It's almost a form of blasphemy to ever admit business is better for you, or the platform as a whole, in Second Life, in a community notorious for its negative take on everything. This present blog isn't excluded, as I am happy to ask questions about the lobotomy performed on the forums; about possible collusion with Google to turn SL customers into hapless guinea pigs; about whether the Lindens will do the right thing on Red Zone finally (they won't change 4.3 which is what matters); and even talk with artificially-intelligent beings inworld whether these hippies are planning to sell this boat.
Even so, I think it's always important to report the truth of the situation, even if you don't like it. And the truth is, I had one of the best two months ever in Second Life in rentals and content sales -- and I hear others have, too.
Of course, there's always somebody somewhere who will say, "But that's not true -- I haven't had any sales since January 1" -- and I take that seriously, especially if they are renting a store from me, because their loss of sales is my loss of a rental.
The problem with this dynamically-changing world that always rewards some people and screws others, according to constantly shifting rules that we can't make (paging Sea Linden) is that it becomes impossible to analyze (percisely for those reasons). There isn't a yardstick available; you can't create one. When the Lindens used to reveal the figures for Positive Monthly Linden Flow, i.e. more Lindens coming into your avatar's account than went out of it, you could look at those numbers and if they were going up, tell the negative nabobs on the forums that while what they were saying *might be true for them* it's not true for the platform as a whole.
So all I can do is attempt to report what I see, and try to figure out the reasons for it.
How could it be that January and February turned out to be better months? January is traditionally the month where people a) get their Christmas spending bills on credit cards in the mail b) head for white sales anyway with their dwindling resources. So it's a time when people cut back on virtual spending.
February is a month that is short, which means you have to pay Linden tier bills due even if you don't have that extra two or three days to collect inworld rent (ouch, at least for a time, you can make it up in longer months later).
February is when some people have winter breaks and go away on RL holiday.
Anyway, the rules of "outdoors/indoors" for SL that we often go by are skewed by the fact that in different parts of the world, it's not cold out for people.
Even so, I'll work with the basics and try to list the reasons why things are better -- first, in the category of "things that don't depend on me":
1. brinda Allen had a brainstorm -- she said that people got new computers for Christmas. And finally -- finally! -- some of those computers actually play Second Life as the graphic cards in them are that much better than they were last year (I mean the standard-issue Best Buy sort of machine). That's important.
2. It *is* cold and there are really severe cold snaps all over, particularly in the Eastern United States but not only there, and that cold does drive people indoors to play online games.
3. The new CEO Rod Humble, coming from Electronic Arts, which is a serious, big-time grown-up games company, whatever else you want to say about its lack of communications or player governance tolerance. It gives SL a shot in the arm to think a real professional will be at the helm and will also not beat everybody up telling them every five minutes "not-a-game" because he doesn't have a history of hating games.
4. The LindEx is stronger -- because Supply Linden isn't selling. That means when you cash out Lindens, you get a better rate and more U.S. dollars. It's at 250-251 Lindens much of the time now, and with a short wait, you can usually get the 250 price. Desmond had a long and complicated and worrisome explanation for this on sluniverse.com which I don't have the time to go fetch and study again -- it seemed to be saying "don't think this is a good sign that the Linden dollar is strengthening because it indicates a management of an artificial situation that could tank at any time and has before". Enjoy it while it lasts, I guess.
5. Lindens have really started eliminating those crashes and diminished lag. When people crash all the time, they stop coming and stop buying. Lag also kills them. So if they have better graphics cards AND the Lindens have worked harder to stop blaming other people's graphic cards for everything and really tried to make SL itself work better, it's a win-win.
6. Viewer 2.x doesn't work, but Destinations does. By giving people a huge cornucopia of places to go and things to do, there is more travel and commerce. If you are lucky enough to be *in* Destination or *near* a Destination, you can benefit. I actually have one property *in* Destination, now very buried, so it doesn't get much attention, but it's a bit of a flow beyond my own advertising; I have another property next to a Destination that gives a small trickle of sales. Both take work to upkeep and refresh content or the sales dip.
