It’s not the end of the world as we know it …

But it is starting to feel a little like it.

Alien Isles - closing July 10th
Alien Isles - closing July 10th

Rod Humble was interviewed on Bloomberg West, and he talked with enthusiasm of the financial health of Linden Lab and the health of the user-generated content market. New sign ups are, he says, running at 16,000 a day, and the strides that have been made with usability mean (he implied) that more of those are being retained.  That’s great news – if they are being retained and are not just the one time log-in and vanish.  I think it’s wholly possible that he’s right – the previous stats were so dire that an improvement is definitely possible and – hopefully – achieveable.

The new Truth District shopping sim - a sign of economic health?
The new Truth District shopping sim - a sign of economic health?

Listening to Rod talk, there is a sense that he ‘gets it’ in a way that hasn’t always been the case with Linden Lab.  Certainly in later years (I’m talking since 2007/2008 here – earlier might have been different), Philip seemed unaware of what the residents wanted – perhaps because there  was a cacophony of voices, perhaps because his vision was different from that of the average nesting resident with a home and a circle of friends, who liked to visit and socialise and explore and maybe – in a quiet way – to create.  I always felt that M was brought in with a different agenda – one that was Board driven and not resident driven but that, over time, he became more aware of the resident agenda (he said himself that he was given a forceful awareness by an avatar setting himself on fire over the Homestead issue). Certainly he explored Second Life and began to participate – it was perhaps telling that it was when he had held an inworld art exhibition and was engaged in proposing to set up 70 Linden backed sims for art that he so suddenly disappeared.

But there has always been a sense that Rod has come in with more of a resident’s eye view. He came in here and created. He’s tried out the tools that others have made. He’s built a boat and sailed it. He’s got a house (and hopefully some furniture too – if not, I can recommend some stores).  And he says that Linden Lab is enjoying its best times ever financially, that Second Life is stronger than ever before.  And all this is great, it really is.

Visiting AM Radio's The Far Away - soon to close
Visiting AM Radio's The Far Away - soon to close

So why am I so concerned?

I’m concerned about the number of high quality sims and businesses that are quietly (occasionally noisily) leaving.

One could argue that it was ever thus. Many, many great sims and builds are gone: I would name Arcadia Nuevo, La Reve and Tribute Island among them. All powerful and unique places, all long gone.  And they are not alone – we have sometimes joked among ourselves that many of the places we have highlighted in Prim Perfect or on Designing Worlds have been lost so rapidly that there might be a curse.  But change is natural,  places evolve, or close, as old people move on and new people come.  All that is – well, not good, rather sad, actually – but understandable.

What I feel I am seeing now is an unusually large number of departures and the retiring of valuable content that is not being replaced.

The new Duran Duran Universe
The new Duran Duran Universe

New World Notes is running a series of “Deathwatch” articles highlighting this, which does seem to me to be touting it in a very dramatic way. Some places are closing noisily. Others come with dignified preparatory announcements, such as AM Radio’s sims, the Lost Gardens of Apollo, or the Alien Isles. Others would prefer to slip away quietly. And set against this we seem to have very little. The opening of the Duran Duran Universe? Well, I have always had a slightly guilty liking for “Wild Boys” but … I’m not quite sure as I would see it as any more than ‘these fragments I have shored against my ruin’.

The content that is being lost is not only physical prims inworld. Two significant magazines have closed recently too – not things that have opened briefly, come out for two or three issues and then closed as the people running them realise that this is actually rather hard work. No, these were both magazines with many subscribers and readers, a long history of publication (in Second Life terms) and both closed citing the fact that advertising was no longer sufficient to justify publication. One was the hugely influential Second Style magazine; the other was my own Primgraph magazine (which now survives as a blog).

The Primgraph: Issue 16 - Cover - closing with the next issue
The Primgraph: Issue 16 - Cover - closing with the next issue

And we are seeing communities crumbling. ‘They are sailing, sailing, sailing over the sea, they are going into the West and leaving us,’ said Sam Gamgee of the elves of Middle Earth. A large community of Second Life elves are voyaging too, but their destination is Inworldz. And a couple of days ago I heard that Antiquity, once one of the largest Victorian communities, is losing a number of its sims as the one of the owners fell behind on tier. And today I learned that the lovely Ville de Giverny sim, based on Monet’s village and with eloquent tributes to his paintings (and with a Monet Museum too) will be closing this weekend.

Land barons have fallen in the past and people have been left stranded. But generally the themed sims have been strong.

Antiquity - a community facing partial closure
Antiquity - a community facing partial closure

At the same time, I know of several long-established inworld businesses that are downsizing their land-holdings. It is as though a tipping point has been reached, where people who have made a serious and real commitment to Second Life are nevertheless withdrawing or pulling back – although the word they are using is ‘consolidating’. “I’m consolidating my land holdings,” they say as they close a couple of homesteads, or move the content spread over seven mixed sims to four. “I’m consolidating my outlets,” say the store owners as they close outliers and focus on their main islands and the marketplace. And the economy does seem to be doing well; the Homes and Gardens market seems happy, and they are bouyant about initiatives such as the new SL Designers REMIX which launches this weekend. The ever-packed Truth hair store is expanding on to a new sim (Truth District – which was so packed on its second day that I couldn’t physically visit it). All of which tends to support a more hopeful view.

And yet …

The Lost Gardens of Apollo - now lost for good: photo by Wildstar Beaumont
The Lost Gardens of Apollo - now lost for good: photo by Wildstar Beaumont

Something Mitch Wagner said, in response to a post on New World Notes, that has stuck in my mind:

The loudest complainers aren’t killing Second Life. They have too much invested in hating Linden Lab to leave. They spend hours and hours writing vitriolic screeds about LL conspiracy theories. What would they do with that time if they left SL?

The people killing SL are folks like me, who start logging in to SL less and less and one day realize we’re not really logging in at all anymore.

