The Second Life™ blogosphere is abuzz about the coming new world being built by Linden Lab. Everyone wants to know what it will be like and whether we will be able to transfer out inventories. But, today I came across Gwyneth Llewelyn’s article NeXT Life. In the title Gwyn is making a play on the 1990’s Steve Jobs ‘other’ company NeXT, which eventually became the Mac OSX.
In her article she takes an in depth look at who Linden Lab’s™ competition is and how they stack up. She also suggests some interesting ways for the Lab to deal with that competition. In all I like the long article. I shouldn’t complain about length after the article I wrote yesterday.
Starting out I saw that Gwyn’s facts suffer a bit of the Telephone Game’s factoring. The only point I wish to correct are her statements about Linden decisions being questionable as each big decision has cost them users. I just don’t see it as that simple.
Gwyn says that with each big announcement and change in SL we lose population. For instance when ‘they’ decided to disallow gambling (July 2007) we lost 30% of the active users. I can’t find any support for that number. Then in August 2007 in-world banking was banned because of the collapse of in-world banks. Wikipedia claims that cut the SL economy in half. But, I see no way to separate the loses from banning gambling and banking. Nor can I verify the quantifications.
I also cannot say that Linden Lab’s decisions on these issues were bad. US law on Internet gambling had changed. That was going to create problems for SL and the Lab did not want to deal with the red tape and state-by-state enforcement of the Federal and state laws in the US. No matter what the Lab did gambling was going to be restricted. I don’t see that they had any choice that would have been acceptable to users.
With decision banking all sorts of problems are still coming up and US laws change to give the central government more control of our lives. Since scammers could setup fake banks, something done in RL too, in world and Linden Lab’s customers were getting ripped off they had to do something. So, in 2007 in-world banking as we think of banking was banned. Whether we lost more users from the ban or the swindle, I can’t find anything that believably says. But, again I don’t see where the Lab had much choice but to make a decision.
Gwyn also sees the creation of Zindra as costing the Lab SL users. I can’t find a dip in SL stats that suggest that is true. If it doesn’t show in the user stats, does it matter? If so few people left that it didn’t make a difference, why worry? And refrain from moving forward because a few people may leave if it offers the opportunity for appeal to a larger audience?
I can’t see that Gwyn’s idea the Lab makes consistent bad decisions holds up. So, I can’t agree with her projection that the decision to build a new world will cost them users, or at least cost enough users to matter. When I looked at the user chat from the SL11B event with Jeccisa Lyon I found 5 or 6 people of the 96 there the problem people. If those 6 left, even if they represent 6% of all users, I wouldn’t mind. I think SL would be better off without them. Player retention might increase if we had fewer poisonous people in SL. I’m not suggesting we through them out. But, if they chose to leave as we improve the world, OK.
The rest of Gwyn’s article seems to be more in line with how I see the world.
But the competition…
Gwyn points out that for the first time ever the Lab’s Second Life is going to have serious competition. Blue Mars pulled users and content creators. Cloud Party did too. But, they closed and most of those users are back in SL. Facebook’s world is unlikely to close even if it loses money for 5 years.
Blue Mars was technically advanced. Cloud Party was too. Those did not draw a flood of new users. They did not go mainstream drawing a billion users. Gwyn at length examines how High Fidelity (HyFy) and a new Facebook virtual world (VW) will gain users in ways that Mars and Party didn’t. And how they will have some of the same problems along with there unique problems.
Her conclusion is a new VW just because it is a VW is unlikely to attract new users. But, we have thousands of new users per day signing up for SL. So, I believe there is some disconnect in her thinking on this point. With 10k to 40k new signups per month, I think, we not need so much to attract new players as we need to learn how to keep them.
Is an easier to use viewer going to increase player retention? Probably. Is an easier to use world going to retain more users? I think that even more likely. Will better performance that is more like other computer games going to retain more players? It will help, especially the performance part. So, can this new world deliver those things? I think and hope so.
Gwyn examines in detail the facets of FB and HyFy and how they may work and succeed and/or fail. She then makes comparisons to SL and what she calls NeXT Life or I call SL2. These are well done comparisons revealing a number of insights that had not occurred to me.
Gwyn writes, “I believe that Linden Lab should be doing some deep thinking about what real arguments they have for the majority of residents to switch over and continue to spend money in their new platform as they have done so far in Second Life.” Well… yeah.
I suppose they are doing the thinking. I think this is where the marketing will make the difference. I worry based on the Lab’s past marketing, but Ebbe seems to seeing his way through the marketing maze and he is doing things differently.
Some of the points that Gwyn sees that should make it into marketing in some form is that FB is going to give us a fascist world where the FB management rules. Losing a few million users when they have billions… it is going to have all the worst aspects of an insensitive bureaucratic government. HyFy is looking like it will be the wild west where it is likely to be full on buyer beware with ‘region’ providers handling most enforcement and banning issues. NeXT Life or SL2 will be somewhere in between. How to convey that in a professional way is going to be the marketing trick of the day.
From what we have seen of people’s reactions so far Gwyn’s insight on identity transfer and content transfer are probably the most accurate when she writes, “Remember, on HF or Facebook, nobody will know your name, nobody will recognize your avatar, you won’t have any money, and your inventory will be empty. [Linden Lab] Tell them how awesome ‘NeXT Life’ will be. Then hire them [content creators] — yes, pay them money — to convert a substantial part of their content to ‘NeXT Life’. In return, they will ‘allow’ residents switching over to pick brand new copies of their content, for free, in exchange for the equivalent content they had in Second Life. This would save all the costs of planning to migrate content. Let the content creators do that for you — probably what you’d spend would be about the same.”
Now there is an idea. Getting this into a marketing plan and users on board is the opportunity Gwyen hopes the Lab sees. Me too.
If you want to understand what is likely to happen with the Second Life we now have, the coming new Linden world, HyFy, and the coming Facebook world, you need to read Gwyn’s analysis of these things in: NeXT Life. I think it will help one understand the forces at play.