Oct 17, 2012

Prims and Plumbobs

Is #SecondLife a games company?

 

I guess this post was a long time coming, and finally after being sparked further by conversation on Twitter on this topic, I felt the need to better elaborate my actual position on this subject.

 

With the release of Creatorverse and other games from Linden Lab, not to mention Linden Realms, I have a very distinct take on it all. Maybe it’s the same as many people in Second Life and maybe it’s along the lines of the many gamers out there?

 


 

Prims and Plumbobs_002

 


 

Generally speaking, I’m against the gaming focus of Linden Lab. I won’t mince words here because this is exactly what many of us said was coming when Rodvik took over as CEO. We were outraged then at the possibility, and many of the people who are now playing up to Linden Lab and praising their games now are still some of the people who were saying they’d never betray their core community like that to begin with.

 

To wit, this is exactly what so many of us feared when Rodimus Prim took the helm.

 

So, do I somehow retract my original assertions from so long ago? Hell no. They are still exactly accurate and now coming true.

 

While people continue to back pedal and act like they were in favor all along, and point out how Linden Lab was always a gaming company from the start, I’m simply going to tell everyone to remove their collective lips from Linden Lab’s ass.

 

Here’s the run-down for anyone keeping score:

 

Rodvik popped in, took some time to “figure out the X-factor” of Second Life. After some time, he asserted he understood what he just inherited. Hired a marketing person named Kim who said she understood, and shortly after resigned. Will Wright (SPORE) is now on the board of directors, and maybe Philip Rosedale, who at this point can do nothing but watch in disgrace as Linden Lab is bastardized.

 

Maybe Second Life was built as a “game” in the very beginning, but it became more – it evolved. It became what it was supposed to be, and it thrived and grew under that premise. In short, Second Life became more than a game, an open ended virtual environment sandbox where the community created the world and propped up an economy with commerce and transactions.

 

That’s not a video game, so you can stuff it.

 

It went stagnant and faltered when the people in charge, or maybe the board of directors, decided to pretend like they had a single clue what they had on their hands. In reality, they had (and still apparently have) no clue what the hell they actually have on their hands. Is it any coincidence that it started stagnating from about Mark Kingdon forward? That’s about the time when the people in charge decided to start treating Second Life (and Linden Lab) like everything except what it actually is.

 

Do you know how I actually know this to be true? Because they’re actively ignoring a potential multi-billion dollar cash cow in favor of video games. Yes, you read correctly. Second Life is a multi-billion dollar cash cow biting Linden Lab in the ass and they have absolutely no idea how to unleash that potential.

 

That’s why they’re making video games. Because Rodvik actually doesn’t know what to do with Second Life, and the first order of business for a CEO who doesn’t understand their flagship product is to “diversify” and try to recreate that success in other ways because they don’t see a future in what they already have.

 

It would be like Nintendo deciding today to “diversify” and make home computers instead of game consoles. Even you, right now reading this, think that’s the dumbest thing Nintendo could do. And yet, too many are totally ok with Linden Lab willfully jumping the shark and “diversifying” into another category of product that may have some similarities with, but is decidedly a different market than, their flagship.

 

Does that mean that I don’t think Linden Lab is allowed to diversify? Of course not. But I’m not going to sit around and call the writing on the wall something it isn’t. This isn’t a “doom” post for Second Life, but instead it’s a post that says:

 

Look, Second Life started like a game until somebody realized how much better and important it could be. So it spent years evolving into an entirely different animal – right up to working with Open Source to properly diversify their flagship and increase their holdings in a wider capacity. It catered to educational aspects, business, and serious application like any sane platform would and should (just ask Apple and Microsoft).

 

Then, somewhere along the way something changed and there was a falling out. Mark Kingdon came in and made it worse, because he clearly didn’t understand what he had just inherited. And maybe Philip in his interim CEO position tried again to talk some sense into the board of directors… and failed. So now we have Rodvik, who we all feared would treat Second Life like just another video game (because few asserted at the time it was a video game), and now that he actually is treating the company like a video game company, and pumping out video games, it’s a huge change.

