Jumping Ship

I’ve heard it said more than once recently, that potential businesses and Virtual World Content Development Companies, and their clients, are “jumping ship” from marketing their brand or focusing their virtual interests in Second Life. Having left Linden Lab after nearly three years just in November, it saddens me to think that this may be the case for the Virtual space. I’ve got a lot of interest in Second Life. My friends and colleagues both work for Linden and within Second Life, so it matters to me that the company succeeds by at least some measure, and delivers what they’ve promised to deliver.

So what is that? Well we’ve heard plans of one contiguous virtual world, one world to rule them all. We’ve heard platform. We’ve heard that Linden will probably just end up being a hosting company that doesn’t focus on the client itself ( which at the time of my leaving seemed to be where much of the development focus was being placed ), dependent upon the supposed forthcoming browser wars and competition that is expected to come from Virtual World Development companies, all jumping at a piece of the Meta-Pie in an effort to grab the most market share of Second Life’s user base. Those are just a few of the different perspectives Linden has publicly voiced, we aren’t even getting into concept like Virtual Countries, or the effects of the socially shifting paradigm that’s affected by what the platform offers.

So what does Linden promise it’s customers? Recently, Linden CEO Philip Rosedale, said that 2008 was going to be the year where Linden focuses on the Happy Customer.
From my personal experience and opinion, Philip has the tendency to be fairly straight on in his vision for the current direction for the company. That’s not to say that it’s executed in the way he expects once he’s ordered an executive directional mandate for Linden, but he does see the problem areas and recognizes things must change.
So what makes a happy customer? And is it possible that the exact same things which lead to a happy user base are the exact same things leading business and Development companies (What Linden refers to as “solution providers”) to other Virtual Spaces?

I’ve recently took a business and program development position with Metaversatility, I jumped at the chance to be able to help a New Media Development Company like Metaversatility at a level where they are dedicated, organized, inspired, and top notch in their capability to design, develop, implement. I wasn’t shocked when I was told that the majority of their clients are focused away from Second Life, as I had heard it in meetings with other companies, sometimes from their CEO’s, as I was on the job hunt.
Electric Sheep’s layoff of their SL content people shows that there’s just less work in SL.
Why are investors and organizations now hesitant to brand themselves in Second Life?

Well there’s obvious failures of such projects. American Apparel comes to mind. But there’s lots of successes as well. Metaversatility’s Orange launch is brilliantly smooth. Millions of Us’ Coke Launch was well designed and fun, interactively.
However experiences like that can really only be evaluated on a case by case basis. So with good examples of success, and all the delicious hype around Second Life, why are Development companies hesitant to lead their clients there?

Is it functionality of the world? With 99% uptime, that shouldn’t matter, right? Well if the client is broken, of course it matters. If there’s basic functions and tools that need to be developed that are on the prioritized back burner, then of course it matters. And if Development companies aren’t bringing their clients into SL and therefore not making the very browsers and content that LL will rely on to support their hosting service, then of course it matters.
Other Virtual spaces take the time to develop partnerships with Development organizations, so when we need something broken fixed, we have a gateway to address the issue and therefore see it through to resolution.

The whole point of content Development companies existing is to handle the work that Linden didn’t have time to address. That’s why they stopped making content years ago. So if Linden doesn’t do it, and Dev companies are “jumping ship” by referring people elsewhere for their Virtual needs, how will Linden deliver upon what’s been promised and satisfy it’s userbase? Thank goodness for Lewis, that PR machine is a good one, who is able to continually grease the wheels of public interest, which draws people in.
Unfortunately, the mass populace will leave when something more functional comes along.

So what’s the solution? Well, I think Linden is on the right track, perspectively. I’ve had a conversation with at least one individual recently from Linden’s Business Affairs department and it was made clear that they are aware of development companies who are not as willing to develop much in SL. They are looking to fix the problem. How is that done? Well, concierge isn’t enough, that’s for sure. If someone who represents a large percentage of Linden’s revenue decides that they need a linden contact to fix major issues, above and beyond “We filed a bug report and sent an email for you.” , then they should have it. That’s just good customer service and business development.

It’s a massive undertaking that’s for sure. Along with all the bugs that need to be fixed, the seemingly weak inter-company relationships and partnerships that exist between Linden and Content Development companies, the unhappy customer base (which is derived from many compiled issues ), and the hesitancy of Major brands to bring in their own market share and market demographic into Second Life, Linden has a challenge ahead of them this year.
I don’t know if Linden ever saw this happening when they decided to encourage companies to branch out, like MoU or ESC, but who knows. Just because Second Life has been the most compelling Virtual world product to non developers as-so-far, does not mean that it’s the best suit for Brands within Virtual Worlds. A client only wants there to be a functional Virtual experience, they often don’t care what platform it’s on providing that it works. If they aren’t looking to tap into the current SL user base, the
“community” if you will, then what is the benefit of not weighing SL against other platforms? The L-Word launched in SL and brought it’s own fanbase to Second Life, they didn’t need the community to show value of the project, they brought their own demographic. So if Brands are willing to go anywhere, then they will choose the platform that’s most plausible.

