A real-world explanation of Second Life’s region loss

Linden Lab is the company that everybody who uses its virtual world platform, Second Life, loves to hate. Just have a quick look around the forums and blogs: They’re always rife with whining and conspiracy theories about how it exists only to piss off its customers, “steal their content” etc. Personally, I’ve lost count of all the incidents that have been met with overly dramatic responses from many vocal parts of the user community.

As for the media’s perception of the Lab, Second Life and its users? If you believe the pundits, the Lab is a failed company, Second Life is dead and its (remaining) users are – at best – a mix of maladjusted losers, ranging from perverted zoophiles to /b/tarded script kiddies and from wannabe mall cop/superheroes to obese, basement-dwelling men dressing up their avatars with various versions of the Skank-O-Matic 2000™ uniform.

It all seems so ironic. Back in 2006 and 2007, Linden Lab and  Second Life were the darlings of the media. Even the once quasi-prestigious conservative Greek newspaper “Kathimerini” (which has now reduced itself to Daily Fail levels) ran a big spread on Second Life in the quasi-lifestyle magazine that accompanies its Sunday edition; as a matter of fact, that’s where I first read about Second Life back in September 2006 and started my first account. Second Life was touted as the next big thing. The 3D web; the best place in which to start an account and spend (and also make, if you’re capable enough) money on. His Infallible Holiness Philip Rosedale the Great (pardon my snarky mood, but I’ve never been into personality cults, regardless of whether the deified assholeperson is named Ayn Rand, Steve Jobs, Kim Jong-il or what have you) had dreams of dominating the entire social and creative side of the web – and everyone was playing along with LL’s corporate pipe dream. These days, and with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, all these interviews and statements have attained “Famous Last Words” status.

As Tyche Shepherd documents, SL’s main source of revenue – ownership of virtual land – has been in steady decline for quite a few years now and this trend doesn’t seem to be changing. Privately-owned regions close, one after the other. High-profile regions either close or are forced to downsize. And user concurrency isn’t what it used to be back in the days of yore. Numerous causes have been proposed: the – admittedly – exorbitant tier; the ToS (bullshit); griefers and “anti-griefer” vigilantes; the controversies regarding rogue viewers and their developers; technical issues like the lack of a mesh deformer, or the greatly belated roll-out of SSA which rendered many viewers obsolete and put some users through the “ordeal” of having to update their client software. But really, what role do these factors play in the ongoing region loss? Can they even be considered as factors that come into play?

It’s the economy, stupid

Let’s be blunt here: Of these causes for SL’s chronic region loss problem, only the tier is relevant. All the others are 100%, pure, unadulterated hogwash. Back in 2006, the whole developed world was doing well. We had money that we could spend and still have spare at the end of the month. And if we needed some more, we could get a loan easily. Then, the utterly fabricated crisis started, and governments (which are largely made up of people who are bribed by banksters and other such “distinguished” members of our societies) decided that the irresponsible gamblersinvestors and banksters that caused it all would not have to face the consequences of their profligacy, irresponsibility (and even downright criminal activities), but instead the taxpayers would have to pay. So, our salaries were slashed by at least 20%, we started losing our jobs and most of whatever money we still make goes to “emergency” taxes and levies designed to rescue the irresponsible, narcissistic, spoilt rich brats.

By “we”, I mean the middle class. The much-maligned middle class that everyone loves to hate; the rich brats see us with contempt, the communist parties see us as “bourgeois lackeys of the rich” – yet, it is we that power the entire economy with our financial activity. We work and produce surplus and profit, we spend what we earn to consume what the companies owned by richer persons make – and therefore keep these companies afloat and them in finery. Oh, and mind you: the middle class is part of the working class (unless you’re a wannabe leninist guru with a cushy government job and a salary much higher than that of the idiots that read you).

The problem for Second Life is that its clientele is the middle class. And as the middle class keeps losing its financial strength, fewer of its members will be able to rent virtual land in SL, especially since, as Inara Pey has explained, the tier is simply not going to be reduced anytime soon. She also had mentioned, as early as 2011, the influence of the global financial crisis – a factor that has been again ignored by most “analysts”. At any rate, as more Second Life users lose their RL jobs and RL income, more regions will be dropped. It really is that simple, yet so elusive to so many, because so many people out there think that Second Life exists in a vacuum, isolated from the real world’s economy, and so, for their own reasons, they propose all sorts of eyebrow-raising theories revolving around a non-existent feud between Linden Lab and the still-tiny (in comparison to SL’s user base) OpenSim crowd. This explanation is strengthened even further by Hosoi Ichiba’s recent migration to Kitely from Second Life. You know what reason was cited for this? Cost. Money. Real-world money.

