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Linden Lab boss: sex isn't the key to Second Life

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By Barry Collins

Posted on 19 Feb 2010 at 12:29

Sex isn't the driving force behind the popularity of Second Life, according to the man who runs the virtual world.

Linden Lab CEO Mark Kingdon was talking exclusively to PC Pro, in response to our Whatever Happened to Second Life? feature, in which we struggled to find users inside the virtual world - except for when we visited the parts of the map dedicated to adult content.

In a major city there might be a place where you find adult entertainment but it might be in a specially zoned area. We've used that principle to reorganise Second Life

Kingdon, however, insists that sex isn't the key attraction for Second Life's hundreds of thousands of registered users. "We've taken a very proactive stance over the last year to create an adult-only continent where you need to be age verified to participate, and we did that because people want a more predictable experience," he said.

"In a major city there might be a place where you find adult entertainment but it might be in a specially zoned area. We've used that principle to reorganise Second Life.

"About 6% of the regions in Second Life are zoned 'adult'," he added. "And we've looked at adult very extensively over the last year, through many different lenses... and we've found it a very average in terms of the prevalence of adult content.

"There are certain things Second Life gets tagged with and that's one of them. When you look at the facts, it's actually quite different."

Island nations

When asked to explain why the adult areas appeared to be much busier than the rest of the map, Kingdon said it was down to the unusual geography of the Second Life map. "Second Life is a fascinating construct. There are mainland areas like [the adult continent] Zindra, where there's large contiguous land masses and that isn't actually the majority of land in Second Life.

"Most of the land in Second Life is in islands. The thing about that is there's no single place you can go and walk around like Zindra or the mainland of Second Life."

Search deficiencies

Kingdon dismisses allegations that vast parts of Second Life are empty, claiming that the in-world search tools make it too difficult for users to find other people and events.

"It sure is hard to find people and things in Second Life, particularly for the new user," he said. "It's one of the projects we're working very hard on this year.

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User comments

Second Life is empty?

You allege that vast parts of Second Life are empty. Anyone who has flown over the continental U.S. might make the same observation. As of 1/4/10, there were 29,681 sims (24,033 private estates & 5,648 Linden owned). Let's assume median concurrency at 55,000. 55,000 avatars divided by 29,681 sims equals, 1.85 avatars per sim. And that correlates nicely with anecdotal observations and experience.

By WizardGynoid on 19 Feb 2010

The thing about statistics...

...is they don't help you to put across the *feel* of the place. It feels empty. There may be a cultural difference here - US residents are more used to open spaces, whereas in Europe we are used to several hundred people - and frequently, several thousand - in the 65,535 m^2 that a Second Life "Sim" represents.

By Steve_Cassidy on 20 Feb 2010

Second Life IS empy

As Wizard noted above, user-to-sim ratio is under 2 users per sim. But his attempt to correlate that to RL land is imo incorrect. In RL, despite vast areas of land where there is little habitation, there are also thriving cities. We see little of such on Second Life. Aside from "clubs"... as the writer pointed out in two articles, there is little going on.

There are many reasons for this lowered activity, all of them fairly complex. As the founder of Elf Clan, one of the oldest large groups on Second Life (the first large fantasy-themed group), in my 5+ years activity on Second Life I have noticed loss not only in population, but serious degradation in performance. When we opened our first sim in 2005 it was lightning fast with virtually zero lag. Sound and gestures loaded in an instant (sounds actually played along with gestures), music was fluid, movement on private sims was unrestricted (the same could not be said for Mainland areas, but private sims worked very well). Today, "showstopper" level lag exists grid wide. Music and sound effects take 15-30 seconds or more (to load a 10-second clip). Apparently due to poor caching and asset retrieval problems, songs often experience individual clips timing out, conflicting with one another, played in the wrong order, or dying out entirely. Group chat regularly times out and fails. Group notecards fail to be delivered to all members of the group (estimations are approximately a 50% failure rate). There is a texture-redundancy issue (the same texures loading repeatedly) that has existed for some 2 years or more now, that despite being documented and known, has gone unfixed. Sims lag to dead-stop whenever someone teleports in, out, or changes appearance. A severe error caused by a new scripting platform (Mono) lags sims to a standstill every time a mono-based object is rezzed or rezzes an object. Graphics demands of Second Life are far in excess of any online or offline game-- and frankly in excess of anything they should be; many point to poor foundation coding as the culprit.

