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Posted 2004-11-24 by Tony Walsh
A Second Life Townhall Meeting featuring SL founder Philip Rosedale took place yesterday, shedding light on some issues of importance to virtual-world inhabitants.

Rosedale stated that Second Life's population is comprised of "just under" 17,000 subscribers. This is the first time I've heard a number put to the SL world population. On one hand, it's a sizeable group of people. Compared to Massively Multiplayer Online Games, such as the new World of Warcraft, however, Second Life's population barely registers.

Terra Nova points out that World of Warcraft's open beta phase attracted 500,000 testers, and it's common for Asian MMOGs to surpass the million-subscriber mark. Why are MMOGs more attractive than something like Second Life? I submit that SL's "sandbox" environment isn't focussed enough for traditional gamers--it's more "chatroom" and "workbench" than "game."

Rosedale mentioned that those subscribers entitled to stipends were paid out a total of 7.65M units of "Linden Dollars" last week. These are convertible to US dollars at a variable rate--around $4US/1000L$--so last week, subscribers were paid the equivalent of $7,650 US, or an average of $0.45 per subscriber. Rosedale called for greater transparency in the Second Life economy, and suggested that weekly stipends may eventually have to be lowered due to a decrease in new users relative to the overall population. Decreased stipends would force those receiving them to have to find ways to make money. While this may result in an increase of user-created content and user-hosted events, it may also annoy those not interested in being forced to keep the Second Life community going. At some point, the citizens of this world that "builds itself" are going to realize that they're as responsible for Second Life's success as Linden Lab.
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Comment posted by gatmog
November 24, 2004 @ 2:58 pm
That article at Terra Nova is pretty good.

World of Warcraft reaching 1 million users is a pretty heady prediction to make, but I can see where they're coming from given the activity in the Beta program and hype generated by the community.

The discussion that follows is worth reading as well, because it touches on a few things that World of Warcraft did to make itself different from the other MMORPGs on the market while still adopting tried and true conventions. Though I tend to think that this is a difficult time to be making predictions about lasting appeal - something that every failed MMORPG was missing. Once the so-called "honeymoon" is over, the userbase always dips and possibly moves on to the next one. A commenter on the article brought up an interesting point about this "cannibalization" of existing MMORPG gamers, and how only one "big" MMORPG can exist at any one time. The real avenue to the success of an MMORPG will be to get non-MMORPG gamers involved, and we saw this with City of Heroes and Star Wars Galaxies to some degree. World of Warcraft did its best to achieve this as well with its extensive beta program.

Second Life sounds to me like an environment focused on production, as opposed to consumption. As a result the average MMORPG gamer won't be interested in this. How do I level? Where are the raids? Given the time constraints for (most) gamers it doesn't appear to be something you can make a half-hearted commitment to and expect to get any enjoyment out of it. It's acessibility and instant gratification that makes games like World of Warcraft so appealing.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
November 24, 2004 @ 3:35 pm
Second Life is a strange beast. It is focussed both on production (users make their own content) and consumption (users consume user-created content). The economy in Second Life is based on user creations and Linden-metered land sales. There are plenty of people who can't make cars or costumes, and who buy them instead. Some of these people are buying game money with real money in order to fulfill their shopping desires. The Gaming Open Market has traded $639,977.38 to date -- that's over half a million US dollars in virtual currency trades. The people who create things in Second Life are the ones selling game money, not buying it.

After playing Star Wars Galaxies (and taking into account what I've read about other MMOGs), it seems that MMOGs also balance production and consumption. Players are basically farmers, and are able to use in-game skills to create in-game commodities. Other players buy those commodities. I guess the main difference between Second Life and MMOGs in this respect is that SL players have to have real-world skill in order to create content. And that's an obvious turnoff for some people.

Aside from this, I think the second-biggest turnoff to average MMOGamers is that Second Life is not obviously about competition. Second Life is not presented as a "game," although there are games within it as well as a wide array of measurable data. Be the highest-rated individual. Own the most popular plot of land. Make the most money. Have the most friends. Own the most land. Create the most popular item. These are all points of competition, but are only mildly presented as such. I think the reason is that the cultural climate in Second Life isn't conducive to hard competition.