Understanding that Linden needs Content Development companies as much as we need Linden, is the key to the SL-Metaverse success. In that sense, they *need* partnerships, to make sure we don’t feel more comfortable explaining to our clients that it makes more sense to go build in Puzzle Pirates, where instead of jumping ship, you can steer it.

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~ by Chadrick on January 14, 2008.

8 Responses to “Jumping Ship”

  1. Right on.

  2. How do you propose we get Linden Labs to work with us?

  3. Shooosh. Pls.

  4. I can’t get bug fixed in sl, why could i get it to work?

  5. I’d find this argumentation more persuasive if I could see all this alleged marvelous developmental stuff you development devs are devving somewhere else than in SL. Metaversatility does great stuff in SL and picks the best stuff to do (or it comes to them, somehow). I realize they’re saying (and a few others are saying) that most of their new leads and jobs are in other worlds. OK, well, show me the money. Show me these other worlds where you are doing this fab new stuff. Gaia? Are you kidding me? It’s a kid’s game with little 2-D cartoons. Addictive, sure. Community? Well, if you want to call pure MMORPG fandomness a community, sure, but it’s not user generated.

    Areae? You mean you have a gig there already like ESC? Well, that’s nice for you. But will we be there? We being the users who are inworld businesses with customers who of course could easily flee to the next big thing — if it does really come, like they fled from There and TSO to SL…but…where is that Next Big Thing? Vside? Twinity? Are you serious?!

    Philip’s thing about the happy customers is superficial. Tolstoy said all happy families are alike; all unhappy families are different. But in SL, happiness is diverse because it’s a very diverse and complex world like real life. I can honestly answer the random Linden survey, “Is your SL better or worse, and why?” by saying “It’s better, because I bought a new property to develop.” or “It’s better, because I have new customers.” “IT’s better, because I found a solution to a long-standing problem of an area that wouldn’t rent.” “It’s better because I formed a new organization and started various new projects.” In other words, I make my own happiness, I don’t rely on SL to make it for me. I’m not in a utopia. I’m merely in a virtual world.

    LL can diminish my happiness with all sorts of things ranging from the FIC to the JIRA to the ad-farm tolerance. But none of that can really detract from the essential wonder of SL, which can work around all those things.

    I fail to see where you can put on the kind of events that Metaversatility has done with the kind of builds, interactions, community participation, etc. anywhere else. I wouldn’t be impressed with some ad campaign that merely product places somewhere or puts on a rock concert in a non-user-generated world. Oh, I realize that may be where your bread and butter is. But I can’t understand leaving Linden Lab for that — not that I’d understand why anyone would join LL in the first place.

    As for your other points about partnerships, the Lindens are hoisted by their own petard of hippie egalitarianism, that only leads them to spasmodic counterproductive elitism like the FIC, the SL Views, the JIRA gang, etc.

    They should embrace the fact that they have produced some developers and give them special accounts with special perks, bulk order sims, Linden cells on the speed-dial, enhanced features, whatever, and charge more for it. Businesses that do things like grab an entire department of LL to help them do something like CSI:NY *should* pay more for their sims. I suppose that’s why they were charged for using a viewer that is supposedly open source and free.

    I think LL should unabashedly make a corporate account — and put it on the website where anybody can click on it and merely by paying and abiding by the TOS, quality for an equal package of services. They should also upgrade some features of the Concierge service like more inworld meetings such as the G-team has been doing, and some real policies to address things like ad farms.

    Anyway, keep writing! There is so little *informed* writing about the Lindens by people who have been on the inside. So it’s very important to keep thinking and writing.

  6. Publicly we’ve had some great success running things in There.com, the Scion campaign being the biggest/best to date (there’s a panel on this at the virtual worlds in motion summit at GDC). Beyond that though, we’ve started building standalone worlds that will push the technology and provide other options to SL, provide communities around different ideas in a more controlled manner. This wasn’t really feasible previously, but things like Multiverse and Metaplace are enabling teams like our own to take our virtual world vision and do more with it than Second Life provides. It isn’t terribly public yet, but then again how many public campaigns go under the radar in Second Life as it is?

    I definitely think it will be interesting to see how these worlds develop over the next year.

    As for LL, yes, there is definitely a place for a corporate account/support plan, we would definitely give them money for such and I think it would make it easier to promote Second Life as a solution for our clients.

  7. @Peter, definitely. Stand alone virtual reality environments is the latest and greatest and will at the very least define 2008.
    @Chadrick, I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Well done.

  8. Interesting thoughts. The question for commercial engagement still remains “why?” and the answers are no more compelling now than ever.

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