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.