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.
- Lies, damned lies, and statistics – Wikipedia
- Short and Not Sweet At All: The State of the LL ToS Debate (this blog)
- Draco (lawgiver) – Wikipedia
- Coverage of ToS-related issues on this blog
- ToS-related articles by Inara Pey
- SL tier-related articles by Inara Pey