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12 June 2010

Correct Me If I'm Wrong

It feels like LL has been secretly experimenting with aversion techniques, lately, to make their customers go away. I love Second Life dearly, but much that's gone on in the past year has struck at the heart of my ability to feel like it's more than just a business. I remarked to Zayn a couple of months ago that it felt like living inside Monsanto; I've never wanted to make my home inside a corporation.

But what are the changes that have made me lose joy? What is it I want, and what do other people want? I'm notoriously unreasonable and impractical, but perhaps that isn't rare.

Starting from the beginning, I think that the qualities I liked about SL were:
  • It was possible to be creative - in fact it was necessary.
  • It attracted interesting people.
  • It was like seeing inside people's heads in a way - things they were passionate about were made manifest.
  • The company was small and scrappy, cheerful and eager to help things happen.
  • The company was not in competition with us - they made the platform and we made the content, we all benefited. It was very clear.
  • It was new, we felt we were all in it together, all with the same goal (I, for one, listened to what they told us was good practise and tried to comply i.e. not over-using the torus shape, being careful with physical objects).
  • As an artist who might spend hours experimenting with materials and ideas, I didn't see it as an odd, time-wasting activity. It was exercising creative muscles, with a social bonus.
Things that were mixed or not good:
  • The ability to make money was fun, but it brought out the unscrupulous; the fabulous freedoms we had, the incentives placed to promote growth, were all gamed and abused.
  • Most people were kind to each other, but restrictions had to be enacted because a few could be horrible.
  • A lot of what people wanted to make manifest was things they'd seen elsewhere (although I didn't recognise most of it since I don't have a television and don't play most games).
  • The structure was pretty obviously not firmly based, which was worrisome if, like me, your desire was for a permanent place (if the company goal was for a temporary thing I suppose it didn't matter to them).
  • Because they were breaking new ground the consequences of policies were unknown.
As time went on it felt like:
  • Lindens had to deal with an overwhelming amount of awful stuff from customers and griefers.
  • When LL asked for customers to apply to build things, or otherwise participate, the response was luke-warm.
  • There was hype ("ZOMG SL IS ALL THINGS GOOD!"), and too many people believed it (contrary to what most people think though, I believe businesses like, say, Pontiac got their money's worth in positive advertising due to their SL involvement).
  • Some people began making things purely to make money, while others used their business to support their tier so they could have land to build on.
  • It wasn't as new, and people were getting burnt out (once you've seen Atlantis five times it starts to pall) - which makes for churn in both customers and employees, and also means long-term employees might just be a bit jaded.
  • Tragedy of the commons situations developed as no one had forseen things like prim hair with 200 cut toruses and, later, 200 resizer scripts with open listens, customers wearing five HUDs all scripted to the gills - and the creators didn't care; the purchasing customers didn't understand.
  • Tech solutions were slow in coming as SL was a hugely complex program, every bit of it was crucial to someone and often in unexpected ways, people capitalised on bugs and fixing them broke content, there was almost no downtime except for emergencies, and the tangles in the code made things harder.
  • Shopping inworld was usual, but SLBoutique and SLExchange allowed shopping when not inworld.
  • The lines started to blur; that fine, linear clarity (THEY make the platform, WE make the content) was lost. Although they'd always made little pokes in that direction (Boardman, for instance), most Linden content was, to me, a way for there to be shared memories/experiences in the fast-changing SL world, and not a serious threat to customers.
  • Codework on the viewer by community-minded residents including Nicholaz Beresford, Barney Boomslang, and Henri Beauchamp was largely ignored by LL for some reason.
  • GLIntercept and copybot caused the people interested in making money to go absolutely apeshit.
Important events occurred:
  • LL began the Lindex (which shocked me at the time as I remembered Robin saying they would never be involved in money in that way) on the ashes of GOM (self-immolation more than anything else, I think), which was more or less ok.
  • SL was made free to join.
  • Inworld Help was done away with.
  • Wonderful innovations and much-needed features appeared: sculpties, WindLight, HUDs, multiple-select in inventory, ripples, shadows, and much more - which was great except some were heavy-duty users of computing resources making it a bigger first step for new people (my computer when I joined was a new, quite capable one that I'd had built for gaming, but at the time I joined even crappy 'puters could limp along; now someone with a medium-level computer or even a fast one with a bottleneck or problem graphics card will log in for the first time and see acres of grey). Very new cards are (understandably) not recognised by the viewer, so graphics quality upon first login may be set very low as a consequence.
  • Gambling was halted due to credit card company concerns.
  • LL moved billing to the UK, causing a tier hike for customers responsible for paying the VAT.
  • LL brought out four packs of sims light, which were heartily received. Unscrupulous land dealers didn't bother to inform prospective tenants of the sim type. In some cases the light sims were given heavier use than they could manage, in others they provided a lower cost option for people who wanted to manifest their dreams.
  • The global economy soured.
  • An incompatibility between educators/corporations wanting a sex and violence-free virtual world and the bulk of customers who wanted to experiment freely with whatever they could think of led to the creation of Zindra, the adult continent, and the subsequent forced march. SL has a series of mainland continents that are connected only through teleportation; given that things aren't connected anyway, it might've been better to have a separate edu/business grid. I've never been into the whole sex thing in SL, and I'm sure there are things that would be distasteful to me, but consider if you will that people like goofing around with sex either seriously or for laughs, and not everyone is able - even physically able - to have sex in real life. Touching and eye-moistening as is the thought of the paraplegic whose first steps can only happen in virtual reality, how much different is that from the paraplegic whose only chance to experience anything even similar to physical love is in a virtual world?
More time passed:
  • Some of the new Lindens were not even as familiar with SL as customers (I remember saying to Tedd in about 2006, "They don't make Lindens like they used to," as I'd been talking to one on the Beta grid, telling him that copy-selected was not working in the version being tested, and he didn't know what copy-selected was).
  • SL was a job, not fun, for many content creators and Lindens.
  • There was backlash when the hype stopped (ZOMG SL IS EVERYTHING BAD!).
  • Tier was raised on islands.
  • Light sims were suddenly found to be bad and the monthly cost and parameters were changed drastically, which alienated people and caused the loss of many sims.
  • LL, to preserve their trademark, made rules that alienated the education community.
  • LL bought OnRez (SLBoutique) and XStSL (SLExchange), binned the former and turned the latter into a company shopping website.
  • Customers started to feel they were being "nickel and dimed" to death. They would create widgets on their land, paying tier to LL. They'd sell in XStSL and pay a percentage to LL. They'd buy or sell lindens through the Lindex and pay money to LL, pay for advertisements and search listings.
  • LL went into the content-creation business in a bigger way, leaving customers who were trying to pay their tier weith a little business feeling locked out in the cold.
I tired now I stop but continue later - meanwhile, leave me your thoughts but remember two things: I'm FOS (always), and I'm not finished.