I’m not getting the sense of people leaving so much as people lowering their expectations or perhaps less willing to invest financially. Because that is what one hears again and again when you ask people why they are downsizing-I’m-sorry-consolidating. Tier is too high, they say, or even more bluntly, “I’m tired of handing over money to the Lab.”

I’m not someone who believes that the Lab should step in and preserve sims because they are spectacularly beautiful or much loved or important to the history of Second Life. ALL sims are loved by someone, after all, or they would not have spent the money or lavished the care that they have on them. And to some people it would be almost an insult for Linden Lab to come in and take them over after they have struggled to pay tier for, well, years.

Ville de Giverny - closing this weekend
Ville de Giverny - closing this weekend

I’m not even sure that the tier itself is too high … it is, really, an arbitrary rate set by the Lab, and the only point of comparison is really the much lower-priced but not nearly so advanced Open Sims. But as the Open Sims improve, the Lab’s figures look increasingly out of step – and when other things don’t improve, such as support (currently, the best way of getting anything done seems to be to start a blogstorm that gets the attention of the CEO on Twitter – which, while it’s better than nothing, doesn’t really serve to raise the level of discourse), people look more closely at the nature of the relationship. And they start to weigh what they put into it against what they get out of it. Then, like a lover who starts to count the number of times she pays for dinner, as opposed to the number of times that he (with his higher salary) pays, people starts wondering whether this really does represent value for money. That’s when one starts hearing, “I’m tired of handing over money to the Lab.”

They’ve seen the hairs in the sink.

And the businesses start quietly consolidating, and the land barons focus on keeping the land they have, or even nibbling the edges away a little. But the people who have always ‘given back’, the ones whose special creations fill the Destination Guide, quietly go on closing and withdrawing because they’ve reached a point where they feel they have given back enough.

ElfClan Lands in Inworldz
ElfClan Lands in Inworldz

And perhaps the worst thing of all, from the Lab’s point of view is that once this stage is reached, once people say, “You know, I could manage my Second Life without paying the Lab around $300 a month (or $95 a month)”, then cutting the tier by a quarter or even a third is probably not going to keep them or prevent them downsizing.

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37 comments

  1. Great article and analysis Saffia- I have long thought that Linden Labs should have a “Treasures of the Grid” category where wonderful builds (Like Greenie’s a place I really miss) would be given an award and grandfathered as being a creation too great to lose, just as in the world there are historic associations that prevent the destruction of National Historic treasures.

    It makes for a greater grid for all.

  2. Interesting. I am certainly seeing (and frankly a part of) the overall pulling back, downsizing and reassessing participation in Second Life. I do know a bit about what is going on with some of the closing sims noted, and what I see is really a combination of things. SL is a digital world, so creations are by definition transient. Even beautiful, artisitic, wonderful builds will have decreasing numbers of visitors as time passes, some begin to look dated, and the new shiny comes along somewhere else. There is an impulse to want to “preserve” our history on the grid – we have seen it a lot in Caledon. But the “history” is still a build that someone has to pay tier on, and eventually one has to pull the plug. There are a few builds that generate enough interest that folks will decide to buy it and attempt to maintain on donations. Frankly, this rarely works for long term and they generally either are solely financed by an indidvidual or two or they close.
    That said, I agree the overall trend has been re-evaluating participation and general downsizing by many – people simply are not spending the money in shops they previously did. Our experience just before we gave up and stepped away was lag so bad it was difficult to do anything, constant problems with the asset systems, and glitches with even buying lindens. We let most of our land go, and are taking a break for a bit. When we come back, we will have to go through the process of familiarizing ourselves with v2 so we can assess how much improvements are affecting things in general.
    I do have great hope that Rod Humble truly wants to make Linden Labs more responsive to their customers. I hope he can change the culture there. I do miss how it was when we were able to create.

  3. As someone who (inadvertently) started a blogstorm and was embarrassed by the reaction (when I thought I was scribbling in my own personal diary) I can say that it is sad that this type of thing happens; as you say, it does not elevate the level of discourse.

    One of the deep problems I see in SL is the lack of awareness/vision this platform contains. When many SL artists were written up in a thorough, deep and scholarly article in a Spanish art magazine (the equivalent of ArtForum here), I ran around trying to get anyone, even the artists, informed and excited about such a thing. Likewise the art program set up through Cal State University at Long Beach, which had SL artists mixed in with such people as Banksy, Vivienne Westwood and Duchamp.

    It seems like the prevailing view is SL as a time-waster, a 3D AOL chatroom. Yes, it can be used that way; I have no objection to that use. SL is a platform and a world, and can contain multitudes of uses.

    However, coming from Los Angeles, I can assure you that what is publicised about LA is certainly not “the average, everyday normal life”; it is things like The Getty; The Griffith Park Observatory; The Santa Monica Pier and many other highlights and special places. These touchstones of culture serve to give life and breath to a monstrous and jumbled city. They give people a reason to identify with the city. Even if you never go there, you are aware that such places exist and contribute to the culture of your city.

    So the lack of public awareness/pr/marketing is, to me, a huge shadow on SL and an ignoring or wasting of the value of the culture in SL. I know how much a server costs to run; I know how many sims can be put on a core; I know how much empty land I see (abandoned, in some cases over 2 years ago) when I take my monthly ride on the Linden Highway on my sim (Craigavon) and am aware that those sims are sitting, blank, using server space for… nothing. Since LL is absorbing that cost, why can some of these showcase sims be hosted there? I just wonder.

    The technical issues… yes. When one is unable to open ones’ own notecards (as happened to me today); sounds that I rez to every day keep reloading and skipping (when they should be in my cache, as I have gone nowhere new); disappearing inventory and the rest of the technical problems experienced by many every day… yes, you get tired of paying tier for that. I have confined myself to 2048m for almost two years because I do not see a stable reason for me to expand, although I certainly could use the workspace. I can understand someone with much larger holdings who has seen no improvement in these issues over several years and decides to downsize or go somewhere else.