 

You just haven’t caught onto the fact it’s a very big deal that the focus is now video games for Linden Lab. I’m not entirely certain people understand that Second Life being the platform of distribution unto itself is a vast difference to being offered on Steam which is a third party distribution platform.

 

Does anyone realize that’s a major step backwards? Going from being the platform to being just another product.

 

This has huge implications going forward… Second Life itself isn’t going to “go away”, but going forward you’re going to find it is a very different animal than what it originally evolved into. In some ways that’s fine, because I don’t think there are too many people who actually do get what the hell these virtual worlds are ultimately going to evolve into if they had enough sense to let it without sabotaging them. But Second Life is going to start de-evolving in the bigger sense as it tries to be a video game platform instead of a Metaverse platform.

 

I don’t want to hear the bullshit story about how Second Life was never a Metaverse platform to begin with, either. It started as a game, evolved into a Metaverse platform (or potentially a MetaGalaxy) and then did a full stop, 180 degrees and promptly pissed itself in fear.

 

There’s a reason why it was referred to as a Metaverse, and to wit by Philip Rosedale and Cory Ondrejka as I amply demonstrate with an hour of STFU: It wasn’t a game, below in video form.

 

 

 

Enjoy an entire hour of STFU. It wasn’t a video game.

 

Google TechTalks
March 1, 2006
Philip Rosedale and Cory Ondrejka

 

 

So why do I have a problem with Linden Lab “diversifying” into video games? Because Second Life, their flagship product and what Linden Lab is literally famous for, isn’t a video game. And the more they “diversify” into video games, and treat Second Life like a video game platform, the more they are de-evolving what Second Life actually aspired to.

 

It’s nothing less than an insult. That’s why.

 

But they are welcome to keep bastardizing things, and building video games. That’s their own prerogative. They might even make some decent money doing that, too. After all, they’ve got the kahones to charge $10 for a fsking unfinished alpha.

 

My vision of a Metaverse didn’t look like the Sims. But apparently chasing EA’s shadow and pretending to be the little game company that could is more important to Rodimus Prim than actually being the CEO of a Metaverse platform.

 

When all you have is a gaming executive, all the virtual worlds look like plumbobs.

 

 

Prims and Plumbobs_001

 

 

 


15 comments:

  1. What is your take on Inara Pey's post (
    http://bit.ly/Xnius3 ) about Rod Humble commenting on LL being committed on investing into virtual worlds (and stressing on plural)? By Rod's words:

    "My comment about also investing in virtual worlds is correct. As you know I don’t like to detail things until we are close to something actionable, but we absolutely are investing in the large virtual world space which I think will make Second Life users, business owners and developers very happy…. but its a ways off."

    I know it's too little to have a clear picture and there is lots of room for speculation, but based on Rod's words it seems as there may a new spin to whole story.

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    1. My thought on that comment is that Rod is confusing "virtual world" for "video game". Because there are similarities in the two areas, I would expect that a video games executive would simply associate (incorrectly) that videos games and virtual worlds are readily interchangeable. The difference being metaphor of interaction - which I don't believe Rod understands.

      So in his mind, he really does believe in "virtual worlds" as in plural, but he's thinking plumbobs and predetermined goals with some aspect of user generated content.

      So with Creatorverse, can anyone really contest the assertion it's just the Little Big Planet approach? To me, it is just a 2D Second Life (and a massive step backwards). And with the others, it's good for what they are, but I still see it all as a miniscule fraction of what Linden Lab already had on their hands.

      It's kind of like trying to substitute a handful of bicycles in place of an Indy Race Car.

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  2. I fear that you're right. Rod doesn't know what do to about or with SL, so he's ordering the company to create things he knows about.

    Eventually, the hardware resources that are being assigned to SL to improve service and performance (but not retention or the land economy) will get repurposed to these other gaming efforts as they catch the wind in their sails.