7. Some populations are increasing their users. The Japanese, Spanish, and Portugese customers keep landing. I don't know if they are growing; they seem to. At least they aren't falling off dramatically. More people from these countries are getting established as businesses, bringing in others. This could be "dead cat bounce" from the Lindens' huge push a few years ago to localize and increase global share -- they closed down a lot of those projects along with foreign offices but it was at a time when in fact SL was finally coming to some people's notice, so they keep coming anyway.
8. HBO's When Strangers Click. A positive media happening like this, skillfully leveraged by the Linden PR team, produces new accounts -- I don't know how many, but it's been some.
9. Continued grandfathering of old island tier continues to enable people who made investments 2-3 years ago to finally start getting it paid off.
10. SL Marketplace -- while there are a number of things still really wrong with this for people, they hate that the pictures can't be uploaded or whatever their set of beefs are, the fact is, it produces more sales. You can buy enhancement ads and see immediate effects.
Probably other things I haven't thought of yet, but they do exist. For some people, search tinkering is producing results for them finally. I don't try to build my business on search working and don't keep checking to see how things are doing with it, I don't have the patience for tinkering or SEO. I try to do the basics, I try to change and revolve key words and try different labels on ads and land and hope for the best.
So now here are the things that fall into the category of "things that depend on me" that I did to improve business:
I don't know why I had never done this before (I'm such a slow and stupid learner on SL and constantly find little business tips and tricks to make things better for myself that I knock myself in the head for not thinking up before): make a list of all Ravenglass merchants.
I made a master list of all businesses renting from me in Second Life to promote "Ravenglass Merchants". That way I can encourage the people renting to shop -- if they move in, they can go to a Ravenglass Merchant to get furniture or a house; if they are wishing to dress up they can be steered to various clothing and hair stores and such. Some people just enjoy the fun of exploring a lot of neat little shops with original artwork or original SL jewelry and boots and such as well as interesting gadgets. So I will try to enhance that and make a kiosk for it.
To be sure, the hunt as a form of merchandising is an area where you cannot hope to compete unless you are a big store with a big budget, not only to supply the prizes but manage all the issues -- like organizing blinds to defeat people who cheat with scanners etc. People who are serious about the hunt as a method have got huge marketing plans -- work the blogs, get the enhancement ads, run the classifieds, add extra staff, form a group -- it's work, it's hard work, and while it pays off, it has now proliferated, creating other competition to make it harder even still.
I set my sites lower -- I just wanted to have people see that they are in a community of merchants that they should patronize because it builds the community and is fun; they get a standard freebie and have a chance of hitting a special unique gift that is more valuable.
One thing I'm not going to do with hunts -- go around bugging merchants to give me freebies or tax them to make special items for the freebie hunts. They have enough problems, and I don't want to endlessly play club with the girls, not my thing.I have a bag of freebies you can't jump over from six years in SL -- that's enough. And when I do something special, I like to make it an occasion to commission something -- for example I commissed and paid for a custom version of the heart-shaped opening jewelry box I used in the Valentine's hunt; I've commissioned and paid for other freebies that are classics like the fez in Memory Bazaar, etc. Occasionally someone will provide a freebie to use to help pay for the Land Preserve but I'm not really in the business of pushing freebies so much as offering a loss leading gift.
2. Fix-ups. When I used to work at the 7/11 in Fairport, New York, I had a pretty strict boss. He would make us clean out the walk-in coolers, "front the merchandise" (push all the boxes up to the front of the shelf), dust the place, sweep, mop, etc. -- endlessly. And he had a saying: "Time to lean, time to clean". That is, if we had time to lean on our counters doing nothing and gab, then we sure as hell had time to clean the store, too. So if we were in between customers, we were expected to be using that time to clean the meat slicer, Windex the counter, take out the overflowing trash, etc.
What were never allowed to do -- ever, in our lives -- was to replace that endlessly rotating hotdog in the showcase that was supposed to induce people to buy the chili dogs. That hotdog may be rotating there still.
