Crisis? What crisis?

I was at soror Nishi’s “No tier, no tears” party a couple of nights ago (she gave up her land in SL; see above), when Botgirl asked me, “Lalo, when are you going to give up blogging about virtual archeology and get back to crisis-of-the-day stuff?”

Well… First of all, I’m not even halfway through the task I set out for myself. 20 sims down, with 27 more to go. But this is how I answered: “Maybe when one of the crises means something to me :P”

What’s the latest?

Apparently, that POS Viewer 2 has been given someone’s imprimatur and is now The Official Linden Lab Viewer 2.1 — as if anyone who created an account after 2.0 beta was unveiled has been given a choice. I won’t touch it with a 10-meter prim, even if they’ve fixed everything I objected to about it. So… no crisis there, not for me.

Snickers Snook hit the bullseye about SL Marketplace (beta) in her blog. She makes two basic points, with a great deal of impact and clarity: (1) Marketplace sucks; (2) It sucks because of the attitudes of the Lindens who were in charge of it: arrogant dismissal of genuine user concerns.

Why, that’s the same reason Viewer 2 still sucks! Anyone surprised?

And yes, it’s true that a month ago most of the arrogant dismissives were themselves dismissed. I didn’t keep score, and since I didn’t know any of them, I didn’t visit that quasi-maudlin graveyard Codie Redgrave set up. Couldn’t tell you if Pink and Colossal failureus, who Snickers blames for the Marketplace, are still clocking in on Battery Street.. I was too busy dancing with glee at the demise of M and T, the two most arrogant and dismissive of the whole bunch.

Oh, yeah, and something about “Burning Life” was announced this week — basically, the event everyone used to make a big deal out of as symbolic of the artistic freedom and party-on nihilism of SL has been cut loose. It’s now entirely up to the Residents whether they want to hold it, and if so, on whose land. ~ yawn ~ Good luck with that, folks. Just another lag-fest like “SL_B” I’ll be not going to, if it goes ahead at all.

Speaking of Botgirl… There’s been an excellent exchange of views in the Comments to her blog post “Why Cost Isn’t the Reason for Second Life Land and Population Woes” which is a reply to Darius Gothly’s “Changes in the Virtual Land Market in Second Life”. Darius postulates that land cost is a significant factor in retention of Residents — i.e., convincing them to stick around — and proposes a two-tier (pun intended) pricing system based on a reworking of the so-called Homestead region. That is: create a class of residence-only sim where commercial transactions (payments) are disabled server-side, and charge less for them than for sims where payments are enabled… like residential and commercial zoning in the physical world. Botgirl points out that mere economics are not the only consideration, and speaks of value of a more intangible sort.

We’ll get back to that…

Meanwhile, back at the ranch — Word’s out today that presumptive messiah Philip and some complete unknown “BK” (cue the burger jokes) are gonna have a meetin’ this Friday! (Yeah, I’m channeling MPoster Linden, bless his pointed li’l font). Attendees to be chosen randomly from among those who apply, it says here… how much drahma you want to bet ensues over who doesn’t get chosen, “randomly” or not.

I’m going to wait until Saturday, read all my favorite bloggers’ opinions, and then read the transcript… but I’m going to predict now: platitudes, buzzwords, lip service, hand-waving, promises which will be unkept… Im Westen, nichts neues.

You see… Linden Lab has well and truly painted themselves into a corner — as Ruina Kessel said in one of her comments to Botgirl’s post — or, to quote Crap Mariner, they’ve violated The First Rule of Holes: When you dig yourself into a hole, stop digging.

I can almost be sympathetic for Philip: the poor bastard has inherited a huge pile of kludges, bad business decisions and intense animosity generated by the guy he helped choose to replace him, and the people that guy hired. Philip is stuck with Viewer 2, and the Marketplace, and Avatars United, and gods-only-know-what-else… and he’s also stuck with a Board of Directors who are not likely to enjoy (to say nothing of permit) what ought to happen: a complete, full-stop abandonment — you know, kinda like what happened to Second Life Enterprise, which boldly went nowhere. No, the Board of Directors of Linden Research, Inc. — which is to say, with emphasis, its investors — are probably damn sick and tired of seeing their money pissed away, and Philip had by-god better make it work.

Philip said, on July 16:

[One] key short term goal is to very rapidly make Viewer 2.x the best and most widely-used Second Life viewer. We are unifying efforts across the lab to make this viewer both the best-performing and the most functionally capable for all different users…

Translation: “We’re going to keep throwing good money after bad.” He also said:

Making content and experience creators more successful is what ultimately drives the growth of Second Life. Optimizing from end-to-end the process of searching for, trying, buying, and using virtual goods will be our first focus here.

And yet Marketplace Beta was released anyway, in spite of it — along with a nearly-useless Search — being the antithesis of that goal.

Philip is also widely reported to have written about how the Lab would work with 30% fewer employees, something along the line of “doing less, better”. (I can’t find a primary source — maybe one of you has a link?) I’ve heard that before, in non-virtual business; too often, I’m sorry to say. It is the unmistakable sign of corporate management in financial trouble. It always immediately follows a staff reduction, and it heralds a period where the remaining staff is overworked to the burnout point, followed by another big layoff while the accountants pick over the bones, sell what they can and close up for good and all.