    -ls/cm

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  3. Having been dubbed a "fanboy" by some it would probably surprise them that I totally agree with you. Early on the potential was thrilling. The perpetually adolescent and prudish media (and peanut gallery) jibes notwithstanding, great things could be envisioned from this creation (as in the presentation video you linked to).

    Then something happened (presumeably it was "M", but I'm sure it's not as simplistic as that) and the thrill fizzled. I don't think SL is going away, either, but it's never going to live up to its potential which is worse. Better off dead, one might say. An early adapter, I supported (and still support) it, as well as Linden Lab, advocating it wherever I could. I was a constant PR man for Second Life at the major corporation where I worked and people were intensely interested, some of them even "coming out of the closet" to me in emails shairing their enthusiasm. People would gather around my desk when I was not sitting there to watch the slide show/screen saver presentions I made from my burgeoning Flickr account.

    Development takes money and I paid my share (many thousands of dollars in tier and transactions), imagining I was helping LL to realize that potential. Well, Second Life HAS improved dramatically in the intervening years (and continues to do so), but that's not ALL we were looking forward to. Do I regret it? No, not a penny. I have gotten immense pleasure and satisfaction from my Avatarian existence in Second Life; creatively, aesthetically, socially, and as entertainment.

    But now I feel the same way about the money spent as I do about RL taxes I pay. Namely, yes, I understand that to support the society one lives in one must pay taxes ... but damn them for not spending my money wisely. Yes, I am insulted, but I'm still there and will be until a plug is pulled (either its, or mine).

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    1. I feel pretty much the same as you on this issue. I don't think Second Life is going away, I just think it's going to be "re-imagined" as something very different than what we've come to know it as. For some, that's a good thing (gamers) but for the other 90% of what Second Life was good for, that may not bode well.

      It's simply not going to live up to the potential at this point, and now I see it as underwhelming at best. That's not to say I'm going to stop using Second Life or hanging around... just like you, I'll be there till the plug is pulled, or at least until it becomes so intolerable that I just move on. As of this moment, I'm just severely twitching at the course of events.

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  4. No, what happened was that venture capital lost patience. Ten years is an unusually long time for VCs to wait for an exit, and they don't deal well with "profitable, but stagnating", and arguably in 2008, SL was stagnating - so VCs do the only thing they know how to do: switch out the leadership and hope for a hail mary (M with his Facebook me too), and if that fails, try for a quick exit.

    Arguably, SL suffered from being both early and late at the same time. Early simply because the culture of virtuality hasn't evolved beyond niche constituencies, and late because they missed the mobile revolution and misjudged how badly desktops would tank.

    I do think that eventually, the culture will get there, and that the mobile platforms will become powerful enough to render SL as well as today's gaming rigs, but meanwhile you would need a corporate culture that is totally at odds with the VC model. This culture would be more adapted to a type of German Mittelstand company, that is happy to operate at high margins for a niche clientele until the time is finally ripe. The venture capital DNA simply doesn't dig that model.

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    1. In 2008, SL was profitable but stagnating on their own ignorance alone. It's the same story as I've already said in prior posts, even handing them a simple solution to that issue every step of the way. It's the same solution I've put up since 1998 - so while I appreciate the "investors lost patience" reasoning, and while it's true, the stagnation part still comes from the point I've made where they have absolutely no idea what to do with what they have.

      Simply put, they had something in their hands that was potentially a total game changer, and they horribly misjudged and mismanaged it because they didn't understand it. What we're seeing now is just the wrap up phase. The "let's turn this into an exit strategy so we can get the hell out of here" as you have illustrated.

      From early on, and continuing until today, the ones calling the shots really don't understand that they're scrambling to trade five star for Burger King.

      Delete
    2. I am one of those who calls Second Life a game - but that is because I feel a lot of people in recent times (since Gary Gygax's meme became dominant) define 'game' wrongly. I see "playing with dolls" and "teaparty" as games - and that is largely what SL is for most of its members. You don't need to kill elves to be a game.

