Lively dies, Second Life totters

From the Department of I Told You So, Google’s Lively has got the boot and Second Life continues to lose corporate traction. Reuters and Avastar have abandoned the platform. Quarter three in Second Life saw negative growth.

Business was interested in Second Life because it was a new interface and it was growing quickly. There will be interest again when there is a jump in the user experience or user numbers. Platform stability would also be a bonus. User numbers will grow only when there is a less demanding interface. Any bonehead can use Facebook.

Second Life’s legacy is significant; the compelling experience of virtual sex, the astonishing creativity of user-generated content in architecture and fashion, the rapid bonding powers of anonymous friendship…

It will continue to be interesting for at least two reasons; the education sector’s on-going search for a more engaging remote education experience and the governance issues surrounding virtual world environments as open as this. The most recent uproar in Second Life was over the pricing of certain types of islands, OpenSpace Sims but it is part of a long history of governance failures.

Linden Lab, who run Second Life, have complete authority but the passion of users who invest time in personal creativity and run virtual businesses makes law-making a very tough management task. I’ll never forget my first interaction with a Second Life entrepreneur; FURIOUS that someone had accidentally built over a virtual boundary, costing him (I calculated) around 20 cents an hour in revenue for a small number of hours. He was ready to rip someone’s head off.

The ego and significance that accrues in the virtual environment makes this a fascinating sandbox for modelling real-world decision-making. If LL work out how to make popular decisions in this environment, they will have learned something very valuable.

Photo by Miabella Foxley.

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3 Comments

  1. Linden Labs (LL) needs to work out far more than how to make a decision in world. They need to look in a mirror and decide to make some fundamental shifts in their entire decision making process.

    LL’s land pricing decision amounted to what many perceive as a bait and switch scheme, and it is now costing them hugely as users abandon SL for the far more welcoming OpenLife Grid. According to the latest figure over 795 sims (52.1 million square meters) were given up last month alone in reaction to this policy change. That represents a huge loss in user good will.
    (see http://www.massively.com/2008/11/18/second-life-land-loss-escalates/)

    To me, the telling feature about this episode is that LL blamed the users for needing to raise prices 67%. This follows a long LL tradition of blaming the users.

    In 2005, LL claimed that sims were sponsored on “dedicated servers” . Lag issues were blamed on users. Then it was discovered that in fact , LL sims were stacked per CPU on shared servers.

    In 2006 on issues of in-world theft totaling thousands of dollars, LL did nothing and looked the other way. They did the feigned ignorance rooutine on child pornography and again on gambling, until major governments lowered the boom.

    Now in 2008, on the Openspace decision the rationale presented was that users were “over-stressing” the sims. Yet in the face of that, it turns out there is extensive evidence LL itself caused their own “stress” through a bug in their viewer that causes an ongoing DOS attack on LL servers by every avatar. This takes the form of repeated texture loads of the same texture. The results of this can be verified and measured, yet Linden Labs failed to acknowledge it, and has failed to recalculate their metrics that indicate this “stress.” This is despite the bugs being confirmed by other linden personnel. Users saw that the emperor has no clothes on this issue. And to date, LL has offered no clearly rational reason for sticking to the huge price increase on what was their most successful product. ( See the LL jira issue on texture loading).

    This is not rocket science. Virtual world or not, treating your customers with respect and reverence is simple. If you take care of them, their money will take care of you. If you fail to make your business morally sound and resolutely ethical, you will fail.

    Barring some radical changes at LL, I do not give SL more than a few more years. OpenLife Grid, seems to have a handle on all of these issues. So far, it appears to be resolutely customer focused. When it develops an economy and a few more of the basic tools, it will be ready to take on the big boys at LL. Before long it will eat LL’s lunch. Deservedly so.

  2. Iian, the passion of your response highlights the difficulties trying to manage an environment with such a high level of user engagement. I guess I’m saying that it IS rocket science; nobody has yet worked out how to manage thousands of people who care. Irrespective of the survival of LL, I find this a very interesting experiment in socio-economics.

  3. I don’t think it’s rocket science to realise that great service wins customers and poor service loses them. Nor is it rocket science to realise that business needs stability, not just with the technical measures but in governance as well. LL have been particularly bad in this respect.

    I don’t buy the reasoning that it’s the interface that is holding back the hoards (have you played the latest online games?). No, the fundamental problem that LL has is that they haven’t given more than a handful of the population a reason to embrace virtual worlds. ‘Hey, this is cool!’ just won’t hack it with Joe sixpack and friends. Facebook at least has the ability to hook up with long lost friends. I know that’s why I use it.

    With all their energies seemingly diverted (wrongly imho) to wooing witless corporate customers I seriously doubt that LL will provide that reason any time soon – if ever.

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