Let’s be pragmatic here: If I want to have a presence in a virtual world and can afford to rent virtual land, I’ll rent it. And, trust me on this, my main criterion will be the infamous “bang for buck”: the combination of technical, social and aspects I’ll be getting for the money I pay. If I can’t afford to rent virtual land, I simply won’t. Occam’s Razor, really. No need for convoluted theories. Can’t afford to buy something and have no way of funding this purchase? Won’t buy. And you know what? Even switching to a much cheaper alternative wouldn’t cut it, because of the far smaller user bases and because, when you’re struggling to make ends meet, you generally aren’t in the mood to log into any virtual world – and you may very well have no time left for this at all, as you’ll be too busy either looking for a job or working two or three jobs to maintain an income that’ll allow you to live. So, dear statistics-abusing pundits, log into the real world, smell the coffee and realise that, in decision-making people simply don’t use the criteria you believe they use because you, with your preconceptions and prejudices, think these criteria to be important to others just because they’re important to you. In a nutshell, stop projecting and assuming. Oh, and stop abusing statistics with your procrustean interpretations in order to speak in our names. Please.

User concurrency

Now let’s tackle user concurrency. To stay in touch with my SL friends, I can choose from various communication and social networking platforms; email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Plurk, you name it. I can get in touch with them anytime I want, even when I’m not on a machine that’s powerful enough to run SL. And also, in stark contrast with the days of yore, content creators nowadays can use external 3D graphics applications to create their products and then import them to Second Life. In 2006, they had to do everything in-world. Now they don’t. They’re usually offline, working in Blender, 3D Studio Max, Maya etc. Then they log in, import the products into SL, tweak scripts and move on to the next project, while an alt or an employee handles customer care.

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Mona

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See also:

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-nY

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10 thoughts on “A real-world explanation of Second Life’s region loss

  1. The state of the economy and the reduction in people’s disposable income is undoubtedly a contributing factor in the fall in region numbers.

    I actually pointed to this being a contributing factor back in September 2011.

    However I would still, as I did back in September 2011, draw a line at describing the recession being “the” reason for the decline in private regions. While its impact has been continuous (and insidious in many respects, particularly with people’s perceptions about tier), there are other factors at work as well. It’s fair to say that even without the global economic recession, these other factors may well have seen land within SL undergo a very natural shrinkage, albeit it not as drastic as has been the case over the last 3+ years.

    Even so, good analysis.

    1. Thank You for Your kind words and for the link You provided. I’m going to add it to the main post. There are some observations here:

      1. The financial factor has been inexplicably ignored by the vast majority of SL & OpenSim pundits. It’s as if our disposable income has remained the same as it was in 2006 or 2007.

      2. A user can become bored of a certain game, service or whatever. My brother (RL) has a shelf full of video games that he played, finished or got bored of, and has never played them again. And I had a few accounts in other, pre-Facebook, social networks (Yahoo!, Pathfinder, MySpace) that I didn’t want to keep. Second Life can be the same for someone: it can be a “phase”, a “fad” in someone’s life and then they can grow out of it – in that case, they’ll leave their virtual land.

      Had the financial crisis not hit us, would SL have avoided losing regions? Your guess is as good as mine. Its (largely unfairly) tarnished reputation and certain marketing and management decisions on behalf of LL make me inclined to say it wouldn’t. But I agree with You that this decline would have been much slower, and I wonder if it might have even been imperceptible.

      1. I totally agree with the fact that the recession has been ignored, don’t get me wrong on that. In fact, I find it amusingly ironic that a certain SL pundit attempted to pooh-pooh my original nod towards the enconomical downturn on his own blog by actually pointing to the very point I was making: other outlets were becoming more attractive because they are “cheaper” (that is: they better suit people’s decreasing levels of disposable income).

