Thursday, August 23, 2012

Health Care Woes (Not Mine — YET)

I was reading a blog from someone in Great Britain who wrote about his appeal to continue receiving medical care courtesy of the government-run health care system.  Seems Britain's politicians are, like those in the U.S., hellbent on destroying what's left of the social welfare system in favor of private, for-profit interests.

The fact is that Britain's previously nationalized health care system, while I'm sure it had its flaws, was among the best in the world.  The depraved move toward privatized health care like what we're saddled with in the U.S. is a digusting act by cowardly politicians who obviously need never worry about how they're going to pay for their care; they're wealthy enough to be able to afford it, and since they're not human enough to feel such sentimental emotions as empathy, why should they care if the rest of us are left to scrape up some sort of existence on our own?  As far as these savages are concerned, the Ayn Rand philosophy of "survival of the fittest" is the only rule worth following.

Now, bear in mind I'm asking this next bit out of ignorance because I don't know a lot about British politics, but what does Queen Elizabeth think of all this?  Does anyone know?  Granted, as I understand it the British monarch is little more than a figurehead, but even figureheads have the power of the bully pulpit and the ability to invoke rhetoric to rouse the people.  Surely if she gave a speech denouncing austerity and calling the people to action on tossing out their conservative rulers in favor of a return to the strong social welfare days, people would follow her lead?  What's going on over there?

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., a good friend of mine may or may not have cancer.  Among her host of other health problems including fibromyalgia, this would really put her in an economic fix and since her health problems prevent her from working, she's already close to starvation as it is.  Yet she, I, and millions of other Americans who cannot afford health care are effectively being told to die if we can't afford to get treatment.  What remaining social welfare still exists in this country is being whittled away even further and Obama's far right health insurance bailout simply institutionalizes the health care crisis.  So BINGO! it went from aberration to part of the system, and since it can't be a crisis in the system if it's a design function, no more crisis, right?  Except tens of millions still won't be able to visit a doctor because health care is prohibitively expensive.  *Facepalms.*

You can only deprive people of so much for so long before they reach the breaking point.  We're about there now.  The subhuman savages who are crushing us all underfoot must know this, which is why they're busily finalizing their respective police states — gotta be prepared to use as much force as possible to put down any and all uprisings, even if the likelihood of them is low.

Monday, August 20, 2012

More Regions Disappearing from SL

Over at New World Notes Hamlet Au is disappointed to learn that one of the Next Big Things to save Second Life isn't doing what he hoped it would, namely, turn SL into the gamers' paradise he apparently wants it to be.  This latest revelation comes on the heels of his blog entry last week that hyped the "publish[ing]" of SL "on Valve's Steam distribution network", which is apparently the latest Next Big Thing that will save SL from the slow disintegration of the grid.
Some people are joining Hamlet in hyping this Steam thing as the feature that will bring swarms of 25-40-year-olds to the grid, injecting new life into it and making up for the loss of regions that has been taking place over the last couple of years.  Others are downplaying these developments as not having any significant impact on the number of new users to SL, and I happen to be among that crowd.  And there's a reason why we don't expect this to take off: the high price of land in SL and the inescapable fact that Second Life is simply not a gaming platform.  It never was and never will be.
A popular region called Hosoi just announced that, because of financial difficulties, the sim owner is forced to close it down and leave the grid.  And it's not just one but four full regions shutting down.
Now, this should not be surprising to anyone who has kept up with news of SL on NWN.  In May and September last year, and in June of this year forecasts predict a ten percent loss of privately-"owned" regions.  The single biggest reason for these region losses is the ridiculously high price of land in SL, with Linden Lab charging people up to $1,000.00 USD to buy a new region and $295.00 USD a month for maintenance fees on the server that houses it.  And since servers are shared by several regions, this means that each server brings in many hundreds if not thousands of dollars a month.  It's a pricing model that only barely worked back in 2006, when there was still the illsuion maintained that the U.S. and world economies were somewhat strong.  But that illusion ended in 2008 — four years ago — and it is just plain stupid to expect people to sustain what has become an outrageously expensive luxury when most of us are not even able to earn a living wage and the ones who are able are finding their savings being gobbled up by everything from higher food prices to economically-crippling medical bills.
Now, the simplest solution to bring in more revenue is to cut region prices by one half to two thirds, making SL land pricing competitive with grids such as OpenSim and InWorldz, both of which charge less than $100.00 USD for private islands — both the initial buying price and the monthly server maintenance fee are around $75.00) — and provide far more resources for those regions.  Linden Lab currently allows only 15,000 primitives (the basic building blocks that are used to generate the amazing constructs users have made over the years).  InWorldz allows up to 45,000.  If you had a choice between paying $75 a month for 45,000 prims and shelling out $295 a month for 15,000 prims, the choice really doesn't even exist.  You'd opt for a grid that charges far less and gives you far more for what you're paying.

That's exactly what SL region owners are doing.  OpenSim was reported this past February as having experienced a small explosion of new users flocking over from the ridiculously expensive Second Life, a healthy increase following a December 2011 report that OpenSim gained 915 regions with InWorldz being the busiest of the independent virtual grids.

