Second Life is like heroin

Big highs but a few operational complications. In the interests of balance, because I have enthusiastically advocated the use of this platform for business, I’d like to discuss some of Second Life’s flaws.

This is an unstable development and operational environment. The Linden Lab motto is Thanks For Your Patience. As I write this another official message flashes up on my Second Life screen: … operational issues… sorry for the inconvenience. But ‘inconvenience’ is a euphemism. We are talking about major instability that impacts productivity. Regular losses of inventory, spontaneous changes in the properties of your objects (potentially open-sourcing the commercial script you’ve spent months developing), regular crashes, security scares and lag issues.

The forums and blogs are full of vitriol directed at Linden Lab. There are exceptions but generally people blame the management. A recent post by a popular Linden pleaded with users to keep it all in perspective, alluding to damage in staff morale. Is it fair to blame the drug dealer? Nobody says you have to buy heroin…

In the month to November 4th, Second Life grew 43% in logged-on users. Liaison staff are under huge pressure. The in-world Live Help service is unable to cope with the demand. Administration seems to be a mess. 6 weeks ago we applied for a listing in the Developer’s Directory and were told we were accepted. We are talking about a paragraph on a web page. Nothing has been done; heaven knows how many opportunities we have missed *spits*. Did I miss something? I thought the development community were an important part of the equation here.

I have to say something about last month’s great island-pricing fiasco. Linden Lab announced a price hike of almost 50% in island costs, saying basically that they needed to do this for long term profitability. It made a nonsense of previous statements to the effect that the company was on track towards profitability. Evidence really that they didn’t know what their profitability was.

The implementation of the price rise was disastrous. ‘We have 150 islands left at the old price, place an order and if you’re lucky you’ll get it at the old price’. The users’ outrage at the size of the increase and the lack of warning caused a back-down by the company. Now islands bought by November 15th will be at the old price. Rumours were rife that Ansche Chung and the Electric Sheep Company knew of the rise in advance and warehoused islands.

I think you have to assume that the initial pricing decision was made at the highest levels of senior management. The company should understand that a judgement error of this magnitude suggests the processes of management are not working in their present form.

Is there a management philosophy that could cope with out-of-control growth and half a million highly involved users with half a million ideas on what should be done? The starting point for such a philosophy would be to formally survey users before implementing policy changes. Surveys would conducted on a rolling basis and be structured to be representative of the broader community and stakeholders in the policy. The process is more important than the actual decision.

I’ve said before that what distinguishes Second Life from other environments is the level of involvement. The owner of a box of tissues is unlikely to have a close relationship with the manufacturer. The person reading your web page actually doesn’t care that much about your new logo, J Walter Thompson. But people in Second Life are building dreams. The person working a check-out job who has visions of making a full-time living selling virtual jewellery, the person who is conducting a virtual love affair, the person who is building a memorial in Second Life to their recently deceased mother; don’t fuck with those people. The intensity of the relationship people have with this software calls Linden Lab not just to work hard, but develop world-leading management practices that involve and respect their users.

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One Comment

  1. While it is true that server implementation is lagging demand; the opportunities in this world are obvious. With further investment the boundaries between RL and SL can be removed to the point where SL becomes one’s first life.

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