Hackers are stealing Second Life’s player-made lootboxes and selling them for profit

Second Life is a virtual world stereotypically thought to be steeped in cyber sex, but beyond that thin layer of prurience is a thriving community of artists creating everything from lavish Beverly Hills-style mansions to the eyeliner your avatar wears. Its economy is a staggering $500 million USD machine of virtual ecommerce, with many players making a real-world living by creating, marketing, and selling digital products. But those same creators are locked in a long battle against groups of cheaters who, using a series of exploits, are stealing their products and selling them for profit on Second Life’s official Marketplace. It’s potentially costing Second Life’s virtual artists tens of thousands of real dollars and highlights the nightmare of defending your intellectual property on the internet.

Second Life is unique in the MMO genre for many reasons. It’s not so much a game as it is a social space that players can customize however they like. Called ‘sims,’ these sandboxes are spaces that players fill with all manner of player-designed objects. Unlike other MMOs, however, these objects aren’t created using some in-game crafting system, but built with software like 3D Studio Max, Photoshop, and a lot more. Some players build mansions and throw elegant parties while others own retail stores that sell their hand-crafted apparel. And, yes, some just want to have cybersex.

Second Life’s creators were on track to take home $60 million USD collectively in 2017.

But it’s also unique in that, unlike most MMOs, players can exchange Second Life’s ingame currency (called Lindens) for US dollars. Peter Gray, who was Linden Lab’s senior director of global communication before leaving early this year, told me via email that Second Life’s creators were on track to take home $60 million USD collectively in 2017. It’s what’s led many players to turn Second Life into a full-time job. But for two years now, those same creators have also had to deal with the frustrating rise of ‘dupers’ or ‘copybotters’—players who illegally duplicate their items for profit using exploits.

Theft of a salesman

“It’s very much a big deal,” Oobleck Allagash tells me. He’s the owner of PocketGacha, an innovative HUD-based storefront that works with several designer brands in Second Life to sell their products. Since launching in August, PocketGacha has made “more than tens of millions of Linden” in sales from “tens of thousands” of customers. While many creators in Second Life were vaguely aware that duping was an issue, Allagash became a unifying voice in the community because PocketGacha’s backend system allowed him to track sold inventory across multiple brands and see how widespread the issue was becoming. It’s how he became aware that the Marketplace was frequently featuring items for sale at seemingly infinite quantities and exorbitantly low prices—both telltale signs that they had been duplicated.

A lot of artistry goes into Second Life’s virtual products.

Allagash tells me that, in Second Life, one of the most popular ways to shop is through games of ‘gacha’ or, as its traditionally known in Japan, ‘gashapon.‘ “It’s a game where you have a machine that you play, paying typically about 50 Linden [$0.25 USD] for each go, and you are given either a common item or, if you’re lucky, you’ll eventually get a rare item which is typically more robust in its design,” Allagash explains. “It can be a vehicle or a house, for example.” Some gachas might award makeup or articles of clothing in a complete outfit, while others, like the popular Kunst brand, offer meticulously crafted themed decor.

On the surface there’s little difference between gachas and the controversial loot boxes that are appearing in many games like Star Wars Battlefront 2, but there’s several key distinctions. For one, these items have tangible value. Each play is always rewarded with an item, and any you win can be resold on Second Life’s Marketplace for Lindens and then converted into US dollars. Secondly, the proceeds of these items goes to their respective creators, not Linden Lab (though it does collect a small transaction fee for items sold on the Marketplace). And for those who hate the gambling aspect of gacha games and loot boxes, many creators also offer a buyout price to purchase the set in full.

“It develops sort of a trading atmosphere where people will trade for commons and rares,” Allagash explains. “There’s a whole cottage industry that has developed in Second Life of people reselling a lot of these items that they get.”

In Second Life, some items are ‘copy’ items, which can be copied and pasted multiple times inside of a sim. Most gacha items are different. Called ‘transfers,’ they can only be placed in a simulation once, and if you sell it, it’s gone from you inventory. Like Magic: The Gathering, it’s a market valued by the scarcity of sought-after rare products, and Second Life’s dupers are undermining the whole thing.