This is just the tip of "showstopper" bugs that have continued, unfixed, for years. These bugs are making Second Life almost unusable for the average user. Current user base is approximately 750,000 (a significant portion of that number alts). Compared to other virtual online worlds... Second Life is indeed poorly populated, as the writer experienced-- and for good reason. It has become unpopular, and the company untrustworthy.

THE OPEN SPACE FIASCO
If these problems were not enough, in 2008 Linden Lab hiked prices on a popular product (OpenSpace / "Homestead" sims) by an absurd 67% (from $75 to $125 a month).
Rather than just taking this and forking ove the cash, customer gave Linden Lab a wake-up call by shutting down such sims grid-wide. From late October 2008 to mid February 2009, more than 5,500 sims shut down. Tens of thousands of people left Second Life in anger, interestingly boosting the growth of one of LL's strongest potential competitors, the OpenSim project. Premium user numbers dropped like a rock. All of these things are documented on blogs throughout the Net, including the Elf Clan blog site at http://elfclan.ning.com (search the blogs for "OpenSpace", "Open Space" and "Homestead").

As a result of this, figures clearly show NEGATIVE SL land growth during 2009, NEGATIVE membership figures, NEGATIVE Premium membership growth. So despite company spin and PR... yes, Second Life had a serious decline-- caused as a direct result of very unpopular management decisions in 2008-2009.

XTREETSL TAKEOVER BID
In an apparent bid to take over the SL web-marketing busienss, Linden Lab acquired the two dominant web-based shopping systems, OnRez and SLX. They promptly shut down OnRez and started promoting the renamed XstreetSL (XSL) in-world, with plans to tie in web purchases to SL finances (L$). As many feared, it wasn't long before Linden Lab announced new XSL policies that proved immensely unpopular with merchants, namely, an L$10/item/month "listing fee" (in addition to already existing 5% commission on sales) and an L$99/item/month listing fee for FREEBIES. This decision, guaranteed to drive freebies from the XstreetSL listings (as was obviously intended) has proved largely unpopular, causing declaratoin of a grid-wide boycott of XstreetSL.

Despite the boycott, XstreetSL sales are booming. It is easy to shop there. Merchants have largely caved and failed to support the boycott (possibly due to the fact that the announced policy changes have not yet begun. Time will tell in that regard). There is a double-edged result to that which directly influences SL activity: the increased focus on XSL and direct support by Linden Lab (as opposed to being a third-party operation) has driven massive sales to that board-- removing them from inworld. As a result, merchants are closing down satellite stores and instead focusing on one main store. Already sims are shutting down because merchants are failing to support their markets. One prominent and long-time shopping center, VIENNA, coincidentally just today shut down operations. The stated reason from the sim owner: merchants are switching to XstreetSL and no longer renting booth space.

While such has undeniably boosted sales (and thus LL "real economy" bragging rights), it has had direct impact on a land-based economy. It would seem gains on XstreetSL are replacing what would otherwise be market sales inworld. The merchant shutdown is causing sim shutdown. While the current level of that might be minimal and eventually prove insignificant, it is a factor in overall world issues.

