Linden Lab faced more criticism Friday after struggling to get its Second Life virtual world back online after a scheduled outage for technical upgrades. The glitches affected several areas of the so-called metaverse and marred the launch of a virtual Rockefeller Center, believed to be the largest single concurrent event in Second Life history.

Second Life, the 3-D virtual world created by San Francisco-based Linden Lab, has become home to both individual users and big businesses. While residents are creating 3-D identities in order to design and sell goods in this virtual world for real money, corporations such as Dell ( DELL), Toyota ( TM) and Sun Microsystems ( SUNW) are making a big push to gain traction in this burgeoning world.

Aimee Weber, who helped American Apparel establish an in-world storefront, and The Electric Sheep Company, a company that specializes in bringing real-world companies into Second Life, joined forces to develop a whopping 18 replicas of Rockefeller Center for General Electric's ( GE) NBC Universal division. The famous destination in New York City came complete with holiday decorations, gift boxes and falling snow. In addition to the celebrated holiday tree, there are faithful representations of the famed ice-skating rink, the NBC Rainbow Room neon sign and a replica of the Top of the Rock restaurant.

But continued grid outages, as well as database issues following Linden's systemwide update, almost prevented the holiday tree lights from being lit.

Linden Lab released a new software version of Second Life on Wednesday, disabling the system for more than five hours during the change. Once residents downloaded the new update, they found themselves with a number of virtual headaches.

The timing couldn't have been worse for NBC Universal. With the introduction of its brand-new island, Linden's scheduled update prevented some residents from getting onto the system. Many users were denied the ability to log in, as the grid dealt with a mad dash to return to Second Life when it came back online. Others had problems teleporting to different regions and using the search function, while complete regions crashed and others were laced with assorted bugs. Most of those residents lucky enough to jump all of these hurdles gained access to one of the NBC islands, while a few found that some were filled to capacity.

"We know this is frustrating for many users, and we are working diligently to correct the issues," Linden Lab wrote on its official blog. "Thank you to everyone for your support and patience."

The Electric Sheep Company "definitely had some challenges, but everyone pulled together in the end," said Giff Constable, the firm's vice president of business development. "There were multiple teams working on this, and I think we've all gotten great, positive feedback since the tree lighting."

NBC Universal is just one more addition to an already impressive client list for The Electric Sheep Company. Other names include Starwood Hotels ( HOT), Major League Baseball's Yankee Stadium, Nissan, Sony ( SNE) BMG and Reuters ( RTRSY).

"For us, it's about promotion and community engagement," said George Kliavkoff, chief digital officer with NBC Universal. "We're just really proud of the first event in the space."

Kliavkoff also points out that NBC Universal gave away virtual ice skates to any resident who showed up for the event so that they may skate around the ice rink.

Kliavkoff thanks "all of the technology that we were able to get everything accomplished that we wanted to. In fact, Linden Lab told me it was the largest single concurrent event in Second Life, something we're very proud of for our first effort."

Most impressively, ESC and Weber had simultaneous tree lightings on 18 separate virtual islands. NBC Universal was only able to purchase six private islands from Linden Lab, as the company cannot keep up with orders for real estate. NBC Universal was forced to rent another 12 islands from virtual millionaire Anshe Chung, according to ESC.

At one point during the event, "we maxed out capacity with 1,080 avatars attending across the 18 replicated virtual Rockefeller Centers," Constable says.

Some avatars fortunate enough to be on one of the NBC private islands complained about bugs and glitches affecting the event. One of the simulations crashed, leaving many attendees waiting for the tree to be lit. Elsewhere, streaming audio of two in-world performers was muted, while digital streaming video of NBC Universal programming was absent.

Residents have already begun to post comments on various blogs and message boards about their frustrations with continued problems and lack of support from Linden Lab.

"One has to be impressed with the willingness of Second Life users to tolerate massive shortcomings of the software and the service," said one resident in a blog comment. "One also has to be amazed that people are still trying to use the services Linden Lab is currently providing to offer serious jobs for real-world pay."

Because NBC Universal was forced to rent virtual land, it will likely be returned in the coming days, meaning the NBC island count will be reduced. For future events, though, it is expected that NBC Universal will have more simulators available so that any resident wishing to be present may do so.

"It's the first of many efforts," Kliavkoff offers. "We're planning other things with details to follow."

Hopefully, the next NBC Universal event won't be marred with more of the same technical difficulties, courtesy of Linden Lab.

Robert Holden is staff reporter Robert Holmes. He reports often from Second Life.

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