The Focus of Interest

A number of years ago, before the Dot-Com bubble burst, all the excitement in the investment and media industries was about the possibility that anyone with a half-decent idea could become an overnight success. With no more effort than some deep thinking and the right concept, an entire digital kingdom could be created and turned into a never-ending money machine. The ability to “print money” without the need for hard goods and sweaty, grinding labor was a Golden Goose worthy of chasing with every penny available.

But then the general insecurity of money people along with the inevitable missteps and bad ideas turned the Golden Goose into an albatross around the digital industry’s neck. The giant sucking sound of the investors running away was heard in every financial back room around the globe. It was logical and overall fiscally responsible, but it left the industry in an interesting predicament that persists to this day: Hunting The Fabled Golden Goose.

The Golden Goose

Predictably, the digital business community began hunting for that magic formula that would once again offer them the opportunity to spew money out of orifices most wouldn’t even consider. All sorts of ideas came and went .. and I do mean went. The number of “Grand Ideas” that have exploded onto the scene, then exploded in general is a number that gives even theoretical mathematicians heartburn. But as with any “shotgun” pattern, some pellets are bound to hit home.  Thus we have been blessed with some rather impressive concepts and businesses that have not only managed to stay afloat, but have actually turned into success stories.

For example, one of the darlings of last decade was a little concept called “Facebook”. Originally conceived by several people as a place where friends could connect with each other and share the minutiae of their lives, in amazingly short order it became a sensation that captured an incredibly large and diverse customer base. Since a vast majority of money people obey the rule of “Nothing succeeds like success”, we have seen a number of nearly identical websites come and go. We’ve also seen a number of businesses start shifting their business plan toward what they perceive to be the  “Focus of Interest” in a site like Facebook.

When it came to Second Life, the “M Era” gave us some rather daft and ultimately ill-fated changes that seemed intent on turning the virtual world into a stop on the Facebook Tour Bus. Totally ignoring that the target audience, the existent customer base and the overall purpose of the two were almost nearly polar opposite, the changes in business direction instituted by M Linden kept throwing more and more rigging lines from “Our World” over the side of the Good Ship Facebook. Eventually better minds prevailed and the whole initiative was torpedoed and sunk, along with the management team that had gone off on that tangent. Thank heavens.

End-User Creativity

After a brief return of the Prodigal CEO, Linden Lab brought a new face to the team in the persona of Rod Humble. For years the debate has raged about whether or not Second Life was “just a game”, but the BoD pretty much stuck a nail in the debate by hiring a man with nothing but Electronic Game experience … and goals. In hindsight, it’s become pretty clear that their intended direction was not to breathe new life into their aging Second Life platform, but to branch out into new directions and use the talent languishing around the Lab to create new and exciting products that could tap into what seems to be the latest craze in the online and electronic gaming industry: End-User Created Content.

This “new” genre is generally lumped under the single-most successful product name “Minecraft“. Originally developed as a Java application that allowed players to “build to their heart’s content”, Minecraft has rapidly become a rock-solid contender for gaming time and interest. Even with its blocky, low-resolution components, Minecraft has attracted and retained a very large customer base that also has an amazingly high degree of loyalty. Arguments rage as to why the people playing Minecraft are so loyal, but my personal opinion is the absolute lack of a ‘Tude present in the game’s developer. Rather than develop the self-aggrandizing sense of entitlement that has typified many industry stars such as Mark Zuckerberg, the developer of Minecraft … Marcus Persson … has managed to keep his “plain ole folks” personality. As a rule, people tend to rally ’round and support someone that has “made good” from a humble start; Marcus has not only made good, but he still acts as a member of the community that his game targets, thus endearing him with his customers.

But all the politics and P.R. aside, what really breaks Minecraft away from most of the other wildly successful online and digital game titles is the fact that it focuses almost primarily on End-user Creativity. That means that the people playing the game are also responsible for populating the game with their own creations. When people sign into Minecraft, the first thing they see is a vast expanse populated with stuff they built … or at least stuff their friends built. They have a personal attachment to the content, to their fellow game players, and thus to the game itself. It’s a hook that is incredibly powerful and seductive. And a hook that the new Linden Lab CEO would have been a fool to ignore.

Bullseye … Almost!

No doubt you’re familiar with the fact that Second Life is almost exclusively End-User Created content. Over the past couple of years, Linden Lab has begun trying to supplant the content with their own “Corporate Content” with ventures such as Linden Homes and Linden Realms, but those products that have come directly from the Lab have faltered and, in some cases, been totally rejected by the customers of Second Life. It is my belief that this is because people recognize that it isn’t the same magical material that made Second Life the “Our World” property it is, but is instead a bland, sanitized mechanically reproduced simulation. And it’s a simulation that doesn’t appeal to people in the same way.