I could go on and on. It is the "small guy", the end users that are aware of these things and can help get down to the real things going on with Second Life. We're the ones on the front lines, dealing with the brunt of company decisions and policy changes. The bottom line is that repetitive management decisions that were predictably harmful to customer interests, are continuing. Many believe Linden Lab to be out of touch with their primary customer base-- which as is typical of the entire computer industry-- is hobbyist/group/gamer oriented, not the big-business interest Linden Lab appears to be focusing upon. While personally I agree with the reasons behind Linden Lab's position on in-world gambling (they DO have to follow the laws, especially when the FBI sends a polite warning), and the "Adult continent", these decisions were unpopular-- and not nearly the most unpopular decisions the company has made.

I and other users have been trying for years to get Linden Lab to wake up and smell the coffee. Their goals for Second Life seem to be almost totally perpendicular to the desired goals of customers. The company seems to be pandering to big businesses and their "core marketers" (the heavy-duty merchants) while largely ignoring the dominant population of their grid, namely the people who fund the large majority of their tens of thousands of sims. Any attempt we have made to draw company attention to these issues, to provide alternatives, to suggest a different course, appear to have largely fallen on deaf ears. As a result, helpful techs such as Balpien Hammerer, myself and others, who have managed to locate key areas of severely detrimental system performance and policies, have for the most part simply stopped trying to assist Linden Lab in further performance fixes. As Balpien stated in our blogs, it has become frustrating spending considerable time locating these key problem issues only to have them continue unfixed, with a dose of company attitude thrown in.

That is the general environment grid wide at Second Life at this time. The author of these articles was not imagining anything, nor was he in the wrong place at the wrong time. His impression is the general impression most newcomers get when they visit Second Life-- a fact of which Linden Lab is very much aware. I keep writing open, earnest, frank blogs myself, joining the thousands of other voices in hope that Linden Lab will listen, change its course, make the grid more affordable, more customer-friendly, more stable, and turn Second Life into its original intended purpose: a Virtual Web. Unfortunately at this time, based on existing and historical evidence, we see little chance of that ever happening. To be frank, most of us are wondering if our investments in time, effort, money and heart will even be around two or three years from now. That's not a pessimistic view at all. Those are real concerns voiced by customers on a daily basis.

In 2009, we witnessed the callous destruction of over 5,500 sims as a direct result of destructive company policy change. This was a "virtual earthquake" to the Second Life community. Many of us are wondering when and where the next shoe will fall.

By Wayfinder on 20 Feb 2010

A link might have been better

Than all that. Going to such lengths (and using CAPITALS) are why the people you think you need to reach, can ignore you. I'm not saying you shouldn't express your opinion: just that you should do it in a way that works, as distinct from a way that makes you feel good.

By Steve_Cassidy on 20 Feb 2010

A question for the Second Lifers here...

Kingdon refers to "areas zoned adult", but if I wander about the place then I find loads and loads of content I'd consider adult, all over the place. These appear to be on areas zoned (and pardon me if I get this wrong), "Mature" or "PG". I'd like to give a usable example here but most of the places I've seen are well above the level of rude at which I expect to lose the audience... anyway: can someone explain the "Mature/PG" thing?

By Steve_Cassidy on 21 Feb 2010

Steve, unless you're a blog moderator here (in which case you should identify yourself as such and contact posters privately), perhaps you limit your own comments to the subject at hand and leave the OP and board system to moderating this blog.

I consider your-personal-opinions about the motives and attitudes of other users far more unwelcome than any comment on this blog. What are you, a Linden trying to throw sand in the gears? ; )

By Wayfinder on 21 Feb 2010

Zoned areas

That said, in regard to your question about zoned adult areas... I agree. I myself have noticed "adult" items still all over the grid, some of them quite graphic. I think the problem is that Linden Lab can't police thousands of sims themselves; they need users to report such abuses where they are found.

Unfortunately, there are no quick-and-easy reporting tools for such abuses. The abuse system is time consuming and semi-complex... so most people just don't bother.