Opensource Obscure said, "However, what I'd like best is actually Second Life being used on a global scale, say by 100 millions of users. And I guess that can only happen if there's a big corporation behind that works in an efficient way."

I would like lots of users, too. I think the thing, to me, is that the changes needed to scale SL up shouldn't turn it into something unrecognisable. I think there has been wasted effort; growth has been too fast, and on an unstable base. A certain amount of floundering around is probably unavoidable in a brand new concept, but it's time to stop that. They need to look at who is in SL, how it's used, and what draws people. For me it combines creative with social - an absolutely unique combination, one I value highly, and one I will work to preserve (if I can).

A "big corporation that works in an efficient way" - I think very small but efficient is more suitable; a virtual world with user-generated content is a hard way to make money, I'd reckon, but with UGC the fewer corporate fingers in the pie the better.

I think that my needs are:
  1. The killer combination of creative and social aspects.
  2. An SL that is moving towards stability.
  3. A LL that doesn't compete with its customers. When it competes in a big way it gains in short term profits but it loses in the long run.
And LL's needs are:
  1. Expanding SL's user-base through two levels of access - the normal viewer and one that functions in a browser. Businesses go where there are potential customers; if LL concentrates on getting ordinary people eventually businesses will follow. I don't think they understand how they've offended their users and squandered tons of goodwill. Every colossal blunder was a dagger in the heart of people who love Second Life, but LL seemed oblivious.
  2. To know what SL is, who uses it, and why - and be able to operate efficiently and form plans that improve the service.
  3. To be satisfied with being small, until becoming large makes sense.
What do I know, of course. Nothing. I'm just making things up with no information at all, but I'm not alone in my love for Second Life.

posted by - 2:50 PM

This post puts into words my feelings over the past six years. I miss the "early adopter" residents, many of whom have left for various reasons, and I miss the feeling of being part of a community of intelligent, creative people.

A few spots remain where this is the reigning philosophy, notably Kahruvel (what is left of it), Nova Albion and Raglan Shire.
thanks Os! isn't this is a good example of "what humans do"? some combination of chaos theory and sociology, which you could have predicted had you been writing sci-fi instead of having fun in SL, you know those books where a band of like-minded ingenious people colonize a new planet and then....each sequel faces a new challenge which is solved creating more problems..the trick would be to imagine a scenario where these people colonize a new world and then solve every problem 'correctly'. i think that's what LL and everyone thought we were doing at first, really. we would get the world an example for the real world, a sort of RL sandbox.
by now that idea is lost in the scramble, forgotten and abandoned.
That post is not finished - I was just getting started. I'm trying to figure out what I want, which isn't easy.

It's inevitable that the early feeling should be gone - I don't see that as something that can be restored. On the other hand, the idea that they build the platform, we build the content is important to me. The security for people to make valid plans is important - whether business plans or budgets.
A lot of damage was done by loss of confidence caused by successive blunders, the hype/backlash, and the world recession.
I hadn't read this post when I left this comment for Ilia over on her blog post about the LL staff cuts:

Aye, I'm like you in that I'd really miss SL if it folds, but I'm expecting the worst at some point (either SL folds or becomes a place I don't want to be) and with this in mind I'm preping myself for a move.

I'm going to start checking out other worlds for a start - after all I have many friends there already and it looks like the PJMT's latest research may well find an incursion of the old Kahruvel forest in one of these new worlds pretty soon.

Also, whilst I'm used to and love the HBA gazelle look, I've been deliberatly moving him into new looks to get myself used to the fact that his look isn't fixed (after all, I don't know if these other worlds will allow me to buy a gazelle skin :-D).

Lastly, the HBA who doesn't RP is me pretty much 100% of the time and therefore whatever world I'm in, HBA will be there also :)

I'll be sad to leave SL behind, but I'd do it in a flash once the right conditions are in place. I *really* don't like the direction if the Lab these day - I don't mean this 3D facebook stuff (I simply don't care enough to fear or hate that), rather I mean the greedy, nasty money-grabbing feel you get from the company now. M is all about the dollar and this is not what I care about and as such I would chose not to spend my spare time & money in and on his world.

Wherever we end up, the spirit of what made SL great for us will come with us :)

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