    To me, the PR problem is the biggest problem. I have seen in many worlds and games a patience and forebearing on the part of the users/consumers when the communication is clear and vibrant between them and the management. When there is a shared goal and identity, people will be patient, but not endlessly. People like me stuck it out in LA for over 20 years, despite the scathing heat, the overcrowdedness, the trashy streets and the dangerous nights, because LA also offered us more than those problems.

    I’ve made it clear in my posts and my conversations lately that I view Rod Humble as a new force. I think he shows a much better match for the platform and the company than the previous CEOs (in my experience since 2007). He also has demonstrated; as you say, he walks the walk. He’s dipped in and gotten his hands into the works. This tells me he’s a terrific CEO who understands that understanding the smallest mechanics can help outline the larger problems.

    I’d like people to try to give Rod a chance; to understand he doesn’t know the history of all these problems and that it is our job to help him in a way that removes a lot of the frustration and unhappiness we all feel as a result of the past ways these issues have been handled. He shows every sign of being amenable to user contact and ideas and I think, for all of our sakes’, we need to give him some time and an able-assist, to work with him, on making Second Life the place we all hope it can be.

  4. I would have to say that I would like to see some preservation of remarkable sims. As Miso says there is empty server space which could be used and it is very cheap PR compared to any RL marketing.
    I really believe quite strongly that LEA has turned out to be a poor shadow of what it could have become, not because of the great people who have tirelessly put their efforts into it, but because of LL’s mediocre commitment to the arts.

    Think of the Destinations Guide they COULD have … if only….

  5. Or maybe its the time …it takes a tremendous amount of time to maintain simulations. The Lab rolls out new server code and scripts break, vendors stop working, players demand help, everyone’s frustration levels rise. And there is precious little real-time support from the Lab anymore. Tickets take weeks, sometimes months, to be handled. Live chat is rarely helpful. The JIRA is technically challenging to use and deeply frustrating to many. The knowledge base can be overwhelming and much of its data is depreciated.
    Paying tier is what it is, the rates haven’t changed much since the homestead debacle, but for me, what I found shocking when I started running SIMs was the hours and hours and hours of time one must spend maintaining the infrastructure. For example, last week, I spent more than eight hours dealing with the fallout from the latest server code change. [See https://jira.secondlife.com/browse/SVC-7064%5D That’s eight hours that could have been spent creating, but were instead used to pick up the pieces from the last server patch.
    Often, people will use money as a cover for deeper feelings. “I’m tired of handing money over to Lab” can save the speaker from having to engage in a dialog about feelings of loss and the frustration that come when hours … days …weeks …months …years of work are broken by changes in the server code or a poorly designed viewer. That is the lesson I’ve learned from my friends who have downsized or abandoned their SL work, after awhile, they stopped enjoying the grind and started resenting the time.

  6. It costs nothing (well, a bit of time exporting items) to put an entire region on a USB stick, or on your hard drive, in the form of an OAR file. Of course, people can’t visit it unless you put your home computer on the hypergrid, or attach it as a region to OSGrid or other open grid.(Which is very doable, but means you have to have your computer on all the time.)

    Commercial, hosted region storage starts at 10 cents a month on Kitely (once they roll out billing in August — free until then). And when billing is launched, and visitors cost 20 cents per hour each, the Kitely folks say that region owners can either pick up the cost themselves or have the visitors fork over the 20 cents (or a fraction of that, if they only stay a few minutes). These regions are stored away when they’re not used, so Kitely doesn’t have to keep servers on and running all the time for empty regions.

    New Voice offers low-traffic sims on OSGrid for $9.90 a month — for regions that are on all the time.

    A lot of artists are moving over to OSGrid (both hosting themselves, for free, or renting regions from any of over a dozen vendors).

    Yes, it’s not as good if you need high-end vehicle physics. But for a virtual museum, it’s just fine. Better than fine, when you consider megaprims and instant OAR exports, so you can save copies of your region whenever you make changes.

    There is no reason why Second Life can’t offer low-cost cloud-hosted regions like Kitely does, and pull them out of storage when someone visits. Kitely does it with just two guys. And their programmer has another full time job — he does the Kitely stuff in his spare time.

    It’s really a shame to see these builds disappear.

    Meanwhile, The Far Away region is already available as an OAR file — you can download it here:
    http://opensim-creations.com/2010/07/14/further-away/

    (It’s licensed as Creative Commons.)

    And you can visit it on Kitely here:
    http://www.kitely.com/virtualworld/Maria-Korolov/Far-Away

    (You need a Facebook account to access it, but more login options are coming in the fall.)

    1. Maria, it may cost very little to put a build on a USB and have it preserved, but it is a very rare creator who has used nothing but what they have full permissions to copy beyond the Second Life grid. Take something like Alien Isles – that is the work of a number of creators. They would all have to agree that the work could be taken and stored and them out-put on devices that might not even exist yet, devices that might be completely insecure and open to widespread copying (I’m not saing that Kitely is – I am saying that a future platform that takes the OAR file might be).

      Your solution might work in the case of art sims when the totality of the creation is the work of an individual. But most environments are just not created like that. Take Arcana Nuevo – a sim so beautiful that I would have loved to see it preserved. A lot of that was the work of the main creators. But much of its beauty came from the carefully chosen furnishings and textures. Separating what could be legally saved from what could not would be a HUGE headache.

  7. Excellent post, Saffia.

    Yes, I also think LL should enact a “preservation society” for those builds that are attractions and good PR for the platform (the fact that they stink at PR is a given thus far), but are being derezzed for whatever reason.

    What may be stopping them is that it would be yet another source of vitriol to manage — after all, the TOS already says copies of everything you build in SL are useable by LL for their own promotion. If you are bored with your creation, or can’t pay the tier any longer you are free to remove it, and LL is free to decide that having it around is good for business and re-rezz it (with no obligation to you on any level beyond a thanks for the content). That sounds great if you are a visitor, but not so hot if you paid for the opportunity to build it in the first place. Sticky. I’m not surprised it’s not happening.