      But as a 'video game' under that terms common definition - that is a thing that I do not feel is the ideal path for SL. Enabling game elements is good, but becoming akin to an MMO would not be.

      Patterns and Creatorverse baffle me - I don't see a purpose to them. But then Minecraft also baffles, and I didn't "get it" with SL for its first several years. Although... Patterns to me, looks like it is meant to compete with SL as they understand SL, rather than compete with SL as what SL is.


      I'm not sure how to read where they're going.

      But I do think the platform that is SL is showing too many signs of age. An SL 2.0 needs to happen - but only if it can be as open to the users as SL is.

      It needs to be a MUSH, not a MUD.

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    3. Desktops tanking has not stopped many an MMO from making money hand over fist with active users in the millions.

      If the concept is rightly presented - desktop internet applications can do well.

      Delete
  5. I am one of those who calls Second Life a game - but that is because I feel a lot of people in recent times (since Gary Gygax's meme became dominant) define 'game' wrongly. I see "playing with dolls" and "teaparty" as games - and that is largely what SL is for most of its members. You don't need to kill elves to be a game.

    But as a 'video game' under that terms common definition - that is a thing that I do not feel is the ideal path for SL. Enabling game elements is good, but becoming akin to an MMO would not be.

    Patterns and Creatorverse baffle me - I don't see a purpose to them. But then Minecraft also baffles, and I didn't "get it" with SL for its first several years. Although... Patterns to me, looks like it is meant to compete with SL as they understand SL, rather than compete with SL as what SL is.


    I'm not sure how to read where they're going.

    But I do think the platform that is SL is showing too many signs of age. An SL 2.0 needs to happen - but only if it can be as open to the users as SL is.

    It needs to be a MUSH, not a MUD.

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  6. What do you do with a virtual world when 90% of the enterprise users have left?

    All games (and it is a game platform Will that built community around a game) have the same product life cycle as any other commodity. Enterprise users come in and make the thing cool, novel. They spend money, explore and create.

    When the veni, vidi, vici hits... they move on to the next thing. Some stay if they continue to be gratified and enjoy the platform (WOW has incredible retention)and they are a community too. But they aren't making the coin they used to.

    Eventually, it gets boring and people go. Not all. But a chunk of them. In this case virtual world frontiers had to expand and pioneers also left for the greener pastures of social media where they could enjoy the same flirting, social connection, file sharing and informatics with fellow geeks without having their butts walking off maps or mired in a crowd of people pandering for tips.

    The ones that stay behind also, like you and your friends have virtually (pun intended) everything you need. Are you still spending the $100-$300 per month you used to when it was new and you had to have a different outfit each day? No. Travelling on an alt I find at least 80% of my interactions are with people who are oldbies that own it all (having no need to buy) or newbies that have adopted a "freebie" mentality and refuse to invest.

    Let's be real. For even $50 a month there are better options out there for people including Xbox Live ($79 for the YEAR) which plugs people into community, social media and more.

    It didn't become what it was supposed to. And from a product perspective it has a bad reputation. Don't get up in arms... I am still a staunch supporter of Second Life but have learned to keep it on the down low. It's reputation lost me business when I started Freelancing. I won't pull punches either... it has a horrible reputation and is grossly misunderstood in the business world.

    "Would you like to host our meeting virtually in an office in Second Life? It's a great communication tool" I sold about six months ago to a potential client.

    "Why, so we can run around half dressed and sleep with other peoples spouses? No thanks." replied client.

    I cried afterward.

    I think the "community" should be glad that games are being developed which might bring some more spending and population to the virtual world. Perhaps enough to keep it going? Because again lets be real... no one is knocking down doors to get in and spend money so they can be stuck in a wall or walking off into some pretty blue water, having voice knock out on them, having creepy griefers stalk/annoy them et al..

    The renaissance era of Second Life is over. May it continue to bring joy and creative expression, companionship and collaboration to the people who remain. But don't fault them for trying to keep it going. They are always and first... a business. You are a customer, not a citizen.

