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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Overkill and Games of Skill

Well, dear readers, it appears that Linden Lab has done it to us AGAIN.

Back in 2007, LL banned gambling in Second Life, to avoid falling afoul of US regulations on internet gambling.  Those of us who were around back then remember what a huge blow this was to the Second Life economy.

But some games, especially the "slot machine" types of games such as Zyngo, were deemed to be "games of skill" and not "gambling."  So, they remained.  There were also a number of popular table games like "Greedy Greedy," which is roughly based on the popular Real Life game of Yahtzee.  And there continued to be a large number of "sploders" at clubs...devices into which you could deposit money, and after a preset time/number of players, would "explode" and pay out random prize amounts to the players.

The slot machines, in particular, seem to me to have been making something of a comeback.  At least, I have been running across an increasing number of "arcades" featuring rows of them.

But in a recent blog post, Linden Lab announced a new policy on "skill games," effective August 1, 2014.  On this date, skill games will only be permitted on "skill gaming regions."  These will be private estate regions...no skill games will be permitted on the Mainland.  Owners of these regions must register as "skill game operators" and pay a nonrefundable $100 registration fee.  In addition, such regions will cost $345 per month (regular estate regions cost $295 per month.)  There are additional costs as well, since LL is requiring that operators and game creators obtain an opinion from an attorney that their games comply with the definition of "skill games."

This last one has me scratching my head, because it seems that what's really needed to make this determination isn't a lawyer, it's an LSL script expert.  But, since the whole issue revolves around LL's legal exposure, I suppose it has a certain cockeyed logic to it. 

I suspect that the greatly increased costs of getting permission to make or have these games will cause most people to simply give them up rather than jump through all the new hoops.  If LL were being honest, instead of titling their blog post "Coming Soon:  Skill Gaming in Second Life," it should have been "Going Away Soon..."

Not everyone will be able to participate in skill gaming.  Residents of about ten or so U.S. states will be prohibited, due to laws in those states.  You'll also have to be at least 19 years old.

Game creators will also have to register with LL, and in many cases will have to revise their games.  Here is why:  The new policy classifies any game which relies on skill, AND requires that the player pay money to play, or can be set to pay-to-play as falling under the "skill gaming" policy.  Unfortunately, many popular games like Greedy Greedy have this flexibility.

This is why the new policy has me all steamed.  I have a small game room in our Mainland rental parcel in the Masocado region.  It has a Greedy Greedy game table, and two other games from the same creator.  All of them have always been completely free to play, to everyone.  They are there for the amusement of tenants and guests.  However, the fact that they could be set to require payment from players means that either the creator will have to provide a revised "free play only" version of the games either as a free update, or as a new version that I would have to purchase.  If not, I'll have to remove the games.

Or, of course, one could argue that because these games do have some element of chance, they are not "skill games" at all, but fall under the Gambling policy instead.  Interestingly, under THAT policy, as long as I keep them free to play, they're allowed.  It's only if I set them to pay-to-play that they become "gambling" under that policy.  So, like most of LL's policies, what seems black and white becomes instead a gray area. 

Of course, LL could change the policy in response to resident input, or issue some meaningful clarifications.  But, um, I wouldn't bet on it.

For Further Reading:
Coming Soon:  Skill Gaming in Second Life (LL Blog Post)
LL Skill Gaming Policy
Skill Gaming Participant Requirements
Skill Gaming FAQ
LL Forums Skill Gaming Thread

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