We hear lots of accounts of people leaving Second Life. I suppose they are. They always have. According to Metaverse stats the average player retention is two years. But, we also have new people signing up and new regions coming online. It is hard to know if Second Life is gaining or losing ground. So, may be region loss does mean SL is shrinking. Region loss has been a trend. We have been measuring SL success by concurrent users. That is decreasing, but seems to have reached a plateau. The Lab says in general more people joining and playing but spending less time in Second Life. There are reasons for that, so it may be true. And there are some interesting reasons that The Old Globe Theater in Second Life is closing.
Metaverse still provides some statistics on Second Life. Their closing and new regions graph shows a little surge in regions opening. I certainly would not call it a new trend. It may only be from this weekend’s sale on regions, US$1,000 off. Only time will tell if the trend is changing. But it is a change.
The story behind Ina Centaur leaving and allowing the four regions the Old Globe Theater occupies to close is described in a blog post and letter to the patrons of SL Globe Theater and Primtings. You’ll find it here: Our Magic and Our Passing – Goodbye from the SL Shakespeare Company, Primtings, and sLiterary [SIC].
Our current CEO Rod Humble has said the Lab is going to improve customer service. Ina describes the type of customer service that Linden Lab is known for… poor and inconsistent. The new point one can gain from reading Ina’s letter is that the problems run from the top down, which is a bit chilling, and are still with us.
It seems we can have an excellent game designer that understands how people interact with games and computer environments or one that understands business and customer service. I suppose finding one that is well versed in both areas is improbable. May be in the next generation.
We are told that the Lab is working to improve customer service. I use free accounts so I never deal with customer service… well, maybe once more than a year ago. But, if the CEO has trouble following up and a 4-region owner ($1,200/month) customer after a face-to-face meeting is not memorable to the CEO, it looks gloomy on the customer service front. I suppose if one is dealing with millions a thousand a month is nothing. It may also indicate that Rod’s organizational and people skills are not that strong in RL business.
So, if we can’t get customer service what do we do? I’ve been sending messages back and forth with another resident about forming a confederation or union of Second Life land owners to form a group with more influence. She seems to have made some assumptions about the group I hoped to have land owners form around, but the reasons, whether accurate or not, provide insight into how one can and cannot approach Linden Lab.
The idea comes up that one can exert negative or positive influence on the Lab. An example of negative influence would be a group of land owners insisting they must have lower tier or they are leaving. At some point the Lab has to call the bluff and simply say sorry to see you go. After all people have been vacating regions and leaving since Second Life started and the Lab is still here.
An example of positive influence is forming a union of land owners and pitching proposals. Basically saying if you, the Lab, will do this or give us that we will in return purchase additional regions and/or bring these many new users and there are 3,000 to 6,000 of us that think so and are willing to back our idea.
Whether one thinks either of these approaches would work with the Lab depends on how you see a 150± employee business working. First one has to get rid of the idea a business is what one is dealing with. A business is people, it is people we are dealing with. There is some hierarchy and political structure that is particular to any given organization of people. Also each person in has goals, duties, preferences, and beliefs that they see in unique ways. Some are even at cross purposes. Without understanding those one cannot predict how an organization of people will respond and therefore cannot influence them. At least not for a desired result.
When one prepares a pitch for a business, if they are knowledgeable, they will do their homework before making the pitch. The homework is gaining an understanding of the organization, the people and their goals and politics. They will also find the decision maker and target that person’s goals.
I’m sure no one knows the goals of all the people in the Lab or how they translate those goals to RL action. We can speculate and say a business must do so and so and has to show profit and yadda, yadda, yadda… But, those things are not necessarily true. Not all businesses have to turn a profit, as much as that is a basic principal, there are exceptions. Is the Lab trying to build a lifelong income from Second Life? Maybe not. New products may be a better choice. Maybe the Lab’s goal is to use SL as a cash flow until the can replace it with a bigger cash cow. We have no way to know.
