How I saved money in Second Life.

At the end of last year I spent some time away from Second Life – almost 4 glorious months in fact.  I did have to go in at least once a week to deal with the store but apart from that nothing.  I discovered that the longer I spent away from it the harder it was to force myself to log in, I was fine once I was in but eager to leave.  During that time I stopped caring about most sl things; search, the marketplace migration, the instability of the platform – even the closure of the business I used for my network vendors had a care factor of virtually zero.   It truly was a beautiful time.  I do enjoy being a virtual goods retailer but Second Life being what it is, everyone needs to come up for air and get some perspective sometimes.

Then just before Christmas I realised just how much I was neglecting it and I thought I should get back into it, so I went back to the workroom and started building.  Since then I’ve surveyed my *cough* empire and was shocked at the reality of how Linden Lab are implementing their objective of streamlining their world.

  • I’ve discovered that search inworld has been optimised once more, in fact they’ve optimised it so much that some of my smaller stores can never be returned in search.  So I’ve taken them out of search, cancelled the classifieds and am in the process of removing them and selling the land.
  • I’ve rediscovered that one of my larger parcels still doesn’t appear in search.  That classified is quite expensive but I’m almost at the stage of pulling the plug on both the parcel listing and the classified. The parcel listing drives traffic more than the classified.  LL won’t refund me for all the money wasted so far and I got tired of live chat telling me to tweak it/wait for the latest update/give it a few more days. 9 months is more than enough time to fix it and they haven’t so I can only assume they don’t want that business.
  • I’m on a version of the rc server code and I’m tired of people IMing me to say that they have an account stuck on the region/haven’t received their purchase from one of my vendors.  I’m also tired of the rolling restarts that seem to be endemic at the moment on that poxy rc.  Do you think I can find out how to get off it?  live help could only suggest I put a ticket in to ask, which of course Linden Lab have promptly ignored.
  • Inworld search is so poorly built that it isn’t even capable of keeping the returns filtered by maturity rating, add that to their inability to get some listings to actually show in search at all and to apply their relevance weightings in a manner that a reasonable person would consider logical. The only thing you can say is that it ticks the fail box.
  • Then there’s the marketplace.  The merchant back end is still at fag packet prototype level and the relevance function is once more embarrassingly bad.  I finally relisted all the items that were corrupted by the migration but now each time I make a change they lose their relevance position and of course don’t have the old xsl data which looks like it is used in the relevance calculation.  

Despite this I spent the last week considering expanding as I’ve run out of prims at the mainstore and need a new full prim region and a couple of homesteads. 

So I did some pros and cons – here’s the list:

Pros

  • I can keep releasing items. 
  • I can make the store more visually attractive and easier for shoppers to find what they are looking for.

Cons

  • I’ll be paying an extra $545 per month on top of the purchase price and there’s no guarantee I’ll see a commensurate increase in sales.  
  • I can’t divide the regions into parcels as smaller regions are penalised in search, so it makes it pointless to try to cleanly target different markets
  • There’s no guarantee Linden Lab won’t stop tinkering with inworld search or the marketplace.  Last year I found out how much of my sales depend on visibility in search and in the marketplace.  I was pretty shocked at the percentage.  The risk of a recurrence of search failing to deliver relevant results is high and the amount of effort required to keep on top of their latest changes via reverse engineering (because God forbid they ever tell us what they’ve done) and then adapt to the change before they change it again is too time consuming for no real return.
  • Concurrency and demand for Lindens is reducing.  Less money and less people means less opportunity for sales.
  • I can’t even be assured that I’ll appear in search.

Now, I really do want to expand, despite the list.  So I went to the land page and there was a button that offered me a human to chat to about it.  

Want Help?

Land specialists can answer
your questions.*

*(Available Wed-Friday 8am-6pm Pacific Time)

As you can see, they’re only available a few days a week but my luck was in as I was looking at the page as these humans were supposedly there.  So I clicked the link, thinking that just maybe the human would say something that might give me the confidence to go ahead and buy – a discount would have been nice but I’ve in SL so long that I know better than that – but I wanted to try – even if they would offer something like actual attention to my tickets and resolution to the search issues I may encounter would have been enough.

Anyway, I clicked on the link and it came back “page not found”.

Sums it up really

So, here’s what I’ve done.

  • I’ve cancelled the parcel listings and the classifieds for the smaller plots that are no longer returned in search. 
  • I’m going to close them and sell the land. I toyed with buying a 1/4 sim on mainland as a sop but the fact they’re all RC is enough to put me off that.
  • I’m not going to expand – Once I can no longer remove prims to make way for the new releases that will be it.

