garners customers and market share,  then close your trap, build a better product and compete.  To beat a bad business, build a better one

Why would someone cheat in business?  The obvious reason is to make money. Do you see a theme here?  We can't dismiss the creative process but when you throw your objects into CasperVend or on Marketplace, the creative process takes a back seat to commerce. 

Business ethics have always been a moving target.  Those struggling to gain leverage can claim "unfairness" toward businesses which have captured some market share.  The smaller business might stay the course and continue to produce based upon their growing skills or they may cut corners or further, they may steal ideas.  The same accusations have been directed to some of the largest and most prominent corporations of how they stole an idea.

So what's the recourse?  Consumers don't really care nor do they know better, they just want the next cool shiny object to fill their inventory.  Original creators do care when competitors use stolen mesh, scripts or designs because these same competitors are garnering revenue through "theft".  The anti-ripped mesh crew has a somewhat valid complaint because ripped mesh arguably dilutes the artistic contribution of those creating original mesh though if they got off their asses and built something new, they would compete.

This is nothing new.  I was playing Flight Simulator on its first release and finished at the 10th release when it ceased being developed by MS.  I bought aircraft, downloaded free aircraft and liveries to my heart's content, blind to the possibility these designs were sometimes being co-opted by less than ethical designers.  GTA is another platform where the same behaviors likely exist. Where modding is possible and can be monetized, ethics can go the way of the wind.  In reality, both GTA and FSX have models we can find in SL.  Should it matter to any of us? 

Still the "ripped mesh" argument is about ego more than a good or bad business practice.  Consumers still don't care and they will continue buying products based on looks followed by performance without consideration to the debate but should they care?.  The mesh and script thieves are more about the thief not caring because it is SL, we can do ANYTHING we want to do without being accountable.  All one can do is file an abuse report and let LL take it from there unless there is a DMCA issue then LL will take it from there.

As consumers we're less inclined to buy a product which uses fraudulently obtained parts, systems or designs. How would we know if a product made by someone was fraudulently produced and sold?  We can do our research and find all sorts of blogs and postings pointing stern fingers at one builder or the other with accusations claiming the use of "ripped mesh", "stolen mesh" or "we don't like the builder because he/she is selling more product."

There are some ways to protect the interests of ethical creators.  Let's start using this term "ethical creators".  Inspect their vehicle, if you see a plethora of parts entitled "object" one might suggest the parts were not legitimately obtained for resale.   I tested the practice, I selected an airplane and inspected the parts.  Each part had a specific name.  There were a couple of "object" titled parts but most of the build was made with specifically named parts.  One might suggest the parts were brought inworld as mesh objects, named in a specific manner during creation and so they could be found in the inventory, then applied to the final build.  Copybotted mesh, often has most of the parts entitled "object".

I don't think this practice is 100% fool proof but if you are concerned about buying vehicles from "ethical creators" you can use this practice to ensure the parts may not be copybotted.  Most bike and car builders, buy  or acquire kits either inworld or through ostensibly legal means.  There isn't a way to truly verify if an externally acquired vehicle or parts/sets of parts weren't obtained improperly without comparing the mesh skeleton to every single mesh creation available on the web.  So you see the limits of being a thoughtful consumer.

We're in the middle of this debate without fingers pointed our direction though we are responsible for the words we write.  We write reviews of products from a consumer's point of view.  Our hope is builders will increase their sales and at the very least, their work will be validated by an independent third party.  After hearing a recent assertion about a builder alleged to be "copybotting" original mesh designs for resale, I'm left scratching my head about whether writing this publication is perpetrating unethical activity.  The truth is, I don't know who created what. 

I'm still only a consumer, though we are going to be far more careful.  Because you SAY you made the mesh parts yourself, how are we to know?  Maybe attributions are what "ethical creators" should include in their builds with notecards and with their Marketplace descriptions.  If by proclaiming Larry over there made his own mesh truck only to learn later, Larry copybotted the truck from Helga, then Larry isn't only a thief, he is a liar too.  Let those words stick a blade into their soul.

Being uninformed isn't a ticket to tolerance. When we look past our need for instant gratification and research builders about their ethics, we can be better consumers.  We do this in RL, why aren't we doing so in SL?   If someone is selling something, it is because they want to make money.  I'm a good capitalist so go forth and make a LOT of money just do so honestly. 

It doesn't stop there.  Ethics are questionable inworld.  We had an experience recently where a group renting land was taking our rental fees, along with other renters, and not contributing those funds to the original land owners.  We were subsequently blocked from using the land we rented until we found out who owned the land and contacted them to gain access once more.  While we were "victims" along with the owners of the land in the fraud perpetrated by the group renting the land, we felt like we were made complicit in the fraud. 

In another instance, the manager and ultimate owner of a role play community was doing the same thing with rental payments by not using the rental proceeds to pay the tier on the land they were using for the enterprise.  We've seen this before and what we learned is LL or the land owners are not being paid causing the enterprise to fold because the bills weren't being paid by the owners or administrators.  Abuse reports are filed and the avatar leading the racket is banned from SL, for a minute, only to create another avatar within minutes to do the same thing over and over again. 

Roleplay community owners are more commonly clueless to concepts such as customer service or treating people well.  After a year doing the roleplay community thing, we have seen the worst of inflated egos, group think, bad behavior, nepotism and pettiness.  I have to tell you these virtual communities get one thing right, they create the worst by closely mirroring the worst in RL communities. 

I've come to a couple of conclusions.  There are people in SL who are dirt bags, loads of them.  Over the past year, we have quietly walked away from people who have values slightly better than your run of the mill conartist.  The primary conclusion relative to Things That Move is before we do another review, we will inspect the vehicle for copy-botting and if I don't feel assured a vehicle isn't copy-botted, we won't write the review. 

It is the best we can do.  We're not interested in being the "ripped mesh" police. If legally obtained mesh looks better than "original mesh", I'll be happy to point out the difference in skills or good business sense.  For those who want to play "ripped mesh police", go right ahead.  We have not been shy in calling attention to DMCA violations or design complacency, so we're not going to look the other way regarding copy-botting because now we're better informed. 

Here is the future.  With LL's new platform within reach of public access, when that happens, SL as we know it will shrink to a quick demise. It is a sinking ship.  Creators, builders and designers who have had early access to this new world and are populating it with products we can buy when we go there.  I am only hopeful the ethical standard which SHOULD exist in SL will exist in the new world we will all occupy.  We know it won't because some people prefer being pond scum.

Honestly, I'm more than a little fed up with the level of greed and lack of integrity which exists in SL.  We have seen the worst of humanity in this virtual world.  They can hide behind their screens and do things they would not dare do in RL because there aren't nor have their ever been repercussions.  Bad behavior is just that and should not be tolerated from anyone.   I am the first person to celebrate the successes of others.  When I've felt deceived however, maybe I should use this venue to call out the behaviors of those who are acting without integrity, honesty or ethics. 

Hey! It seems I just did!

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