Monday, March 5, 2012

Commentary: Linden Lab Is Destroying It's Newfound Trust

Longtime users of Second Life are all too familiar with the days of M Linden. Before him, Second Life was truly seen as "Your World, Your Imagination." But then, Linden Lab began making a number of questionable moves that didn't seem to make any sense, except possibly for short term profits at the expense of long term, or just made no sense at all. People began to have less and less faith in the Lab to run the virtual world in a competent manner. The doubt was to the point among some as to question any new move Linden Lab would make out of fear they'd just screw it up and end up making the Grid worse off.

Following the layoffs in 2010, people could be forgiven for saying Second Life was going downhill and headed for shutdown. The return of founder Philip Linden briefly raised hopes, but they soon fell again with more questionable decisions such as the Teen Grid merger and the end to nonprofit discounts. Residents were less eager to invest as before. People began to check out the alternative worlds and in a few cases move and all but leave their former virtual home behind.

Then came Rod Humble, and with his competent record, residents began to think maybe just maybe the Lab was starting to get serious. In contrast to many Lindens who seldom used their own product, Rodvik Linden as he came to be known, was willing to spend time inworld and see what he could do with it as a run-of-the-mill resident. Things were far less than perfect, as the decisions about the teens and nonprofits were not reversed, but residents began to feel the Lab was starting to get it's act back together. The Lab began to work on viewer developments, and work on ways to entertain new and old residents alike such as the Linden Worlds game areas. And with bringing in "gaming god" Will Wright, people began to think Second Life had a bright future after all.

When Linden Lab announced in December it would soon be working on new products besides Second Life in December, a few people expressed worry that it was about to all but ignore the Grid or even close it down altogether. Had the announcement been made a year earlier, that might have been the general consensus. But people were more confident, beginning to invest more despite the bad economic times in real life, and some of the people whom had left to other virtual worlds were supposedly coming back under new account names. The Linden's move was instead seen as no big worry at worst, and at best an opportunity to attract new people through publicity if the new product turned out to be a hit. As the end of February neared, residents in general were fairly confident.

What a difference a week makes.

First the Lab announced changes to their third-party viewer policy. The biggest change was that no longer would they allow them to make features they didn't have. Rightly or wrongly, the official viewers have a poor reputation among many residents, and this was seen by some as basically a power grab. Linden Lab, they charged, was willing to kill further innovations of the viewing experience out of embarrassment of most residents using viewers other than their own.

While this news was still fresh in people's minds came two more developments. First, despite committing itself to do so earlier, Linden Lab stated they would not be giving newer accounts last names after all. The responses were of disappointment and grumbling, people not buying the Lab's explanation that this was too difficult to pull off. As newer residents have reported feeling left out because their single name marks them as "newbs," Linden Lab's claim of concerns over "bulling" by official viewer users by third party viewers are probably looking pretty hollow to more than a few.

Then came word about Linden Lab's quarterly economic reports of Second Life. There would be no more. As Hamlet Au, the one time imbedded reporter of Linden Lab put it, "This is bad." When most companies stop doing so, this is a sign of trouble. And as Tateru Nino reminded, they have been cutting back on their reports for some time.

Linden Lab, what is going on?

For businesses, trust is a valuable commodity. Trust that you will honor your commitments. Trust that you have the competence to run your business and manage your product well. It cannot be gained quickly or bought, only slowly earned over time.

The trust people had, it took a year for you to rebuild. And now in a week, you've wrecked it.

Once again, residents are distrusting your competence and your intentions.

Once again, residents are having doubts about the future of Second Life.

Once again, residents are hesitating about committing their time and effort into the Grid.

Once again, people are using your name as a curse: "to pull a Linden" meaning to take a great product and drag it into mediocrity.

And don't think what goes on here won't haunt you. When you try to sell your new products, people will ask what else you've made, and then ask, "Second Life? How has that been doing lately?"

How will you answer them?

Bixyl Shuftan


  1. I think the Lindens don't know what they have, and their handlers and lawyers are skittish of everything from their own shadow to oxygen atoms in the air.

    They need to realize that at this point, they won't make a real gain without YEARS of work. Years they need to spend telling investors "We can do this right, give us a couple years to pull our ass out of the fire.

    Investors, of course, want profits immediately. They wouldn't like hearing having to wait for a few years.

    Point of no return? Not yet, but close.

    -- Xym

    1. I think we have already passed the point of no return. With gross incompetence in the lab leading to things like closing the ISM instead of just messaging the landowner and saying "HEY! Billing problem needs fixed!" and taking away our ownership (as if that's legal), and changing the rules every other month to make SL as exciting as a lawn growing contest, nobody has any confidence in LL anymore.

      We have lost too many people and too many sims. Nothing but cutting the tier down to 200$ per island is going to save SL now. Together with a Welcome Home program that lets those who abandoned land pick up the same size for nothing more than paying the tier again (land is already paid for), you'd stop the exodus and start growing again. Then we can fix the serious problems that have always bedeviled SL and give the customers what they want for a change instead of just wussing out and saying "it can't be done."

      It's a friggin computer -- anything can be done.

