A guy named garey Solo said interestingly that Second Life struck him as being like a grandfather clock that was winding down.
I said that it wasn't really that, it's just that some of the grandfathers themselves are winding down.
Skating on Thin Ice or in Fact Maybe Freemium Doesn't Work?
The other day I finally got the news that was already on sluniverse.com in March that Moopf Murray had left SL. He was famous for ice skates -- both free and more elaborate for money -- and the bubble gum machine. I got a notice that the bubble gum server was going down (I bought somebody else's replica for $50). Moopf used to have a vender system, too. I liked Moopf's stuff and put them out for people to take or buy, but he himself had that mixture of open source cultism and merchant stuffiness that always proves so unpleasant in SL -- I had several arguments with him about...whatever...he didn't like me and was part of the oldbie crowd of pioneer creators who didn't like brash newcomers like me who criticized the favouritism shown to them. I don't know what made him leave, probably boredom, tier, lack of sales, friends moving on, etc.
But of course, in his place are a 100 other people selling ice skates and making ice skating rinks of every conceivable type for every conceivable community. Life moves on.
So if Moopf Murray leaves, or various other famous oldbies, does it mean business is bad? No. Not when it's from the resident population. Even so, when first Kim Linden, VP of marketing, then FJ Linden, VP of Global Technology leave (FJ was brought in to be essentially the Atlas of the world several years ago, no?), you have to worry. People come and go, talking of Michaelangelo, of course. But two biggies leaving like that within a short period means that they argued with the management. Either Rod, or Mitch or somebody. As they are leaving, we see two things happen, maybe related, maybe not -- Creative Communism being jack-hammered into the SL Marketplace as a "license" and the "builder's boon" of blanket all-perms that creates an enabling environment for open source cultism. Did they fight about *that*? Who knows? Likely not. They probably fought about something more esoteric in their own world of marketing charts and 90-day impact statements.
The whole Linden Realms thing strikes me as a non-starter. It's nice and all, but it seems to me that it's about Rod drifting into just doing his thing, making a platform for white-label production of games for users, something that I don't think there's a huge demand for in the world. Remember Multiverse, and Corey Bridges? That was kind of what he did already, and probably better. I don't really know what he's up to now although he was at the Entertainment Summit.
I guess I just don't think that the user base's interests, and the ability of the servers to hold up, are really the best climate for bringing in game devs to make little games. The Lindens had this idea seven years ago and gave out prizes for games -- then broke the scripts of those games in their next iterations, to the great frustration of people like Jeffrey.
If they were making this game-within-a-game really for its own sake (they're not), I might get behind it. But they're making it to test tools for resident devs to make their games -- and that's the part I'm not getting. I'm actually testing this theory myself now in the next few weeks as I gave Brownlee to be rebuilt by Jer Straaf who has lots of great games already that can work in a sim or part of sim without any special new stuff, games like "Vandalism" where you go around shooting at trash cans and such and watch them satisfyingly blow up.
My sense is that the overwhelming majority of people in SL on the 70,000 concurrency or 1 million uniques monthly don't really want to play games, other than an occasional Greedy Greedy or Whack-a-Mole or maybe a shoot-em-up on a distressed urban vampire type sim -- but not for their whole log-on sessions. Yet, people take part in hunts and Lucky Chairs and Zynga, so maybe they are willing to play *some* games if casual enough. If they can be stopped and saved at any time, so to speak.
Well, all this is interesting to theorize about -- including the return of last names (pseudonymous identity markers!) and "Your World, Your Imagination" (build a game! get more people in the door and get them to stay for us!). But, really, how's business?
I cringed at first when I heard Rod suggest doing the Vikings 'R Us newbie island to land in, where other Viking RPers would rope them in. But then, as I thought about it, I realize he wasn't quite re-creating the world. His concept wasn't in fact what a lot of the Community Gateways *were*. In fact, some of them were not very exciting. Library World or InfoWorld or whatever the hell -- traffic, 100. There were the Australian and Japanese sims and they were nice and all, but sort of clubby for just the people from those countries. And there wasn't much to do on them except fish and shop.
Of course, there was Caledon, which is a rich-content sort of experience. But that's for people who know how to make their own fun, who can spend hours with pencil and paper games, if they live in the 19th century, or, in our century, can spend hours making Victorian lady tea parties and dances and dress up for them online.
So maybe, indeed, there is a place for landing spots that steer people to more mass generic fun. Like vampires, which is what the Lindens are hawking big-time -- as part of a threatening new galactic movement that even the two Star worlds are joining up to fight.