The Lab may also be fat enough they just want to survive the world’s current economic mess. No strain, just pacing their selves. If there are venture capitalists invested in the Lab, do they want their money out? Holding currency is not necessarily a good move while the US is printing money at incredible rates. It is better to leave it invested in something with value. Profit may not be the issue many think it is. Especially if a 9-9-9 or another tax plan goes in place it may be wise to delay taking profits.
We have some information that tells us the owners of the Lab see the Lab as a software development house that happens to run SL. I see no way to know how much that concept and mental orientation affects the thinking in the Lab. I suspect it is a significant fact and is the reason many decisions by the Lab are so baffling to the residents.
The idea the Lab is a software house is probably only one of several significant factors affecting planning and decisions within the Lab. We likely are missing huge parts of the puzzle. AS an example of a missing part: we have never understood why Qarl Linden was let go, as well as other employees, which the SL users saw as improving the SL platform. Supposedly if they were meeting the Lab’s goals and moving the Lab toward those goals they would still be employed at the Lab.
One can decide the Lab’s management is self destructive. I’ve never seen anyone that made it very high into corporate management with a self-destructive nature. So, I doubt that is a realistic possibility.
One can decide those at the Lab are clueless. Really? We all are clueless in some way. There are an infinite number of things of which we are ignorant. That is the human condition. The more we know the more we know we don’t know. So, it is not surprising humans make mistakes. Mistakes are the hallmark of human advancement. There is a theory that only those making mistakes are moving things ahead. I believe it.
Summing It Up
With all we know about the Lab, we do not know enough to understand the Lab’s management well enough to predict what their goals are. Pretty much just like the Lab cannot predict what people will like about Second Life and make it appeal to the masses.
We seem to have some wall between management and users. That wall is common in all games and business-customer relationships. As far as I know no one has figured out how to run a successful business and completely remove the wall. We are going to have to live with it.
So… how do we influence the Lab? We try everything we can think of and find what works. When that stops working we experiment some more.
What things don’t work? Threats and abuse, in the forum, emails, and other communications and especially of the staff absolutely do not work. Loss of income is only a threat if it is a huge number of people and dollars and is for a believable reason. (Are you really going to leave because I don’t turn the sky pink?) One person leaving is not an issue. There are 15,000+ new people signing up today. Money… with millions of dollars coming in per month and access to the game being free, paying players leaving should obviously not be a big issue.
With 31,000+ privately owned regions the current rate of loss can be sustained for a considerable time. Management obviously believes they can turn things around in the available time. Only a massive increase in the exit rate will change that thinking.
The OpenSim threat is real but… Second Life has the customers. Try selling things in OSGrid. SL has 40k to 50k concurrent users at any given time. OSGrid peaks around 200+ concurrent users. I just looked and they have 113 users online, which means with one person per region there are 8,271 empty regions. You tell the Lab you’re going to take your clothing and fashion business to OpenSim and they are going to say, REALLY!?!
What things work? A flood of similar complaints in the; SL Forum, JIRA (click WATCH not VOTE), Customer Support Tickets, and questions in the User Group meetings seems to work. Little else seems to work. All of those issues that are seen as inhibiting the Lab’s movement toward its goals will get fixed. Those that don’t may or may not get fixed.
Probably one of the most exasperating things about Second Life is expectations. People get upset when their expectations are not met. Pay your $300/month and expect your region to work 99.9% of time like a web site and you will be disappointed.
Everyone has expectations about Second Life. The problem is no one can even tell you what Second Life is. It cannot be accurately defined as a game or a game development platform. It is some hybrid multi-faceted thing. So, it should be obvious that the hundreds of thousands now using Second Life have hundreds of thousands of different expectations. Some are going to be upset all the time and everyone is upset some of the time. And that is just SL and why people leave is: their expectations.
While I am sorry to see Ina and the Globe leaving, it makes sense that to be able to grow and move ahead separating may be necessary for both Ina and the Lab. It may be a good thing for both sides. Whether it is or isn’t, we each decide what is good for us and move ahead.