By Wayfinder on 21 Feb 2010

SL growth? NOT

As an interesting coincidence, I logged on to SL today, to find the following message on the login screen:

Logged in last 60 days: 1,087,755

Now as far as I can determine, that is a loss of some 200,000 members in the period of 30 to 60 days. So ignore the spin, ignore the hype and propaganda, ignore the claims. Let's get down to truth and honesty for a change without fudging the figures.

Facts are facts. And the facts-- Linden Lab's own published facts-- show that Second Life population is falling.

So, zero growth during 2009, and a loss of appx 200,000 members since the first of the year. In winter-- a time of year when people tend to use Second Life more due to inclement weather.

I think those are some fairly strong signals that LL management would do well to not ignore. Customers are voting with their feet.

By Wayfinder on 22 Feb 2010

To find out what the members really think about our dear Mark K have a look at our forums at http://slapt.me and the wiki shows the extent of the adult changes. You can also read the SL forums now here https://blogs.secondlife.com/community/forums/gene
ral?view=overview and can see the discontent amongst some of the members. For a CEO of a 3D VW that and I quote "Facebook is the new internet," theres not much hope for SL with that attitude imho.

By Lord_Sullivan on 22 Feb 2010

Inadequate Equipment, Inadequate Support, Just Totally Inadequate...

I have been a paid member of SecondLife since 2005, I have seen the rise and fall of this amazing opportunity.

There is a lack of investment in new technology and new ideas have totally dried up. It seems Linden Lab regurgitates the same over and over. Nothing new seems to have come into SecondLife since webpages on a prim several years ago (totally waste of time as you can't click the web pages). Their proposal for open-sim style opportunities for people to develop their own grids and connect them to the SecondLife seems to have been shelved.

The SecondLife inventory system is **AWFUL**, and totally unfit for purpose! I have lost so much of my inventory when I was trying to manage my inventory folders. Creating a folder, moving items into it, then 5 minutes later the folder disappears and half the items I sent to it as well!

The SecondLife client browser is totally inadequate, it is resource intensive, I see processor use go from low 30% to high 80%+ when launching the client and sometimes even get locked out of my PC when resources max out at 100%, which is often.

Talking with support now is like talking to faceless corporations like the electric or telephone company. They are not there to help you, the workers are now compartmentalised so can't answer questions, can't really help you at all. They used to be great, helpful, whatever you needed they would find a way to help you out. Now you're lucky if you get your technical support question answered in a week!

The so called "Class 5" web servers they use are totally inadequate to handle the "up to" 100 avatars, and there are NO OPTIONS for private island owners to improve their equipment, i.e. more memory, more processing power, etc. Since Linden Lab is really just a glorified web hosting provider and acts like one, should offer upgrades and listen to customers desires.

Zindra I heard was built from older Class 4 servers, which explains why there is so much lag in these sims, even when it is empty. When someone crosses a sim border the **ENTIRE** sim stops working until the avatar has loaded, and some avatars have large textures & huge amounts of scripted objects on them. Using outdated technology shows that Linden Lab no longer has the available funding to invest in new technology.

The SecondLife economy is totally in the toilet due to poorly planned and poorly executed sim destruction. The Real-Life economy is down, but the real life governments are trying, if in vain, to stimulate recovery. Linden Lab does NOTHING to help the SecondLife economy. They just remove great ideas and replace them with nothing. They took developers award from us, they took dwell from us, they have stopped giving back to the SecondLife economy.

Linden Lab is a private company so asking questions about what their agenda is not going to get you anywhere. I have my theories but no substantiated evidence. I heard that Bimbos, Furries and some other things were no longer of interest to Linden Lab, they want them out of the SecondLife experience from what people have been saying. It seems that it is only corporate interests that they wish to attract. The only way they can do this is by destroying the fundamentals of what made SecondLife in the first place...

Adult content was annexed into what is kindly referred to as a "ghetto". Our doubts and fears were realised and adult content is no longer attracting the visitors it was when the land was just deemed "mature", its no longer generating the revenues it did and as a result content creators are leaving the Zindra continent in droves, resulting in large plots of land for sale, and therefore the land value has plummetted!