It is simply foolish to market something that isn't a gaming platform as a gaming platform, especially when none of the tools are present for turning it into one and the interest from users isn't there. But that's exactly what Linden Lab insists on doing, and with its primary revenue base drying up without a replacement to make up for the losses, the company really can't expect to fund all the non-SL projects it wants to. The latest deal with Steam may be an attempt to secure a new revenue source, but I can think of plenty of more efficient, more viable ways to increase it than by trying to attract gamers from one virtual environment to one that is not set up for gaming.

That's why the Bloodlines clan I belong to is trying to raise funds for a full year for the Nocturne Project. Until or unless Linden Lab wises up and dramatically lowers land tier prices, it's just prohibitively expensive to try and maintain a full region unless you have the business acumen to rent it out at a price that bring in a healthy profit. You can have mesh and pathfinding and all the deals with Cloud and Steam and whatever going on, but at the end of the day it's still the economy stupid. And if Linden Lab refuses to wake up to that reality, it's going to price itself out of business within a few more years.

For an alternative take on this subject, go here.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Kickstarter Project! (And NWN Fail)

Okay, part of the title is called 'NWN Fail'.  Gonna get that right out of the way now before launching into the bigger and better news.  That part of this entry's title isn't really meant to come off looking like it does, because the discussion was actually a lively one.  New World Notes had a thread going that posited three ways to salvage SL, only two of which the author thinks are even worth trying to get Linden Lab to change its collective mind about.  That third way, lowering tier prices, is actually about the only way Linden Lab will be able to save not only Second Life but also any future prospects for its own, non-SL projects.

Okay, to sum up, the SL land barons that provide LL with the majority of its revenue are steadily closing up and leaving the grid for greener, more affordable pastures.  With the economy still in the toilet and no sign of emerging any time this decade, Linden Lab's outrageously high tier prices have got people deciding that they just can't afford SL anymore.  Builders and scripters can't peddle their wares on the grid itself, where most SLers congregate (the marketplace revamps haven't allowed sellers to make up the losses enough to justify using that as their primary business home base), and gamers can't afford to create vibrant, sustainable roleplaying experiences because land is prohibitively expensive.  The blog author thinks that by converting SL into a spiffy gaming platform, people with money to spend will come.  And he can't seem to understand that what's preventing people from coming is the very finite financial resources that are less and less at their disposal every day that passes.  Sinply put, SL is degrading into a haven only for the monied elite who can afford to toss away $295.00 USD a month on region tier, and even they're waking up and starting to realize that there's no more profit to be had renting virtual land since fewer and fewer people can afford to rent it.  So they're leaving while they still have a chance to get out and not lose a ton of money.

You can have all the ideas for gaming engines and pathfinding and mesh and every other Next Big Thing you want, but at the end of the day, if people find it too expensive to use they're not going to buy it.  That's just plain common business sense.  It's all about the money, and when demand is low you need to price low to increase demand.  Otherwise you'll price yourself out of business.

So, having gotten that out of the way, I'm going to tell you about a project some friends of mine are trying to pull off using Kickstarter.  Back in March I read about a tinies group in SL that wanted to build a roleplaying region in SL with plans for expanding it to other media as well as doing charity work.  So they created a project on Kickstarter with the fund-raising goal of $8,500.00 USD.  They exceeded it to raise a total of over $11,000.00.

That gave us the idea to try it ourselves.  Hell, if a bunch of people who enjoy roleplaying tiny forest creatures can raise that kind of money, maybe we can do it for what we want to do.  Now, it's no secret that Bloodlines doesn't exactly have a pristine reputation in SL.  The idea started out with merit: create a vampire RP system that lets players be vampires, and later werewolves (or lycans, as the game calls them) were added.  Only the system quickly earned a bad rep, and I suspect it has mostly to do with the failure to properly account for the casual noobs who get the system, go around annoying people with bite requests, and then leave once they get bored (or banned enough times that they give up).  Worse is that with blood barrels and lumen prisms (the werewolf equivalent of blood barrels) being transferrable (albeit no-copy), people realized they could buy at rock-bottom prices from departing or desperate players and sell at a profit with prices that are less than what the Bloodlines official stores sell.  Similarly, players trade the "souls" they collect within the system for profit and to stack their stats.

In other words, Bloodlines quickly devolved into a money-making scheme that saw the intended gameplay dry up except for the dedicated RPers who have money enough to own their own regions but for various reasons haven't tried expanding those sims the way the tinies group is doing.

That's where the Nocturne Project comes in.

The backstory is a post-apocalyptic tale that sees the human race conquered by vampires, werewolves, demons, fallen gods, and other creatures of myth and legend, following a global environmental disaster.  Society quickly returns to a feudal system under the rule of their supernatural overlords, with modern technology gradually giving way to medieval-style tech and methods.  This roleplay region is designed to cater to dedicated Bloodlines players, complete with a war arena (based on the capture-the-flag model), a social area for hunting and partying, and a shopping area for vendors to sell themed wares.

But beyond the Bloodlines aspect, the Nocturne project will also cater to general roleplaying needs, with an involving backstory lending itself to the atmosphere to create an experience that will keep people coming back.  If this works out we'll be able to expand to other media as well.

We've already got $251.00 pledged so far, but our goal is $10,000.00 with a deadline of September 16th.  That's now just over a month away.  Can we do it?  I'm confident we can, but we need your help — and your donations.  Please visit the Kickstarter page and pledge as much as you can afford.  The fund-raising goal was set to allow us to keep the sim running for its first year.  If we can raise the money necessary we'll have the sim up and running within a month.  Check us out and come back for updates!