So using that lesson learned (kids don't learn things like that any more because they can't or won't get jobs, in part because adults have to take those crappy jobs now to survive) -- this is what I do:
o is this rental not renting because I forgot to remove the stream? There's nothing people HATE more than teleporting into a lovely rental and hearing music they hate, not to their taste. You can't please anybody, so music has to be REMOVED. And watch out for the movie stream, too -- that often has a sound track playing so that has to go as well.
o is this rental not renting because somehow the "no payment on file" ban got switched on? I'll put that on for some people or they can access it to put it on, but I hate it -- it loses customers and never deters griefers
o is this rental suffering from an invisiprim obstacle or some other viewblocker or problem in the traffic pattern that needs fixing? I walk through it and see if I stumble
o is the rental box correct? Does the price on it differ than the price in the ad or on the land description? I make sure all three match -- nothing people hate more than finding something they think is a good price then looks like the landlord did a switcheroo with another price. Sometimes it looks lower if the previous customer had a discount (i.e. through tier donation) or was on some kind of special offer but I try to keep prices consistent and clearly marked, i.e. the box says "X plus Tier donation" so that if someone accidently did pay it 10 minutes after it expired when somebody moved out before I could switch it, they won't feel hosed when I explain.
o is there an ugly in the view? Often these can be fixed by doing the following things: a) reporting abandoned land to the Lindens; b) asking a neighbour to remove the offending giant plywood megaprim from your waterfront view -- they often will c) waiting 30 days to see if it spontaneously goes, and then if not, maybe selling
o Is the notecard giver up to date?
I keep discovering new ideas for fix-ups all the time, and as I said, I kick myself when I do -- it's fun to keep thinking of them and seeing results.
3. Pets -- if you don't have a breedable and at least some modest stall to sell eggs or horse bundles or whatever these days, you are isolating yourself from the economy's engines. Pets are where it's at, obviously. Even pet rocks (I have one made by Menubar Memorial that is beaming "It's nice here" even though I've kept it on short rations and it's 60 percent hungry already -- yes, it eats dirt).
I use my egg stalls as advertisements to say my rentals are pet friendly.
And yes, unlike many other landlords, I am indeed pet-friendly. That's because I have found that in fact pets don't lag sims. Even chickens don't lag sims if you pace them out right and don't let them collide. Of course, you don't need to put 50 of them out to make the sim fall over, but you can at least put out a certain amount. The Ozimal bunnies really don't lag I've found even in large numbers. IF the Amaretto horses are put on "stop," i.e. not wandering around aimlessly -- they are fine. And even 50 of them on a 4096 will not lag the sim. Pets are vital to people's psychological well-being and comfort online as in real life, and they should not be stopped from having them.
4. Pet-related content sales -- I finally made something that sells pretty well in SL (I absolutely suck at making stuff, I cannot work even Paint to save my life, so it's taken awhile). I made some fairy thimbles that make a nice decoration for a fairy RP sim. I've made a legend to go with it, that helps provide a counter-narrative to the Deltango Vale narrative of every breedable, which is "buy this fun pet, but then endlessly buy food for it forever to keep it alive, enabling me to grow rich off you".
I don't know how these pyramid schemes are really structured -- I can't see into their backend. But it seems that after sion Zaius set the model that every one of them has copied, they've had to use basic schemes to keep making money:
o planned obsolescence -- oops, you bought Fairy 1.0? I'm already making Fairy 2.0 so Fairy 1.0's food is no longer valid or Fairy 1.0 can't breed with Fairy 2.0
o planned breakage -- sion had this honed to a science -- step on an egg, it breaks and won't breed or be available to sell; return an egg to inventory, it breaks and won't work, like real life. I think this is genius, but many hated it and nerfed it in other pets -- fairy eggs can return without breaking; so can Ozimals and others
o release of rares into the system -- this is where we can't know what they're up to -- it's like a casino that in fact always has to benefit the House. I suspect these pet people may be cunning enough to set up the rares delivered to you on a staggered basis to hook you in. For example: if you get the Lighnting Fairy within a week or two of your first excited purchase, you might think, wow, here's a rare I can make $1000 or so off in the market, and pay for the fairy's $600 food barrel easily and have some left over. So you keep growing, breeding, food buying, hoping to get that Lightning again. In a system of odds that was fair, you might (like Holt's Rules explains with card-playing).