    On the other hand, offering the builder a choice — we might use your build to promote SL and you are free to re-create it on some other platform as you wish, OR here is a one-time payment for your build which obligates you to NOT recreate it anywhere else. Also sticky. But more attractive to the builders.

    Going to see litigation in either case, I think.

    1. Let’s be clear – I am NOT advocating that the Lab should step in and save builds. What I would put on my top ten list of sims-that-should-be saved would certainly not fit with other people’s. I don’t think the Lab has a responsibility to save anything – even leaving aside the fact that most of the sims in the destuination guide, the most visited sims, are collaborative work which no one person has the right to lace wherever they wish.

      And I agree totally that if the Lab tried to do this it would be a complete can – not of worms, but of venomous vipers across the blogsphere. The negative publicity would be gruesome.

      1. Hi, yes I was responding to the general idea of preservation that many people hold, not to your post (I understood you said plainly in your post that was not your message).

        I, myself, would *like* to see a way for it to happen, but I do not. My realistic attitude toward all content in SL is that it is temporary in the extreme and should be enjoyed while it lasts and not agonized over when it disappears.

        That’s why my primary occupation in SL is picture taking. 🙂

  8. Linden Lab brought back Svarga and they keep it running, but that’s the only example I can think of, and I hope they don’t do it anymore. LL is a for-profit business, not a charity (but a few charitable donations are fine, so long as they don’t sink the ship).

    If enough residents think it’s a good idea to set up an SL sim-preservation society, then they should set up a formal nonprofit corporation, do fundraising, etc.

    Sometimes an anonymous benefactor steps in and keeps a sim alive for whatever reason. That has been the case with the spaceflight museum. The community that built the spaceflight museum drifted apart years ago, and it would have vanished if not for an anonymous donor.

    Another thing that has closed recently: Paisley recently announced (on her blog) that her Tonight Live show won’t be coming back. I think Treet.tv needs to pull their heads out of the sand; they need to start testing other sources of revenue. (The whole idea that some TV station will buy up all episodes of an entire Treet.tv show is delusional. Most Treet.tv shows are too weird and slow compared to standard TV. I’m a fan of some Treet.tv shows, but then I’m also weird!)

    Whatever happened to Metanomics and Dusan Writer’s Metaverse (blog)? The Metanomics community seems to be still alive, rather like a chicken with it’s head cut off… running around the barnyard, crashing into walls.

    No bucks, no Buck Rogers.

    1. But what other sources of revenue would you suggest, Troy? As I said in the article, media outlets are getting squeezed. I think everyone would love to find the model that would give a cash boost …

    2. You’ve said this before, but I’m not sure how our heads are in the sand, Troy. We have no delusions of being to sell Treet TV series and I have never made offers or claims to be looking for such and have never attempted to sell shows to anybody.

      And, we have other sources of revenue, they just don’t come from Treet TV shows, and I don’t see that changing any time soon as the market size won’t easily support the resources necessary to do good TV-like production (even if it is “weird and slow”).

      We have done a lot of numbers and market research, track viewership carefully, and know the market better than anybody. I just don’t think you can squeeze blood out of a stone. You’d be surprised at how many initiatives we’ve tried and tracked over the past 3 years to determine methods of monetizing SL TV shows. None have worked sufficiently well to raise anything which can truly cover genuine production costs.

      However, if you have any suggestions (or if anybody does), I am eager to hear some concrete ideas rather than repeated claims that we’re ignoring some obvious strategy that you know and we don’t.

      1. @Wiz: I know several of the hosts of Treet.tv shows, many of them from before they ever started with Treet.

        Because I know them, they’ve told me the details of the deal Treet makes with them, and part of the deal was that if a show got sold to a “RL” TV station, then a certain percentage would go to Treet and a certain percentage would go to the host/show-creator. You may have conveniently “forgotten” about such deals, but I haven’t.

        Being a Treet show-host has been a very bad deal. You say you “have other sources of revenue, they just don’t come from Treet TV shows,” which is all well and good for you, but total suckage for the hosts, who get none of that revenue.

        Do you have anyone on staff whose job it is to sell ads? How much time do they spend each week pounding the pavement? Do you really expect your show hosts to be selling ads in addition to everything else they do? Does David Letterman sell the commercial air-time during his show?

        How long do you think you can keep this charade up? Why don’t you just quit, already, and focus on those things that *do* make you money?

        I’m fed up with seeing you lead my friends (your show hosts) like rabbits down the garden path, with your a carrot on a stick… only the carrot is always just out of reach, and they’re getting mighty hungry.

  9. If you listen to @Rodvik, there are 16,000 new sign-ups a day. if you listen to Hamlet, SL is slowly going down the tubes. if you look at the data (from Tyche Shepherd) total number of sims seems to be static and concurrency is also.

    the data shows that even with the lack of dynamic growth, Linden Lab seems to be profitable. therefore, i challenge @Rodvik to use those resources and provide a vision that gets people excited again. that’s what i’m waiting to see.

    1. It’s odd that there are 16,000 new sign-ups per month, which amounts to 480,000 new users, but only 800,000 repeat logins per month. Where are these new people going? They don’t show up in the next month’s “repeat logins”, interestingly enough. Think about that. More than twice as many people log in for the first time as log in twice or more. And yet, month to month, there is no growth of significant in any other metric such as concurrency or other metrics which would in any way justify the idea that half a million new users are logging in.

      I think there is something very very wrong with the numbers that are being published, and good reasons why Linden Lab has, over the past two years, decreased the amount of transparency in publication of economic data.

  10. One component of these closings and people leaving the grid is the economy inside of Second Life itself. The reality there is that you can put in the time and energy, using strong skills that could get you an actual, paying job in the actual world, and yet in SL you earn 1/10th (or less) of what those efforts and skills would bring you in the actual world.

    I look at the people who have commented on this post, and myself, and I know none of us are “in it for the money”. We do what we do in Second Life out of love, passion, dedication and a belief in the platform, not for money. And we are able to do this due to having financial support of some kind in our actual lives that give us the ability to spend crazy amounts of time in SL working, working, working. Some of you have full time jobs in the actual world *and* you are putting in the equivalent amount of time and effort into your passion in SL.

    This phenomenon of creating actual world, professional level content for almost no money is happening outside of SL too. Hollywood writers went on strike a few years ago, and so production companies turned to the internet to find or create content at a fraction of the cost of what the striking writers were costing them. Joss Whedon wrote and produced Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog during that time. There are thousands of people out there with the highest quality skills who are willing to work for next to nothing, especially if it gives them their big break.

    Three years ago a friend of mine said to me: “Gabi, please take Radio Riel and leave Second Life. You will *never* make the money that you, your staff and the station are worth in terms of actual world dollars.” I knew that then. I know it now. Radio Riel now has thousands of dedicated listeners. My definition of “dedicated” is people that tune in for a total of an hour or more each month. I filter out the listeners that wander across an SL parcel playing a RR stream with their audio on for a few minutes or seconds.

    A few weeks ago I was logged into SL as my RR accounting alt and overheard a conversation between two Avatars that stopped in to RR HQ while I was working. They said very nice things about the station, but then said: “You can be a sponsor on the station but it’s *really* pricey!”

    They see $20 USD (or $40 for premium) a month, during which time the sponsor messages are heard by thousands of people as “pricey”. That is a classic example of what I described above. I know Saffia’s magazines experience the same thing. The Primgraph, in magazine form, had thousands of readers, and yet businesses did not purchase enough advertising to keep it floating. Part of that is that businesses are not making enough to justify the advertising cost, but in many cases I believe it’s because people could not see the *amazing* value in the magazine, which was/is actual world quality with thousands of readers.

    I will reiterate, 99% of the people creating actual world, professional level content inside of SL are not doing it for the money. But what happens if your actual world income disappears due to a layoff? You have to pay your bills and in most cases that requires that you leave SL (for the most part or completely) and focus on your actual world income.

    Other commenters above have mentioned how people in SL become bored and move on to the next shiny build that comes along and leave the old ones behind. People in SL are, by the nature of human behavior within the platform, easily bored, transient and fickle. To keep them engaged you have to *constantly* be cranking out fresh stuff. That is one of the key components of Truth’s success. They release 2-4 new hairstyles each *week*!

    I know how much time the Steamlands Estate Owners put into their estates, because I am one. I know that Serra Anansi, Mosseveno Tenk, TotalLunar Eclipse and Tensai Hilra put in many hours on new builds, new events and new adventures for their residents. It’s probably similar to what content creators with weekly releases put in. In the case of the Estate Owners, we do that simply to keep as many existing residents as possible and to attract new ones. It’s a never ending cycle of work for small (or no) monetary gain.

    And that, after years of doing it, gets old. Everyone burns out eventually, unless they can ensure a good balance between their SL work and the actual world. We’ve all seen people leave and then come back after a 6 month break from SL. Even the people making good money, in actual world terms, do that.

    We (for the most part) did not start our businesses to make money. The people that do are flashes in the pan. We all knew (or we learned) the realities of the Second Life economy. We blazed ahead doing our thing out of love and passion. Alas, every love affair cools eventually. Some people are able to adjust to that and keep moving ahead. Others need to “break up” with SL to get over it.

    The undervalued work vs compensation issue and human foibles are definitely contributing to the Exodus.

  11. I’ve used the “Going to the West” quote myself when pondering the departure of content creators and land barons.

    I think John Cougar Mellencamp might have it when he sings it’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from here.

    Or the term “Lords Of The Last Days” from Asimov’s “Songs Of Distant Earth.”

    We’ll see how things turn out, and if they don’t turn out, where the diaspora moves to.

    -ls/cm

  12. @Crap: I’m not too worried about a big diaspora of people from SL to somewhere else anytime soon, simply because the consumer-market size in the alternatives is still a hundred times smaller than SL.

    @primperfect: The two most obvious sources of revenue in SL are selling virtual goods (clothing, furniture, trees, etc.) and charging rent/tier markup for land in a community. There are dozens of other SL business models (including selling ads against media), but those are the two biggest categories.

    For an example of how Treet.tv could use the virtual-goods model: Treet.tv could make an affiliate deal with a quality SL architect to advertise that architect’s homes and to get, say, 50% of all revenues from affiliate-vendor sales on Treet.tv land. Treet.tv fans would happily buy from the affiliate vendors to support Treet.tv. (Right now, there are darn few ways for Treet.tv *fans* to financially support Treet.tv shows.)

    Treet.tv could even hire a designer to make virtual goods for them (with the copyright being assigned to Treet.tv), then they could get 100% of the revenues from the sales.

    (Treet.tv would have to disclose their associations with any third-party designers, but that’s fine. Treet.tv fans understand the need to make money. I know I, as a fan of some Treet.tv shows, would think more highly of any designer who would work with Treet.tv.)

    1. We’ve tried revenue splits with advertisers. We’ve tried revenue splits for people who do infomercials. We ran a shopping channel for two years which made it easy to derive revenue and share it. We created inworld TV’s which people could use to donate revenue, we created special TV’s for advertisers so that they could use our shows to obtain greater revenue and share a commission. We created “street team” TV sets where we would pay L$ to viewers (that’s right, we would pay viewers), and we would give the distributor of the TV sets a split. So, if you distributed 100 TV sets, you would get paid when people watched. We’ve put TV’s at important venues and offered special placement to advertisers.

      We’ve done at least 50 different incentive deals, advertising splits, based them upon inworld vendors, bots, and tie-ins to virtual goods. I’m sure there is more we could have done.

      They all made “a little bit” of money, which would be great if we were trying to buy an occasional Big Mac. In fact, many of these were encouraging. The shopping channel got excellent viewership, and those who did their informercials felt it gave them great value. But, there just weren’t enough of them. Similarly, when we would measure that total “potential” market for any of these ideas, the amount that could be raised by a month of such activities could barely pay for 1 day of production.

      Generally, the problem with all these schemes is that the amount of time (in hours) spent by people attempting to administrate, orchestrate placement, produce ads, and get splits of revenue vastly exceeds the amount of revenue obtained. The revenue doesn’t even cover the cost of managing the campaigns much less create enough profit to cover hosting and production for regular productions of adequate quality.

      I get your point. I am sure there are ways. Perhaps one problem is that producing a good video show, regularly, on time every week requires a lot of resources and a lot of money to do it right. It is possible that such production capability is just out of place in this market.

  13. Thinking about this even more, Prim Perfect has some great photographers and page-layout designers on staff. You could make a series of RL coffee-table books full of amazing photos from SL (each with its own focus). As a fan, I’d happily buy a well-produced book like that. Blurb.com is one way to do that.

    Gracie Kendal’s 1000 Avatars project is an example of someone who has already done something similar. Same with Amy Wilson’s book Postcards from Second Life (a book of SL photos turned into watercolor paintings, with handwritten captions).

  14. Coming from a background of promoting bands at a time when such bands (punk/wave) were pretty much confined to Xeroxed posters, cheap fanzines and word of mouth (pre-internet boom), I know exactly how much a 1/2 or 1/4 page advert, radio spot or good website costs.

    Someone above remarked on the point I cannot understand from a purely practical, profit-based view: the advertising costs of hosting a widely-recognized work like AM Radio’s on a single core of an 8-core server is negligible compared to any other form of advertising. Less, because the creators have already done the physical lifting/design work.

    Perhaps I am not a nickel-and-dime person; if a large creation/environment I made was to be chosen to be preserved on a server, I wouldn’t be standing in line asking for a nickel for every person that came there. I’d already put in the work, at my expense; I did it for the joy of creation. I did not plan it to be an income generator; I did not construct it as an investment (except in my own skills). I hardly think someone like AM Radio is different in their approach.

    So my question is, why does LL waste so much free work, and skill, and the respectability/prestige points available for their use, in not recognizing the market value of this form of PR/advertising when the costs compared to any other medium are negligible to them?

  15. I suspect this is an effect of Marketplace.

    There’s now very little reason to have an inworld shop. If you have one – you’re being illogical for most types of business. You’re doing it because you love doing it, but you could get just as many if not more sales on Marketplace – and not have to pay that tier or that landlord.

    As a result, themed locations that relied on people renting some portion, or renting land in a sister sim – are losing revenue.

    With no need to shop inworld, the places we want to visit and explore inworld can’t fund themselves… and so the in-world itself is drying up in part.

    Taken to its extreme, one might someday buy all kinds of wonderful things on Marketplace, log in to use them, and find nothing but abandoned mainland and a blank ocean where estates once stood… Of course LL’s will go out of business long before that point is reached…

    … But I suspect Marketplace will do a -LOT- of damage to the viability of the inworld experience, and thus by proxy to the very thing it is designed to feed.

    1. It might be interesting to find out what proportion of people’s sales come from the Marketplace as opposed to an inworld store – and what sort of products those are. I would never buy a house on the Marketplace, for example. I would need to walk arund it, to get a sense of the size and space. I find I often use the Marketplace for inspiration – and then go out and buy things inworld.

      1. The Marketplace is itself a good idea. They way it’s setup however is horrible.

        The Lindens should have a new Magic Box which looks at the size of your parcel and only works if you own the parcel. The first 12 items in your magic box are free to put up. But beyond that, you only get to have one additional item per 10 prims the land that box supports. Drop your Magicbox in your Linden Home? You can have 12 + 11 items in the marketplace. Have a Magicbox in your 4096m inworld store? You can have 12 + 93 items in the marketplace.

        This would tie the marketplace to inworld businesses better, provide everyone a chance to sell some to build ipto having an inworld business, and change inworld stores from being a sucker bet to being a requirement for anyone serious about selling. Today, I can have 1000 items on the marketplace and rent a 512m spot for the box. Yesterday, I had to have a storefront and the land enough to support that. Both are necessary. Both should feed off each other. And that’s a direction LL needs to think about going.

  16. Because everyone else is so serious, let me have a comment on a lighter note: “They’ve seen the hairs in the sink.” Took me a minute to parse that one, then I burst out laughing. (Sympathetically, of course.) What a delightful metaphor!

  17. What Rod has to understand is that the recent change of TOS which takes away ownership (though legally, ownership can’t be taken away) of our virtual land utterly KILLS new land sales. What person in their right mind is going to plunk down 2K$ knowing that the lab doesn’t have to give them an island in return unless the lab feels like it? That if they do, then the lab can take it away anytime they like and for any reason that they like? Oh, and no refunds, either.

    Rod needs to add a Landowners TOS, like the following:

    1- you own personal property in SL, and that in SL is the only place said property can exist. You can resell, subdivide, rent, etc your property as you see fit so long as it doesn’t violate the TOS.
    2- should SL cease to exist, so too will the property. LL is only responsible for the property’s existence as long as SL remains in business.
    3- the lab taking the property for any reason shall be required to issue a refund of the full purchase price. No tier shall be refunded however.
    4- in the event the owner of property is banned, that owner may sell the property, keep paying for it without benefit of accessing it, transfer it to someone else, or abandon it.
    5- other than banning, LL shall not deny the owner of land access to his land.
    6- TOS changes for acceptable use shall not be sufficient reason for banning or confiscation. Should the lab change rules for acceptable land use, it shall trade parcels with the owner for a parcel the owner deems acceptable for his desired use which is no longer permitted in the original area.

    This covers LL’s fanny if SL should close. It gives us confidence that when we buy something, we’ll get it. And it addresses the sticky issue of banning as affects property, saying that people can keep it, transfer it, or abandon it. Simple, easy to setup, and will make the people who have enough money to afford sims more willing to actually buy them.

    Do this and have a “Welcome Home” program where for the remainder of the year, those who abandoned sims can get them back for free just by picking up the tier again, would get the numbers back up. But the Lab has gone out of its way to drive out customers. If the Lab does not put in a Landowner TOS and address our deepseated mistrust of their bait and switch practices, the deep pocketed customers will stay gone.

  18. Speaking of preservation, it wouldn’t be necessary to keep a sim around for all time in order to preserve it: what if favorite sims of the past could be brought back for one week every year? It’d get relatively high traffic as people come to see the place before it disappears, and so might be able to support the cost.

    Here’s what I’m picturing (though I’m not offering to run it!): a Second Life Historical Society. Whenever a beloved sim is about to go belly up, the Historical Society can be called in to assist the owner in archiving it: packing it all up so it can be re-rezzed later. How this is done will depend on the permissions involved, but the Society would have the expertise to do it. Then when the society had suitable funds available, they would buy a sim for a month, and host a different “exhibit” each week. Perhaps they would solicit votes for which exhibits to host, or allow people to donate money for the exhibition of specific builds (i.e. vote with their Lindens). When/if funds run low, they close the sim and wait until there’s enough funds to do it again.

    Good idea?

  19. Good sims don’t have to be rescued for ever and ever.
    In todays world we can make videos, fill up flickr with pictures made at events etc.
    People can get an idea of what a sim was like, we are after all just like the real world, time passes, the present becomes the past, things go and disappear.

    BUT I do think LL should help and support some sims.
    Because there are sims in SL that help improve the reputation of SL, that show people all the amazing things that can be done here, that SL is not just a place for chatting, shopping and orgies.
    These are the kind of sims that attract RL media attention, that lure new visitors to SL who otherwise would not visit.
    There truly are sims that help SL and could perhaps get some help in return.

    For instance places like the Globe Shakespeare theatre and the AM radio sims.
    When I show these to people who are not in SL they are in awe, they want to explore, they want to try SL, they want to see more.
    Something that doesn’t happen when they see yet another tv report about perverts stalking minors in SL or a youtube video of avatars having babies.

    Some sims are just amazing, they use every opportunity SL gives them, they are stunning and are an actual loss to the community when they go.

    I am not saying these should be bought or run by LL, LL shouldn’t pay their tiers either.

    What I think would be a good solution is that certain sims get a tier discount, just like educational sims used to have.
    A way of LL saying; “We like this sim, we want to help it.”

    Look at the Destination guide, LL has chosen some of the sims in SL that they think are a good representation of everything SL has to offer, or as they say; “The Second Life Destination Guide highlights some of the best inworld locations and Resident creations. “.

    I think these sims (and a few others) are good for SL and thus LL, it would be nice if SL and LL would return the favor.

  20. I like Pooky’s idea. I miss the Greenie’s place too. Most of all though, I remember how devastated I was I tp’d over to Virtual Starry Night a couple of years ago to find it had gone – just like that. Fortunately we have Lucien Franciosa’s video to remind us http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfruH02RD9M as well as Robbie Dingoe’s movie about how he built the 3D Starry Night component of the sim. But a ‘treasures of SL’ museum maintained by the Lindens in SL, now that would be awesome.

  21. Saffia, have you counted how many sims there are that have closed that you know? You mention…five or six. That’s not a terribly big deal. And some of them were supported by wealthy patrons like IBM (AM Radio) and Princeton and they discontinued them because evidently they didn’t find it of value (so why should we? or why should Linden? Start with the artist’s own valuation, and if it is absent, don’t chase it.) I have a sim that is a drain on my economy that doesn’t pay for itself that I use for projects and I value it enough to pay for it every month. When I cease to do that, I won’t whine that the public didn’t appreciate art or politics or me, I will start with the fact that I myself didn’t value it enough.

    I think if you only have a vague sense of foreboding about land barons shrinking, you have to put names and facts and figures to it, because the giant island empires with hundreds of sims don’t seem to be shrinking.

    I’m sure Wiz has done every conceivable thing he can think of, and done it well. But I do have to say that even being a big admirer of Wiz, and even putting out his Treet TV for free $0 purchases on all my infohub sims and malls as a service to newbies, I never heard of any of these deals or offers. They just never got conveyed to me. I never saw an ad. I have had thousands of $0 sales on land I tier, and I could have had $1 sales and Wiz could have had a revenue share. But I just didn’t get the news. I even watch Treet TV and leave it on all day with different channels on different venues for people to watch, and I never heard any of this. I saw that there were infomercials, and the infomercials reminded me to go and buy from some people, but somehow…the news doesn’t penetrate enough, not on blogs or forums or…something.

    But that’s not really his fault — the problem is we have no mass media in SL. It’s a closed society with controlled press. You can’t buy ads normally in the places of greatest eyeballs — not in infoareas, and seemingly not even on the splash screen, although selectively, some businesses seem to get this opportunity, sporadically. When you can’t advertise in a closed society that hates commerce and is glutting the market with land and content itself like Linden Lab, business is as hard-scrabble as it was in the Soviet Union.

    Advertising is truly a huge problem in SL, as are communications, given this lack of a dedicated true mass media. There is only fractured communities of media, a radio station here, a TV station there, a forums with high traffic over there.

    The Treasures of SL idea is constantly mentioned every time a sim goes down, but as someone who runs the SL Public Land Preserve with 100,000 meters at 50 venues, I have to tell you, people don’t value free and open spaces, and even preserved treasures, enough to help pay the tier. Everyone always wants someone else to shoulder the burden, in the usual SL socialism.

