Wired has one of the better articles I’ve read on Second Life lately and how Madison Avenue is “wasting millions on a deserted Second Life.” Is mainstream media beginning to catch up to the truth about Second Life? That it is a neat place, a curious idea, but not a very busy one?
If any company, including organizations like Coca Cola and the NBA are paying over mid six figures for a presence in Second Life for a year it’s not being cutting edge and innovative, it’s being fiscally irresponsible. Sorry Electric Sheep, your services are top notch most certainly as far as virtual world construction go, but the ROI for a Second Life presence with those kind of dollars just doesn’t compute.
The Wired piece gives specifics:
Created by an underfunded startup using a physics engine that’s now years out of date, Second Life is made up of thousands of disconnected “regions” (read: processors), most of which remain invisible unless you explicitly search for them by name. Residents can reach these places only by teleporting into the void. And even the popular islands are never crowded, because each processor on Linden Lab’s servers can handle a maximum of only 70 avatars at a time; more than that and the service slows to a crawl, some avatars disappear, or the island simply vanishes. “It’s really the software’s fault,” says Andrew Meadows, Linden Lab’s senior developer. “Way back when, we used to say, ‘This is not going to scale.’”
I bolded Mr. Meadows quote because it is in direct contradiction to what Linden Lab CEO Phillip Rosedale claimed over a year ago when he laughingly compared Second Life’s ability to scale to Google. Sure, they can keep adding servers that support 70, er more like 40 people, endlessly at an expensive $295/month plus well over a thousand bones for setup.
But don’t listen to me, a resident since December 2005 and a business owner in SL since shortly after that, read a comment made by a resident Salome Strangelove here at VTOR one of the last times we discussed SL scaling problems:
It always seems to me like LL is playing prevent defense before they’ve scored. Worry about tens of thousands of users after you can deliver service to a mere thirty thousand. I’m all for planning for the future, but could we maybe fix a few things before we get there?
According to Salome’s profile, she’s been a resident longer than I, since 11/21/2005.
Visiting the NBA
I decided to stop by one of the organizations mentioned in the article: the NBA and see their presence in SL via the NBA Orientation. The NBA can use plenty of good will these days with news that one of their refs was involved allegedly in gambling on the games he was involved in officiating. I saw four people, that’s right, four SL avatars at the NBA Orientation. The orientation is nicer than the SL orientation but with a basketball motif. I can see fans liking it. At the end of the orientation it’s off to the real action — the NBA Jam session (NBA Jam Session 111, 179, 34) with the picture at the top of this post.
You see what I see? Nice 3D layout, great branding, no people.
Will SL ever get any busier?
I’ve been in SL long enough now to predict that SL with its current technolgy isn’t going to grow any larger. In fact, it’s about as vulnerable a business first and second life that if any better alternative comes along a significant base of clientele will jump ship.
I’ve heard a few people talk about Kaneva being one such ship to jump to, but from what I saw of Kaneva, it’s not the answer yet. Sony HOME will likely be missing one of the most important SL ingredients: the ability to create and sell your own objects in a real world virtual marketplace.
For some people, including at least one of the VTOR authors here, this is acceptable. Having a busy, busy place isn’t that important to every resident, I get that. But from a business perspective, we need people to talk to interested in doing business. Branding alone isn’t enough.
I’m still debating whether or not to get out by year end. It would help my decision to stay if Linden Lab makes some major changes and more real people come into the world (not bots and alts). The cost to me hasn’t been anything remotely on the level that these big corporations are paying. I think since December 2005, I’ve come out of pocket a little more than $200 USD total. I’ve made over that amount from my business, so I’ve actually turned a little bit of a profit. Also have been somewhat quietly shopping my dice game IP. So my ROI in SL has been positive overall, I can’t complain.
For these big businesses though? Until or unless the real world population increases, they may want to hide the checkbook when the SL bandwagon comes to town.
Update 8:10am PST: Right after publishing this I see that Caliandris wrote about the same Wired article. Please be sure to check out her perspective too as she’s been in SL longer than any of our VTOR group and she also runs a business in SL.