Marketing Second Life®

Just for fun, I remembered one day to set the Thinkers’ with a challenge: what would you do if you were VP of Marketing for Linden Lab®?

Since then, I’ ve certainly discussed this idea with many people in-world. One of the resident’s favourite pastime is to tell Linden Lab how they should run their own company.

As many of you have probably noticed, Linden Lab has started to promote Second Life® as a “user content-created virtual world”. That was back in 2002 (a few articles appeared in the press back then as well). The entertainment aspect was clearly in the minds of LL’s board.

Slowly, as new functions were added to Second Life, Linden Lab now started to promote it as “a 3D game development platform”. Their idea then was that people would develop amazing MMORPGs using Second Life as a platform. So it was not just “content” – but content oriented towards developing games. We still have the annual Game Developer’s Contest in SL. What we see is that people are really doing large-scale (ie. sim-wide or several sims wide) MMORPGs, but they really lack the interest that modern-day MMORPGs have. It’s a “return to the distant past”. We want 2005-style MMORPGs, not 1999-style ones, but that’s what SL’s allows us to build.

Clearly – and despite Tringo’s success – this is not what Second Life is going to be. The technology is simply not there yet. Tons of good ideas are in SL: the bare-bones of the “harm”-based system – but sadly incomplete; really fast messaging between prims in an object – useless because they can’t “talk” to other objects; a physics engine which works, but uses the obsolete Havok 1 engine; vehicles which don’t work properly on the ground, except for short dstances (airplanes fare slightly better); no way to change the user interface (although 1.7 will have “HUD attachments”); crippled mouse-look interface (you can shoot, but you can’t touch on anything); very hard to keep track of statistics, levels, skills, and equipment – you have to completely redesign a script-based system just to provide some entertainment. Darklife and Portal Wars are very interesting examples, but let’s be serious, nobody is going to drop WoW or EQ or SWG or whatever is the trend in FPS MMORPGs these days to join SL and play those minimalist “games”.

So, if we don’t have a gaming platform, what remains? Socio-economic simulation. A few US banks seem to have noticed this aspect of SL, as well as dozens of colleges and schools, and quite a few academic types. But controlling SL’s economy is not for the faint of heart. Last year, we had a peak of the L$ value (at GOM) because land was scarce – but users complained. In January, LL dropped the support for non-educational events and reduced the amount of money received by stipends. In a few weeks, ratings will simply not affect the weekly stipend at all, so everybody will receive much less money. On the other hand, L$ will be able to be bought for US$ in-world. But at the same time we are going to have an influx of new users with free Basic Accounts. There is no way to predict how successful that will be, although from these unofficial statistics the rate of new users per day has grown perhaps 100%, which will mean around 5,000 new users per month or something pretty. Remember, all these will get L$ 250 to spend, so it’s over an extra L$ million that is minted every month. As said, nobody can predict if the economy is going to remain stable or wildly fluctuate. So is this really the “best” platform for doing economic simulations?

As to “social experiments”, LL has tried to encourage a few, but since then, they rely more and more on the residents to do their own “experiments”. They haven’t attracted many groups willing to do that. But they appear spontaneously. Still, it seems that Philip’s dream of “One Metaverse to Unite Us All” is going the same way as any other Moreian utopia – back to the drawing board.

So, the issue is – what exactly is Linden Lab “selling”? What is their area of business? When someone is able to pinpoint that, we’ll know which area should be targeted. Generic products are hard to sell (although, of course, something like “Windows” sells, despite of not having a clear focus – it’s simply a mass-market product. Still, specialized units at Microsoft try to offer specific versions of Windows to niche markets – SOHO, medium-sized businesses, large corps, etc…). Targeted products, however, are usually easier to market – and also less costly to do so.

The best description I got so far was from Clarence Calliope ? “Second Life is a playground”. It’s vague enough to define almost anything. It’s a playground for desingers ? create your own content. It’s a playground for technical-minded types ? create your own 3D games/applications/whatever. A playground for economists & managers ? “simulate” your own company, see how successful you are in promoting a product or service, become rich and famous in the virtual stockmarkets. It’s a social playground ? adopt roles, or be yourself, join communities, build communities, develop societies with their own rules and even governments. And, of course, a relationship playground ? be a simple flirt, or go the whole way to adopt a lifestyle without being shunned. So, overall, this is a pretty good description of Second Life. But how “sellable” is a “playground”?

Others described Second Life as “LEGO for adults” ? you start with building blocks, and the only limit is your imagination. “Your World, Your Imagination” is Linden Lab’s The problem with this approach is that it seems to leave out all the others who don’t like to build or create things. Second Life also presents the non-creators with lots of opportunities ? but how should you address the issue?

Clearly, when you’re in the vanguard of Something New, it’s hard to define it. But I also think that a better way to explain what Second Life is and what it isn’t is needed to target it better to potential interested users. Right now, the “best” comparison – whatever that means – is simply to say that Second Life is “a virtual world built by its residents”. That, sadly, does not say much.

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