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

Manthorpe reports that Second Life’s player population has dropped from its plateau a few years ago of about a million to half that more recently. He then says a more hardware-intensive VR platform such as Philip Rosedale’s “High Fidelity” or Linden Lab’s Second Life spin-off “Project Sansar” will attract more players. Over six and a half continuous years in Second Life have shown me no evidence for that being true.

The Wired UK article says “The game still has a sizeable community and a GDP of “half a billion”. ” That estimate may be conservative. Most people in Second Life have at least US$120 a year invested either in cash payments of US$9.95/month for Premium Member status, rent of property from Second Lifers who invest in Second Life property to rent it to others, or virtual objects such as clothing, weapons, art or vehicles they’ve purchased.

The SLers who are the main reason Second Life can claim to be “The Largest-Ever 3D Virtual World Created By Users” must pay from US$150 to over US$270 a month for tier (the SL version of ‘ground rent’ or ‘property tax’) to make Second Life the “Largest-Ever 3D Virtual World Created by Users).  In-world purchases of virtual goods and services from other Second Lifers make up the rest of Second Life’s ‘gross domestic product’.

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.”

As a content creator in Second Life, I can testify that what’s too damned difficult is finding US$150 to over US$270 a month to make Second Life the “Largest-Ever 3D Virtual World Created by Users”.

When were we, the customers, ever asked if we were okay with the money we give Second Life to maintain the virtual world being diverted to create another world most of us can’t afford the computers to play?  Trust me, the price of admission to Sansar in the expensive hardware you need to play it, and the lag and other issues not addressed by Linden Lab are going to lose Second Life more players than not being able to pull “quality content” out of a dark, smelly place.

Tier’s hard to pay, yet SLers willingly pay it to make content for other Second Life players. Sansar’s yet to make a dime for Linden Labs and wouldn’t run on my quad-core laptop past the splash screen. The Wired UK article reports that Second Life’s management funds Project Sansar comes from money Second Life’s customers pay into that world. That money could pay for the staff and hardware needed to reduce server latency (“lag”) – which slows down play in Second Life.

As I write this, lag’s worse than it’s been in the last few years, and living a Second Life is much more frustrating than it has to be. Large sims with lots of content such as my role-playing home Araxes have to be reset almost daily because of weird issues with avatars rezzing hundreds of meters (in game) from their actual locations and other weirdness. The future of Second Life seems to be lag in 2-D or lag in 3-D.

Why’d Philip Rosedale start a new virtual world when he created Second Life? According to the Wired article, Rosedale saw from studies of his users’ demographics what the people who stayed had in common: “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.”

Why didn’t Second Life target their advertising more aggressively to the millions worldwide who fit the user analytic profiles he’d identified and make Second Life’s user interface closer to Utherverse’s much easier one?

Second Life’s current CEO Ebbe Altberg (AKA “Ebbe Linden”) told Wired UK “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?”

Second Life’s open-source nature saved it from losing players to the user-unfriendly nature of its own Second Life Viewer. I couldn’t have selected the viewer that most suits me from a wide variety which wouldn’t exist, but for SL’s open source nature.  I chose Phoenix Viewer because SL Viewer’s interface wasn’t easy enough to use, 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 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. They seem to chase the same market demographic – the players in MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft.

The goal Altberg claims of “democratizing content creation” probably means Linden Lab will define exactly what the people in the new Second Life can create – democratizing content creation by reducing the scope and breadth of things the customers in the new Second Life can create. We’d have all the different kinds of “quality content” players in World of Warcraft enjoy – fewer than we do now.

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).

What Second Life does Ebbe Altberg 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). Most fashionistas would be lost without being able to resize and edit prims on their avatars’ costumes.  

Second Life tells customers that it’s “The Largest-Ever 3D Virtual World Created By Users”, but tells reporters “Most people are just consumers of experiences as opposed to creators”. I’ll be charitable and call that “cognitive dissonance”.

By publicly dismissing the way Second Lifers use SL, but taking their money for other projects and neglecting the paying customers, Second Life and Linden Labs may find out how many SL players will move to whatever Sansar becomes, instead of going to one of the Open Sim grids – where their computers will still work.

Second Lifers don’t need VR goggles, and if they host their own servers to play, it’ll be in the Open Sim grids, which host a wide selection of virtual worlds which play just like Second Life. The money poured into Project Sansar could just have been placed into price reductions to grow the Second Life which brings in the money, and more servers and staff to keep Second Life playable and a world full of wonder.  What’s wrong with a world of wonder, anyway?

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