If the Lindens want to make Vampire stuff, great. I have to say that the single most taken piece of free content I offer every day is the garlic necklace that enables people to opt out of the Vampire game and not get "bite-you" messages.
Traffic and Spenders
A key factor I look at for business is the traffic at the infohubs and welcome areas. It was doing poorly. It's better now. But it's hard to tell, because there are still so many bots.
So I have to go by other factors. Are my cheap newbie rentals filled? Lately, they've filled up again. That's good. But do the people then graduate to higher paying rentals? Some of them.
It always amazes me that I get brand-new people, on that still-cumbersome new viewer, who somehow manage to find their way to my rentals within 30 days of joining SL. What hardy salmon they are, swimming upstream! But advertising...such a problem! How to find these hardy souls? I have advertised more in clubs lately or RP sims, but some of them don't have the kind of ad boards that tell you when people click them, so you can't correlate them easily to rentals or content sales.
As we know from the 3rd quarter metrics, number of people who spend $1 or more inworld is up to now 475,000, heading back up to previous heights of 488,000. Isn't that cool?
What's the Total Inworld Economy GNP?
But, hmmm...on that Linden corporate page, they are still talking about that $75 million profit they make, and putting the number for inworld content sales now by the quarter for Q42010, not the year (it was $450 million, they said, a year ago) now they're giving a figure of $165 million from exchanging currency, and I'm not sure if that's the same number.
That is, saying that in the last quarter of 2010 (nothing later, guys?), "750,000 unique users from around the globe spent more than 105 million hours experiencing Second Life while exchanging Linden dollars, Second Life’s currency, worth more than $165 million (USD) in its economy" isn't quite the same thing as saying "the world yields $450 million in content sales a year" -- they could be counting the total transactions or volume of sales and a lot of that stays inworld. I just don't know if they are talking about the same thing. I'd like to get a number that tells me a) total number of unique transactions inworld in dollars and b) the cashout. If I get $100 in a rental and then pass it to another avatar to cash out who is my business avatar, that could be counted twice.
So, to get back to the question of whether SL is winding down like a grandfather clock.
I didn't get involved in the ruckus a few weeks ago when Slate.com ran an article about "why Second Life died" to make a larger point about software/social media projects overhyped and how they are shortlived. I didn't answer because it was just time-consuming and pointless, and others like Pooky Amsterdam were already providing good answers.
I actually didn't agree, however, with what most people were saying in fierce loyalty to their second life. In fact, SL, *did* fail in 2006-2007. It failed due to greed and stupidity and selfishness, and not necessarily by Linden Lab, because they were not really in control of the whole situation, but the greed and stupidity and selfishness of two other sets of people: a) the inhouse resident-based consulting companies -- there were six big ones, remember? -- that acted as sherpas to those big companies coming into SL, charging a lot and not always producing a lot, and stepping on their fellow residents in every way on the way to making a buck (like Grid Shepherd, the project of the Electric Sheep Company, devastated people's privacy); and b) the PR firms or media companies or other newfangled social media guru consulting agencies that in fact were they ones who hyped SL. It was they who came into SL, led by the in-house companies, and it was they who pumped it and then dumped it. The companies themselves barely had a chance to figure out was going on, and for them, anyway, it was a rounding error.
IBM came into merely because it was afraid of missing things like it had missed the PC and been late to the first iterations of the Internet and social media; the executives almost seemed to be reliving a second youth or getting themselves new trophy wives in middle age the way they scampered around, even ordering up expensive coffee-table books about their adventures from people like Dejavu.
There were all those other companies from Sears which didn't bother to make washing machines that avatars could buy for their homes, to Intel Inside which didn't bother to make computers that linked to the Internet that avatars could put inside their home, to American Apparel which didn't bother to make clothes that avatars could wear, to Nissan which at least had some oldbies make some cars and made an island where oldbie creators could make stuff for sale. it was at least something... Well you get the idea.
We all understand what wrong -- the companies didn't cater to the commuuuunity. Well, really, the *PR agencies* didn't. The Alphaville Herald called them fucktards, even though the Herald itself was paid by one agency to run a series of goofy adventures of some picaresque character.They didn't get that they had an audience of avatars in a virtual world, not people in the real world -- i.e. they had a really small audience nothing like TV or the larger Internet.
OK, so then there were deeper technical explanations from people like Gary Wisniewski (Treet TV). I hear what he's saying; I respect that it's an educated response. But I still see it was beside the mark. The architecture isn't the problem -- it's been quite a bit improved. The old Joe Linden could explain this to you and the now-departing FJ Linden could as well. So what if there's an asset server and separate log-ons? It's not World of Warcraft. It's user-generated dynamically-generated content. So the scene doesn't load. Have you ever played a Farmville game? Do you know how many times those things actually spit up and crash and lag and become hugely annoying? They all have load bars on them -- the dirty little secret of browser-based games. So what if I have a load bar and a whoosh sound taking me to a destination? And so what if the scene loads a bit? Put it in the download to make that longer and frustrate some people, or put it in the scene to load -- six of one, half dozen of the other. And not really the issue.
