A legal dispute is going to kill all the bunnies in Second Life

Photo via clairenovaland/Flickr

A legal dispute could kill a whole population of cute virtual pets.

Although we didn’t all end up living in Second Life, one of the earliest mainstream virtual environments, it’s still around after all these years. And, this weekend, it’s headed for a tragedy. According to a fascinating piece on Vice’s Waypoint, a legal dispute and a software issue will cause thousands of virtual pet rabbits to starve to death Saturday.

The bunnies, created by a company called Ozimals, were some of the first and most popular breedable pets in the game, explains Waypoint’s Janine Haskins. They’re super cute, and since 2010 or so, thousands of people have paid to adopt them, even purchasing third-party accessories to keep them happy. Players could also breed the bunnies, seeking to create rare bunnies in wild, bright colors.

But tragedy struck this week due to an intellectual property dispute with a company that claims to have created the in-game “visual assets” for Ozimals back in 2009. The current proprietor received a cease and desist letter demanding that they “cease all use of [the] intellectual property.” As a result, Ozimals has shut down all its servers.

As Haskins explains, the bunnies need to communicate with those servers to breed and eat. The servers went down Wednesday, and bunnies can go 72 hours without eating before they have to “hibernate.” That means that on Saturday, a whole population of virtual pets will simultaneously starve to death.

There’s a small bright spot, in that many people paid for their bunnies to become “everlasting.” They can’t breed, but they also can’t die.

“Any bunny who is Everlasting will continue to function, as he or she does now: without cost. Any bunny who is not Everlasting will be unable to eat and will hibernate within 72 hours,” Ozimals said in a blog post. Another, birdlike Ozimals pet called “Pufflings” will also “cease to function.”
The Ozimals store offered free “timepieces” this week to owners who wanted to make their bunnies Everlasting at the 11th hour.

“This really fucking sucks, and I’m sorry. It was never my intention for the time we’ve all spent with the bunnies and the Pufflings to end like this,” wrote Malkavyn Eldritch on the Ozimals blog.

They wrote that they don’t agree with the cease and desist letter, but also don’t have the means to fight a court battle over it.

On Second Life forums, players who adopted the pets are heartbroken.

“Ozimals are being forced to close, so I took Latte, my very first bunny for a one last visit. She’s been with me since 2010,” wrote Sonya Mamurek on Flickr, captioning a picture of her avatar holding Latte.

latte the bunny in second life Sonya Marmurek/Flickr

“Goodbye, Ozimals, you brought joy and happiness to the grid for years, and I wish some of that will follow the people who kept the bunlife going.”

R.I.P, simulated bunnies. Your tragic ending is a fascinating case study about the intersection of capitalism, virtual goods, and taking up a second life online.

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