    2. Shockwave, I couldn't agree more. Imo SL has been "beyond the point of no return" for quite some time now. At one time competition was a near but not-yet-here speculation. Now it is a reality that has cost the company millions of dollars.

      Second Life is no longer new, unique, and most certainly is not a monopoly. Their iron-curtain mentality drove our group away from the grid to Inworldz, where we are thriving and growing. Whereas Second Life is stifling and stagnating, external grids and OpenSim is growing on a weekly basis. It is obvious people are opting for alternatives that offer much more in the way of building tools... at far cheaper prices.

      SL's future is looking bleak indeed. There is at this time (considering LL management) nothing they can do to stop the exodus, nothing they can do to grow (even newbies are no longer sucker enough to buy sims at $295 a month). If their users have any common sense at all they realize this is a company that cannot be trusted-- and a very bad investment indeed. If they last past the end of this year I will be amazed.

  2. Interesting read. I co-run a reasonably large business in-world that is 4 years old now. Just recently our sales began to slip to alarming levels, I'm talking about a sudden 70-80% drop in sales.

    With a sim to sustain and profits split between two owners, this seemed bad. Yet suddenly in the past week or so we're seeing some of our best sales in a long long time, so I don't know what to think about Second Life and its current level of popularity.

    I also agree that lowering tier would stimulate investment but I fear LL believe the immediate lost profits would be too much even if long-term it could help them.

    I hope they can sort it out but it seems with every regime change the same mistakes are being made. I also do not like the trend of pushing people to Marketplace, an oversaturated and lethargic catalog of goods that is hard to sift through - which in turn has led to many in-world stores closing and many sims struggling. LL might not care as they take their % cut of every Marketplace sale but if it means more sims dying they might.

  3. in reality i do not beleive market place sale % amount to much for LL all they are doing is pulling out credits from the pool thats already been paid to them when the L was originally purchased since they pull that out of thin air a lot on the exchange and they have little control over the actual value of L they would only be at most moving things around in there books. If to much L is in circulation and the value goes down or a lot of L is cashed out and they dont have the money to cover it. it can be a really bad thing for them. Im not a economist but i know that for the most part they are playing a verry risky game by doing things that kill off sim ownership

  4. As we lose more and more trust, I think we'll start seeing more and more creators leaving, and SL just fading. Who would want to put their RL living in the hands of a company like LL?

    I feel really sorry for people who make a living in SL because of the constant changes, the ups and downs, policy changes, etc., and the general uneasy future of SL. I wouldn't put my RL business on a platform in the hands of LL by any means.

    I think the smart thing to do would be to start looking for different work now before all the full-time SL creators end up on unemployment. Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.

  5. Anonymous above, I agree. A recent experience with LL we had (or didn't have)...

    Recently found two examples of our work copybotted - one in world on someone who was cheekily AFK, mere virtual footsteps away from the item he had copybotted. Instantly AR'd him - a month later, no ban or response from LL. Unbelievable, he is still walking around the grid wearing our copied stuff despite being caught red-handed and being AR'd.

    The second example was and is on Marketplace. When I went to flag it, I was given the message "We can only process intellectual property complaints from authorized persons in compliance with legal processes." and redirected to a Wiki page with an address to send a lettered takedown request to when I could prove in 10 seconds online that the work is ours and stolen.

    1. A "casual merchant", at one time I earned about US$400 a quarter on SL. That was before land prices went up 50%. That was before SL Marketplace sucked sales from in-world marketplaces. That was before other grids offered land at 1/4 the price of Second Life... or even free.

      In the last quarter I have sold less than L$2000 in-world on SL (that's about US$8). The majority of my sales have come from SL Marketplace, and even they are way down. In the last year I've built better merchandise than I ever have before (high-quality goods), but it's selling less. As a result I've stopped wasting time on Second Life. I mean seriously, $8 in a quarter? I can make more than that working 15 minutes in real life. SL is a joke.

  6. The new TPV rules do not prevent "features the Linden viewer does not have", it prevents features that break content for those not using a viewer with that unsupported feature.

    I STILL see people with attachments floating behind them because they're using a TPV with Emerald Viewer's long obsolete and never supported extra attachment points.

    It's still a reason for serious concern, but it's not nearly, not even close to as bad as this article makes it out to be.

    As for the name thing, the current naming system sucks for a lot of reasons, but people forget that the old name system sucked, too. Saying LL should go back to that is just ridiculous. LL needs to look into options which removes the username/display name friction and removes the "Resident" placeholder from the public eye entirely. People want to see names as a reliable identifiers, display names can be changed too frequently and are not unique so they don't fit that expectation. Usernames, on the other hand, are too rigid and the forced surname really puts a lot of people off.

    Personally, I think "Display Names" should be relegated to a titler and have the weekly change restriction lifted. Usernames should be hidden entirely, and in the place of both LL should roll out "Avatar Names", similar to display names in that they can be changed and have a lot of freedoms in length and characters, but they must be unique and can only be changed infrequently (either put a month long wait, or instead charge a $5.00 fee for name changes).

    BAM, problem solved with a solution that addresses everyone's concerns. RPers can hide avatar names and use the titler for RP names, avatar names are unique and so identity concerns are resolved, and avatar names do not limit people to pre-selected names and are not so rigid they cannot be changed if the need arises.