SL – Oh how it has changed!
Before writing this post about how SL has changed(in my opinion), I sat and thought the other day about how I came to be in SL in the first place. The story goes, that in the British press (a particular sensationalist tabloid to be precise) an article was written about a man and woman who had met in a virtual world (SL) got married in said world, conducted a relationship unbeknown to their RL partners. This resulted in RL divorce on the grounds of adultery. Citing the SL marriage and relationship as the adultery. I found this soooo amusing. I can remember reading and thinking “this is not for real LOL”. My curiosity led me to download a SL viewer and go into the “game” (as I then believed it to be).
My arrival in world was into a dark alley way. Avatars loitered, some looking pretty menacing. Foreign languages filled the air, text filled the box on my screen, and I was captivated. This was like the “play God” games I was fond of brought to life. Or so I thought. I was of course then new. Like so many people, the first person to speak to me was vampire, who asked if they could bite me. To which I replied “yes”. All the while laughing aloud in RL at this “game”. The vampire then offered to make me look not so new. Told me to accept the TP (teleportion, whats this I thought). She was actually very kind. Giving me blonde helmet head hair, leather “lady of the night” wear, and showing me around her very impressive skybox which had a TV and music!! I was like wow, this is more than a “God” game.
Move on several months into the future. My RL partner has now mastered basic builds in SL, I have found inworld shops (oh boy, shopping with less RL financial sacrifice). We were both suitably attired, didnt look so new and had even rented a small house in which to play house and allow my partner to practice his building skills.
Around the same time we came across the booming adult (sex) industry in SL. We were both stunned that people paid to watch an avatar dance around a virtual pole, removing virtual clothing. Although what was changing hands was lindens, this did indeed exchange into RL cash! I actually thought alot of these women (or men) were pretty clever and had seen an opportunity in the market where they had to do no more than type some naughty text, and engage in conversation with men/women who were only to ready to part with their cash for an hour of your company.
Catapult again into the future. Im assuming now that my partner and I had been around six months in SL. We decided to make a small investment in the “game”. We paid in around £30 of RL cash. Bought some land, put down some rental homes and began to rent them out. With clever landscaping, competitive pricing and a lovely SIM owner who was helpful and ready to pass on tips, we soon had our homes filled with happy tenants and were covering our costs and making a small profit. This enabled us to work in the background, building and texturing furniture. Again before long, we had opened a small store in the sky above our rental land and had a slow but steady stream of customers. We worked hard to perfect our craft (no one is every perfect and we still work hard and are never entirely satisfied that we have created “the” perfect couch, bed or whatever). Midnight Mania came along, and we were part of the band of merry avatars, promoting our wears, getting our name out there and participating in groups that followed the midnight mania craze. At this point hunts were unknown to us, or any other way to market our goods and get such a steady stream of customers and traffic through our store. Getting known was as important, if not more so, than making any kind of profit at this time. We were happy to cover costs, have some free lindens to play with for textures and such and to cloth and skin ourselves. Before long, the Midnight Mania craze died down, but we were at this point known amongst a reliable client base, so were ticking over very nicely.
