Last November, Slate ran a piece on why Second Life failed; according to Dan and Chip Heath’s article, which compares Second Life to the Segway, SL is “like a job candidate with a fascinating résumé—fluent in Finnish, with stints in spelunking and trapeze—but no actual labor skills.” In my opinion, the Heaths, besides ignoring the fact that SL is still a profitable project, make the same mistake that many have made regarding SL – among them even Linden Lab: they don’t grasp what SL really is all about – it’s not a game, but an entire virtual reality platform with the potential for developing a strong social element, which could, under the right conditions (I’ll get to that later), provide excellent opportunities for everyone to take advantage of its abilities for various purposes. Such purposes are:
- The creation of immersive worlds for various entertainment and educational uses.
- The reinvention and reimagining of one’s own personality, which would enable them to express aspects of their own psyche with considerably reduced fear of stigma (thanks to a general anonymity and the fact that segregation of RL from SL is the accepted norm within the userbase of SL).
- Creation and sale of virtual goods.
- Creation of immersive 3D environments to showcase products, builds etc.
As for the social element of SL, I respect it much more than I would ever respect the brainchild of Mark Zuckerberg: very good to excellent privacy, no obnoxious ads littering my screen, and SL, unlike Facebook, doesn’t surrender activists and dissidents to the authorities of totalitarian regimes.
SL is an extremely promising and powerful platform, yet it has not fulfilled its potential; instead, it loses thousands of private regions annually (as documented by Tyche Shepherd) and seeing even large companies leave it, unable to justify the monthly $295 tier for a whole region, even though their top executives are paid several thousand times this money per month. And many regions in SL are usually emptier than gun-crazy crap-rocker Ted Nugent’s skull. OK, so what has gone wrong?
Contrary to what far too many people claim, I do not attribute LL’s failure solely to the (admittedly high) cost of tier. This is a cost that cannot be easily lowered, because of the high running costs of SL and its massive infrastructure. Instead, I’m going to look at a number of other reasons that make SL less attractive than it could (and deserves to) be.
The responsibility for SL’s failure to deliver as much as such a pioneering and innovative platform would have us expect lies almost exclusively with its management, and more specifically, its top management.
There are three categories of reasons:
- Marketing (product understanding, definition and marketing)
- Customer Service
- Technical Issues
First of all, Linden Lab itself has historically failed to understand what its main product (Second Life) is. When you yourself don’t know what you’re making and selling, you can’t hope to market it properly, because you won’t be in a position to get the message across to potential customers, you won’t be able to make the opinion leaders (such as leading journalists and bloggers) get behind you and influence others accordingly, and, of course, you won’t be able to determine and develop a market. What has happened so far is that LL has not led developments when it comes to marketing virtual worlds, but has rather been dragged behind them; LL has not created a market; it has stumbled upon some markets for its product, with several of them being unreliable simply because their buying power (and, thus, their ability to remain users/customers of LL) is “here today, gone tomorrow”.
Second, SL has been plagued with technical issues and shortcomings that have even limited the platform’s creative potential – from the “good ol’ days of 2006-2007 when two or three days a week the service was unavailable while the Lindens were “banging on things”, I can remember lots of problems, among them the dreaded and persistent (until now) region crossing problems, the klutzy “invisiprims” for shoes and the fact that, back in 2007, when you edited a prim that was already linked to other prims, it became phantom – oh, the times I fell through floors back then… Add to that the lack of any kind of coordination regarding the types of 3D objects that the platform can handle and its in-world creative tools can create, combined with the fact that some vociferous content creators, simply because they use external 3d graphics suites, exert pressure to prevent LL from strengthening its in-world build tools, and you have put shackles on the platform’s feet. With the in-world build tools, you can’t make chamfered prims, you can’t have extrusions, you can’t make sculpts, you can’t make mesh objects, you can’t make polygons and there’s no such facility that will do calculations for you in the case you want to place prims at odd angles (and don’t get me started on the horrible texture distortion you get when you try to make a pyramid or a trapeze).
Third, because LL doesn’t know what SL is, it doesn’t know what its customers (userbase) are, what services to offer them, how to handle their complaints and how to handle abuse. I could be wrong, but I get the impression that Philip Rosedale thought that SL would be some sort of extremely laissez-faire country, with minimal “governance” on behalf of LL. Normally, that would be a Randroid’s dream; but there are a few problems with this concept.
- Second Life is NOT a country
- Lack of governance leads to a Mad Max-style dystopia
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