Second Life problems… et al

Wow, what a start to our weekend! Nothing unusual some of you would say 😉 But hey, I wanted to address two things quickly and then add my own comments about what I think has been happening in SL, related to my personal experiences though.

Firstly, though I’ve hinted in posts or comments, a BIG THANK YOU to Linden Labs for Havoc 4 and its resolution of old SL problems like losing attachments when crossing sim borders. This problem in itself caused all kinds of bad effects in Second Life, amongst many we saw at Bishara Resorts that now seem resolved.

For example, our tour vehicles can now be used to cross sim borders without disappearing on you, or getting all borked at the crossing event. H4 somehow handles this so much better.

Second example is myself, who many of you may have noticed had gone around wearing only my skin hair for many months 🙂 This was because each time I crossed sim borders or teleported I kept getting my blond hair lodged in a very peculiar and weird spot in my groin 😉 Now I can cross borders and teleport unabashed and blonde!

Another example is Bishara Island, a sim in our resort that placed huge resource demands on its host due to the many sea creatures, rezzers and stuff we placed to emulate RL reefs and have some fun games for you. These all have much less effect on the sim’s performance now and I’m watching with interested to see if this is a lasting effect.

Though the impact on our surfing waves were negative, we have had ample reasons to be thankful for, and I think this post will be just that, a big fat THANK YOU to the Lindens for a marked improvement in my Second Life experience 🙂

Now a comment (not a complaint!) on two issues:
1. For many months now, the past 10 months at least, it must be evident that the Linden infrastructure strains under the weekend traffic specifically, the busiest time of the week for many of us in Second Life. This Friday was no exception and again we saw the usual problems surface, asset server strain and issues with the network infrastructure. Personally and as a sim owner these problems have consistantly caused more harm as my SL investments grow. Having seen over 38 login attempts from me end up with ‘You are not authorized to enter Second Life from this computer’ type errors over the past 3 months and before, and having lost a fortune in assets when the asset servers had more than their fair share of problems, I have often been left completely demoralized about this world of ours. However, I cannot do much from my side to help resolve these issues and other than join the chorus of objections on the blog (blog.secondlife.com) each time they occur, my hands are tied.

However I am trying to find a reasonable compromise with the Lindens on this issue by suggestion a payment plan based on performance in SVR-2077. Our current ToS only allows region owners recourse to financial or other compensation when SL is down for more than 24 hours, or at least this is my understanding. This is a very hard measure to monitor as we have never had a complete outage lasting that long caused by one specific incidence, SL is just too complicated for that. We do see many different problems happen over periods of heavy use and after new version roll outs that cumulatively do cause massive access and usage problems to us and our residents though, but again there is no recourse for damages as such as LL keep billing us the same agreed tier for each region regardless these problems.

Interestingly I have heard from several other sim owners that they often get discounts for their tier fees from the Lindens on request after a particularly bad period, and mostly those who have been around for a longer period of time, I think if I remember they are all from the pre-2007 expansion. Maybe they have personal friendships in Linden Labs that can bring them to such access where discounts for bad service are readily given to them. They were here in the founding days and therefore this is quite understandable to me.

However I do wish that this measure can be universally accessible by all of the region owners, even in an automated way where tier is discounted according to cumulative performance issues within Second Life. SVR-2077 is specifically aimed at asking for such a hosting service agreement. If you are a region owner, please support my request by voting for it 😉 As I state in the post this is not a complaint, but a request, as SL has grown substantially and now may demand a review of how tiers are applied in comparison to the time when it was still a relatively small community and world. For more information see http://jira.secondlife.com/browse/SVC-2077.

2. This brings me to a problem I often hear about, and myself have had several bad run-ins with. Linden Labs keeps using a third party processor and Paypal as their main methods of accepting payment for services rendered, and they both have caused many of my in-world friends, and myself, problems through the course of our association with Second Life. Let me first explain my main issue with how things currently work. We joined Second Life and had to submit our information including payment options to Linden Labs for non-free accounts and usage such as land purchases and so on. This payment information is not held by Second Life, but instead is held by their third party processor, a company well known to me and a respected processor in Europe especially.

Sometimes this processors, like others, have problems either with their communication to the sponsoring bank, or to Second Life itself, problems that cause issues with our USD payment pages in Second Life. This happens, and does so even with the very best of processors. However, it is avoidable, very much so, if Linden Labs would simply not rely on only one processor, or even better, if it would take its processing in-house instead. The first option is possible if the Linden payment API allows multiple processors or banks to connect to it, an option I believe it can handle, even in part, as it already does so for its current processor and Paypal. The other option is for Linden Labs to take the payment processing portion of its business in-house, not by building its own processing system, but by simply white labeling an existing system and using that system to acquire all its card transactions directly with multiple acquiring or sponsoring banks. The in-house system needs to handle multiple currencies and have a powerful administration module to help LL monitor and assist residents processing payments when problems occur.

And make no mistake, problems occur and they do so a lot. Most of these problems cause losses and mainly to the Lindens, as they are the merchant in the process. The card associations have tight regulations that need to be abided by, and when something causes these guidelines to be ignored, transgressed or repeatedly exceeded, fines and admin fees are all charged to the merchant (in our world, the Lindens) by their bank and the card associations themselves. This means in any payment environment the management of customer interactions need to be tightly monitored in real time on a system that offers proper transaction reporting.