Then the bomb dropped. After working hard, putting in many RL man hours to promote the store, build traffic (this counted in your search ranking and was a clearly defined and well known way of raising your profile in search), offering incentives for people to place our store in their picks (another clearly defined way – which was well known to improve your ranking), LL decided to change the way search operated. Almost forcing you into paying out ridiculous costs to advertise your store in the classifieds in order to raise your search profile. Many creators and store owners spent hours pouring over search, wondering how people had got so high in the “new” search. People they had never heard of, whilst their well known store, well known by reputation and hard work had dropped off the first few pages altogether. Months or perhaps even years of work, down the toilet. Its seems, or so I was told at the time. That certain store owners felt search was being manipulated by sploders, bots, and other means, to create an increase in traffic and therefore boost stores ratings – this led LL, apparently, to change the way search worked in order to make it more fair hmmmm. I agree this was going on. I saw it in practice, but if people arrive to find you are just selling business in box items or else poorly made shoddy goods, they arent going to buy anyway. They will just continue their search until they find what it is they are looking for, or ask around friends for hints and ideas of where to go. Unfortunately LL just decided to change search, leaving us now with an impossible task sometimes to discover what we are looking for. Search comes up with all kinds of crazy results for the simplest of keywords typed in and has become a complete pain in the butt to use. When something aint broke LL, dont try to fix it on the back of some stores who either didnt want to research ways to better market their store, or were too lazy to put in the man hours promoting and advertising via events and other means. Does this make me sound bitter? Perhaps I am slightly. This is because when the goal posts are continually moving it is impossible to keep up without spending crazy amounts of time online – something that alot of people just cannot do. I mean c’mon it aint healthy!! Balance is the key.
The messing with search isnt the only issue affecting SL stores. The freebie culture (a name I use to define people who would rather freeload than spend and actively pursue this method, sometimes complaining about the free item when they receive it!) is another issue. There was a time in SL when I would eagerly anticipate the next free group gift from such and such a store. Gifts that were often generous, well created, and thought out. These gifts DID give me an idea of the quality of the merchandise from that particular creator. The gifts were few and far between, worth searching for, and worth waiting for. Hell worth paying a group join fee for. This never detracted from me actually shopping and paying for goods. Group gifts and free gifts were just an added bonus and were gratefully received (all the more so because they didnt happen THAT often). Nowadays I have seen spring up in SL a culture of people who wish to dress, get a home and furnish it, have new shoes, hair, accessories, all for free (yes they have to pay tier for their homes, but in the end this goes back into LL pocket with a percentage going to the landowner). They actually ask in certain groups, where can I get this and that for free. Openly criticise gifts and freebies (from generous and well known creators) as being “not what they were expecting”. They chose to wait for the next freebie (which seems to happen daily sometimes hourly), rather than spend any lindens at all on their SL.
Now yes, we have some people for whom RL is pretty darn hard right now. They dont have much spare cash to spend on SL or any other hobby. They are feeling the pinch so to speak. But you cannot tell me there are 22,ooo plus people like this in SL (thats the number of members in one group that promotes free or cheap items). Thats a pretty huge number of penniless people. I for one would like a return to the older days. Gifts were there to be found and were gratefully received, but in a certain group of which I am a member (though probably not for much longer) I am spammed every 5 minutes with a deal of the day. A dress for a linden, a couch for 10 lindens, this and that for FREEEEEE. I mean I dont even bother to go along and look anymore. Its a pointless exercise. If these stores think this is a good way to drum up business, let me tell you it aint. It will keep your head above water but you will get known for giving away for free. Who will buy when they can have for nothing or for so little it barely registers in your linden balance. When tier due time comes along, and you have sold 200 dresses for a linden, that is not going to cover your costs is it? The man hours put in making that dress, the time spent writing notices, promoting, dealing with questions, problems, etc etc. It all adds up. Yes we should all help newbies and not be so up our virtual bottom as to sneer at their poor Ruthed avatar. But dont tell me there are 22,000 new member of SL, because if there are, why arent I seeing SL heaving with Ruths?? Groups thats actively chase freebies in such vast numbers can only harm the SL economy. Not once have I seen encouragement from group owners and moderators to tip the creator/store owner. Or to push the fact that if we continue to take, take, take for free we will send more and more SL creators into virtual liquidation, and hear of another talented person having a closing down sale as they cannot any longer maintain the costs of running their store and are pretty disheartened at the hours of creating, selling items at fair prices, only to not have enough sales as people can get similar elsewhere for free or a linden. I get even more cross when I see open criticism for items. It doesnt matter if I like it. Not everything can be to my taste or everyones taste BUT, hey its free, its not a reseller item, someone took the time to create it, and then promoted it as free or extremely reduced in order to drum up a few sales. Desperately hoping that when you visit their store you may just buy something.
