Second Chance

So the ruminations of a certain someone lured me into giving Second Life a second try. Last time was shortly after release. I believe the experience lasted around 40-50 minutes.

The graphics have improved but I was reminded again of ActiveWorlds. With a twist. AW was fully of chintz, and silly cruft when I last used it in 1998. Frufru. It was trying to be Cyberspace – a 3D/vrml representation of information. But the content was there for contents’ sake – no more relevant than 90% of the content on myspace and just as random, arbitrary and disorganized.

I deleted my first character because while wrestling with the tutorials (which are buggy) I someone ran into me and caused me tutorial to shut down. Using the help system made things worse, and there was no obvious way to restart the tutorial. In my second character, I discovered that I had to “wear” the “Orientation” object buried in my inventory.

So I created a new account and started over. This time, I was going to see Second Life…

It took me about 90 minutes to do the tutorial, because none of the tutorials worked consistently and occasionally the whole thing got reset. When I finally completed the tutorial, it failed to register and left me stranded. I was fortunate to remember enough from my first time to know to teleport to “Help Island”, which furthered my orientation, but still left me clueless as to what to do next.

I decided to be lazy in exploring for myself; I went to the “Popular Places” tab. The list was not very tantalizing, so I just picked the top. “MONEY ISLAND!!!! FREE $$$ MONEY!!!!”

Second Life is about advertising. The media are in love with it because they understand ad revenue, and Second Life is a self-perpetuating ad space. There are advertising surfaces and objects, avatars and announcers everywhere.

moneyi1.jpgMoney Island is a bizzare cacophony of concepts. Firstly, it offers people in-game Lindens (convertable to real cash if you like) for filling out “surveys” – i.e. signing their names up for spam and “free gifts”. However, to be make their own money out of it – and cover their expenses – they need to rank highly on the “Popular Places” tab. They achieve this by paying players to “camp”.

moneyi2.jpgHere, “camping” is hanging out in a the act of hanging out in a shard/parcel solely to get it higher stats and make it appear popular, preferably on the “Popular places” list. In return for leaving your toon upping their stats, they reward you with a handful of Linens. More prominent camp sites earn you 10L for 10 minutes, while most of them work at 2-4L for 20 minutes. Oh, and you have to have logged in on the Camp Master for most of the seats. All around are billboards, and “ATMs” – the objects you click on to tab-out into a browser and sign your email address into a zillion spam peddlers coffers.

Of course, the idea is that “real” content creates advertising space, and advertising space and revenue helps real content developers to develop better – content: you might put a little more effort into a virtual hobby that brings in a few beers, or you use it to leverage the economy of content. Of course, the dedicated content generators – like the StarTrek Museum (quite an excellent piece of work) – are generally free and sans advertising. Those who get into the economy tend to focus on the same sort of thing as Money Island.

moneyi3.jpg

Porn and the virtual sex industry abound in Second Life. And in turn, they generate ad space! And since Second Life is a virtual space. The cluttered ground clearly drove people upwards, and so ad space goes upwards too.

adspam.jpg

There is an underlying community in SL, there has to be to give the ad space worthwhile. That said, the clever decimal shifting of Lindens – which I seem to recall originally being inded at 100 Lindens per US Dollar, but currently go for 240 Lindens per US Dollar. For 30 minutes of your time you earn 115L – COOL! Except that’s just a mere 47cents. If you’d done the “survey” directly, you’d have gotten something around $10-$30.

moneyi4.jpgAs an aside – I tried buying into the economy, I stopped by a store in an arena called “Wienna” and invested 250 of my Lindens – nearly 80 minutes of survey filling. The area was incredibly laggy, and the item just never appeared in my inventory. A little investigation tells me that this is “normal”. I’m lucky I was only spending “free” money, many SL users learn that lag is bad for the wallet at more poignent prices.

I’m not going to slam Second Life for its mature content or its furry civilisation… But Second Life isn’t about the community, its about the ad revenue and marketing potential. If Second Life was about the community, it would have moved away from the single, centralized, Linden hosted “world” and allowed its users to diversify and create their own worlds served on their own servers – like UO – with Linden Labs providing the economic backbone and controls and “prime” servers; hubs for this kind of content

But that would put the hurt on the interest of the cheap end of the revenue market, the scum if you will. The spammers, the click-thruers, the gimmickers.

That might also drive away the media $love$ a$$air with $econd Li$e, and perhaps Linden are thus cornered into nurturing the more profitable status-quo. They haven’t, after all, gone for creating their own ATM card to let you draw cash directly from your game account, and I can’t fault Linden for doing the right thing by their business and their investors.

No doubt SL fans would be quick to point out that you avoid all the chintz by making friends and participating in the parts of the community that do appeal to me. But, to me that would be like moving into a sewer because some of the mutants are really cool. Second Life is, by and large, everything that went wrong with the Web, manifest in glorious, technicolor, leg-opening 3D. I’ve no desire to be a part of it, no matter how good the company is.

5 Comments

Active Worlds! Man that brings back memories. I worked with one of the originators back in the day. Phew. What a piece of crap that was.

All these articles are telling me is that I’m darn glad I don’t get into stuff like that.

What exactly were you hoping to garner from exploring I ask?

Just curiosity really. When I first saw SL, it was just a tarted up version of AW. I’ve never seen anything to suggest its overcome any of the fundamental problems of AW, but that putting a monetary value to content might sweep some of them under the rug in player’s minds. We’re very willing to accept that if someone can put a $ value to something, it has innate value.

I’d buy that for a Dollar — RoboCop

well maybe a Linden.

Yeah the biggest problem with SL is that the really good content is so hard to find with porn and casinos and dance clubs being a dime a dozen.
But some of the good stuff is really good, and that’s what get’s people hooked.

Some of the good parts that I have run across include:
– watching the nasa feed in a stadium with 200 other people for the shuttle launch
– serious ordered debates on Ethics and Morals in virtual space (The ethics group).
– Prototyping my game in a week and having people fly by and getting them to beta test
– the space center/ starfleet academy. (geek heaven)
– Interacting with a live (streaming audio) performance by an Irish blues guitarist while he was on tour in Japan and we were all set in a S&M fantasy based Inn.
– Attending a conference on Intel’s JSON at the intel dev center and speaking with the guys who are developing it.
– Visiting the Darfur awareness land and speaking to relief workers and hearing what a disaster it is.
– Tromping around the a-life collaboration project where some guys are trying to develop a virtual ecosystem.

The good is very very compelling.

Too bad the Lindens don’t provide a way to find it. It really is a shame.

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