by Pixeleen Mistral on 11/04/11 at 2:01 am
How can player concurrency sink to 2008 levels despite 10,000+ new accounts per day?
According to Tateru Nino's SL statistics charts, the last 12 months have seen a 12% drop in concurrent online Second Life players, with concurrency levels falling to July of 2008 levels. Sadly, there is no sign of a turnaround in sight.
Even worse, it appears that despite claims of over 10,000 new account signups per day (or about 3,650,000 signups/year), the appeal of Second Life has become more selective and the Lab has been unable to recruit enough new blood to replace departing players since January of 2009.
This cannot end well.
Apparently SL has evolved into a niche market. Once this market stabilizes, will it be large enough to support the Lab at anywhere near it's current size?
Certainly visiting a surveillance-friendly virtual dystopia is an acquired taste, and not everyone wants to play stalk-and-ban-the-other-players, or hunt down 3rd party data miners tracking alt accounts. Of course there is always the challenge of running a virtual business for a shrinking population where in-world search is broken and frivolous DMCA claims fly, to say nothing of the charms of the babyfur and Gorean communities.
Still, if there are really over 10,000 newbies a day, why are the concurrency rates dropping like a stone?
Is the Viewer 2.0 experience to blame - or the eye-watering tier prices for virtual land? After last year's layoff of 30% of the Lab staff to balance the books, does the Lab have any room to cut land prices? While borked search, a lame viewer user interface and corrupt governance are serious issues, It seems likely that the biggest problem for Second Life is the adversarial relationship that has developed between the Lab and the players.
I wish Rodvik Linden the best of luck in saving Second Life, but the question remains - how much time does he have before another round of layoffs will be needed to stablize the Lab's financial situation?
As best I can tell, current customers have - understandably - minimal trust in Linden Lab based on the Lab's behaviour over the last 5 years. Although Rodvik has only been CEO since January, it is past time for the new CEO to articulate some sort of plan to reverse these trends. But what can be done?
A first step toward developing real trust between players and the Lab would be to level the playing field with an SL export function so that players do not see their content disappear in the event of SL's collapse. Is anyone foolish enough to put any serious money or effort into a platform that could disappear overnight without being able to salvage their assets?
Providing players with the option of backing up their goods outside of SL would formalize what is already happening on a low level via various copybot viewers, but this is not enough.
Allowing content creators to mark their wares to be sold as freely available for export to other platforms would go a long way to creating some incentive to bet on a turnaround in SL for those that create the content that makes up our virtual world. This idea is not new - in an unpublished interview last year, Emerald viewer developer _Phox told me the Emeralds had planned to add a "for export" option to their SL viewer but were told by Linden Lab not to do it.
It would be a sea change for the Lab to acknowledge that the flawed digital rights management system of SL needs to be replaced, but establishing SL as the shopping center of the SL and OpenSim worlds would allow content creators to charge a premium for the right to copy across worlds - and move Linden Lab from the defensive posture it has adopted for the last few years.
While these changes will be painful for some, the alternative is a lingering death caused by a lack of incentive for player investment of time and money in what is clearly a very deeply troubled platform. Will Rodvik Linden man up and take action - or continue to circle the drain?