But in a system where the owner might see that you got a rare through chance, and then block you from ever getting another one -- manually, or merely through some coded routine -- you'd be hooked playing the slot machine and never winning. In fact, maybe you *don't* get a rare "by chance" -- maybe it is delivered on a schedule precisely to hook you!
We simply don't know how these people run this, and they won't be telling us, of course.
But these built in factors of scheming and exploiting of people and addicting to them will eventually lead to the demolition of the breedables industry unless some transparency and ethics begin to appear -- just as the banks eventually got done in. All of the breedables makers pretend that they sell pets to individual end users; all of them pretend they aren't coding for the secondary market; all of the people just individually breeding the pets in fact play the market somewhere, somehow, sometimes just flipping an egg they see for a cheap price or occasionally hawking a rare. So...it's a game. And a game many love playing, but it's a casino game where the House ultimately always wins.
5. More advertising -- classifieds, search/places, SL Marketplace -- more ads always equals more sales. This expenditure can wipe out the gain in new sales at first but can pay off in the long run.
6. Attending to foreign language key words -- this is vital, I used to spend lots more time on it, I still try to keep it going. Many people in SL search on foreign words because English is not a first language or any language.
7. Finding new key words -- Fixing up ads to have new key words, different key words, better key words, and making sure the items on the parcel are on search -- these seem to be basic things you have to do to try to fight the new search debacle and try to win at least some of the time. I don't spend anywhere near the time on this I should, but sometimes just fixing a few ads to reflect the good thing you actually offer.
8. Better pictures -- I can never say enough about this or do enough about this. I think a certain picture is lovely; it never rents the parcel. I change the picture to something I think is a bit cheesy; it rents.
9. Shrinking/Economizing -- In the land business, you can never do enough of this. I try to trim parcels that are empty and doing nothing or get them rented. I had an office space in Winnipeg for ages that I kept there out of some real-life versimilitude notion that people landing in an area with rentals on 4 sims would "need an office to go to". I also thought that it would attract people flying by -- one more branch office.
Instead, it was just space wasted on my useless office. It was perhaps a nice little building with notecards, but it was stupid -- people already saw the same thing when they started at my main office or other existing branch offices *not* next to my rentals. This office wasn't likely to get fly-bys from existing customers -- to serve them I could just put out a notecard giver that contained latest listings in case they wanted to move. In a world of sales driven by search, sadly, the geographical metaphor and its placements like buildings and ads inworld are eroding in some areas. The idea of having that "rentals office" in an area as a kind of sub-hub was so compelling I never removed it for years! Even though I could see hardly anybody clicked on its cards or ever sat in the building.
So finally, I ditched it and the space rented to start paying me out (instead of sucking down my tier) immediately. Boy was I stupid!
There is always something in the huge list of land stock that even a small business has that can be sold, converted, improved. Indeed, working this and trying to do this all the time is what makes the business fun and worth coming back to.
10. Branch Offices -- I just said a branch office was stupid in a world of search? But in fact, they are NOT stupid if strategically placed around SL. If you can find land near an infohub or welcome area, it's still worth using for a branch office. If you can go to a new land area and put out an office which everyone can see while buying land, it's worth doing. If you are near any trafficked gathering place like a club or Linden land or some sort, it's worth putting up the office. I used to try to keep one of these open on every continent. I would make little enclaves -- one small rental office surrounded by 6 cheap rentals so that the extra parcel with my office generated extra prims for the rentals and made the self-service easier. If I had time and investment funds, I'd replicate this a lot more. It works pretty well. Some areas get surrounded by aggressive neighbours and you have to move but sometimes they are keepers.
I'm sure there's more. I'm working on my inworld business tutorial in Iris and hope to get it finished and advertised to try to identify the best tips and share them. I find a simple thing -- like spending $30 to be in search/place -- is something a lot of people don't bother to do and should.