    Miss you bunches.

    Lori / Skylar Smythe

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    1. *sighs* Where to begin?

      "What do you do with a virtual world when 90% of the enterprise users have left?"

      You figure out where you fucked up, stop sabotaging and making a mockery of your flagship and company, and just maybe get your shit together and redeem yourself as a company instead of chasing business strategy of the month.

      That's what you do.

      "All games (and it is a game platform Will that built community around a game) have the same product life cycle as any other commodity. Enterprise users come in and make the thing cool, novel. They spend money, explore and create."

      No, it's not a game platform. If it was, it has been an absolutely shit games platform for 9 years compared to literally everything else in the world that is available, but seemingly a *really great* Metaverse platform. It is being touted as a games platform today, but it is still lackluster and shit by comparison for that use - which is why it became something other than a games platform and thrived until they held a shotgun to their collective ball-sacks and pulled the trigger, effectively neutering the potential.

      "Eventually, it gets boring and people go. Not all. But a chunk of them. In this case virtual world frontiers had to expand and pioneers also left for the greener pastures of social media where they could enjoy the same flirting, social connection, file sharing and informatics with fellow geeks without having their butts walking off maps or mired in a crowd of people pandering for tips."

      It gets boring because the platform stagnated and the company behind it spent too much time having absolutely no idea what the hell they wanted the company to be. In that time, the flagship suffered horribly on all fronts due to flavor of the month CEO and business plans.

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    2. "It didn't become what it was supposed to. And from a product perspective it has a bad reputation. Don't get up in arms... I am still a staunch supporter of Second Life but have learned to keep it on the down low. It's reputation lost me business when I started Freelancing. I won't pull punches either... it has a horrible reputation and is grossly misunderstood in the business world. "

      And yet you suggested Second Life instead of an OpenSim closed grid for an enterprise customer who needed it to meet virtually. You deserved to lose that business.

      "The renaissance era of Second Life is over. May it continue to bring joy and creative expression, companionship and collaboration to the people who remain. But don't fault them for trying to keep it going. They are always and first... a business. You are a customer, not a citizen."

      The renaissance era of Second Life never happened, but I'll tell you what did - The initial hype phase which was bound to burst. It was mismanaged and misunderstood on all levels. Instead of proper planning for it, or capitalizing on it, they came in half-cocked and smug and it didn't become what they thought. The community is rightfully up in arms about the video games aspect not because they're trying to keep SL alive, but because Linden Lab *still* doesn't understand what the hell they have or how to capitalize on it.

      Business, sure - they get that out of me. And they are absolutely an ass-backwards flake of the month, trend chasing, visions statement every friday, company with half-wit CEOs who continually see the future of Linden Lab as absolutely *everything except* what the effing company is known for or it's flagship. They lack proper Public Relations. They lack proper Marketing. They lack a CEO with any idea what to do with the flagship that made them famous (and now infamous). And instead of trying to fix any of that like a real CEO would, he's currently pretending to still work at Electronic Arts and making half-baked video games.

      We're customers *and* citizens. Because we built something bigger than the platform... We started building a Metaverse. And now, it's just another video game.

      It went from platform to just another product, and the fault is squarely where it should be - right in Linden Lab's lap.

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  7. Loved your points Will. As always, your brain remains balanced and delicious :) xoxo

    Skylar Smythe

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  8. Actually, I think Rod has a pretty clear handle on what he needs to do with Linden Labs and Second Life. He needs to get money flowing in the right direction first. He needs to make the company attractive to investors again. From that cash flow will come siphoned off money from the games development to put into continued development of Second Life...at first as a platform for game development ideas(thats the money flow thing again)...later, as its technology is able to be evolved, it will become more, perhaps even the Metaverse platform you envision Will...but, for the here and now, trying to sell a larger version of an OpenSim grid as being the next big thing...The Metaverse...doesn't seem to be getting any big investment takers...so, smaller steps first. I think a fruity computer company did something similar, if I recall ?

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