Even when you encounter an End-user build that is off in small ways, the textures don’t match at the edges or the look is just kind of odd, it still retains that hand-made magic that is nearly impossible to quantify. For example, Linden Homes lack that “feel” of being a home for some reason, and instead feel plastic or merely painted with the same emotional warmth of a photocopy of a dollar bill. The hook of having been created by someone you know, or might know, is totally missing. Further to my point, I believe the absence of that hook is what is primarily responsible for its lack of acceptance by the Second Life Community.

We are now seeing the debut of Rod Humble’s four new Linden Lab products. I won’t bother reviewing each of them; there is plenty of pixels out there already. But I will point out that the one thing they are lacking is that ability for the players and customers of those games to share and exchange and .. perhaps most importantly SELL their creations to each other. Yes, they do have that End-user creation factor to a degree. But each of them is a creation that is either temporary and created only for one’s own enjoyment, or in some fashion limited in its ability to become as common as a paperclip in the game.

The Death of the Micro-Economy

The new LL games completely eliminate the commercial and mercantile aspects of End-user creations. While I’m sure the troubles and travails of the Linden Dollar economy that is at the heart of Second Life has caused untold nightmares for the legal team at Linden Lab, it is also a mechanism that has grown into the life’s blood of the platform. It’s an argument that has vocal supporters on both sides, but for my money (pun intended) the presence of a vibrant and free-ranging micro-economy in Second Life is precisely why it has not only survived for so long but also why it has gained such incredibly loyal customers.

Logging in to Second Life is to be immediately immersed not just in a Virtual World, but in a virtually unlimited assemblage of End-user creations in every shape, size, color and imagination. If there is anything “Immersive” about Second Life, it is the never-ending parade of new stuff from every corner and every ilk that is available for purchase from an equally unlimited number of outlets. Any adventure around the Grid invariably involves encountering a number of places where “Neat Stuff” can be obtained. The ebb and flow of goods is constant, passing to and from everyone at some point in time. It’s rare that you encounter anyone that hasn’t purchased at least one thing from someone else.

The result is that everyone is connected to everyone else. Even the newest of Residents is immediately hooked into someone else .. usually someone they didn’t know before they joined Second Life. And that web of inter-connection continues to grow the longer they stay. From the beginnings of their own personal look for their Avatar, to their clothing, their housing, their ever-growing Objects folder of stuff they bought because it “looked neat” … everyone is hooked into everyone else. And it’s that sticky ever-growing web that also keeps them coming back for more.

Predictions

The four new titles that Rod has shoved out the LL doors will have a run at success .. no doubt or argument there. But the example of real success that he should have drawn from in its entirety, is instead the thing he seems to have discounted and discarded. By imbuing his new products with End-user created content, he has fired an arrow at what he perceives to be the magical bullseye and hit it too. But I predict it’s the wrong target.

I’ve already predicted the death of Second Life; I did so not long ago on this blog. I’ll not retreat from that prediction here either. But I believe that end will come about because Rod’s selection of the wrong target will eventually force his hand into stealing more and more resources to shore up the declining success of his newest ventures. Rather than recognize the full blueprint for success that is now and always has been in Second Life, he will continue to throw the kitchen sink at the pure End-user Created Content target and wind up wasting the talents and efforts that could (and really should) be poured into rejuvenating Second Life.

But .. as always .. only time will tell.


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Comments

4 Comments on The Focus of Interest

  1. reality is it? on Sat, 27th Oct 2012 8:51 PM
  2. Lots of people have predicted the death of SL. It still thrives, although it doesn’t grow. I think you hit the key Rod is aiming at: the endless creative impulse that people have to make, create and explore and the magic that is unleashed from “I made that” or “how did s/he make that?”

    But the rest of what you say is utterly ridiculous. Things need to happen over time. First people have to want to create and have fun with the experience like with Minecraft. If they don’t come to do that then the sharing and the economy built around buying/selling things never happens. You can bet that they can and will come later and its already in Rod’s plan. I know it is.

