Self-entertainment and the end of newbies
On the other hand, all the nifty ideas that Philip has been telling us, related to the “Fast, Easy, Fun” motto, are actually good at keeping existing residents. For instance, Philip told us that LL would be thinking about a way to make shopping more fun: instead of getting a box with content which you’ll need to open, it would be delivered in a way that you could test it out first and then buy — and it would be immediately placed on your Inventory, possibly in a more organised way. Now, a self-entertainer would not have that as a requirement to stay in SL. They will figure out things, no matter how clunky or difficult they are. Understanding how things work is part of the fun. No, this measure — which will be quite welcome when implemented! — will mostly work to keep self-entertainers happy. Comparisons are unavoidable, and if a long-term resident continues to be frustrated at the way shopping works in SL, they might leave, never to return, and join another social virtual world instead. This kind of measure will prevent that from happening.
The same applies to reducing lag, improving and fixing SL Viewer 2, making the whole SL experience better. Existing active residents will be happier and continue to remain in SL instead of leaving. Even if their business fails — or their partner leaves (or cheats on them!) — they might stay around just because SL is so fun, so engaging; every pretext towards contributing for existing residents to be more happy to be around will make them think twice before leaving.
This, in turn, will mean that overall growth of active residents will increase slightly, as the number of active residents leaving SL forever will diminish over time. Put into other words: reaching out (via PR and marketing) to self-entertainers who aren’t aware of SL yet will make the number of active residents rise slightly; lowering the standards for viewing SL content will make more self-entertainers able to actually run it and join SL for the first time; improving the stability and performance of SL will make less active residents leave. The net sum is a slight increase in active residents — say, instead of growing 1% per month, they will grow 2 or 3% per month.
It will have absolutely no effect on the 300,000 monthly new user registrations, since only the very few self-entertainers among them will bother to remain in SL, no matter how graphically appealing it looks, or how well it performs. They will all leave without ever understanding the whole point of SL, just like they do today, every day.
So at this point it’s important to take a look of the real impact of Philip’s measures, and understand the fundamentals of the market that SL is targeting (i.e. residential consumers). The vast majority of the residential market is passive entertainment, and it’s hard to shake people off TV, although YouTube (and, to a degree, the adult/dating sites scattered all around the Web — yes, including Facebook!) are trying hard. A large market, but very small compared to passive consumers, are gamers and socialites, who might be competitive enough and have far larger attention spans than passive consumers, but who won’t ever see a point in SL. Among all these, a very tiny, tiny slice are indeed self-entertainers, and the number of those that are not yet in SL is very, very small, although the measures to be introduced by Philip will very likely capture them all in, say, a year after LL delivers those measures. Then SL’s growth basically stops.
Now imagine that LL is able to attract, say, 3-5 million active users (I’m being generous). This would mean that the in-world economy would probably be worth some 1-3 US$ billion annually. That’s not bad, not bad at all. A company who has created out of nothing a 1-3 US$ billion market is a huge success, even though they get little of that market (To keep things in perspective, Activision-Blizzard has a revenue of almost US$ 1 billion, 22.6% of which is pure profit). But for LL’s investors it means accepting that this is the limit of what they can expect. It won’t grow more. LL might do some tweaks here and there to make the economy grow slightly more, but we’re talking about small percentile changes, never an exponential growth.
If they’re happy with that, that’s fine, as said, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Millions of companies today operate in stagnated markets, which won’t grow — but won’t disappear, either, and while those companies exist, they can always get plenty of profits from that market. It’s not a bad market to be. It’s just not a market which will grow into “billions of users” and a virtual world economy of “trillions of dollars”, no matter how long LL waits, and how much they invest in making the platform faster, easier, and more fun.
Well, the overall population in the planet also grows, so, in theory, the number of self-entertainers could grow too, but, as explained, I don’t think so — rather the contrary. So long as all our society is poised to encourage passive entertainment (and this is at least the second generation being exposed to TV as the ultimate form of passive entertainment), the number of self-entertainers will diminish more and more. It’s rather unlikely that this will change — I know a lot of people that have completely forfeited TV for a long time, which would be unthinkable in the 1990s. A common trend is that all of them are in SL Outside SL, a few might “limit” the use of TV — but turn to YouTube or Facebook instead, which is just a slightly less passive form of entertainment. This trend will not change, just the media will — we will get more and more avenues of passive entertainment to replace TV, because dealing with masses that demand passive entertainment and have short attention spans are socially much more convenient than encouraging all these people to learn to entertain themselves and apply their creativity and imagination to their leisure time.
That won’t change
Even though the good thing about Linden Lab’s mission is the very humane goal of “improving the human condition”. I find it very encouraging to see that one of the goals of LL is to continue to provide an environment where self-entertainers can thrive and act as a counter-culture to the passive consumers.