“Some bad guys have figured out how to duplicate as many of these transfer items as they want,” Allagash says. “You can duplicate thousands of them, and they have real value on the reseller market.” While the exact exploit is a closely guarded secret, the general idea is that these dupers strategically “crash” a sim, which somehow allows them to create infinite duplicates of an item. Dupers can even duplicate in-game gift cards for various player-owned stores, letting them buy anything for free.

Buyer beware

According to several players I spoke with, it’s been a problem for years that Linden Lab only acknowledged in November after mounting pressure from the creator community. “Recently, we closed an exploit that fraudulent gacha re-sellers had used,” the company said in an update posted on November 2. “Our governance team can now catch them when they attempt the cheating method that we have already fixed.”

Second Life’s creators hoped it would be an end to duping. Inevitably, it wasn’t. I spoke with one creator who requested to remain anonymous. Their brand is one of the more popular in Second Life and it’s become a full-time job that earns them a healthy income. Days after launching a new product line after Linden Lab allegedly shut the exploit down, they found a suspicious listing on the Marketplace offering the entire product line in one bulk package for almost 1300 Lindens less than the competition.

I don’t even like to imagine [the damage to my business] most of the time.


Second Life’s Marketplace doesn’t let customers see metrics like units sold, so this creator and Allagash had to get creative. The maximum amount of quantity that can be purchased at one time is ten, so they began buying up stock to see how much this alleged duper had. It was an impossible amount. During my interview with Allagash, he demonstrated this by sharing his screen with me via Skype. I watched as he purchased almost 40 full sets of this creator’s product line from the alleged duper. He then showed me PocketGacha’s backend tracking system, which operates similarly to any retail store, to show how unlikely it was that one person could have potentially over a hundred copies of this particular item when only several hundred had been given away through the gacha game.

Making matters worse, this alleged duper was the most popular listing for these particular items on the Marketplace, effectively tanking their value. “The damage is huge,” the anonymous creator tells me. “I’m the one paying for the subscriptions for the programs to create my products, I’m paying for marketing, I’m paying for the cost of running the sims—everything to keep my business going. Then there’s the emotional and time investment into the work. The amount of time it takes to make a gacha release, for example, can lead to 16-hour days. I don’t even like to imagine [the damage to my business] most of the time. Over a day or two it might just be a hundred dollars maybe, but over years…”

A screen capture of one alleged duper selling items for well below their going rate.

One thing that isn’t clear is what these dupers hope to gain, but Allagash and the creator I spoke to both insist it has to be real-world money. “They’re clearly not just doing this to be able to have fun in Second Life. They’re making significant money,” Allagash tells me. Because Second Life’s virtual economy is susceptible to money laundering, Linden Lab has a strict process for withdrawing US dollars. Allagash says that if it’s possible these dupers have found ways to undermine the game, it’s plausible they might have found loopholes in withdrawing their money too.

Creators aren’t the only ones finding it hard to compete with dupers, either. As Allagash tells me, Second Life has a massive economy of professional resellers. These players gamble on gachas and then sell the items they receive to ultimately turn a profit themselves. It can be a very lucrative business, according to one reseller—until dupers get involved, that is. “When [dupers] steal designs to sell I no longer invest in a set, depriving the creator of money,” Sushnik Samas, a reseller, tells me. “The expected return on a copied set plummets. Others may not be quite as scientific as I am, but surely realize they are bleeding money and also stop playing a set giving the thief free reign on the copied virtual goods.”

A history of being duped

Wanting the perspective of someone whose livelihood wasn’t impacted by this, I reached out to Wagner James Au, a tech consultant and owner of the prominent Second Life and virtual reality blog, New World Notes. He tells me that, despite the outrage, the problem of duping is largely contained within the niche of gacha sellers. “For one thing, only a fraction of the total [Second Life] economy is based around the web-based Marketplace—most active SLers prefer to conduct many or most transactions in-world, since it’s a more seamless, immersive experience.”

This is just one more chapter in Second Life’s long history of intellectual copyright theft.

Au goes on to explain that this is just one more chapter in Second Life’s long history of intellectual copyright theft. Since 2006, players have frequently found their virtual products stolen and duplicated in a number of ways, which “inevitably (and usually belatedly), Linden Lab tamps down with some increased whack-a-mole against infringers, and the outrage is shunted elsewhere.”