  3. Darrius Gothly on Sun, 28th Oct 2012 5:33 AM
  4. Thank you for your comments Reality, but I’m not gonna take that bet. The execution of a micro-economy and all the pieces that have to interlock to make it happen intelligently also need to be in place from the day of inception. If it grows “organically” .. as a glue-on like it has in SL .. too much time and energy is consumed in fixing the mistakes and oversights of the initial release. If Rod didn’t learn that from his immersion in SL then shame on him. But if he did learn it, he hasn’t shown any of those stubs and foundations in his new releases. Further to my point, I think the directives he will have to operate under if (when?) he does add an economic model will ensure that it revolves around the Lab taking hold of every dollar passing through and not permit the customer to retain any control; we will be strictly “Consumers” and won’t be permitted to engage in the role of “Partner”.

  5. realityisit on Tue, 30th Oct 2012 11:00 AM
  6. How about the fact that SL didn’t have an economy at the beginning and the creators of it had no clue what was going to work and tried a bunch of different approaches until they hit on it…like every other startup does? How do you reconcile that with your argument? You seem to think that people can actually sit around in advance with a new concept that has not been taken live and has no sufficient user data (doesn’t matter how much testing has been done it is not sufficient to know enough) and architect in advance “all the pieces that have to interlock to make it happen intelligently [and] also need to be in place from the day of inception.” That isn’t a little bit off kilter its delusional. My friend you have a serious god complex. And no clue how this stuff actually happens and works.

    If you have such amazing foresight about the intricacies of how multiple, complex systems need to be designed, interact, and the human psychology that will determine whether they are successful you are clearly underemployed as a wordpress blogger for a minuscule readership. Why aren’t you out there putting this tremendous intellect and wisdom into practice and making the metaverse and world a better, more intelligent place. At the minimum, you should be playing the real stock market and making a killing.

    Whoa, just got a huge kick at reading your amazingly arrogant and self delusional reply to a post I made a couple of months ago explaining the proper way to express a point of view is to set up a blog just like yours and then claiming that I had established a new twitter account for the sole purpose of disagreeing with you. You can read people’s minds too! Well, just to let you know, you were not correct again.

    More amazingly, you take me to task for using a pseudonym to develop a persona, just like you. So which is it? Do you want me to be like you or not? Why don’t you start posting under your real name? If you don’t like people challenging your ideas turn the damn comment section off. THAT you actually can control.

  7. Darrius Gothly on Tue, 30th Oct 2012 11:50 AM
  8. @Reality: Wow, I certainly poked your hornet’s nest. Let’s take this in pieces, okay?

    You ask “How about the fact that SL didn’t have an economy at the beginning and the creators of it had no clue what was going to work …”. In my initial reply, I made mention of the fact that the economy present in SL is one that grew out of trial and error .. “organically” is the word I used. This is the point I was trying to make but I gather you overlooked. There is a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge that was gained by those early efforts. That history should not be lost, that effort should not be squandered by ignoring it on a new effort. It doesn’t take a lot to make allowances for a feature in a new product .. as long as you understand what that feature will entail. My position is that they’ve not made such allowances in their new titles, and from all appearances may not even be planning on providing an end-user economy at all.

    They are not a “start-up”. They are a company with nearly 10 years of experience in producing an end-user virtual reality product. They have scads of historical evidence and examples on which to base their future path. The man at the helm has years of experience guiding the development of an end-user game, and has a particular interest in producing one with a heavy “User Created Content” foundation. Why should they shuck all that and pretend to be a start-up, making all the same mistakes they’ve already made? Wouldn’t it be wiser to use all that and fold it into their new offerings?

    I am pleased that my level of “employment” concerns you. My readership is .. what it is. As for making the Metaverse a better, more intelligent place .. umm .. (points to the articles in this blog) .. that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing in my own way.

    The Twitter account that you reference was one created right after I disagreed with you .. somewhere. (I honestly forget where at the moment.) It had exactly one Tweet: Taking me to task and insulting me in a personal manner. I may have been arrogant in assuming you set up the Twitter account for the sole purpose of attacking me, but from all the evidence I could find, that was exactly what you did. If you had another purpose, well then I was mistaken.

    My comments about you “setting up a persona” were because this pseudonym of yours was new, had no history, and seemed to take a very confrontational tone with one purpose .. disruption. The pseudonym I use here is one that I’ve had since the day I joined SL, is a slight derivation of the one I had prior to SL (owing to them not having my previous last name in their list of “Approved Last Names”) and has been my sole “face” ever since. I don’t change accounts like socks.

    I actually do enjoy people challenging my ideas .. as long as they contribute. A few folks have even changed my mind on topics. But as far as killing comments, the only ones that get the axe around here are Spammers. I even allow comments from those that call me names. *smiles*