To raise an answer to the question "Whatever happend to SecondLife?", I can say that it has been destroyed by the men in dark suits. There no longer is a point to the opportunity, they hedged their bets on corporate greed with 3D online conferences and forgot who actually made SL great in the first place, the individual content creators...

Just as in real-life when a government only takes from the people who put it there, there will be a revolt and people will leave this opportunity in droves.

What can we do? The current management team seem totally incompetent. You can tell this by the statements made by "M" Linden aka Mark Kingdon above. He is totally out of touch with the SecondLife experience. I am sure he was chosen to head up the company by the financial backers to be a good corporate dark suit, after it seemed that Philip Linden was ousted from the organisation over the child avatar issues exposed in the German media some time ago.

Linden Lab needs to become much more open with its customers, not just the corporate interests. We want a say in how SecondLife is operated...

By StaceySugar on 22 Feb 2010

I have been corrected on the "after it seemed that Philip Linden was ousted from the organisation over the child avatar issues exposed in the German media some time ago."

..."Philip didn't leave cuz the age play scandal. ...he left three years after that controversy. And he's still the majority shareholder. And he's still in SL working on his own startup".

This said, it doesn't detract from the fact that the current management team seem to want the content creators out and rely on corporate interest in long distance 3D conferencing.

It's all well and good, but I think SecondLife should return to the fundamentals that made it great when it launched, before greed took over and destroyed the opportunity from within. It got too big to fast, the experience was not specific, tailored or non-laggy and as a result those millions of accounts lie dormant from 1 time visits!

By StaceySugar on 22 Feb 2010

Fudging User Figures

In a comment above, I cited the following official figures from the Second Life Spash page:

Logged in last 60 days: 1,087,755

I noted this indicates a loss of at least 200,000 members over the last 30-60 days.

Interesting to note, the very next day that figure suddenly jumped from 1,087,755 to 1,455,000.

Are we to believe that SL membership suddenly exploded, in less than 24 hours, by over 367,000 users? That this amazing growth comes after my exposing their customer loss on this blog would seem too much a coincidence.

By Wayfinder on 25 Feb 2010

Broad generalizations aside...

I just want to toss in my 2cents (sorry, David Warlick) to what seems to, be, and not uninterestingly, becoming a bitter debate over "M"'s comments. I commend Linden Lab's efforts over the past few years to restrict clearly pornographic activity to its "adult sim." As far as the comment about still finding adult content on "Mature" or "PG" islands, just take a quick gander at the magazine covers in the rack at your local grocery check-out lane.

I also take issue with the emptiness claims. A recent event on ISTE Island in Second Life (that's the International Society for Technology in Education, with over 5,000 members registered in SL--of its 85,000 "real world" members)saw 77 avatars jammed into virtual seats to hear the Special Interest Group for Virtual Environments' (google ISTE SIGVE) guest for over an hour. That "feels" like a packed room. Educational events like this are taking place regularly in Second Life and though there may be a little lag, it's not restrictive and voice chat doesn't go bye-bye. Users with a huge disparity of operating system, computer RAM and ROM, ISP bandwidth issues, and most importantly geographical location are able to come together to learn about or discuss topics of interest with others of like mind. Thank you, Linden Lab--something's going right (shoutout to Claudia Linden, ISTE, and the upcoming Virtual World Best Practices in Education organizers!).

I appreciate the long history of Linden Lab's failures, so clearly coming from a position of festering frustration, but let's not fail to ignore the good stuff.

There's also a small pocket of positive end-users who are developing amazing and innovative solutions to distance learning that would not be possible without the Second Life platform. More about that later--much more.

By scottmerrick on 25 Feb 2010

DISILLUSIONMENT...