But even Au agrees that while duping might not be killing Second Life, it’s still an issue. “Linden Lab has not been transparent or sufficiently responsive to duping issues like this, especially when many people’s literal livelihood depends on their responsiveness. The fact that the [Second Life] virtual economy as a whole is more or less doing well doesn’t change that.”

Speaking with Allagash and the others affected by this, Au’s statement echoes their frustrations: Dupers are to be expected, but Linden Lab needs to improve. The company employs measures to protect its creators’ rights chiefly through a DMCA filing process and an internal abuse reporting system. The problem, as Allagash tells me, is that neither of these systems is very efficient.

“The DMCA report is managed by an outside company will take this particular thing down faster than an abuse report,” Allagash tells me. “So what happens in this sort of spider web is that the DMCA report will take [the Marketplace listing] first, which is immediately helpful for that creator. But after the DMCA report takes it down, there’s no [evidence for the abuse report] and so Linden Labs does nothing. The person isn’t banned, there’s no punishment. They come right back and do it again.”

For the creators who are, in many ways, the lifeblood of Second Life, it’s immensely frustrating since both systems can take days or weeks to produce results. “I feel like they see the DMCA as the end-all to the problem,” the anonymous creator told me. “And in some sense, it is—the item is removed from sale. But the problem is that someone can just make a new account and upload the item again. It’s [Linden Lab’s] follow through with repeat offenders that is lacking, and it’s their unwillingness to comment or work with us on it that makes me feel not valued as a creator.”

Linden Lab, however, feels differently. “We take the protection of SL content creators and our community very seriously,” Peter Gray, who was Linden Lab’s senior director of global communications until departing the company during the writing of this story, told me via email. “We do not share metrics on account bans, but can confirm that we have permanently closed a number of accounts for this activity and are committed to vigorously pursuing any violation of our Terms of Service and Community Standards.”

“Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for bad actors to move onto new methods. We are engaged in an ongoing pursuit of cheaters and continuously closing loopholes and working to protect our creator community,” Gray added.

When asked about the specific actions creators could take to protect their intellectual copyright, Gray said, “We follow the DMCA take down process as prescribed by the law. Abuse reports submitted by users are normally reviewed within 72 hours, although the process may take longer in some cases, depending on the type of report and information provided. We cannot comment on specific accounts, and therefore users who submit abuse reports are not notified about actions taken as a result of their reports. Unfortunately, that may lead some users to feel as if their reports may be ineffective, even when they actually result in account bans and other enforcement actions.”

But that’s not good enough for many of Second Life’s creators. While the MMO is often passed off as an aging game with a limited playerbase, CEO Ebbe Altberg told Motherboard in an interview in 2016 that 900,000 players still log in monthly. And for those who have turned their passion for it into a full-time job as a virtual designer, it’s easy to see how the continuing theft of their hard work is so damaging. “We just want our work to be protected,” the creator tells me. “In the age that we live in, it’s a basic right on the internet—I would hope.”

VR In Project Sansar

Living In a ModemWorld by Inara Pey posted a blog post about the future of virtual reality (VR) in Linden Lab’s newest platform, Project Sansar.

Ebbe Altberg gave a 20-minute talk titled “The future of VR is user-created” at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality (SVVR) Conference, which opened on May 18th, 2015.

“Those who may have been hoping to gain more of an insight into the Lab’s Next Generation Platform (aka Project SANSAR) will perhaps be disappointed by this presentation. As the title suggests, it isn’t so much focused on the Lab’s NGP, but rather on user generated content (UGC).” says Inara in her post.

Ebbe touched on SANSAR during the third part of his speech, but he really didn’t give much more away about the platform than has already been revealed by the Lab in statements made about it to date: That it is in development, that it will be running in a closed alpha from summer 2015, etc.

Read the full article by clicking here: Ebbe Altberg: “The Future of VR is User-Created” (a look at SL + SANSAR from the VR perspective)

I remain respectfully yours,
~ Suzanne Piers, Blogger/Social Media

Project Sansar Is Linden Lab’s New Platform

Ever since Linden Lab let it slip that they are working on a new project, dubbed “Second Life 2” by speculators, rumors have abounded regarding this mysterious project. Hoopla ensued; people were in a panic over whether Linden Lab was going to stop supporting Second Life once the new world was up and running; content creators and residents alike were up in arms over the fact that the new world would not be backwards-compatible and user-created content from SL would not be transferable to the new world.