I dont put the Sunday special groups, or the old Fifty Linden Friday Group, or other groups that do deals on a certain day or time, in the same bracket It was fantastic and eagerly anticipated to get quality goods at a reduced price of 50 lindens (a more than fair price for some of the items I managed to buy during Fifity Linden Friday events). This was clever marketing. Goods at a price most could afford, and quality items at that! My only criticism of these groups was/is that they became or were a clique. It was impossible for lesser known but talented people to get into these groups. Yes keeping them to only 10 stores at a time was a fab idea. Meaning some people would buy every item! But to close the group to outsiders because they werent part of that crowd wasnt a good idea, as variety is the spice of life. SL thrives on new and needs to remain innovative and experimental.
In conclusion after my own personal ramblings:
The freebie culture has to be reigned in. This is THE most important factor I believe. People need to be encouraged to buy again and have an expectation of paying for goods or services. We are talking here such a small amount of money in RL terms that I fail to believe that 22,000 plus people cannot put their hand in their pocket to spend in SL, in even a small way. The freebie group (which shall remain nameless) once was a hub of finding freebies and excitedly sharing them with the group. It has sadly become a group of freeloaders. Chasing the next FREE thing. Tping into stores, grabbing and going. Sorry, but this isnt good for anyone. Not the buyer, or the seller. Its smacks of the mentality “I dont care what it is but its free or a linden so Ill grab it – if its no good I can delete it”. The group was initially and probably is still helpful to the newbies in SL, once they get know about it. I am sorry to say though, it doesnt have 22,000 plus newbies in it, it doesnt have thousands of members eagerly there to help those who are new and probably dont even know how to put money into SL and maybe (fairly) chose not to until they decide to stay. Maybe unknown to the moderators and owners of the group, I have received in private messages, many gripes along the same lines as what I have mentioned. Unfortunately with numbers there is power. Creators are forced to stay and too scared to leave as they see it as their only affordable (free) means of marketing. The moderators/owners of the group need to educate the masses and change the group mentality. Sadly I do not think this will happen;
Second Life needs new users and I dont mean more alts. It needs to have an organised welcome centre. A place where the truly new can land and be orientated into the game. Im married to a computer techie so therefore he found it easy to teach me the ropes. This isnt the case for everyone. SL can be confusing, lonely and extremely un user friendly to the uninitiated. LL need to create a well manned welcome centre staffed by true users of the game who can teach the new arrivals the ropes;
I guess before newbies can come, SL needs to advertise and be out there in real world publications for gamers, techies, or whatever other platforms can be used to advertise Second Life in the real world market place. People arent just going to stumble across it. SL is one of many virtual worlds now but still remains for me the best, despite the damage that has been done (but can be reversed I believe);
Linden Labs need to quit messing with search and other inworld tools that do not need fixing. Second Life needs user stability. We need to have a predictable format for what to expect when using search, market place and other inworld tools that help us explore and find new things or things we need. Changing the goal posts is just putting added pressure on existing users, and certainly would put off a newbie who may log out only to come back and find something else has changed overnight. Not everyone is aware of blogs, grid status etc and not everyone chooses to read them (though they should – winks);
I do so hope the changes Ive seen over the past year settle down. The store closures end, the freeloaders realise the negative impact they are having (they wont all do this, by nature humans and AVs are pretty darn selfish sometimes LOL). Mostly Linden Labs, get off your RL asses, drum up some newbies, get out there advertise. Do all the marketing that your inworld customers work so hard on. If you put in only a fraction of the effort we do then you would reap the rewards as a company and make your existing users far happier. Not just financially, but in terms of new SIM creation, new artistic talent and creativity being introduced into a virtual world where anything is a possibility.
I truly welcome feedback on this post (not to stroke my writers ego – I dont have one), but to know if I think alike to anyone else out there or if anyone has a different opinion on whats going on/going wrong in SL at the moment.
Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings,