Virtual land ownership, concurrency statistics and ToS: Mark Twain was right

Yes, yes, I know what you think: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” was first uttered by Benjamin Disraeli – a common misconception, but really it seems that Mark Twain was actually the person responsible for this phrase. Now, let’s talk about the subject at hand. In my previous post, I said that most of the ToS debate amounts to masturbation.

Every so often, certain people tend to pull out concurrency and virtual land ownership statistics and, without even the slightest trace element of evidence, attempt to correlate them to events concerning Second Life (from the Copybot scare to the introduction of the V2 viewer and from the introduction of mesh to the recent ToS change). Incidentally, someone needs to finally learn a few things about history, because his misuse of the term “Draconian” has contributed a lot to my frequent facepalming: This term comes from the Athenian lawgiver Draco, who made liberal use of the death penalty even for insignificant offences. Ergo, this term simply cannot be used to describe LL’s ToS. Over-reaching is a far more accurate term. But I digress.

It is precisely the ToS that I’m going to talk about – again. Someone (I won’t name names, simply to protect the guilty) took the user concurrency statistics from this year, compared them to last year’s and proclaimed that the new ToS didn’t affect SL user concurrency. Well, duh. The new ToS really affects only a certain category of content creators: artists.

The straight dope on concurrency

You know what? Artists are relatively few and their online presence does not really mean much to the total concurrency. Not to mention that artists like the ones that exhibit their works on the LEA sims are very likely to not be in-world that much; they most likely work on their exhibits outside SL, making 3D models in external applications, making mock-ups in OpenSim and then they import this stuff to Second Life.

On the other hand, commercial content creators (apparel designers, furniture and decor designers, etc) are, more often than not, offline, as they spend most of their waking hours working in external applications and then they export their products to Second Life. They often relegate customer care duties to someone else while they focus on the creative side. And even when they’re in-world, they tend to be AFK as they keep working on new products.

So, who is usually in-world? Ordinary people who buy things, go to clubs of all types, visit interesting (and not-so-interesting) regions, take snapshots, socialise, and so on. It’s people of this demographic (or set of demographics) that form the concurrency figures. People like you and me – the everyavatar (a neologism based on the “everyman” and “everywoman” term). People who log in daily or almost daily, meet their friends and/or lovers, explore etc. These people clock in the most online hours and these are the people you are most likely to meet in-world.

Has concurrency declined? Certainly. There was a “Golden Age” circa 2006-2008, when Second Life was being overhyped to death. Ever since then, concurrency figures declined to the vicinity of 50K users (from 80K). And region ownership is on a steady decline. Why? Is it the… ToS? No, of course not. The reasons are entirely different – and I haven’t even touched upon the issue of people making numerous alts which they camped at various clubs and malls throughout the grid.

A few words about the decline of virtual land ownership

First of all, virtual land ownership in Second Life has always been uncompetitive compared to its OpenSim clones, as far as monthly tier is concerned. Linden Lab has significant overheads, it has nearly 200 people on its roster, data centres to maintain, rents servers on outside services and pays for them. Oh, and it also has a Board; investors who, of course, demand their cut of the profits. OpenSim grids are far, far smaller than Linden Lab in every respect. Smaller by at least two orders of magnitude. And they also don’t really do much in the way of R&D – besides reverse-engineering by looking at Linden Lab’s viewer code and guessing what the server-side code must do and be like. I’d be politically incorrect again, but I’d wager that, if Linden Lab ever went the way of the dodo, OpenSim would follow suit in less than six months.

So, I understand why LL’s tier is so damn high, but it’s still too damn high. And here lies a major issue: SL’s users are predominantly middle-class people – like me. And, most likely,  you. After 2008, when the global financial crisis set in, these people started seeing an even sharper drop in their income and buying power. The austerity policies that were imposed on the middle class so that the rich stock exchange gamblers and Ponzi schemers wouldn’t have to deal with the consequences of their irresponsible gambling and fraudulent activities have made many of us unable to continue renting our virtual lands. When you’ve lost your job and need to start using whatever savings you’ve had to make ends meet until you get a new job (which will perhaps give you a lower income than the previous one, sans social security this time), Second Life simply ceases being a priority.

So, in a nutshell: When the crisis hit the US in 2008, American users started bailing, because they could no longer afford renting LL’s expensive virtual land. After 2009 (and things became much worse since 2010), when the crisis became evident in Europe, Germany bullied everyone into a pan-European austerity that’s put the continent’s economies in a death spiral, with many pounds of flesh being taken from the South. It’s a downright cesspool, with countries having unemployment nearing 30%. And in this environment, the tier remains as high as it is, and, as Inara Pey has documented, is unlikely to be reduced – perhaps it’s even impossible. People simply can no longer afford to rent virtual land in Second Life, regardless of the ToS.

