by prokofy on 30/12/06 at 5:14 pm


By Prokofy Neva, Dept. of New Residents Experience Evaluation and Manager, Alt Depot

Get ready for the big SL backlash. It’s not just Clay Shirky stirring up a shit-storm at the eggheads’ Terra Nova, prompting a new rigorous discussion of “metrics of use“. It’s not just the leftoid Guardian but now the more conservative London Times describing their “blow me” experiences — perhaps not the image LL wished to project. It’s not just liberal Time correspondents being hijacked to sex palaces or skeptical marketers like Churbuck ranting that there’s little reason to approve projects in SL by people who don’t even bother to find a way to log into SL. Even the most faithful Blingsider is questioning the numbers and experience; Hamlet nee Linden Au feels compelled to weigh in and Reuben nee Linden Steiger has taken on not only Churbuck but the lovely Danah Boyd who has gotten “irritated” with SL.

The only thing LL’s one-person media department has to fight back with now is the sheer growth in numbers even behind the fake numbers — but to make these numbers stick, they have to make avatars stick better on their servers. Right now, the 90-day churn burn-out rate could be as high as 90 percent even by Philip’s own reckoning – people fall off for all kinds of reasons — too hard, too confusing, too expensive, too nasty, too demanding graphics card, too dull. How to keep them coming back for more and generating the kind of real statistics that MMORPG analysts want — return, daily, log-ins (the MySpace guy, for example, gloats that he has 60 percent of such returnees daily after sign-ups; Robin Linden’s answer is to say that 10 percent of residents spend 84 hours or more in SL per week).

Hence, the 50-odd new orientation areas being built with More, Better orientation. Except…what message are the Lindens trying to send with these cut-off voodoo heads with creepy eyes that follow you?!



I wasn’t going to burn an alt on checking out the new builds first advertised by Frans Charming in SLOG, I happened to have an old alt I’d forgotten and found he was in fact still twiddling his thumbs in his white t-shirt and farm-boy Philip Linden newbie head on the landing spot as you rez the first time. I noticed that this OI was now like “no. 4″ and was one of many in the sea, but nothing different — still the paths going to odd places, the signboards with incomprehensive stuff. I flew over to Help Island, which seemed to be the same-old stuff — exhibits feting the volunteers’ own builds (um, I guess that’s an incentive for them to keep helping), the wierd picture of somebody shooting another avatar and the warning REPORT ABUSE, though most of the people were trying to figure out where they *could* get a gun and shoot it somewhere *at* avatars as part of the *game* dammit — isn’t that why they clicked on the picture of the cool dude in armour on the website in the first place?!

But if you keep flying around and poking on the map, you’ll come to the new orientation islands which are at least 50 in number, judging by the numeration. These are laid out more differently, and one hopes, more helpfully. They’ve divided the areas into basic concepts like “Moving” and “Communication” and made a path for people to follow with incentives — trying to make it a little game, I guess.

The entrance to Communication is creepy — and one suspects, politically-incorrect. The loopy lopped-off primitive heads have eyes that follow you around (is it Snowcrash or Apocalypse Now or Saturday morning cartoons that created this meme of the tribes cannibalizing people and putting their heads on a stake?!).

I decided to take it as a sign that “communicating” would not involve posting anything too critical on the forums or you might get your head chopped off and you could be permabanned *cough*. AND you turn over ALL you data — bar none — to be tracked not only by Linden Lab, but their favourite third-party site pets. But hey, that’s just me. Onward…


The first Polynesian (African?) fellow replete with a politically-incorrect nose-ring and stand-up hair in the hand-eye symbol told me something barely memorable and incomprehensible with many syllables, and told me to move on up the path and meet his brother. That was part of the game. If I advanced and reached the next squat tribal elder, he would say, now, what did my brother ask you? If I were the tekkie type or had a Xerox memory, I’d render the multi-syllable thing immediately. Or, if I were an oldbie returning on an alt, I’d know to go to the lower-left-hand corner of my game screen (um, my monetarizing-online-screen…erm…my massive-multiple-orgasm panel screen as the Times calls it)…and just get the history and paste it into chat. So job one completed — but of course, most newbies spend days figuring out where to find chat history.


I ambled on and found a completely different architectural style (I discovered, like Frans, that frustratingly, the edit is turned off to prevent griefing, so you can’t see who the architects are but they are either Lindens copying Barnesworth or Barnesworth himself). In a faux medieval setting, I was suddenly given a $1 by Governor Linden (this was my prize for answering the tribal brothers’ tricky questions) and thereby enabled to spend a Linden on some armour. Woot! I peered into something called “The Library” and saw little figures all decked out in the costumes, many created by Nylon, now in the library for newbies. That was a nice touch and a good idea, since you can’t *see* these costumes such as to pick them unless you put them on yourself (of course, they could have copybot deployed for this but…).