Am I predicting that will happen to Linden Lab and their sole product, Second Life? No doomsayer, I… Will I be surprised if it does happen, maybe even before the end of this year? Sadly, no. There’s a cumulative effect to “doing less, better”: eventually you learn to do nothing, perfectly.

Now let’s talk about Retention… which, unsurprisingly, brings us around to the beginning of this post, and soror’s tier-burning party. Most of the time, when people talk abut retention they also use phrases like “first hour experience” and “learning curve”. They’re talking about getting noobs to log in more than once; real noobs, not alts, not bots, not throwaway griefer avs out to get banned for the lulz.

Just today, as it happens, Tyche Shepherd noted that SL will sign up its 20 millionth account some time within the next three days (based on recent average rates). That’s 20 million total accounts created over the life of SL, beginning with Steller Sunshine on March 13, 2002. It doesn’t subtract any of the ones that have been canceled by their owners or banned by the Lab; neither does it subtract alts, bots, or people who just stopped logging in after a while (among whom are Charter Members whose builds still stand on land they never have to pay tier on).

20 million… of whom, about 1.4 million (~ 7%) have logged in at least once in the last 60 days — which means, to me at least, SL has lost 93% of everyone who ever signed up.

Long-term retention is usually not addressed at all. Granted, people leave SL for lots of reasons, most having to do with changes in their organic situation. Economics is definitely among those, especially in the last two years or so, but not the only one. Arminasx Saiman mused on the topic last November and December, and even proposed:

Without a defined requirement to stay, people tend to maintain interest in volunteer or hobby activities for a length of time between 18 to 30 months.

There seems to be some evidence of general loss of interest over time, even if nothing else changes. However, the level of frustration should be considered as seriously for the long-time Residents as it is for the new ones. The difference is: for the noob, it’s frustration with how things work; with the midbies and oldbies, it’s frustration with why some things still don’t work, and why other things (Search and Events, for example) no longer work when they once did. In short, the noobs are frustrated with the world; the long-timers, with the Lab. The cost of land is just another straw on the camel’s back; witness the removal of Victoriana’s 13 sims in March, or Ener Hax’s dissolution of her holdings last winter. After a while, it just stops making sense to keep paying for the privilege of being shat upon.

The irony in all of this: The most comprehensive thing Linden Lab can do to retain active members at both ends of the age scale is to stop acting like Linden Lab.

Ain’t gonna happen.

So, what about soror — is she now also among “the Unretained”? No more so than I will be come December, when my annually-paid Premium membership comes due for renewal and I don’t renew it, and abandon that home in Tehama I blogged about last time. She has a new home in another grid now, as do I… which doesn’t mean either one of us is going to stop visiting, staying connected, or blogging about Second Life.

Crisis? What crisis? Not in InWorldz….

.

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23 responses to “Crisis? What crisis?

  1. …and a Very Well Known ex-Linden is popping over to IW too…:))…

    I used to do a little share-dealing back when I enjoyed adrenaline and not sleeping….and the secret is always knowing when to sell, reading the signs….

  2. Thank you, ELQ!

    For the cut/paste impaired, here's a hyperlink: the “doing less better” phrase comes from Philip's announcement about the ex-Burning Man in the SL Blog.

    @soror: I certainly hope introductions will occur when you, I, and that V.W.K.ex-L are all inworld(z) at the same time :)

  3. I find myself quoting The First Rule Of Holes a lot when I see what the Lab is digging themselves into.

    “Doing less better” sounds like they've traded in shovels for trowels… but the dig goes on.

    -ls/cm

  4. I'm really looking forward to the big meeting and have sent my email in for the lottery. It would be great if they come up with a credible and clear vision and a concrete plan of action that makes sense. One thing I'll be watching closely is how the Lindens answer hard questions that come their way. Hopefully, there will be frank communication with very little spin. If I was CEO, my primary goal would be to put the last two years behind Linden Lab and create a firm foundation for the restoration of trust and community good-will. Although I like to poke at the Lindens from time to time, I hope Philip can pull off the miracle and turn things around.

  5. @Tateru — I meant to mention above that interim could mean something entirely different than “until we find a permanent replacement”… it could also mean “until we permanently close the place.”

    @Botgirl — I hope my expectations of Friday's meetin' turn out to be incorrect. The bar has been set so low in the last two years, it would be difficult for Phil and BK not to clear it.

  6. 10 AM SLT/PDT? I'll be at work in RL. Lottery or not, us EST coasters won't be able to attend, nor Europeans or Asians I gather. There is no time that could fit everyone, I know, but what's wrong with 5 or 6 PM SLT? It wold have given a broader audience an opportunity.

  7. @Graine: Actually, the European timezones are favored, in a way — 10am PDT = 6pm British Summer Time; 7pm in western Europe. Asia and Oceania are, however, out of luck: it will be 1am Saturday in Tokyo, 5am in Auckland.

    Still in all, personal attendance at the event will make no difference in its outcome (which is why, in spite of my availability, I'm avoiding it) … and even if they hold it at the corners of four adjacent sims, only 158 avvies in addition to P & BK could be there.