    Linden Lab should not be picking and chosing and supporting certain sims and not others. They provide some 6,000 free sims as infrastructure to the mainland, with parks, roads, venues, sailing, funhouses, builds to explore, you name it. That’s enough. Again, it’s a question of what the public truly values. The public truly does not value open spaces. I’ve organized modestly around the theme of the parks and kept that running for 6 years. I have donors for half the tier and provide matching tier from Ravenglas Rentals. We sell content that is commissioned for themes, and we do get generous donations. But they only make up 15-20 percent of that donated tier. My experiment is modest, again, and amateurish. If the real top artists of SL banded together and used really high-quality content to attract people, why, surely they’d do better.

    Except, they don’t. Greenies and such were philanthropic sims which didn’t generate revenue. It was a proof of concept to see whether high end content would generate traffic so that ad buyers would purchase space. It did generate traffic. RL ad buyers weren’t impressed. The wealthy donor finally gave up and moved to cheaper sims, after copying as much of SL as he could with copybots he blatantly and cynically promoted to everyone.

    As for ElfClanz, Wishbringer hasn’t been happy and has been noisily unhappy since the day he rezzed in Second Life. He’s been a chronic bitcher about the service and claimed he left several times and didn’t. Did he finally? Well, good! Let’s see what he can do in a setting where he can’t complain about price, even if he can complain about service.

    And that’s about it. If you don’t value Second Life sims, tier down. And we all need to keep putting our heads together to figure out how to get mass media, or at least more massive media, into SL, how to make a project like Treet really succeed.

    1. I agree with much of what you say here, Prok, so won’t go through it point by point.

      On the question of counting closures – I’m not sure how significant that is. Alien Isles, for example, closed as a venue, but Lorin and Judi sold it to someone who is going to use it for residential builds. So it’s not gone as an entity in the Lab’s account books, their net loss is 0. But it has gone as a destination (although even there there is hopeful news, which I’ll talk about in a later post).

      The losses we are seeing tend to be of quality areas that were funded by generous individuals or, as you call them, wealthy patrons. We’re certainly in a patronage culture here, but there’s one key difference between the patronage culture of, say, the Renaissance or the Baroque and of the digital age: the Medicis or the Popes might pay for a painting or a sculpture – “Thank you, Leonardo …. oh, very nice Caravaggio!” – but that was finite. They didn’t have to go on paying the price for it, year in, year out – even if they did pay a stipend to the artist. And certainly even that ceased after the artist left the patronage. But, of course, with Second Life – or other virtual worlds – if you become a patron of the arts, you are taking on a long term commitment; if it is a large installation you will be paying month after month for the land to display it – not a concern for the Medicis or the Popes.

      Your point about the mass media is interesting – how does one create a mass media in Second Life? The only thing with truly univeral reach is the Linden Lab magazine – I’d love to see that sell advertising – maybe larger premium ads in its front pages and then a classified (small ads) section at the back, to give the smaller business an opportunity to get their faces out there.

      Could Linden Lab set up something like the BBC? I suspect the idea of state-owned wil raise your hackles and, of course, much state-owned media is a sock puppet for whatever regime is in control. But the BBC has considerable independence from the government through its Charter (as you can judge from a series of governments trying to undermine its independence in a variety of ways). Or should we let market forces prevail – which always runs the risk of catering for a niche market or – worse in my opinion – leads to the dominance of corporations such as News Corp/New International. Perhaps there’s greater plurality in the US, the UK is a smaller market and easier to dominate.

      it’s interesting, however, that in the UK we seem to have one of the most globally despised forms of media – the British tabloids, which are governed by market forces – and one of the most widely respected – the BBC, which is funded (albeit with some reluctance) by the Government.

      Mind you, my expectation is that without Linden Lab intervention, most media in Second Life will remain niche.

  22. The BBC idea has been discussed in the past, they let residents do it because it’s too much work. But the question is to ask them how to get it more edge. Maybe Treet TV in every Linden Home, welcome area, Linden area of certain kinds, etc.

    As for the Medicis, you’re forgetting that all the classical painters through the ages always had to do portrait painting endlessly to make a living. They were always painting fat dowagers and jowly merchants to make a buck. They had to keep doing it and doing it. And their patrons would have to keep paying money if they paid rent on a studio or even home. So they had recurring expenses and there’s nothing unnatural in that.

  23. @Gabi

    Is not the work that people do RL that is undervalued by others so much. I think this is not something that people generally even consider. For them, its more the pricing relativity they respond/react too.

    Can now rent a 250prim parcel 1:1 for 250L a week, less even some places. Can now also buy a really nice top or skirt for 25-50L, 10-20% of 1 weeks rent. The price of clothes, and other stuff, is relatively proportional to the rent people do pay, same as in RL, at least in how they think about it. One or two years ago, SL rent was like 5L a prim, more even. This was also reflected in the prices that people generally were then willing to pay for similar items of clothing, 125-250L.

    The other day I paid 990L for a new skin. Another person saw and liked. I told her the price and she went “Oh! wow! that’s expensive, I can’t afford that.” This is not expensive in RL terms – $4US. But it is L$ expensive relatively to her and others in her situation, like its equal to 1 months rent. One or two years ago, this amount was less than 1 weeks rent and she probably would have thought at that time that 990L was easily affordable and rushed off to buy it.

  24. OSgrid is a great alternative, especially nice you can save your entire inventory and your region to your local drive.
    As far as people copying things of yours, you only need set perms on your items to not allow anyone to take a copy, and dont give away the item.
    I have ten regions with 22,000 prims running at home on a used Dell optiplex GX520 I bought on Ebay for $159 with free shipping. I make use of mySQL for the database and it runs great.
    Its also free but they do ask for supporting donations.

  25. Nathan, OSgrid may work for pioneering types. But how many users have an inventory full of objects AND textures that the creators are happy to see taken out of SL to other grids?

    And it needs to be stressed that even when objects were created and sold with full permissions in Second Life, that was ONLY for Second Life, and if you want to take those to another grid, you need tobe sure that the creators are happy for that to happen. In many cases, you have full permissions ONLY for the Second Life grid.

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