One of the things I enjoy about SL as compared to SWG is that in Second Life I can spend 8 hours and come up with a really excellent piece of content that I could conceivably sell for real money. In 8 hours of SWG, all I've done is killed womp rats. In SL I control what goes on. In SWG, I'm on a one-way street with only a few alleyways and crossroads.

There is definitely instant gratification in MMOGs. But that's short-term satisfaction. I can instantly pick a career and start killing womp-rats in Star Wars Galaxies, but weeks and weeks of grinding is getting annoying and boring.

I think that that the statement "Given the time constraints for (most) gamers it doesn't appear to be something you can make a half-hearted commitment to and expect to get any enjoyment out of it" which was a comment about Second Life could just as easily be applied to a MMOG. Can you make a half-hearted commitment to any MMOG? Building a character takes a lot of time. In Second Life, you can buy (or make) yourself super-powers, a laser blaster, a castle, or a whole island.
Comment posted by gatmog
November 24, 2004 @ 4:58 pm
I guess the main difference between Second Life and MMOGs in this respect is that SL players have to have real-world skill in order to create content. And that's an obvious turnoff for some people.

You pretty much nailed what I was trying to get at in my comment with that statement. Which is why traditional MMORPGs are so easy for the average gamer to pick up and play, and be good at.

MMOGs also balance production and consumption...players are basically farmers, and are able to use in-game skills to create in-game commodities.

Another good point. But you can still survive without having to ever interact with the player-supplied commodities market. With the exception of SWG, all monsters provide "item drops" that you can outfit your character with. You can also make a character that's self reliant; that is, an Artisan in SWG, a Blacksmith in World of Warcraft, etc. And the time spent creating these things is 99% harvesting resources - but at no point does creativity need to come into the equation. There is still just a defined limit you must reach, i.e. "Acquire X units of Resource Y to create item Z".

The fact that you have to "buy" content in Second Life proves that there is indeed a consumption portion of the experience, but without buying or making anything what point is there to "playing" the game? Does it retain any of its appeal? I'm not saying its position in the MMORPG arena is void, because as a social experiment it's extremely intriguing.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
November 24, 2004 @ 5:30 pm
What is the point of Second Life? A very good question, that.

There is a fine balancing point between being all things to everyone and being nothing to anyone. Second Life needs some serious help in their marketing and public presentation, if you ask me (actually they are looking for a PR consultant currently). SL is often presented as a place where you can do anything, be anyone, etc. Because SL has relied on user-created content, they are only occasionally able to point at stellar examples of game-within-a-game play as an indication of what there is to do. SL is too freeform and broad to boil down to a single soundbite, and will be very difficult to market to people looking for a specific, robust experience.

Basically the "point" of Second Life, as I see it, comes down to some core activities:
- Socialization (chat, group activities)
- Exploration (vast quantities of shopping malls and porn)
- Play (puzzles, games and game-like experiences)
- Collaboration (group projects)
- Creation (single or group projects)
- Education (learning and personal growth)
- Leisure (listening to music, dancing, rollerskating)

Any of the above can be undertaken without a risk/reward model. Then there are the activities I mentioned earlier that are possible, but not really a core aspect of gameplay for most users:
- Be the highest-rated individual
- Own the most popular plot of land
- Make the most money
- Have the most friends
- Own the most land
- Create the most popular item
For some people, any of the above are their reason for being in Second Life, but as I was saying, competition isn't the main focus of Second Life. The culture seems to find hard competition to be distasteful. Sport is OK, but ratings-mining, real-estate-mongering, and other such activities are controversial.

What they need for Second Life is one or more "killer apps" that will be easily communicated and attractive to a wider audience. There have been some really good projects executed in SL so far, but few can be said to be motivation enough to draw in new subscribers.
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