One Year In SL – Why the Wild West is Failing

by Alphaville Herald on 18/03/08 at 8:38 am

by Soul4sale Ferraris


I turned one year old this weekend.

I first rezzed into SL on March 15, 2007 for the same reason most everyone else has in the last year – I was bored, and it was free. After a year of traipsing around its digital landscape, I’ve formed several hard opinions, and they aren’t very positive.

But first, a few positive observations: SL is unique in that it gives an unprecedented amount of power to its virtual world inhabitants; from the way they appear to how they conduct business. Watching SL grow has been a fascinating study in laissez faire governance, unbridled creativity and unhampered ingenuity.

SL is absolutely the most interesting virtual world to observe from a journalistic standpoint, because it’s barely scripted and always changing.

It’s the Wild West, and that is why it is failing.

SL had the opportunity to become the world’s first 3D web browsing standard, a revolution in how people communicate, shop and collaborate. It could have been Web 3.0’s Netscape.

Instead, SL became too wrapped up in itself – its own cultural experience, drama, bugs, quirks, culture and economy – to be a neutral platform. As a result, we are now watching SL attempt to market a web business platform that is crippled by terrible controls, a non-intuitive interface, and an overspecialized rendering engine.

The interface is the biggest problem. I have utterly failed to interest anyone else in SL this past year, because they are immediately frustrated that their character controls like Parkinson’s disease on a champagne/benzo cocktail. They struggle with the messy inventory system, laborious chat controls and simply looking around. I don’t know if LL is trying to avoid patent licenses, but their control system seems aimed to frustrate, rather than entice.

SL also has a real problem with drama, and not just the he said/she said kind. People do not want to wait for 10 minutes for a building, complete with interior walls and furniture, to rez 40 meters across the sim while they stand in mid-air watching the water undulate beneath their feet. I have no idea what the technical problem is that underlies this idiocy, but it needs to be fixed. It’s hard to employ fundamental architectural design elements, like limiting line of sight, when SL busily previews the entire sim to visitors at a distance before the lobby can even load.


I would complain about the unfettered camera, and how it negates any sense of boundary, but that’s for another rant.

SL’s problems with controlling perspective and line of sight make it a difficult sell for the kind of clients that would use a 3D web platform – companies who sell RL products. Every inch of RL retail space is designed to draw the eye, focus attention and influence purchasing decisions. Many SL residents get bored and punch out of a sim, because such elements take too long to rez around them.

Also, the idea of SL having an “economy” is ludicrous at best. Buying and selling lines of code that only exist on the company’s server (which what land and objects really are) is a fragile way of doing business in the age of ubiquitous hacking. Why SL even has a currency has always boggled me. It seems like such a misplaced gaming element for something purporting to be an Internet platform. LL has obviously stuck with its hermetically sealed funny e-money system and land sales as an easy source of trickling cash, going so far as to tax image transfers. In doing so, it has created a banana republic full of cheap, uninhabited land and worthless currency.

Instead of selling SL’s server software and development tools to companies for real cash from the outset, LL tried to make businesses into surfs of its own little world and then tax them. This is a very stupid business model. Imagine if Netscape had tried to make all of its business clients host their web sites on its servers. Business island servers should have been privately operated from the start, and the mainland growth should have been severely limited and managed by partner companies, such as the Electric Sheep, to keep the mainland from turning into abandoned sign farms.

The SL fauxconomy has left few ways for businesses to directly interface with RL economies or other Web data standards

When I go to a SL business sim, I, and many people I know, would like to see virtual representations of RL products and then slap down a credit card number to buy said product. If LL would be willing to get out of the central banking business, tighten up their purchasing interface and let Visa and MasterCard handle the currency exchange issues, they would find that there is a lot of RL money to be made in their software sales.

No, believe me, I get it. I get that LL was trying to create some kind of digital libertarian utopia here. There’s just not enough people who care enough to “get it” to keep this mass hallucination afloat without somehow anchoring it in the meatbag realm.

While we’re at it, add the whole core conceit of a “second life” to LL’s list of dumbass ideas. It’s all fine and good to call your product “Second Life,” but LL has really bought too far into the concept, going out of their way to attract a demographic that gets mired too much into the alternate identity aspect of the platform. The dual-identity sales pitch has attracted far too many starry-eyed roll-players, creepy anons and thrill seekers, resulting in a world permeated with recycled RPG themes, asshat griefers and gratuitous sex playgrounds.

SL is not a world apart from RL, and it is subject to the rules and regulations of RL jurisdictions. As a result of trying to ignore this truism, LL has had way more legal problems and bad press this past year than it needed to. And it has damaged its reputation. The alternate identity idea has become an easy target for RL scorn. The grid is now shorthand among my 30-something generation as an online game for losers, geeks and shut-ins, not a revolutionary preview of Web 3.0.

I’ll keep visiting SL periodically to see how it evolves. I think it would be foolhardy to ignore it. But I’ll visit it less frequently until it LL starts to act its rez age.

The writer is an RL journalist living on the American East Coast.

57 Responses to “One Year In SL – Why the Wild West is Failing”

  1. DF

    Mar 21st, 2008

    Does a game need to have a goal?

    What about LineRider?

    And does SL need to become Web 3.0?

    Says who?

    It’s The Sims. With the possibility to customize EVERYTHING as opposed to The Sims.

    I like it just the way it is :)

    And when the day comes that ‘The Metaverse’ is born, and everyone who wants a more real 3d interweb idea leaves, perhaps SL will die out, and force the ones who are left to also begin anew in this Metaverse…
    Or SL will evolve to become part of it…
    Or it will stay just the way it is now, only with less coorporations and adfarming etc as there are better chances to make RL $ in the Metaverse instead. Who knows what’s next. I’m personally hoping for the last.

