Monday, October 1, 2012

Institutional Wishful Thinking: Why Steam Won't Save Second Life

New World Notes has taken to deleting my comments when made from certain terminals, so to bring a long-running debate from there over here I'm including a screen capture along with a copy-paste.

Recently there has been a debate over the issue of Linden Lab's outrageously overpriced land model, which forces users to fork over one thousand U.S. dollars and an additional two hundred ninety-five dollars a month for server maintenance.  Hamlet Au has given his reasons for why he thinks Linden Lab won't be lowering prices any time soon: it would have, in his opinion, a crippling short term effect on the company's bottom line, speculation that has little basis in fact.  The reason for his opinion?  It would hurt the five hundred or so land barons who make their living, most only barely, renting out virtual real estate.

The flaw in Hamlet's reasoning has always been the assumption that an across-the-board price cut wouldn't be compensated for by an influx of new and returning customers.  But Desmond Shang, a small land baron, stated in comments that he agrees that land tier prices have to come down sooner or later, and he was invited to post his own guest entry on New World Notes.  That entry led to some unreasonably hostile responses in-thread, which led to Hamlet expanding on one that piqued his interest.

Unfortunately, Hamlet seems to be clinging to the notion that Second Life can be successfully marketed as a gaming platform even though Linden Lab has not developed and is not developing the tools that will make it attractive to hardcore RPG gamers.

As I said, I don't entirely agree with Masami -- for instance, I don't think this suggestion would preclude land barons like Desmond (who runs an RPG themed area himself). But with SL soon to launch on Steam, a roleplay focus seems to be an ideal solution to a lot of Second Life's problems.

 Well, no it isn't, and my response is posted below with some additions.

The reason is this:  Wishful thinking isn't going to save Second Life, and having a link on Steam isn't going to do it either as long as land tier prices remain unaffordable to most users. This point cannot be stressed enough.  Second Life does not have the tools to become anything like what Steam users are accustomed to, so the chances of an influx of users flocking to an overpriced, buggy grid that is woefully inadequate to 3D gaming are remote.

Currently monthly tier for a private region is nearly three hundred U.S. dollars, and for a brand new region the initial setup fee is one thousand dollars. That's an outrageous price tag fewer and fewer people are willing and able to pay. If the initial setup fee were, say, one hundred dollars and the monthly tier returned to $195.00, then it might become economically feasible. (Note: there are groups that allow members to sell private regions to others at far less than Linden Lab's initial setup fee — I've used one in the past to acquire a full region transfer for only three hundred dollars, although the tier on it was due soon after, something buyers have to take into account.) But with the current pricing model RPGers becoming the Thing That Saves Linden, Second Life...just isn't realistic. The most likely scenario is that there will be some kind of exodus of hardcore gamers from SL to Steam, where they can play games that have the tools necessary for the genre. How large or small such an emigration is remains to be seen, and it may not even be significant enough to worry over. But what should be obvious to everyone is that there will be no mass migration from Steam to Second Life — not when Linden Lab hasn't done the work to make it into something RPGers would get into.

And that's the crux of the problem. For all people keep touting Second Life as a gaming platform, the tools for developing it toward that end were never created. With the hideously complicated scripting system that is constantly undermined by Linden Lab's often unstable changes, RPG developers have to create HUDs, floating text attachments, and items such as weapons, and that has the problem of generating higher lag depending on the number of scripts associated with all these items. And because there are so many different RPG systems (i.e. DCS and SGS), players and roleplay developers alike have to compensate for incompatibility issues, leaving less time for actually playing the games.

In the virtual world games Steam carries, tools such as weapons, potions, gadgets, and other necessities have already been created and provided. The only problem is the limited range of customization options inherent to most RPGs, which is the only area SL could potentially be better in offering to users. But the high prices make coming to the grid prohibitively expensive.

With SL losing an estimated 8.3 regions every day to the ridiculously high prices, literally thousands of sims a year, at some point something's got to give, and it's going to have to be land prices.  Baby steps toward making SL more affordable, as Desmond Shang has suggested, simply aren't going to do the trick.  Land prices are going to have to come down to a reasonable level, because if they don't then Linden Lab is looking at financial bankruptcy within one or two years.

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