Recent rumblings in the forums and blogs have indicated that the nickname is Project Sansar. Indeed, patents have been applied for that use the name Sansar, and Project Sansar.

Inara Pey, in her blog “Living in the ModemWorld” (that’s a clickable link) speculated that: “Sansara was one of the early names considered for Second life (being derived from Samsāra, which occurs in both Buddhism and Hinduism, and, perhaps more particularly where SL is concerned, was used by Hermann Hesse in his 1922 novel Siddhartha as a reference to the “world of illusion”), and currently lives on as the name of SL ‘s oldest and largest mainland continent. Whether “SANSAR” is a play on this is unclear – it might just as easily be an acronym.”

Apparently both “Sansar” and “Project Sansar” are being bandied about, and threads point to the fact that both names have had patents applied for by the Lab:

US Serial no 86593254 – for “Project SANSAR”
US serial no 86593259 – for “SANSAR”

In addition, in October 2014, Ascio Technologies, Inc., filed a domain name registration for projectsansar.com listing Linden Research as the Domain Administrator.

A few days after this information was beginning to leak out, Linden Lab tweeted:


Stay tuned to this blog; we will post more as information becomes available.

I remain respectfully yours,
~ Suzanne Piers, ZI Blogger/Social Media

One Billion Rising Event in SL coming this Saturday, Feb. 14th

In January, I blogged about the annual One Billion Rising event that was coming to SL in February, and the time is nearly here! I am honored to be part of the press corp for this event, and will be invited to preview the sims tomorrow morning. I am looking forward to touring them.

Meanwhile, please plan on attending this meaningful and worthwhile event this Saturday! One Billion Rising in Second Life will run for twenty four hours – from midnight to midnight SLT on Saturday, February 14th.

The regions will open at 11pm SLT on February 13th to allow you to make your way to the event in good time for the opening. There are landing points on all fours regions. If it is difficult to get into one region, try another.

Here are the SLurls: (These are clickable links)

One Billion Rising in SL 2015 — OBR Change
One Billion Rising in SL 2015 — OBR Dance
One Billion Rising in SL 2015 — OBR Drum
One Billion Rising in SL 2015 — OBR Rise

Here is a map of the event:

Map of the OBR regions

Map of the OBR regions

There is a central stage where there will be music and dance balls available throughout the day. In addition, there is a poetry and performance stage on OBR Dance, where there will be special dance performances, poetry readings and a poetry workshop. There will also be a media center in the Sculpture Garden on OBR Change where several TV and radio shows are being recorded and/or broadcast over the course of the weekend.

Check the event schedule page on the website to find out more. Click on the following link: One Billion Rising Event Schedule

The music will continue till 11:59 p.m. SLT. The regions will be open for a further 24 hours (until midnight on Sunday, February 15th) to allow people to explore the art installations at a quieter time.

What is One Billion Rising?
One Billion Rising began in RL as a call to action based on the staggering statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than one billion women and girls. This calls for a radical shift to end the global epidemic of abuse that women face worldwide.

With the tagline “Drum, Dance & Rise,” women, men and youth will plan, lead, and participate in actions, dance, political and artistic events, and rallies — or Risings — in hundreds of countries on (and around) the date of February 14th to highlight, spark, and mobilize artistic and community-based initiatives to bring in the new revolutionary world of equality, dignity, and freedom for all women and girls.

One Billion Rising in Second Life 2015
The Second Life event will feature a four-region stage where 200 people can come together to dance, surrounded by an area of art installations, an arena for poetry and dramatic productions, and informational exhibits. A variety of performers will play over the 24-hour period and poetry and dramatic events will be held at different times, enabling people all over the world to attend this virtual event no matter their timezone. The regions will have a General maturity rating to allow all residents an opportunity to participate. Pictures are welcome on the event’s Flickr group.

The objective of the event is to raise awareness, not to raise funds; however, information about real-world organizations will be available for those wishing to donate. If you’d like to join the group, search for OBR’s Second Life Group: One Billion Rising.

