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.
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.
- Today Second Life, tomorrow the world – Philip Rosedale interview to English newspaper “The Guardian”
- Linden Lab’s corporate pipe dream (this blog)
- Famous Last Words – Greg Lake (on Youtube)
- Second Life Grid Survey – by Tyche Shepherd
- SL tier-related articles by Inara Pey
- Just how bad is a 650-region loss? – by Inara Pey
- Hosoi Ichiba moves to Kitely