Which means..

  • LL have lost at least $6540 usd plus sinks per year (I was planning on converting the new homesteads to full prims later in the year as part of the growth plan, which would have uppped the overall take – assuming they could do something as simple as upgrading them)
  • I’ve gained many hours in my day as I don’t have to spend all that time setting up the new regions
  • and soon I won’t have to worry about creating anything as there’ll be no room to put it

Pretty well any other B2C outfit would have been all over me at the thought of generating that kind of income, then there’s Linden Lab.  I suppose Linden Lab think they’re creating the new paradigm for self-confessed successful online businesses that in reality are struggling –  Don’t provide service, look amateur, deliver  a shoddy product, pretend the customer doesn’t exist when they ask for help via the support they supposedly pay for and better still, ignore the key drivers for your business and make it as hard as possible for your users to use your service.

Why do they do this?  Are they really so ignorant of the underlying drivers for their world?

Advertisements

The lessons from Blue Mars

I’ve watched the development of Blue Mars down the years and felt a tinge of sadness with the announcement yesterday from Avatar Reality, the owners of the Blue Mars platform, that development of the pc platform for Blue Mars has effectively ceased due to a change of direction towards the mobile market.

So far the blogsphere has been discussing the technology failures of the platform.  Yet the the failure was even earlier than the choice of technology, they identified the wrong market and initially designed their system around delivering for that.  The initial push was towards large organisations with professional developers creating what I call “show-and-tell” content, designed along the lines of websites where you would use the equivalent of a google search and go to what was effectively a stand alone environment for a look. It was never designed to attract consumers to set up home or become anyway attached to the platform or their avatar. From what I remember of the early days there wasn’t even a basic inworld communication system between avatars.  It wasn’t an oversight, they openly said that was a deliberate design decision based on the approach they were taking. Consumers were completely out of the equation.

When the content creators from Second Life moved over in early 2009 the limitations of the design were revealed.  Early on there appeared to be a tension between what the creators wanted to do with the platform against how Avatar Reality envisaged it being used. Eventually it settled down and Avatar Reality did attempt to deliver what was needed to turn the platform to a more consumer focussed environment but it was really too late – the basics came slowly and they missed the boat with capturing the imagination of those consumers who did come to check it out.  The bar is higher these days, I suspect most early adopters come from Second Life or other platforms and expect a basic level of functionality and experience – shopping, ease of use and avatar customisation are a requirement – no matter how rudimentary.  Without those, there’s no reason to stay and on the whole they didn’t.  Without content creators, consumers are bored and without consumers spending there’s no justification for content creators to invest time and money in the platform. A vicious circle for a start up.  Jim Sink, the now ex-CEO of Avatar Reality, said in his final public meeting that they acknowledged that the lack of social tools hindered user take up and that the current pc platform technology is just not flexible/cheap/easy enough to deploy for them to deliver what was required within the financial constraints.  Again the tension between what they originally envisaged and the reality of their actual market is apparent in his statement that despite their QA, user content creates platform instability and that will increase now they’re reducing the QA oversight.  

So, finally the investors got tired of waiting for their investment to show a return.  50% of the staff are now redundant and Avatar Reality has changed tack and have moved to the more traditional role of almost full control over the platform and content and gone for the current next big thing. Whether their staged approach will work is another matter.  Having an avatar in a room that you can dress up and not do anything else with is probably not a great intro to the potential of Blue Mars but I’m not a Facebook app fan so I have no idea how basic the apps are that appeal to the masses.  I don’t think Blue Mars has enough customer goodwill to be able to overcome the initial limitations it is handicapping itself with in this rush to move into the mobile market and I still don’t believe Avatar Reality understand consumer behaviour or needs.  I suppose we’ll know soon enough, since they plan on launching in February on Apple.

It’s funny, but after listening to that I came away from listening to Jim Sink with the distinct impression that although Avatar Reality is slick and professional they just don’t understand the consumer market which is why they couldn’t capitalise on it for the pc platform and may actually be the reason why they fail again with the mobile platform.  Doesn’t that failure to understand sound familiar?  Yet, I think it’s a good demonstration of why Second Life still survives, Linden Lab aren’t the barrier to Second Life that Avatar Reality were, so up to a point we can work around Linden Lab and their failures to support us. We can create content despite the instability in the platform, we can interact and generally live our virtual lives – despite their best efforts to get in our way.  That is the key strength of Second Life and is reinforced yet again with the failure of Blue Mars.  Let’s hope Linden Lab learn that lesson well.