In the back of my mind, I had to wonder if the Lindens had seen and copied any of the ideas that we developed for Memory Bazaar, an interactive tutorial I conceived and Jessica Ornitz built in the Moroccan style in Ross.

We had the “explorer” concept illustrated by the notion of a 19th-century gentleman explorer’s quarters near the ancient bazaar. His donkey was stocked with a book and surveyors’ equipment — you click to get information about SEARCH. Of course, we can lead the donkey to water but not make him drink : )


Still, by creating various scenes and rooms with various jokes and pranks and interesting stuff, we thought it might work — and it’s main value is in having it not so much as a landing point but as a return point — people come back when they need to recall something, remembering where they saw the information.

The map room has information about how to buy and sell and group land, and tips on how to obtain privacy and deal with griefing.


The original LL orientation stations had this dumb parrot that repeated people’s names (they still have that in the Orientation 2.0) but used the talk script for little else. They also focused mainly on those beloved Linden concepts of “build or die” and “script of die”. We tried to push this further by having every single possible object talk as if it were asking a natural question you’d have, like “what is a sim” or “where are all the people” or “where are the best clubs” or “how do I lose my SL virginity”, and have the ready answer by spitting out a notecard, sometimes with landmarks. Not the best solution, but getting multiple many-lined talk scripts talking is tricky and animating every single thing would also likely get laggy.


The Lindens definitely did the right thing by creating a stand called SEARCH in bold, art-noveau style Chrysler building graphics. Of course, having something that would TELL you WHERE the search button is would help as well. I like to tell people it’s up top their game screen. Yes, game screen, because, well, game is what I call something that works about half the time for most people — game of chance.


Still, kudos to the Lindens for *finally* created a large, visible, interactive display that explains about how to buy land. Woot! I’ve been lobbying for this for a year. I had them laid out myself in Memory Bazaar, and constantly send people there for tutorials. It’s very hard to understand the difference between tier and land and groups and premiums — and here it all is. Only problem: no first land out inworld for people to buy. Honestly, I really wish they’d have the display say “tp here to buy your first land” and have the newbies land right in a new sim to buy land. Is that so hard? Of course, as we’ve discussed ad nauseum, that would mean having to burn servers on free land instead of $1695 islands…


Another stand explains things like movies, machinima, rock shows, etc. and has various avatars flashing by (does anybody really still dress up like Billy Idol in SL?!). Nothing was clickable but it is likely still under construction.


All good — despite some decided mixed messages — but then, without that dark side and ambiguity they wouldn’t be our beloved Lindens.

The real proof of this pudding will be the retention numbers. I really wish they’d track the numbers on every single welcome area, info hub, orientation island, etc. They should see wheher the new or old versions have accounts who keep logging in later. I’m curious whether anything we do in Ross helps or hurts retention — the traffic is among the highest, but for all I know, that’s because it looks like a Middle Eastern arms bazaar and attracks the shooters — and also seems to be among the newbie pick-up joints judging from the chat. Some people actually go through the tutorials and thank me, but I think most newbies in the 17-21 cohort are arriving looking for sex or shooting or sex *with* shooting because they read Time magazine.

A key thing that has been messed up for months is the load balancing. When the avatars leave Orientation Island, they are able to press on a device that spits out a landmark randomly to one of dozens of welcome areas or infohubs or Linden sites, and it ports them there and sets that place to home This alone causes confusion which is why the first notecard we have is “you are here because they set you to home, but this isn’t your own personal home, just a public place”. I had a number of occasions when very young newbies would hiss and push me because I was ‘in their home” which they said Lindens had “set” for them and I should “get the !@!#$ out”.

The “random” script, being random, generates, say, 10 in a row of Lewis Nerd’s Nerditorium, a lovely Sunday band-in-the-park sort of experience, then 1 of the Governor Linden Mansion (confusing because there isn’t much orientation in it unless you like playing checkers with our premiere Absentee Landlady), and then like 50 of Kim Anubis’ Hyles Infohub. You would think I wouldn’t complain about this as I have a business next to Hyles that gets the traffic, but I do. I think there’s a simple thing to be done: fix this script so that it generates SEQUENTIALLY the list of landmarks instead of RANDOMLY. Surely that’s possible!

7 Responses to “Disoriented”

  1. Lewis Nerd

    Dec 31st, 2006

    Any idea who built these new islands? I’m curious.

    I’d make an alt like everyone else does, just to check them out, but I’m not keen on adding to the fake ‘rezident’ numbers.


  2. bubbles

    Dec 31st, 2006

    Good article. I like to see LL portrayed fairly and correctly, but if they themselves are pushing out nonsense, they are bound to come out worse when reality hits. Stop kidding yourselves LL that everything in the garden is rosy! Half and hour (if you get that long between crashes and outages) in the world shows any customer or journalist it’s not.

