A few days ago, I asked the empty air what LL’s real motivation is for their decision to pack up “adult” material and move it to a virtual red-light district.
According to an article posted in today’s TechDirt, Linden Lab thinks sex is what’s keeping the businesses out of Second Life. So while some may speculate about an imminent merge with the Teen Grid, TechDirt says in not so many words that it’s the economy, stupid.
Catherine Linden was quick to reply to the post, citing IBM’s saving hundreds of thousands in business costs by holding meetings and events in SL. She also sent a link to an article stating that last year, people spent over $360 million in Second Life (yeah, and how much of that was lost in the OpenSpace fiasco, she wondered aloud?). The article she references isn’t itself very revealing; it’s mostly “Mark Kingdon says”. She says, however, that said article is evidence that the SL economy is very strong.
Michael Donnelly of Coca-Cola and David Stern of the National Basketball Association may, however, beg to differ with Ms. Linden. Both are featured in an article in Wired Magazine last year, talking about how their moving into Second Life has been as compared to their expectations.
The Wired article mentions a very important fact, worth reiterating here:
Created by an underfunded startup using a physics engine that’s now years out of date, Second Life is made up of thousands of disconnected “regions” (read: processors), most of which remain invisible unless you explicitly search for them by name. Residents can reach these places only by teleporting into the void. And even the popular islands are never crowded, because each processor on Linden Lab’s servers can handle a maximum of only 70 avatars at a time; more than that and the service slows to a crawl, some avatars disappear, or the island simply vanishes. “It’s really the software’s fault,” says Andrew Meadows, Linden Lab’s senior developer. “Way back when, we used to say, ‘This is not going to scale.'”
So even the most successful business in SL could never hope to see more than 70 visitors at a time, without crashes or severe lag. Can you imagine a shopping mall with only 70 people in it? Or a sporting event? SL has, by necessity, become a world in which a half dozen is a “decent turnout”; a dozen is a “good crowd”. And what business in its right mind would make a risky investment up to $500,000 a year for a presence in that kind of world?
Ms. Linden maintains the old “party line” that the motivation behind the policy change is “to give Second Life Residents greater control over their inworld experiences, so that those who would prefer not to casually encounter Adult content in Second Life can more easily avoid it while those interested in accessing it can continue to do so.” It sounds like circular logic to this blogger; LL is making Adult content harder to stumble onto so that it will be harder to stumble onto. At the end of her post, she says that the media are welcome to ask about motivations behind LL policy changes at this page.
Well, we’ve been asking. We still don’t have a real answer. But we can make an educated guess. Here’s what I’m reminded of:
Rather than fixing their own problems–such as lag or the inability to have more than 70 avatars in a sim–LL will instead uproot one of the two biggest draws in their virtual world (free money being the other), costing untold amounts of real people’s money (remember, we’re pumping millions into this!) in the hopes of bringing bigger money from the bigger fish.
So why do we put up with it? We still smile and feed LL millions of dollars for virtual land in the hopes of having our own private space that they can’t mess with. We pay $10L a pop to upload our pictures, sounds, or animations, in order to create our own goods to sell. We sell goods on Xstreet–which you don’t need land for–and let them take a little commission to put into their pockets from every sale of one of our goods. It made sense when Xstreet was an independent company; but why the hell does LL need even MORE of our money out of it? Because we give it to them, that’s why. What would happen if we woke up tomorrow morning, cashed out all our assets, and left?
Linden Lab would blame it on the sex, probably.