Abuse of Statistics

It’s always both amusing and annoying when people who don’t understand statistics (or even basic math, for that matter) try to “marry” events in a cause-and-effect relationship, while ignoring the technological, fiscal, even social context within these events take place. The problem is that, in their attempt to drive up their page views and ad-driven income, they “offer” posts that are, at the very least, entirely devoid of useful and accurate information. Things become a lot worse when such posts end up misinforming and misleading their readers. In which case, these posts end up being a bunch of lies – regardless of whether this is their author’s intention or not. Of course, we all make our choices and we should choose our sources accordingly.




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9 thoughts on “Virtual land ownership, concurrency statistics and ToS: Mark Twain was right

  1. I knew there was a chance that someday I would read of the global financial meltdown and sudden-ish drop in private regions in SL, but my hopes were fading as post after post and twice yearly count continued to show 2008 as the turning point and no one said hmmm, 2008 now what was the big deal about 2008…

    My 2 cents is: I think the appearance of a steady decline in private land ownership is partly improved technology .. in this case sculpties. I think many people who like having land to play house with or whatever can get greater satisfaction and more stuff on smaller parcels based on lower land impact stuff than us old timers had. (I know sculpties hit the grid earlier – in 2007, but it’s not until their use becomes widespread and oblong sculpties make multi sub sculpt style objects possible that you see a real difference in prim counts. when the one prim gazebo goes into production and land cost remains the same, makes sense that land use would decline, no?

    OK here’s a question that I never see anyone else tackle either. We keep saying that demand for land declined and ownership of private land makes this clear, but do we know if fewer people either in aggregate or per capita own/rent land? What I mean is are SL Residents less likely to actually reside some place than they were before, or has that remained constant and SL residences are simply more modest affairs.

    Do you know Mona if those stats are laying around some place? Is there less demand for land because fewer people are demanding land at all, or has demand declined because people are getting by with less land?

  2. It’s true that techniques that lower LI can reduce our need for owning more land and I’m sure that homesteads have risen in popularity. As for the stats you seek, I doubt most of them are available. The only source we have is Tyche Shepherd, but her stats (through no fault of hers) are often misinterpreted by pundits. As for the global financial crisis, i ‘m surprised how by the scarcity of analyses that factor it (and the subsequent loss of SL users’ ability to afford and/or justify parting for virtual land) in. SL and OpenSim analysts need to realise that these platforms do not exist in a vacuum and that users’ RL income will play a far greater role in concurrency and virtual land ownership than any change in the ToS ever will. Sadly, far too many pundits opt to pull conclusions out of their arses.

    1. Your graph and the view/perspective it stems from is pure conjecture, and I’m too polite. As for whether SL’s walled garden nature being an obstacle to its growth, that’s hogwash. Why haven’t we seen any deceleration in the ecosystem of Microsoft’s office suite, which is a walled garden too? Or in the growth of Autodesk’s walled garden named AutoCAD?

      1. Wrong.

        AutoCAD is not a Walled Garden. It is not closed platform. Neither is Microsoft Office.

        In fact, the files made by those software programs can be exchanged freely with all the other types of CAD and word processors. Yes, exchanged freely. That is Free as in Freedom, as opposed to free as in beer.

        -Lani Global

        1. You really don’t even understand what a closed platform is.

          All proprietary applications and formats are by definition “walled gardens”, because the companies that have created them have complete control over them.

          Have you tried importing a long .docx document in or LibreOffice Writer? It’s obvious that you haven’t – the import/export filters are the product of reverse engineering; Microsoft has not licensed either the Apache Foundation (and Oracle before it) or The Document Foundation and has not given them the know-how for correctly importing documents of this format.

          Why? Because the .docx and .xlsx formats are wholly owned and controlled by Microsoft. So, where’s the freedom you’re talking about?

          Or what about 3DS Max’s own proprietary format? Where’s the freedom? It can’t be imported in Blender. And Autodesk’s .dwg and .dxf format is licensed to other companies only if Autodesk wants. Where’s the freedom?

          Do you even understand what open standards and free and open source software is all about? I highly doubt it.

    2. And there are more reasons why what you say is factually wrong:

      First of all, Second Life has always been a walled garden. From day one. You claim that it became a walled garden in 2010 (and in the past you were saying it became a walled garden in 2008). Do you even understand what a “walled garden” is? It’s a closed platform:

      Besides the ecosystems I’ve already mentioned, Apple’s iOS platform is a walled garden. It’s hugely successful. And don’t tell me that Android isn’t a walled garden – Google has a stranglehold on it and its source is open-but-not-really-open”. Even so, the mobile application market shows that more money is to be made in the iOS walled garden and not so much in Android, because iOS users are more likely actually buy apps, while Android users are more likely to download free – as in free beer – ones.

      Second, 2008 is when the first wave of the global financial crisis hit. Also, it was around that year that the bubble of grid-based virtual worlds started to burst. Of course, you chose to ignore the entire commercial, business, financial and social context within the product named “Second Life” exists completely in order to weave your own little fairy tale. But facts are facts.

  3. lol i dunno Mona, do you really want to dispute really BIG type on top of a graph? i mean it’s a GRAPH for gawd sakes and it says right on it what caused the decline or at least caused SL to stop growing. you can talk facts and semantics all you want, but a graph is a GRAPH.

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