With Second Life this issue becomes even more problematic as the Lindens choose to issue Linden dollars for example at the moment your or my credit card has been authorized for payment.
Why is this an issue? Well, stolen cards or compromised transactions will often lead to a successful authorization (we have managed in tests in the past to authorize cards with generic cardholder information such as the President’s name and the White House as the billing address), so the Lindens issue you or me the Linden Dollars we need immediately. We use those L$’s in-world and spend spend spend. Suddenly the banks and or card assocations put out an alert (electronically) of a disputed transaction. The card happens to have been used to buy Linden $ with and so Linden Labs may be forced to pay back the USD as the merchant to the disputed card’s owner through the bank and card association systems, but this loss to the Lindens cannot at this time be recouped from the residents as the L$’s may have been spent in-world amongst many innocent residents’ accounts.

The dispute may be simple, an authorization that is reviewed by a fraud team in a bank, and is returned several days or weeks later as potential fraud and therefore reversed, without the cardholder’s knowledge. It does not have to be a dispute raised by the cardholder for example, where things would be easier to manage. In cases where someone spends money off their own card and then disputes the transaction after spending the Lindens or buying land, Linden Labs have options to recoup their losses by going to the resident’s av account and simply reversing out the money originally loaded. Registered accounts therefore have little recourse to ‘friendly fraud’ disputes as above and are not an issue here. Not relying on 3rd party processors or payment gateways allows LL to rapidly respond to disputes from issuing banks and or card associations, and to assist residents with payment issues much more effectively. Fines and fees also have a clear source in such cases, instead of the usual blurred line when originated through a 3rd party payment gateway, and LL can address them with much greater ease.

The above digressed somewhat to offer some background and I apologize for that. I wish to focus really on building a reliable and solid payment platform that does not have a single point of failure, as my proposed solution to payment problems experienced by any merchant, but in particular by the Lindens in our case of course, and to have more sensible fraud and moneylaundering screening built directly into it.

That brings me to the final payment option left to residents and one that honestly erks me BIG time, and that is the Paypal option. I am not going to say much about Paypal other than their recent rush to gather confidential personal information about Tom, Dick and Harry caused me to pull the plug on using them completely (Q4’07). My reason is not one of ‘not wanting to be checked or verified’, but rather of privacy and the exposure of that private information. You see Paypal asked me for my actual physical address after allowing me to open and use their system for months without the need for that information at all. It started with a notice that my account had been suspended and that I needed to log into the account to enter some much needed information, as they believed my account had somehow been compromised by a ‘third party’.

In any event this turned out to be a ruse from them to simply gather more information on me, and I flatly refused (Honesty is always a better way to manage customers with, Paypal). Before you ask why I would not want to share such simple information basics as my real name, real address and real telephone number with an electronic company and people I had never met and had never before been required to work with in such confidential depths, I wish to point out that Paypal already had a very good idea of who I was from the one trusted source that I did provide them with before, during a process where I became a registered user and was ‘certified’ or ‘verified’ as a user by entering my bank and credit card details.

My point to them was that a company, my bank, who is legally required by law and regulation to know who I was and where I live, had already verified my personal information and that Paypal could use them to help clarify any doubts instead of asking me to repeat all my personal information again. In the days we live in of identity fraud and compromised financial databases, I insist that I will not spread my personal information to any party, company or institution that is not legally obliged to have it and that cannot use an already authorized 3rd party such as a bank as a source in the event that they need such information of me. It turned out that many many individuals around the world, mostly completely innocent, had been dealt with the same way by Paypal, and here I have personally seen just how little the Lindens assist in resolving such issues when it impacts the residents life directly.

Our problem with this is that Paypal is the only other payment method within Second Life, and the only method we can use to extract funds from in-world activities to use in RL in a real time manner. There are the odd country specific solutions offered by third parties of course, but exposure for the larger SL population to these options are minute or irrelevant. My suggestion for an in-house payment system or white labeled solution is again to eleviate the lack of options, and can even be used to offer a Second Life e-wallet similar in function to Paypal, but tailored to meet the demands of our virtual world and the limitations of function and use set by various international and regional regulators.

Attached to this e-wallet account feature would be the option to link a bank account and a credit card, so that initial funds could be loaded into the SL e-wallet from either source, and funds can be paid out into the bank account via ACH or BACS or GIRO or whatever regional clearance system you wish to use, all in perfect compliance to AML measures and local or regional transactional or financial regulations, and of course in the currency of registration, allowing residents to select their local country as LL already do and therefore automatically the local tax and or financial regulation governing such transaction types in their country.

With such a base, adding an option to load value into the e-wallet using a PIN based voucher or cash across a counter would be completely acceptable since the authenticity of the original account holder had been verified by this time (the key function of AML policies and regulations). Adults providing Teen Grid accounts for their kids would be able to have them load their own value into these accounts with such vouchers, and again all within acceptable market related anti fraud and anti money laundering measures.

I am not for a moment wishing here to suggest a perfect payment system free of any problems or issues. I am simply wishing to point a way to an acceptable standard that is free of a single point of failure, and that can do away with the current cumbersome anti-fraud and anti-moneylaundering methods applied by Linden Labs and the very obvious single point of failure structure in their payment network. So please see this as Dumisani Ah’s contribution to a best practices standard for a LL payment platform 😉 As the world grows, the current problems would only get worse without seriously considering a change, and this is my small contribution to alerting the powers-that-be at Linden Research of what can be done.

Again, none of this post should be seen as a complaint, as it is not the intention at all. Rather I am offering again to help, either through these suggestions above, or even my time and effort and technology to strengthen this creative world I have come to love so much. I hope that, other than our attempt to help the Lindens in 2007, this will lead to an actual resolution and project of success where our offer to help is accepted and we can progress the situation beyond the brick wall we met at that time. So I end this post with another offer to help you, Linden Labs. Just IM me inworld or use the email address for my RL avatar 🙂 and I will do whatever I can to assist you.

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