Mobile component? Um, is anybody using the Blue Mars mobile component? These are different things. Yes, people live on their phones. But it's a superficial day-in-day-out experience on the fly. It's dinky and you have to keep thumbing and typing stupidly and waiting for stuff to load. Sitting down at a terminal or good laptop and immersing in a virtual world is just a different thing, and that's ok. They don't really need a mobile component. It wouldn't add that much to the customer base, but only kit out further some of the hardcore base.
Hell is Other People
Gary is absolutely right about the griefer/security problem. The firewall issue wasn't the issue, however. IBM was offered a firewall. There was the Nebraska program that had firewalls. There weren't many takers. It's not the purpose of a virtual world. The purpose of a virtual world is to mirror real life and make it better. Real life is not better behind a firewall, in most cases. Firewalls are about work and government, not about social life as most people are living it in SL. Griefers plagued the grid so viciously because the Lindens themselves were in on it. They couldn't seem to get rid of their own hacker culture enough to care about their customers victimized in this fashion. Then they gradually did seem to get rid of some of the most notorious Lindens making common cause with griefers, and began to step up their game on getting rid of the most persistent griefers, and they're doing a lot better.
But, as the saying goes, hell is other people. And as I always say, Second Life is other people, in 3D, streaming in real time. Tateru Nino actually had a very good insight, that in a world like SL, the user experience depends on other users, and that's what makes it so bad for people.
In Second Life, the governance remains poor -- and that's the real problem for the servers, not the architecture or the failure of business to embrace the little world in 2007. The police blotter no longer functions; the special tools that were supposed to be given out to fight grievers "Octoberish" got forgotten; abuse reports so often "go nowhere," and you can't seem to preserve your investment on the mainland because of the big box and stubborn asshole problem in general.
But more than that, people form relationships in SL, very intensive ones, and become terribly vulnerable to hurt and exploitation. I see that over and over again in rentals. Asshole men in particular, often faking to be women, harming women who are too gullible, over and over. Manipulative, mean, vicious, exploitative.
If there were a way to separate out the people who want to date and have Facebook verification from those who want the opposite, secure pseudonymity, that would be great. But it's been a jumble between the two. And if there was a way to have some kind of reputation management system that wouldn't be gamed and run by assholes, too -- well, there probably isn't. If you could rate a person on each transaction, and have it meaningfully add to the world -- but of course, we all remember the days of ratings parties, when the Lindens actually gave people money when their ratings improved. What a racket! What a game! It's too bad avatars don't have "traffic" like land. Numbers of transactions with others shown. And number of positive ratings of such transactions. Would that work?
More to the point, I just don't get why it's impossible to ban the repeat griefing/harming by people using new accounts, easily identified by their same IP log-on (or, if dynamic, same group of IPs or other identifying marks like the location or company name or even hash marks of their computer hardware).
There has been so much hooting and hollering about the Red Zone and others outing people's IP, and endless ranting and bickering on Sluniverse.com in the endless thread about the JLU. It's all stupid. The griefers were ALWAYs worse and still are than the JLU. The JLU isn't the problem. The reason anti-crime is such a vexation is that in the absence of decisive governance by the Lab, freelancers and outsourcers step up and give themselves the job, and they can be as bad or worse than griefers.
If on this blog, the company gives me access to the IP addresses of people leaving nasty comments, so I can chose to block them (I don't on that basis, but that power is there; I only block according to my rules), why can't I have that in SL? It is a conundrum. The reason is simple: because on blogs, people don't live intimate sex lives or engage in other fantasy activities -- they just post stuff. Most of the time no one would have any reason to look them up.
In SL, having the exact same information you have on a blog from those who post is somehow seen as always in "the wrong hands." In the SL context, there is an endless fascination with who someone *really* might be because of the asshole males (mainly) who have made it their sport to harass and harm women (mainly) using anonymity. If it weren't for that vicious climate, people wouldn't feel the need to peer behind the visage so often. But they do, hysterically so.
So, why can't the company make it possible to ban people on the basis of their IP, but without revealing that IP/location/marker? That ought to be possible. It probably is eminently possible. Yet they don'to attempt it. It's not a priority. Taking the steps toward ultimately liberating content with VWR 8049 is more of a priority.