High Fidelity, Sansar, and How Little They Have To Do with Second Lifers.

Manthorpe makes the salient point that Second Life’s player population has dropped from its plateau a few years ago of about a million to half that more recently. That’s very relevant, but he then goes on with what seems to me to be the non sequitur that a more hardware-intensive VR platform will attract more players. No evidence for that being true.

He makes another, more salient point about Second Life, Ebbe Altberg and Project Sansar – “The game still has a sizeable community and a GDP of “half a billion”. ” That estimate of the cash flow through Second Life is conservative; most people who’ve been in Second Life for more than a few years have at least USD100 a year invested in it, between cash payments of USD9.95/month for Premium Member status, much higher payments for tier (essentially ‘ground rent’ or ‘property tax’ people who ‘own’ Second Life land must pay), and in-world purchases of virtual goods and services from other Second Lifers.

Yet, as Manthorpe notes, “Using the proceeds from this “money-generating machine”, Altberg has invested heavily, building the team up to 75, more than a third of Linden Lab’s staff. The moment he committed completely to VR was when he heard that Facebook had bought Oculus. “As soon as that sold, we were just like, Sansar is going to be fricking awesome for VR. We knew that people were going to want to create content in massive quantities – right now it’s too damned difficult.”

When were we, the customers, ever asked if we were okay with this?  Tier’s hard to pay, still, and yet we pay it to make content we and other players can use.  Sansar’s yet to make a dime for Linden Labs (unless, as is rumored, Facebook’s subsidizing Project Sansar and the equivalent project in Utherverse to make Oculus Rift-friendly content).  Second Life’s the only real money-maker in Linden Labs, but no one there’s asked us if we’re happy to pay the high tiers we do and our Premium Memberships, only to have resources shifted to things that don’t benefit us.

High Fidelity, by comparison, has to consider its users – because each one is helping host the system by downloading the world’s “Sandbox” software, then putting his or her computer online as a file server for High Fidelity.

Manthorpe apparently doesn’t care for High Fidelity’s collaborative anarchy… “But openness comes at a price. High Fidelity’s meeting is being held on the Playa, a Burning Man homage littered with shipping containers and neon signs, including one reading “Rosedale”. It is very artful, but amid the intentional mess are signs of genuine disarray. One user is running a script that summons ghosts to float across the sand. Another has added a herd of cows to the plains. Like Second Life before it, High Fidelity is distinctly strange.”

Your point is, Mr. Manthorpe?  “Strange” is what most of us in Second Life show up for. We like the fact that almost no matter our inner desires and intellectual gifts, we can – and do – find kindred spirits inworld.  I can let my inner physician come out, and find people who enjoy playing the role of my patients – even in fantastic settings as my current RP home, Araxes.

Unfortunately, as Manthorpe reveals to us, this wasn’t good enough for Mr. Rosedale. “When Second Life stopped growing, Rosedale could see from the user analytics what the people who stayed had in common. “There was something about them,” he says. “The one thing they all had was a huge amount of time to invest in it.” Second Life was a retreat for escapists, an outlet for pent-up creativity – a place, as Rosedale once put it, for “smart people in rural areas, the disabled, people looking for companionship”. But for less motivated visitors with limited time, it was hard, confusing and alienating.”

Philip Rosedale’s comments on us remnant half a million Second Lifers are valid to a point – many of us indulge in escape from more stressful First Lives, from physical challenges, social isolation and loneliness, some of us come as well to create – to indulge our creative impulses, and create worlds that never were and may not ever be.

Rosedale says those things as though they were something wrong.

He might have realized just what he had when he ran Second Life – a virtual world that, even when disposable incomes contracted sharply, half a million people came, spent money, bought Linden Homes and even more expensive tiered land to make a new world.

Why didn’t SL advertise more aggressively to the millions worldwide who fit the user analytic profiles he’d identified, and actively make it more accessible to them, and shift Second Life’s user interface closer to Utherverse’s easier one?

Mr. Altberg (AKA “Ebbe Linden”) also doesn’t “get” those of us who pay his salary, or he wouldn’t have told Manthorpe “You will have the freedom people, the anarchists, whoever, who will say I want 100 per cent control and it should be open,” he says. “Then you will have the vast majority of users that obviously don’t give a shit – because how many billions of them are on Facebook every day?”

Actually Second Life’s almost entirely open-source nature’s great.  It lets me select the viewer that most suits me from a wide variety which wouldn’t exist but for SL’s open source nature.  I went with Phoenix Viewer because SL Viewer’s interface wasn’t friendly, and stayed with that team all through the roll-out of Firestorm (has it really been years?).

Rosedale and Altberg seem to think they can find whole different kinds of players as willing to spend the money we now do inworld, and even more on the bigger, faster computers we’ll need to even do that.

According to Altberg, “Most people are just consumers of experiences as opposed to creators,” he says. “It’s the same in VR as it is in any other medium, especially when you come to creating quality content.” (the boldfacing is mine).

Excuse me?  What Second Life does he live in?  Almost everyone I know in SL knows the rudiments of building, because it’s either that or get a designer to adapt a prim or build you own to your exact needs (and it’s not always free). Let’s say you own a vehicle – boat, car, airplane or spacecraft – and your avatar’s not as tall as most SLers’ is – you really need to reach the controls from your seat, and being able to edit prims by yourself is the best way to do that.

Most fashionistas would be lost without being able to resize and edit prims on their avatars’ costumes.  I’ve helped friends in SL realize how not to have “one size fits all” avatars by using the “Edit Shape” dialog, a very powerful part of SL I hope Project Sansar retains.  Editing your avatar’s a massively liberating feeling -you can make your avatar what you wish – more “body positive” on your terms.  When my avatar got a wider mouth, larger nose, and more matronly curves closer to my own looks, I was surprised to find that what I intended as assertion of my own body image was attractive to others.

Mr. Altberg runs a company which bills itself “The Largest-Ever 3D Virtual World Created By Users”, but he says “Most people are just consumers of experiences as opposed to creators” and in doing so dismisses the people responsible for his company’s advertising tagline not being delirious fiction.

Any experienced Second Lifer wouldn’t discount the extent to which even a player who only owns her avatar and its attachments creates content for everyone she meets in Second Life.

I’d rant on, but you’re probably as tired of reading me do it as I am of contemplating the disconnect from reality that the two big shapers of commercial virtual reality have.

By publicly dismissing us, but taking our money, Second Life and Linden Labs may get a chance to find out just how many SL players will be inclined or able to move to Sansar, instead of (when Altberg kills SL by shifting more and more resources to Sansar) just going to one of the Open Sim grids. And High Fidelity may have real trouble going from its present beta-tester community of 100 to the 500,000 people in Second Life if the price of admission’s a computer that can act as a file server for the High Fidelity community.

SL and its population don’t need VR goggles. The money poured into Project Sansar could simply be placed into price reductions on land tier in the Second Life which brings in the money, so that we who made Second Life home over the years could keep that world full of wonder.  What’s wrong with a world of wonder, anyway?


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