  3. Charlton Cline

    Dec 31st, 2006

    Good article, but confusing at the same time. Not in the write-up, but the visuals and design of the welcome areas. The new welcome areas sure seem to give new residents, excuse me “sign ups”, the impression that SL is a game rather than a business platform.

    Of course I’ve always played SL as a life-sim game. But everyone who declares it as such quickly gets bashed over the head with “it’s not a game, it’s a metaversal platform for venture capitalists!”

    But the presentation of the new welcome areas sure seems to be aimed more towards gamers than potential entrepeneurs and business interests to me…

  4. Prokofy Neva

    Dec 31st, 2006

    Lewis, as I said and as Frans found also, they have “edit” turned off there on those islands, probably because they need to keep griefers defeated from create/edit rezzing junk. So you can’t right click and go into edit such as to see the authors of the objects. It is all pretty uniform and as I said, either the Lindens themselves built it in the usual Meso-Linden style or maybe even Barnesworth or somebody, but it might be just that he has the same textures everybody has.

    As for the “game” aspect, at this point, the Lindens have more sign-ups from gaming types and “casual players” socializing and shopping than they have of the educational and business types.

    The educational people constantly bitch about having to go through a WA where they get whacked with a giant penis. That sort of puts a crimp in their efforts to pitch their projects to supervisors and boards and funders.

    I can only point everybody to the Russians. The Russians found that everything was hard, confusing, etc. like everybody else. So…they made their own welcome area in their own language in their own way — with no Lindens involved in the process. A company called TechInvest made up of some eager programmers just eventually figured out how to get through all the complexities of credit cards not working, etc. etc. bought a sim, and laid it out with the things they want. The furries, elves, and other communities had long since done it that way too. You have to make your own welcome area, customized to how you like it with your target audience in mind, write the cards in their own language, and spread the word that people should simple type that name into the SEARCH list when they land and tp there.

    I find more and more people do that in Ross, they arrive and spend a few minutes figuring out the search or fixing their appearance, then they type something in and go there. Or they have someone waiting to TP them to where they are going.

    The Lindens did release this third-party registration API thing, which is supposed to help you make direct sign-ups more easily (it may even have a function to tp you to a customized welcome area) — this was in beta, and it was given to the usual select few. Then it seems they made it possible for anyone to apply for it if they could show a good reason — but I hear it’s broke now on recent patches. Anyway, all in due time, I’m sure this is a big aim of the Lindens, to get communities functioning with their own customized sign-ups, they’ve spoken of it many times.

    As for the “game” aspect — I think probably these learning types argue endlessly about whether you learn better with game-like features to your learning or whether that’s merely an annoyance. I guess it’s like learning a language. When you’re under 12, you tend to be able to learn a language merely by imitating, hearing, sounding out, and never needing to visualize the letters, or go back to your native language to contrast and compare. You just learn more holistically. After you get to be about 12-13, you start to lose that ability and you then more clunkily learn a language by learning letters, sounding them out, etc. Various techniques then try to sometimes recreate the childhood immersion experience and try to throw out the book-learning approach but that can only irritate some people who really require having a left-brain sort of letters/sounds experience. As a result, the older you are when you learn a language, the worse accent you might have unless you are born talented to mimic accents.

    Making *anything* on a path in SL is confusing just because trying to walk, turn corners, follow something past your draw distance, etc. is hard. So that’s why we tried to make these “rooms” that would have something clickable instantly and gradually you would walk through them, but more in clusters, not stations.

  5. bubbles

    Jan 1st, 2007

    The cover of a gaming PC mag I bought here in Britain has a demo disc attached of games and SL is one of them. Linden Lab must have gave them permission. I wonder what the ‘not a game’ crowd think of that?

  6. Alex Fitzsimmons

    Jan 2nd, 2007

    It’s interesting following those links to their respective sites and actually reading the stories they reference.

    My first thought: THIS is what passes for journalism now?

    Joel Stein, of Time, is just a jackass, greeting someone he’s never met before with, “Dude, congratulations. You’re the biggest dork in Second Life.” That’s the kind of twit you eject and ban and forget about forever. Do I really care what such a twit has to say about … anything? I think not.

    Dan Cairns of Time Online spends what appears to be one day in Second Life and interviews his daughter, who has apparently never been in SL at all. Again I ask: this is journalism? O.O

    Tim Adams of the Guardian at least puts in a solid week, which makes him as knowledgeable as any casual user who’s been in SL for a whole week and seems to be a little socially clumsy (running off after accidentally jumping on someone’s head is a bit needless). As we all know, people who’ve been in SL for an entire week are experts on the subject.

    But I guess I can give Mr. Adams a modicum of credit for at least having conducted the odd half-hearted interview … with more than just his own daughter.

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