        As to whether SL would have lost regions without the recession, that’s perhaps where we perhaps disagree. I’m of a mind that the artificial bubble created in 2008/2009 vis-a-vis land would have deflated over time and led to a very natural contraction in land mass, again for a number of reasons, some of which you’ve touched upon. It just wouldn’t have been anywhere near as drastic or perhaps as prolonged as we’ve witnessed.

        1. Regarding the reduction in post-bubble land mass in a hypothetical recession-free world, I don’t think we disagree; we’re saying pretty much the same thing with slightly different words: Chances are, SL would still lose regions, but probably far fewer than it’s lost. Perhaps this loss could be small enough to give the Lab’s management reasons to ignore them and dismiss them as losses that were due to their service having done its circle in individual people’s lives.

          As to that pundit You mentioned… Well, what can I say besides remark that pundits in general should read James Thurber’s fable “The Scotty Who Knew Too Much” before concocting their theories?

    2. Mona your endless disrespectful statements about other SL users and bloggers has sickened me for the last time. While I don’t agree with many people who are as as intelligent or more intelligent than I am, and while I definitely have concerns about the lack of ability to reason and think clearly by people less educated than I am, I do not feel it is kind, useful, or appropriate to ‘slag them off’ in the manner that you do. You are certainly entitled to disagree and to use your considerable journalistic and analytical skills to explain your reasons for disagreeing. You can certainly legitimately discuss the reasons why you feel that their particular behaviour or manner of publishing their views is detrimental or misguided. However, what you are doing is egotistical and totally abhorrent to me. I will not read any more of it. Too bad that you do not understand how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Everyone has a view which makes sense to them and they will not be convinced to adopt yours, especially if you malign and abuse them verbally or otherwise.

      1. Further to that, I would imagine that there are other readers of your blog who have been disgusted by your constant insults and narcissistic attitudes toward your fellow SL residents. Maybe I’m not the only one who decided that I can do without all this self-important and snobbish haranguing of others in order to get some possible benefit from your insights or analyses. There are people who do not have the education or intellect who are far more ‘people wise’ than you are and who will have much greater impact despite their other short-comings, because they know how to speak and write humanely and considerately. I will read their blogs. You don’t have a monopoly on common sense, intellect, technical expertise or anything else. You only want us to think you have!

        1. First of all, Mathilde, no one forces you to read my blog.

          Second, no one forces you to use Second Life – or any other virtual world or internet-based service, for that matter.

          What is it that insults you, by the way? The fact that I speak about factors that really influence people’s purchases (because usage of SL is a purchase) and put aside all the doomsday/conspiracy theories? Or is it the fact that I sat down to read the ToS and even sat down to read the transcripts of the legal panel?

          You speak of people who “do not have the education or intellect who are far more ‘people wise’ than you are and who will have much greater impact despite their other short-comings, because they know how to speak and write humanely and considerately.” I know exactly what kind of people you’re talking about:

          You’re talking about people who will tell you not what is actually happening, but what you want to hear, who will flatter your fears and manipulate them for their own purposes. The ones who will attribute everything to malice, who come up with conspiracy theories every now and then and have given Second Life and its community an irredeemably bad name. It’s exactly these people and the ones that are willing to believe them that have helped tarnish the reputation of SL’s user base and have helped the media have SL and its users as the default laughing stock.

          If that’s the kind of blogs and commentary you want to read, suit yourself.

          1. I refer not to your choice to read things or convey your understanding of them. I am referring to the continual self-important name-calling that you do. It is disgraceful. I also read and took care to listen carefully. I carefully compared SL TOS with others. I am not running about listening to all sorts of conspiracy theories, etc. and I’m not spending a lot of my time reading blogs such as yours in which people concentrate more on nit picking other bloggers’ statements and calling them names. I have never spent my time in SL saying nasty or hateful things, or putting other people down. That is not the way to win friends or gain influence among right-minded decent people. It will not serve you well. If you read my reply as carefully as you read other people’s blogs and forum posts in order to pick them apart and find rude names to call them, you would have said what I just said in these last few sentences. Take a look inside if you can manage to have a quiet moment. Call yourself a few of those names and see how it feels. Of course no one forces me to read your blog. I am in search of intelligent information. I would have gladly accepted the same from you after examining it for myself if it had not been for your obnoxious delivery style.

  2. Correction to the above: Instead of ‘you would have said’, I meant to type ‘you would have seen that it said’.

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