Raising the Walls

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear…

The occasion was SL7B, June 2010, when Philip (Linden) Rosedale, founder and Chief Ineffectual Figurehead of Linden Lab, gave not one but two speeches — partially because Mark (M Linden) Kingdon was simultaneously being shown the door.

From the transcript of Speech #1:

Second Life is this wonderful, beautiful city — once you’re in it and you’re having this amazing immersive experience, you’re just totally blown away by it. But the city itself is surrounded by huge walls and a moat. It’s like a medieval city. To actually get into it you have to invest an enormous amount of time and energy getting across that moat, and over the walls, and into this amazing new world of people inside that are waiting inside. And I think that in our excitement about the success of Second Life — in its amazing initial growth and the amazing things that you guys have done and that we’ve done together — we were getting ahead of ourselves a bit as a company and this is what we really talked about in this restructuring. We were building these sort of rickety — we were in many cases building these bridges and scaffoldings that sought to get different types of people across that moat and over those walls, whether we’re talking about international Residents, or the community welcome areas, or enterprise or education users — we’ve been sort of building these little, thin bridges that try and quickly get everybody kind of over that wall and into Second Life. And of course, you can understand why we’d do that, because it’s just so fantastic an experience once we can get people there.

But I think what we have to do — what I know is the kind of thinking that’s informing our planning process going forward — is ask whether instead we can stop doing those many, many peripheral, highly usage-specific things to get people in here — and instead just take a step back, look at the basic problems that we are all faced by, and by fixing them, fill the moat. Tear down the walls.

[emphasis added]

Now, fast forward to February of this year, when the Lab changed the Third-Party Viewer (TPV) Policy; specifically, this addition:

2.k : You must not provide any feature that alters the shared experience of the virtual world in any way not provided by or accessible to users of the latest released Linden Lab viewer.

… which basically means, to TPV developers, “If the Linden Viewer can’t do it, yours isn’t allowed to.” It also means “If the Lab decides to discontinue a pre-existing function, you TPV’ers must also cease offering it.” The first, immediately noticeable effect of the change was the permanent breaking of viewer tags — i.e., in a gathering of avatars you can no longer see, either by text or color-code, how few people are using the Linden viewer versus how many are using which TPV.

Since they couldn’t make it better, they made it impossible to see how many avvies had voted with their pixel feet.

Finally, we come to the Lab’s decision this week to remove the “-loginURI” function from (currently) development versions (and eventually, official release versions) of the Linden viewer. As analyzed and explained in understandable terms by Maria Korolov of Hypergrid Business, this simply means that the common user who has a presence in SL and any of the OpenSimulator worlds will not be able to use the official Linden viewer to access both.

(According to Oz “Mr Personality” Linden, it has something to do with the sub-license(s?) that grants permission to SL to use the Havok physics engine, which permission is not transferable to other grids.)

BFD, right?

Chances are, if you’re one of those thousands of avatars who visit SL and OS worlds, you use a third-party viewer anyway. Perhaps you use the same TPV for both… or perhaps, as in my own limited case, you use something like Firestorm for SL and something like Imprudence for anywhere else (see the remarks from Christa Lopes quoted in Maria’s blog).

I, for one, would love to have a single viewer that I can use in all worlds I visit – but it seems now that my habit of keeping two different TPVs on my desktop is going to be “the wave of the future” for all Transworlders, because of that SL policy change quoted above. To put it another way: soon, TPV developers will have to address the same decision the Phoenix/Firestorm group already have made: fork the viewer code into one that works in SL only, and one that works everywhere else but SL.

What all this boils down to is what Feline Slade said last month in her blog: “We are not the Customers the Lab wants.”

The Lab wants customers who blithely spend way too much money for pixel land they don’t really own, and for the “limited licenses” called “Linden dollars” to obtain virtual goods that neither the buyers nor sellers really own; customers who remain blissfully unaware that there are other virtual worlds Out There. The Lab cannot best their competition, so they remove any possible mention of it, including the ability to use their in-house viewer to get there.

Granted, everyone stopped listening to Philip years ago — his own employees as well as “his” Residents — but its obvious no walls are being torn down. They’re being built ever higher.

Soon, you’ll attain the stability you strive for, in the only way that it’s granted: in a place among the fossils of our time.

— “Crown of Creation”, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick (after John Wyndham)


So, where were we…?

Oh, right… SL9B.

Do you suppose whatever subgroup of LL employees came to that decision did so to deliberately spite  the Resis? “They bitch about everything we do anyway — it’s too little, it’s too late, it’s too restrictive — so fuck ’em. They want a party, let them make their own.”

Forgetting, of course, that we have, since at least SL3B (thank you, Tateru). All they provided was server space for a month – a.k.a. sims to build on. Which reminds me, it’s probably time for another informal survey of the World Map to check on how many redundant, discontinued, and otherwise superfluous regions they keep running while pulling the megaprim rug out from under their own Birthday.

It’s not like they have any pride in how old Second Life is, after all. They might even be a tad embarrassed about how little improvement they have to show for the years they’ve existed… and they should  be, even without factoring in the cyclical blunder that Marketplace has become, or the money and time thrown away during M’s years on shiny like SLEnterprise.

“We’re the oldest virtual world of our kind, and some shit’s still  broken.” is not gonna be a winning ad campaign…

What if, in “reverse spite”, no one hosts a SL9B event? Is that a fitting gesture, or playing into their hands?

