While the virtual world of Second Life
has grown rapidly since 2005, the number of residents logged in at any given time hovers around 6,000--about 3% of the total number of accounts created--and is usually scattered across Second Life
's massive, contiguous 3D spaces. It sometimes becomes difficult to find more than a handful of gathered avatars in a single spot. Combine this with frequent, required software patches for the client "viewer" that connects to the virtual world, resident-initiated
attacks on the "grid" of servers that binds Second Life
together, crotchety performance on either or both of the server and client end of things, an overabundance of information, sub-par search tools, and an overall lack of creative cohesion. What you end up with is a harsh environment for some newcomers to adjust to, despite the world's boom in population.
co-founder Sean Bonner isn't sure what to make of "Sucknd Life." Although his localblog network added the game world of Azeroth to its stable of real locales
, Bonner isn't adding Second Life
any time soon. On his personal blog, Bonner wrote
: "Here's my usual Second Life experience - Log in. wait for everything around me to load. Keep waiting. Finally loads, Try to move, no luck. Keep trying. Keep having no luck... check the map to try and find some people. Ok, there's some. Teleport there. Oh, that's a private zone that I can't get to, so instead I've been teleported off to this other place where no one is....Finally get some place where there are other people. They are all Away or talking about scripts. I try to talk to several of them. No one ever responds."
gamesblogger Ingrid was underwhelmed and confused upon arriving in Second Life
--after coming from games such as World of Warcraft
she seemed to find this new social world devoid of purpose. On her second day trying out Second Life
, she wrote
"I flew, and flew and saw a bunch of empty houses and buildings. There wasn’t a soul anywhere... Finally, I decided to click on the button that said 'find' and asked for the most popular places. It told me there was free money at so and so. I tried teleporting there but it told me the space was full so I couldn’t. I figured if it was that full it must be a really happenin' spot. So I flew there. Over. Five. Thousand. Meters. It. Took. For. Ever. During my overly long flight there, I saw absolutely nothing of interest except a bunch of billboards and more buildings. Seriously, there wasn’t a soul in sight. This game is popular, right?" Linden Lab
, Second Life
's maker and maintainer, has been pushing hard over the last year to attract media interest towards its virtual world, but doesn't do much in the way of formal advertising. In the past, Linden Lab had presented Second Life
as an action-packed environment on par with most video games, but the company has since toned down
this presentation in favour of emphasizing the business and educational applications. The media has latched on, and real-world corporations such as MTV
are starting to take interest. It's probably too early to say at this time whether Second Life
is truly popular or has just enjoyed an influx of avatars based on media hype. "I thought this game was going to be lively and full of people and full of interesting things to check out," wrote Ingrid, "But there’s just a bunch of empty buildings for lease."
Anthropologist-with-business-sense Grant McCracken was similarly struck by the vacancies in Second Life
. He wrote
on his personal blog: "The marketer in me is horrified. Much of Second Life is like a ghost ship. There is plenty of evidence of intelligent life and activity but not many signs of life. All I see are beautiful houses, interesting shops, and little else. What I need here is a guide, someone who can give me an illuminating tour. I am told there are such creatures on Second Life, but I can't find one to save my life. Here too I am prepared to pay handsomely for the insider's guide. We have seen every kind of commerce spring up in Second Life. We have seen the in-world economy draw in real world wealth. So where the hell are the guides? They surround every real world hotel. Why are they so scarce in Second Life?"
Robyn Miller of Myst
fame isn't impressed with Second Life
's chaotic, resident-constructed 3D landscape. In a post on his personal blog about pattern languages in cyberspace, Miller wrote
"[A]s a newcomer to Second Life, one is lost against the endless flat megapolis, cramped with flashing buildings and more flashing buildings. There's barely space to move: one must fly to get away. Perhaps that's because there are no paths or greenways in the city (do I dare call it a city?). Trees are instantly mowed down to make way for more flashing buildings. Not once did I ever encounter a city park or city forest, though I always enjoyed resting on random spots of unsold land (which would quickly be bought – the trees soon mowed down)." It's worth noting that there actually are a number of parks and green spaces in Second Life
, but the interesting fact is that Miller didn't know where or how to find them. Similarly, he wasn't willing or able to find official monuments, a Town Hall or city square. Again, there are such spaces, but in a sea of clutter and with inadequate search tools, and without (as McCracken points out) a guide, these spaces might as well not exist. Miller further commented that "There are not housing hills or house clusters or seperate shopping promanades and markets," and while there are such clusters of homogeneity to find, it is probably Second Life
's plentiful, enormous shopping malls and casinos that overshadow them. "[E]verything is thrown together in one endless chaotic clutter," wrote Miller. "Second Life is not even a visual circus: it is an endless trash heap of a city. It will never achieve true cyberverse status because it can't really compete with the real universe for our attention."
In my opinion, the new-user experience hasn't changed much in Second Life
since I logged in for the first time two years ago this month. I wrote
on my second visit that "The Creative Director side of me wants to go over Second Life with a magnifying glass and reorganize dwellings into more complimentary arrangements where each region of the world paints a picture, tells a story, or conveys a mood. The Anarchist side applauds SL's citizens for their reckless abandon." On reviewing 12 months of immersion in the virtual world last year, I wrote
"Second Life is both ahead of its time and behind the times. It is ahead of its time because the computers and networks required to experience Second Life optimally are out of reach of most consumers... Second Life is behind the times, because even though its engine has extreme hardware requirements, it isn't the best engine available..." And last month, I wrote
"At 160k users, Second Life is becoming too big to easily enjoy the best of its user-created content." While there seem to be a number of performance, usability, and content issues increasing in severity proprotionately to the population increase, would 180k accounts have been created if Second Life
was really so underwhelming? Well, actually, yes. A better questions might be: How many active accounts will there be at this time next year? Linden Lab thinks there will be over a million
. I think that's only possible with a complete rebuild of the service before the end of this year, something that may finally be possible, thanks to an $11M round of financing
Looking forward to filing next year's report, I remain the tragically-nicknamed Zero Grace in Second Life