Avination and the Freebie Issue

No freebies!Another alternative grid that’s been getting some talk lately is Avination. It’s another OpenSim grid, technically pretty stable from my small amount of experience there, with a functioning currency system, and a couple of interesting potential differentiators (i.e. things that might make it different enough from Second Life and from all of the other OpenSim grids to be notable).

The first differentiator, which I won’t mention outside of this sentence, is gambling; they haz it.

The second one is their novel and as far as I know unique Freebie Policy. Or, as it might also be called, their anti-Freebie Policy.

The Freebie Issue is another one of those controversies that I’ve studiously avoided in weblogifying about virtual worlds. The issue has enough facets and subtle nuances that it would take a whole essay to treat well, and on the other hand lots of people seem to have strong one-sentence opinions on it; not a great combination.

Personally I like it when people share stuff, and I think it’s healthy for an economy in general when in order to make a buck you have to work harder and/or have better ideas than the people who are producing stuff just for fun. On the other hand I do understand the argument that store-provided freebies are a sort of Tragedy of the Commons thing: that sellers would do better if none of them gave out freebies, but if anyone does, then in order to stay competitive you have to also. I suspect that the argument is true in some sectors, false in others, and irrelevant in others; but it would take significant work to get any good data on which are which.

Anyway, Avination comes down on the negative side of the issue in various ways. When you land at an Avination starting point, there are no boxes of free AOs, no stores giving away free “better than newb anyway” clothing. The Freebie Policy says “No Freebies may be given out in stores at the welcome areas”. And since you start with zero money, that means the only way to even walk like a person is to invest in the world.

It’s an interesting thought; they are counting on there being enough people who already know that they want to be in the world, and will be willing to put down cash before they’ve really experienced it.

(Yeah, I’m assuming that no one would want to experience a world while waddling around like a duck; a pretty good assumption I think!)

Not only can there be no freebies in stores at the welcome areas, no store can have more freebies than it has non-freebies, you can only give away freebies that you made yourself, and no freebies can be copy-transfer.

This led me to wonder just what they mean by “freebie”. The Policy seems to define them as “promotional gifts”, but just what does that mean? Is something that costs $1 (in the local currency) not a freebie anymore? What if I make something and want to give it away full-perm just for fun, not “promoting” anything but maybe my reputation for generosity; is that still a freebie in the relevant sense?

I posted that basic question as a thread on the Avination forums (which has since moved): does the Freebie Policy forbid me, as an individual rather than a store, from giving anything away full-perm?

For about a week it got only some unofficial answers from unofficial people (some sensible, some appearing to directly contradict the stated policy), and then finally there was an apparently-official reply from “Randolf Baxton, Forum Support”, which suggested two things:

  • Avination needs to do something about the attitude of their support people, and
  • The Freebie Policy does in fact apply to individuals just like it does to stores.

Which is pretty radical, really, if true. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s a large departure from Second Life (differentiator, see?), and suggests a really significant outlook on the world: that this isn’t a place where the vision includes people randomly making and sharing things, modifying and passing them on, etc; on the contrary it’s a place for buying and selling, where the amount (and perhaps indirectly the quality) of stuff is carefully reined in. The rules about what you may create and what you may do with your creations are founded on the needs of commerce, whether you yourself intend to be commercial or not.

Not my kind of place, described that way, but nothing requires it to be. I think it will be interesting to see if it is lots of other people’s kind of place.

There’s an episode of Gridwrap (one of those long video things I never have time to watch) in which one of the Avination folks talks about the whys an’ wherefores of the Freebie Policy. I found it interesting both for what she talked about and what she didn’t talk about. She talked alot about how many freebies are copybotted (i.e. produced by using rogue client programs to copy other people’s stuff in violation of copyright), and most of them are very low-quality, and how Certain Other Grids have lots of “sims full of poor-quality freebies that no one wants”. She doesn’t talk at all (at least not that I noticed; my attention did wander) about how freebies compete with for-sale things, and raise the bar on how interesting your stuff has to be before you can get money for it. (Which I gotta think is part of the reason for the policy.)

And I think that’s about all I’m going to say on the subject tonight. :) Personally I like the sharing culture, where people make stuff and pass it around full-perm, or at least copy-transfer, and it passes from hand to hand forever. I probably like lots of stuff that the Avination people would consider low-quality (and when they say “freebies that no one wants” I have to admit what I hear is “stuff that isn’t to my taste and therefore should not exist”). On the other hand I don’t like copybotting or copyright violation; and on the third hand I’m not sure that freebies or full-perm things have much if anything to do with that.

I’m tempted to post a bunch more questions to that forum thread; about whether dollarbies count as freebies, about what the minimum price you have to charge before something stops being a freebie is, about whether it’s allowed to sell things copy-transfer (hint: for big sectors of the economy, like poses and scripts and textures, it pretty much has to be), and so on.

But probably I should try not to badger them (even Randolf) too much, and just keep an interested eye on them and see how they do. Maybe even log in again once in awhile…

(At the moment I am a very butch short girl in Avination, wearing boy’s clothes and walking around with a macho boxer-strut, because of the two AOs that I bought I preferred it to the hooker-slink in the female one. And I just bought some elf-ears!)