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Mixed Signals in Second Life & Virtual Worlds: Buzz is All Over the Map

korman-avril
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There's been no shortage of news and buzz in the past two weeks as regards Second Life and virtual worlds in general. Usually, though it all tends in one direction. It's either good, or bad depending on what's going on.

Interestingly, though, this time, it's all over the place. I guess if you average it all out it's the same as it ever was, which is probably not the worst thing in the world. But hey, let's just lay it out there and you decide.

The Good News

It became known several weeks ago that Will Wright had joined Linden Lab's board of directors.This quickly became huge buzz, even as the Lab itself tried to downplay the news, not wanting it to become "a thing."

But it is "a thing", and in fact a very big thing. Will Wright is a cornerstone of the video games industry; the creator of such games as Sim City and The Sims (and Spore, but we're not going to talk about that.) Though some people had initial concerns that Wright's contribution to Second Life would be to overly simplify and gamify the platform, I don't think that's how this is going to play out. It seems far more likely that the reverse will occur, and Will Wright will be able to add far more complexity to Second Life in a way that was not possible in games like Sim City and The Sims. At the same time, he has the experience and knowledge necessary in order to make simulated worlds a successful venture. He's done it quite a few times before, after all.

The second good thing, which as I'm writing this is turning into an "uh-oh" moment (literally, as I'm typing this out) is the beta test for a new game the Lab is calling Linden Realms, or LR for short. It's basically a game within Second Life itself, in which you try to gather crystals and outwit monsters and obstacles. You can trade in the crystals for cash, reportedly at the rate of 1L per crystal found.

Right now it's in beta test and open to premium users only, but you can read about it a little here.

lrportal-001

I haven't had the opportunity to play the game yet, but I did mange to find a portal to enter the game, as seen above. It wasn't the easiest thing on the grid to find, but I eventually got one.

From what I've read people who have played have really enjoyed it. But what's good about this game is the notion that the tools used to create it could be offered up to content creators at some point, allowing for games within SL not created by the Lab, but by other people. You'd likely see a variety of game types, giving people who really love games more choice, and opening up an entirely new realm of virtual worlds possibilities.

However, just now, as I was typing this, the following tweet came across my desk, originating from @LaniGlobal:

Linden Realm Labs #SecondLife is running direct copy of my popular #opensim #osgrid Crystal Quest game. Same color crystals, HUD, etc.

This could be problematic.

The Bad News

Two things come immediately to mind. One is the recent article about Second Life featured over at Slate. It doesn't have a lot of nice things to say. Well, sadly for Slate I'm much nastier than they are, and I don't have much nice to say about the article.

Mostly, it's based on a false premise. Basically, they decided what Second Life was supposed to be, and then castigate it for not meeting that standard. I think that their entire initial definition was the problem and we probably ought to be grateful that's not what happened. But the bad press is not doing Second Life any favors, even if the comments defending the platform are an interesting read.

Because it seems like there's rarely a week without this happening, there's also been yet another Marketplace screwup. Though it was announced recently that they would be doing beta testing for future marketplace deploys on the beta grid (Aditi), in the wake of the debacle that took place back in September (STILL NOT COMPLETELY FIXED, FOLKS), apparently that's not stopping the endless series of Marketplace train wrecks.

As we head in to the holiday season, which is no less important in virtual commerce than it is in real life, these massive gaffes become more costly, at a time when they become less affordable in terms of the damage they do.

This week, transactions were being recorded not with user names, but with display names instead.

For those people who just went "what?", as opposed to those whose heads just fell off, let me explain.

Your user name is fixed and unchangeable. However, display names, which were introduced with much furor back in the fall of 2010, are changeable once a week. In short, it's like recording a transaction based on the color of the shirt you were wearing that day, and about as useful.

This show stopper was quickly made into a JIRA, which the merchant community jumped on with a vengeance. Although the Lab responded (for them) quickly and have fixed this bug going forward, as several people have pointed out already, that's not enough.

The problem is that they have not fixed the records that were shown under display names from the time the bug went in. This is an enormous problem for people who use .xls downloads and Excel to reconcile their business records and databases, because they are showing a display name, a username and a user.name as three different people, completely throwing off database records for those who keep them.

Once again, the less you sell, the less this matters; the larger your business is, the more you got screwed on this one. So much for testing and checking new fixes, right?

Into the Holidays

There's a saying that no publicity is bad publicity, and in this case that's probably true. Considering the vigorous defense of the platform in the comments to the Slate article, even that negative could be turned into a positive. But as we enter the fourth quarter, which is typically a time when momentum gets lost as thoughts turn to "how much budget is left to find booze for the holiday party" in businesses all over the world, it is important that the Lab not stop now.

Keeping the platform buzz busy is very important. The fourth quarter is the prime time for commerce, both virtual and in meatspace, and keeping the news going is a good way to keep people checking back in. Though I personally would prefer far fewer marketplace train wrecks in this last quarter.

Next time, I hope to have this year's ready, set, shop outlook for the holiday season, with lots and lots of photos.

PS: For those who might suggest I missed the big news of the week, that of Qarl's mesh deformer project, please note that this article was submitted before he had a chance to make the announcement, and as such wasn't included here.


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