Here are some clickable links:

OBR’s Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/pages/One-Billion-Rising/493344827375934
OBR’s Twitter Stream
OBR’s Flickr Group
Main One Billion Rising for Justice page

OBR 2015 in SL Artistic Uprising

OBR 2015 in SL Music events

OBR 2015 in SL Poetry and Performance

I hope you will come out and support this worthwhile cause. See you there!

I remain respectfully yours,
~ Suzanne Piers, ZI Social Media

Linden Labs Announces Sponsorship of the Drax Files: World Makers

Linden Labs has announced that they will be sponsoring The Drax Files: World Makers. In these videos, Draxtor Despres creates videos that highlight and present the stories of some of the many talented people who are creating incredible things in Second Life.

Contrary to popular opinion, Second Life is more than a bunch of depraved sex addicts and married people looking for a disease-free way to cheat on their spouses. Second Life is full of creative people with amazing things to offer. There are artists to educators, game makers, fashion designers, community builders, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, musicians, magicians, and more who are making and doing wonderful things in Second Life. I’ve enjoyed watching the videos that the Drax Files: World Makers produces.

“[Drax manages to present] their stories in a way that shows not only the creative power of the platform, but also the unique personalities that make up the global community of Second Life users.” says Linden Labs in their press release. “As compelling as the series is for those of us already familiar with Second Life and stories like these, it’s also extremely powerful in communicating the magic of Second Life to those who haven’t yet experienced it firsthand.”

Having been in Second Life for five and a half years, I see myself, as well as a lot of people around the grid, developing a kind of blasé attitude. You can’t be in world for more than a year or two without being touched by some kind of person who rips you off emotionally or financially, because just like in RL, there are people who use and abuse you, and who love to stir up and create drama. It is very easy to get jaded. I used to run a club in Second Life, and don’t get me started about temperamental artists…. ugh.

Recently I have had a really fun experience — introducing someone to Second Life for the very first time. I’d forgotten about how exciting this virtual world appears to someone who has never experienced it before. Her genuine excitement and awe about all that SL has to offer has been contagious. I’ve started looking at SL through her eyes, and remembering and enjoying that sense of wonder and amazement I used to feel in SL. My friend has been in world now for about a month and a half, and interestingly enough people do not believe she is a noob. They think she is an alt account, because thanks to me, she looks amazing. However, all you have to do is watch her try to manipulate her avie in world, and you will know she is a noob! She’s been coming over to my house in RL and using my computer while she becomes familiar with SL, and I sit over her shoulder and help her. We have laughed until the tears come over watching her try and move around SL. I had forgotten how difficult it can be. She falls off stairs, runs into walls, loses her camera inside things. and runs into people.

One of the things that the Drax Files videos do is remind us about all that is good and wonderful about SL. That there is more good than evil in SL. Second Life is amazing place full of marvelous and wonderful content creators of all types. Draxtor really looks for people to interview who contribute some of these amazing things in SL.  He focuses on the many talented people in SL, many of whom make their entire living from businesses such as estate owners, services such as wedding planners, and content creators who sell their items in SL and in the marketplace.

In order to ensure that the Drax Files continues, Linden Labs has elected to sponsor it. The Drax Files is a labor of love for Draxtor, but there are real production costs associated with creating something of this quality.  Linden Labs was quick to point out, however, that this sponsorship has no impact on Draxtor’s editorial independence. They do not plan on taking control or trying to dictate what stories are told or how they are presented in the series. They wanted to reassure the audience that their agreement does not have any impact on his other work (his podcasts, for example). All it means is that Draxtor will be able to continue to produce new episodes of The Drax Files: World Makers series each month, which we can all enjoy and which Linden Lab can use in support of their Second Life marketing efforts.

Below is a fun video entitled: The Drax Files World Makers: Stories from Second Life. It is self-described as: “In the digital universe known as Second Life, a vibrant global community transcends boundaries of cultural, ethnic and generational nature: with unlimited possibilities to explore, make or sell anything one can imagine, stories of individual empowerment abound.

Watch the video and remember the wonder and beauty that Second Life is meant to be. Look at it through the eyes of my noob friend. Don’t dwell on the negative; but rather focus on the positive. I encourage you to use the Destination Guide and visit some of the most amazing user created content in the Virtual Universe!

I remain respectfully yours,
~ Suzanne Piers, ZI Social Media Manager