    But I’ll be sure to enjoy the ride as much as I can. To me, SL is still a fun game, and despite it’s limitations, bugs and shortcomings (fix SL Lindens, please!) it’s still fun for me.

    YAY building while idly chatting and laughing with friends about whatever! :D

  2. Me

    Mar 23rd, 2008

    If the economy weren’t real, I wouldn’t be paying for my tier and membership everything month with income from in-world store. I wouldn’t be paying real life bills with it either. But I do. How is that not a real economy? I create, I sell, I convert to USD and I have cash.

  3. shawn harker

    Mar 28th, 2008

    i discovered something that might impact sl for people. i quit sl for a time over disgust at the poor rendering of textures. i could tp to a site and spend 10 min waiting for it to load and then most of the avs were grey and much of the surroundings for my entire stay there.
    i do other things on the web and purchased a new computer, since my old one was getting rather dated. i got one with sli technology that allows for 2 nvidia 8800 gt cards to work in tandem. when i got it set up i visited sl as the acid test. no lag, even in a crowd, all textures load in a minute.
    all the problems i had with rendering were solved. so, in conclusion, linden labs has a baby here that requires an expensive graphics set up to render well. whether or not that is good or bad i dont know.
    the rendering and lag were a major reason i left sl, and i notice the author lists it first in complaints. it can be fixed, you just have to throw money at it.

  4. James

    Mar 31st, 2008

    the author couldn’t find anything worthwhile to do in his year in sl? wow..I taught myself to build a house that I now live in, most of the furniture I sit on, and a cool spaceship that I blew up, and a few other things. people who sl are rejects or loners…to some extent that may be true of some, but for others, its not true at all. I have a decent real life, and still find the time to log in and see how my friends from England and Asia are. its connected me to people who I am sad to say are a bit more interesting than my class mates in school. the interface is easy to learn if you take the time to learn it, so is inventory if you can take the time to learn where things go. the economy is a cool aspect of second life….some people I know make a real life wage doing something they enjoy here. yes, it may be broken and creaky sometimes, but I am glad I joined up over 2 years ago.

  5. Plot Tracer

    Mar 31st, 2008

    Well done this author. Shame on the grammar fascists.

    This was a good article, with a different perspective from those here who snipe in other places, but as soon as someone says something they are actually thinking, they have to knock ‘im back.

    Strange thing here is that some knocked this poor geezer for being a young’un. I fear if young ‘uns are finding diffs on SL ™, then the world is doomed, DOOMED I TELL YA!

    I agree with him re asking friends onto SL – I have asked people to try it out and they are flummoxed by the rezzing/ the controls and the porn.

    There are other alternatives – free ones… where you can actually create your own world and not have to pay tier etc. AND can link up with other sims.

    Oh – and my gammar was feckin’ terrible, but are you clever enough to read stuff without a semicolon or a comma? I beg you – don’t read Irvine Welsh (or Shakespear who never even spelt his own name the same way – ever)- it will only make your head explode.

  6. Archer

    Apr 3rd, 2008

    An excellent article. I agree wholeheartedly with your views on the “economy” of Second Life. Anyone deciding to do “business” on this platform is playing a game of russian roulette. The currency is explicitly unguaranteed, the platform was created to encourage content sharing (otherwise known as content theft), the customer service is pathetic, the mainland remains a spam-littered wasteland in most places, and the attitude of SL’s rabid fanboi supporters is one of patent snobbery. We “just don’t GET it”…because we’re obviously too stupid or unskilled to make a go of it in SL.
    My experience as an educator has been one rife with embarrassment in SL. At two expositions for faculty, the platform crashed a minimum of five times PER exposition. The interface is too unintuitive, and the framerate too sporadic to use as a dependable tool for any decent machinima.
    I’ve spent more than a year in-world. Created a massive inventory of content, opened a business…and then lost it all in one of SL’s infamous “asset-server” glitches.
    Second Life is NOT the future of the internet. It’s not a place to do business. It’s not even a place you can use for reliable socialization, thanks to problems with griefers.
    It’s a curiosity. A novelty. And one that continues to dig itself deeper and deeper into obscurity.
    Second Life’s failure will be due solely to the hubris of its creators and owners…and its fan base, blinded by the promise of a fortune to be had in make-believe land.

  7. NoneOfTheAbove

    Apr 4th, 2008

    We’re in the process of exploring SL as a collaboration platform for software development teams we have globally. I can do more on a bad day in SL for about 1/3 the cost of POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) conference calls. I wouldn’t call SL a failure.

    That being said, I want to take a 2×4 to some of the people responsible for some of the issues were experiencing in lag, asset server muck ups, Rolling Restarts that occur randomly and seem to cause more harm than good, etc.

    Is SL perfect? Heck !!N!O!! But it IS a viable means of bringing disparate persons together to work on a common problem in the currently most effective/efficient manner. Sun’s Wonderland is NOT Michael Jackson’s estate, it is a means to do in a proprietary fashion that which SL does on a far vaster scale. Metaverse Inc will bring a purported business model to bear that MAY become attractive to us, once they actually are operational and deliver on their promises. And SL has already lost some businesses to, so again SL is NOT perfect. So SL has and will continue to have alternative providers for similar services. It will be a matter of business demographics which platform(s) will prove to be best for business. But SL is HERE and available NOW, while others are still being considered or are still-born.

    Businesses that are open to new solutions (like ours) are moving into SL because it offers an incremental improvement to our operations. And if you say that SL doesn’t have the reliability or servicability of say the cable or phone companies, try calling Asian or Africa, and then say that they are more reliable/more servicable than SL with a straight face!

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