I started out on Second Life in October 2008, and was initially taken aback by the potential of it. The ability to generate money from Second Life was an interesting prospect to me, and so, with a friend, we embarked on building a small in-world business, selling our products for a small price. To enlighten those who are not aware, in order to house a building in Second Life, you need to 'rent' a space on a Sim (we chose a Homestead as mentioned in another post). The cost of this is 31,000L a month (approx $105).

Initally sales were poor. As pointed out, most of SL is a barren desert. It is literally like having a tiny shop in the middle of the Sahara. We tried advertising but nothing worked. The "solution" is to get your company listed higher in the search results. And because of the flawed method that Linden choose to rank results, you appear higher on the list if you have more avatars visiting your place (sex venues usually rank the highest).

Of course, anyone can see this is a chicken and egg situation. You won't get visits unless you are high on the ranking, and you wont get high on the ranking unless you have visitors.

The ONLY reliable way to get high on on the search, is create as many "alt" accounts as possible, and sit them in a corner of your shop simply to increase traffic. So this is what we did. The result: consistently $1,000-$1,500L sales a day (that's Linden money, not USD), over the last 6 months.

You will note that this still barely covered the rental on the land. However, it is still profit, and it proved to us that it IS possible to generate money in SL if you sell good quality items, and people can find you.

Now, here's the kicker. Linden Labs decided that 'camping' to increase traffic rank is 'illegal' in SL, and after a threatening email from Linden, we removed the "alt" accounts. Now sales are practically zero. We went from a popular and thriving business to nothing overnight.

Some might argue that we were cheating the system. But it is an unfair and flawed system invented by Linden. Small vendors such as myself will NEVER get huge amount of traffic. I have seen people visit, find something, buy it and leave within 3 minutes. That customer is just as satisified (maybe even more so) than another who visited for an hour and could not find what they wanted. Why should a place where people stay longer be ranked higher, it makes no sense at all.

We cannot afford to keep subsiding our venture for little gain, even more so because the sim prices are increasing again soon. So, the solution for us is to close the shop. Linden have lost a valuable contributor to the SL community, for no reason other than not listening to their customers. All the products we have created over the past year, will never be seen by the majority of people.

Linden...listen to your community before it is too late. Change the search ranking to ignore traffic. It is a pointless metric. Make the search listing completly random. That is the only way it can be done without 'gaming'.

Lastly, regarding sim lag. I have lost count the number of places I have been to recently where the lag is so bad I actually had to leave the venue. I certainly do not concur with scottmerrick. I would love to see a room with 77 avatars not brought to it's knees. It a joke that my son can play games with complex interactive 3D environments like Call of Duty at 80fps, while I, with a similar spec computer, cannot handle a place with more than 4 or 5 other avatars at more than 2 or 3 fps, and that is with graphics that would look at home back in 1995.

There are quite a few fledgling alternatives to SL out there (take a look at Blue Mars). As a content provider I would love contribute to these other much more worthwhile ventures. Linden clearly don't want my kind. I am done wasting my time and money on Linden.

By SnakeMazi on 25 Feb 2010

I agree with others, in the (just over) three years that I have been in Secondlife the lag has got much worse.

There are other major problems - inventory lossed are one such where people have reported losing large numbers of itmes from their inventory (I myself lost in the region of 500USD's worth of items about 6 weeks ago and others have reported similar losses). It seems that for an IT business they do not have sufficient backups of their databases to allow inventory to be restored and there is no way for an avatar to backup their own inventory.

The concentration seems to be on attracting new members, those that are already in-world and have built up successful businesses are left by the way-side by new features that are added (various complaints about the new browser from content creators have been ignored for example).

There has been a problem with using alpha textures in SL for over two years (a bug introduced on an upgrade), you can see property lines through buildings (again a bug introduced on an upgrade about 2 1/2 years ago).

All of these are reported to Linden Labs yet it seems that it is too difficult to fix them and much easier to add a new "shiny" feature to attract more new members who log in a few times and then leave.

By forestsoftware on 2 Apr 2010

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