The problem with Second-Life is … it just sucks!

Ok, here’s my take on it. If I had to sum second-life up in a sentence it would be “Its just IRC with crappy avatars”. Far too many people think that its a game that you “play”. But it isn’t, its a virtual world that tries to provide real world metaphors so that users can be part of virtual communities, set up virtual businesses, make money, or simply lounge around try to look cool. There’s nothing wrong with that … but it just isnt compelling. Please spare me all that disingenuous crap that there’s 2 million registered users so that means it must be really popular! Hell … I registered for a free hotmail account once … I cant remember the last time I actually used it … 😉

For ages I’ve been refusing to sign up for an account on the grounds, rather facetiously, that I have a real-life, and I dont want to waste it away in an environment I knew I would loose interest in. But the other day I decided I’d give it a try. It took me about two hours to realise I didn’t like the clunky interface and crappy graphics, and further two hours to realise I actually hated the fact that it wasnt really a game.

My ulterior motive for signing up was to see how I could use the scripting engine to create some real world physics simulations, and i’m not sure what engine they are using its supposed to Havok2, but it doesnt feel like Havok at all.

As for the real world metaphor …. it still sucks, and I think its given far more credit than it deserves.

To understand my take on this this check this out: The current stats on www.secondlife.com are:

Total Residents: 1.9250,245
Logged In the Last 60 Days: 789,400
Online Now: 8,661
US$ Spent Last 24h : $652,969
LindeX Activity Last 24h: $135,163

Here’s goes – To begin with 2 Million registered users doesnt equate to 2 million active users. I’ve been trying to find out if the 789,400 users logged in the last 60 days, is the number of unique residents who have been active, or is it, as I suspect, the number of times anyone has logged in. Why do I suspect that? Well for arguments sake lets say each person logs in maybe twice a day ( assuming they have a real life ) that means in 60 days an individual would log in 120 times therefore 789,400 / 120 = 6579 (which I’ve rounded up). This isnt too far off the number of users currently online. Is that because like any game you tend to have a hard core group of users plus a bunch of casual users? Lets be generous lets say that the ballpark is really more like 12,000 active users. Even with that its not an enormous community. You can contrast this with other MMORPG like World of Warcraft which surpassed 5 Million registered users in December 2005! And theres a hell of a lot more than 12,000 people online in that virtual world at any one point in time than your ever likely to see in Second Life. Yes I know the press are raving that Second Life might actually exceed WoW’s number of registerd users … but trust me SL has a long way to catch up!

Whats is impressive about SL is that approx 12,000 active users somehow managed to spend $652,969 in Second Life in 24 hours. Which roughly equates to $55 per user in a 24 hour period. So what are these people spending their money on? I have a theory about that too. To begin with you can buy real world goods in Second Life, i.e. a Dell PC, boooks through Amazon etc. Which is what drives up the real $US figure, and thats really cool … its like IRC with crappy avatars but you have a shopping interface 😉

The Linden transactions for virtual goods on the other hand are a different matter. Firstly the actual reported Linden figures can be easily influenced if people know how to as reported by Reuters, to date this isnt a defect Linden Labs have managed to resolve, at least not to my knowledge, and they’ve not been commenting on it.

Secondly the types of businesses that are making profits in SL kind of fall into the gold-rush model. Back when Gold Miners used to descend on a midwest town with hopes of striking it rich, generally the only people who made any money where those who were selling Pots, Pans, Shovels, and supplies to the miners. Its much the same with Second Life. Avatar Designer and Virtual Real estate developers are making a profit selling Virtual wares. There is one additional group thats making a lot of money too, and thats the sex industry – and yes it has found its way into Second Life. You can trade you Linden’s for virtual pole dances, the services of a virtual escort or just buy images! I guess the notion that Pornography Drives Technology is still true even today. Personally I dont see the attraction certainly not with the graphics engine SL uses eeek … pixelated porn …*shudder* … maybe I’m just old fashioned but what’s wrong with going out with real women?

Recently Second Life has become a bit of a gimmick for real world companies many of which have set up a Virtual prescence in Second Life in an attempt to make themselves look cool, and its been successful in that it has generated a lot of media attention. Hey even Talis have a Virtual Office in there … (were still trying to convince our CEO that our real offices should have Pool tables and jacuzzi’s too – but hes not buying into it! C’mon Dave you know you want to 😉 )

Unfortunatly these gimmicks have a tendency to backfire Sun was berated recently for holding a developers Q&A session about the release of Open Source Java in Second Life. Dell also fell foul of this, and so have others.

As a game Second Life is just boring after your first twenty minutes flying around like superman dishing out your card to anyone with an avatar that looks like a hot chick – erm … but they might not be. Note to self: Dont put any real details into SL profile!

As metaphor for the real world Second Life isn’t compelling enough, at leasnt not for me. I’m not interested in buying virtual real estate, or setting up shop in there. If I want to buy from Dell or Amazon its a shed load quicker through a browser or using a phone than it is endlessly flying around and teleporting trying to find their virtual outlets, and trying to interact with the clunky UI. Which means you cant be task oriented in there you actually have to want to turn buying goods into an adventure to be attracted to SL as a metaphor for getting real world activities done and I just don’t buy into that. I guess that’s why they only have 12,000 out of 2 million users active?

Anyway I’m off to battle the forces of darkness in World of Warcraft!

9 thoughts on “The problem with Second-Life is … it just sucks!

  1. I think you miss the point of Second Life. No – I’m not an advocate either. It holds no interest for me but I can see why it attracts people.

    Its really just an evolution of the old chatroom concept where people go and mix with other likeminded people about things they have in common. Its just a glorified version of that but with a commercial element to make it more interesting (and to profit from it).

    I can imagine that anyone who used to frequent chatrooms will be hooked on Second Life – but as I said it does tend to leave me cold.

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  5. SL is just an easy to use 3d engine that allows one to create visual mock ups of whatever they can think of…and it provides a forum to share those ideas with others, and in some cases sell those ideas immediately for real money. It provides the fewest barriers between prospect and their disposable income on the web, and its a forum for like minded individuals to meet and greet. While some people may choose to masquerade as whatever, it does allow people who were, say, not born with the most avantagous feature set to get a taste of what life may have been like if they were born better looking that Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt.

    So while your criticisms may be valid academically, they provide little benefit to anyone, except for your “smug sense of self satisfaction” which, if you are lucky, may power your car some day.

  6. Ryan,
    Thanks for your comment.
    And thank you for acknowledging that my arguments are at least valid academically.
    I think your wrong when you say that “It provides the fewest barriers between prospect and their disposable income on the web”, SL is the wrong metaphor for those types of interaction as many others have commented on.

    I wasn’t attacking Second Life users, I was criticising Second Life as a poor metaphor for real world activities. I was also raising some concerns about the monetary exchange system and at least one notable vulnerability in it. I would have thought that might have been of use to anyone trading real dollars for Lindens – since they are ostensibly running businesses in there.

    I do it find it worrying that you think SL gives people not born with the most advantageous feature set a chance to see what their real life could have been like … I’d hazard a guess that many SL users (and those who are not) might find that observation quite offensive.

  7. Actually, I think Ryan’s on to something.

    Studies have shown that physical attractiveness does affect one’s ability to get away with things, to
    influence others.
    SecondLife gives people the opportunity to experience social power.
    If you already have it in RL, then what’s the big deal?

    On a side-note, it is not strictly necessary for male avatars in SL to be controlled by RL males, or
    for female avatars in SL to be controlled by RL females. This opens up the possibility for females
    to experience the power of being male. Again, if you already have it in RL, what’s the appeal?

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