  8. Good post! And glad you're still mostly doing the other kind. :) My main reaction to the various crises not effecting me is to not write about them at all, or even think about them much, and just continue to enjoy SL. (And inworldz, and The Sims 3, and WoW, and the new kitten, and…) Which means I guess that I am being lazy and letting the rest of y'all worry about the Big Issues for me! :)

  9. That's a great article, Lalo. Insightful, witty and unfortunately all too accurate. It's telling (pun intended) how the attitudes of long-time SL veterans (I'm a “rookie” in that world with only 3.5 years) seem to be shifting from frustration (which can be overcome given a shift in LL attitudes) to apathy (which is much more dangerous to SL). Somehow it feels appropriate for LL to change the MOTD on login to “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”, and many of us are looking elsewhere now, for anything more reasonable than Hell. Some of us have found InWorldz, and I have a lot of faith and optimism there, something I haven't had for at least 2 years in SL.

    It's very sad to see the full sim you've worked tirelessly on for almost 4 years, a beautiful home representing years of effort and tens of thousands of US$… it's very sad to come to the realization that it's time to let it go, and start all over again. I think there's a unfortunately-common feeling that the Lindens have now pushed SL to the point where it cannot be repaired. Perhaps some billionaire will come along and buy it up, assign the work to new folks with the right attitudes, and it will all be saved. But for me, I don't believe in lottos, and I won't be entering the latest Linden one. I don't care anymore. It's sad… but I really don't. Linden Labs did this to me. And if feels so unnecessary.

    Now it feels like it's no longer a matter of if SL will survive, but how long they can stretch it out before it's officially gone. It was good for a while there, when the goal was to provide a place for everything — an experimental world of contact with others, art, love, entertainment, social interaction, and sometimes yes even RL business. That last one didn't catch on much, but the Lindens are still trying to force SL into that one little hole, and the rest of the things SL *was* good at have all suffered. No one wants to jump into that hole with them though, and yet they keep digging it deeper. For those of us ready to move on, I hope we can all find that new home we need. Personally, I can no longer invest any time, energy, or money into SL. But for those wanting to stick it out and try to show LL the way out, I truly wish them a lot of luck. I do hope it works out for you.

  10. That's a great article, Lalo. Insightful, witty and unfortunately all too accurate. It's telling (pun intended) how the attitudes of long-time SL veterans (I'm a “rookie” in that world with only 3.5 years) seem to be shifting from frustration (which can be overcome given a shift in LL attitudes) to apathy (which is much more dangerous to SL). Somehow it feels appropriate for LL to change the MOTD on login to “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”, and many of us are looking elsewhere now, for anything more reasonable than Hell. Some of us have found InWorldz, and I have a lot of faith and optimism there, something I haven't had for at least 2 years in SL.

    Personally, I can no longer invest any time, energy, or money into SL. But for those wanting to stick it out and try to show LL the way out, I truly wish them a lot of luck. I do hope it works out for you.

  11. dang, this is so well written and, imo, a very valid point of view (nay, it is reality)

    crapped upon does sum it up – that is how i felt (i know i can be self-centered, but that's the only center i know)

    was it too much to just be acknowledged? i did not want anyone at Linden to say “omg, that Ener Hax is soo incredible”, all i wanted was a nod

    heck, i was even a Mentor – how stupid was that?

    pay LL $3000 a month, volunteer about 2 hours a week as a Mentor, and not even get a “hai Ener” from M on Twitter? just once?

    that was one thing but the policy changes were killing the estate and taking more and more of my time (i ran the estate alone with as many as 101 tenants, not counting their partners, so . . . )

    i truly loved SL, i mean i really thought it was incredible, sheesh, i blog daily and have nearly 10,000 pics up, most from SL!

    i still naively like what SL “could” become, but my heart is too broken and i can't see ever returning to it

    it's been almost 6 months since i logged in and i do miss some really wonderful people but, alas *huge sigh irl*, as you said, i was tired of feeling pooped upon

  12. @Dale: *grin* Thanks, and yeah… It was one of those “this is why these things don't bother me”… except that they do.

    BTW – you're in InWorldz? Look me up, please.

    @Jim: So far I only “know” you from the IWz forum. We should fix that.

    @Ener: *hands you a hankie and a hug* Yeah…

  13. What, you think I'm posting *cat pictures*? Well, besides

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceoln/4836333352/

    that is? Never! :)

    I dunno, for all the stupid things LL does, and all the things there are to complain about, I was just over in InWorldz (I sent you a friending, Lalo, I think!), and I made a nonphysical boat, and every time I cross a sim boundary, well… might as well log out. I will post a bug on the forums, but despite it all I haven't seen anyone do VWs with UGC anywhere near as well as LL does, for all the annoyances.

  14. Leaving hobbies after 18-30 months? It may be my general geekiness, but I started playing RPGs (paper and dice) in the late 70s and am still wasting time doing so. Model airplanes? Been at it 40+ years.

    They are still immersive activities.

    Or my attention span is not typical. We just live in dumb times, I reckon.

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