A couple of weeks ago, Ghosty Kips posted this blog: “It’s Time for Rodvik To Go”. Definitely worth the read – I’ll wait…

.. and I agree that, as CEO of the company who own and operate Second Life, Mr Humble bears responsibility for the operation. But, as the commenters pointed out, he takes his orders from the Owners.

I’ll add this: Notwithstanding what personnel changes have occurred in the past year and a quarter, the so-called corporate culture of Linden Lab remains firmly entrenched in those M years, consisting of one part Disdain and two parts Inertia, with a dollop of Ineptitude.

Whether suppressed from above or stonewalled from below (I strongly suspect both), Rod Humble is merely one man against institutionalized modes of thought and (in)action. It’s not a job I’d be looking forward to arriving at on a Monday morning.


Going Nonconcurrent

A little heat, and less light, was generated this past week by a fluff piece in GamesIndustry.biz — ostensibly an interview with Linden Lab’s CEO Rod Humble and Emily Short, founder of LittleTextPeople (which gaming company LL recently nommed); ostensibly about “one of three new Linden Lab products to be announced this year”.

Yes, I know — and agree! — that the Lab should be fixing what’s broken in the product they’ve had for ten full years (Steller Sunshine’s 10th Rezday was 13 March, as, reportedly, was Philip “Who?” Rosedale-Linden’s). Maybe they will… and maybe the horse will learn to sing. Regardless, it may also be a rare-for-the-Lab example of business sense to build new baskets to put some of their eggs in: products which aren’t mired in 10 years of legacy code, patches upon patches upon patches, and which might attract the kind of users who need their hand (or paw) held more than Second Life provides; products which are more ~ahem~ game-like.

Most of the talk about that “article” on my Twitterstream, however, was about the new signup statistics Rod dropped into the middle of it:

“We managed to grow the new users significantly: they bumped up by well in excess of 40 per cent, and over the holiday period we had over 20,000 new people sign up a day. Now, that’s not Facebook numbers, but 20,000 a day…. that’s a lot, right?”

… coupled with an observation I first saw made by Botgirl: concurrency has not gone up as a result of the noob surge. The best source I know for those statistics is a pair of ancillary pages at Tateru Nino’s blog, Dwell On It. Let’s have a look:

First thing we notice is a natural rise and fall of concurrency vs time of day, as “prime-time” hours for most users creep westward across the face of the planet. I think it’s safe to assume that reported times are in SLT, a.k.a. Pacific; the peaks centered on 1600 hours reflect the Western Hemisphere membership (4 pm Pacific = 7pm Eastern, right after dinner) coming online as the Europeans begin to say good night (1600 PST = midnight GMT).  This, along with the changes in slope of the curve at different times, illustrates that median concurrency is the best number to look at, as it takes in the entire planet without respect to timezones… and Tateru has a number of different visualizations to aid us.

That’s an interesting one: median concurrency by day over the past year. You can even see the lack of logins on Christmas Day — but the feature I want to emphasize is that, in the last year, only twice has median daily concurrency reached 54,000.

Tateru also has, on the page labeled “(testing)”, longer-term looks at concurrency that span 6 years — three of them, at various grades of analysis (day/week/month). Here’s the weekly:

Notice that the center of the median band hovers at around 40,000, and has done so for approxmately two years. It had already slid down to that level from the all-time peak (around January 2009), when I mentioned it in July, 2010.

Now let’s look at those signup numbers. Rod was correct that the “20,000 per day” occurred during December 2011 — a qualification that seems to have been lost in the Twittersauce, so to speak:

And there was another spike right around Hallowe’en, but look how they’ve fallen off since. Vampires are sooooo last year…

One more graph from Tateru — total sign-ups over the last six months:

A fairly steady increase from ~25.5 million on October 1, 2011, to ~28.25 million on March 1, 2012; the bump in October/December is barely noticable at that scale. For the sake of keeping the math simple, let’s call it 3 million over six months, or 500,000 new accounts per month.

And yet, concurrency hasn’t moved much either way from 40,000 in the last two years or more.

Where are those new avatars???

Most of them, probably, are brand-new accounts frustrated with the complications of navigating inworld, or disappointed with the results of whatever enticed them to join, or who just don’t find Second Life to their liking once they’ve been there. So much for the alleged improvements in the New User Experience…

Some of them are probably alts of established Residents, created for any number of reasons: replacements for Resi’s who felt the need for a fresh start with a new persona; mannequins for clothing designers who need an opposite gender to try on new creations; “downline” for pyramid-scheme games like Bloodlines and Tiny Empires; RP characters kept separate from the “main”; or just for fun… Some of them might be “scripted agents”, the Lab’s euphemism for “bots”.

Some might be replacing me, and others like me: people whose priorities have changed, and don’t log in as often, or for as long, as they used to; people who have moved partially or totally to other grids; people who (unlike me) have ceased logging in altogether: avatars who have “gone nonconcurrent”.

Bottom line: The rate of replacement has done no better than equal the rate of attrition, with no change in total numbers of avatars inworld at a given time, for two years and more.

Is it possible that the niche market that is Second Life has been saturated? If so, it’s a good thing for the Lab’s investors — who, after all, are still looking for ROI — that Linden Lab is developing new products for different audiences. The audience they have now isn’t growing.