Is Second Life screwing its users?

Duncan Riley

Second Life, the once highly hyped virtual space has dropped from the radar this year for many. And yet for the lower coverage, the Second Life universe has continued, with new peak concurrency rates, and a loyal user base going on as they've always done.

But lately, things are not great in Second Life. The company has slowly shifted its focus to high yield business services such as teleconferencing and the private "Second Life Grid" while giving less attention to its existing users. To make matters worse, Linden Lab has increased monthly fees for some users by 66%, resulting in large scale protests within Second Life itself.

I asked Lowell Cremorne, the Editor of the leading Second Life blog The Metaverse Journal what his take was on the recent events.

What do you believe the motivation of Linden Lab is behind the 66% increase in tier rates?

Aside from the obvious motivator of generating more revenue, it seems fairly clear to me it's a clumsy attempt to re-balance their product offering toward the higher priced options.

The OpenSpaces sims were marketed as an option for 'low-impact' uses such as a virtual beach or other open area. They've been incredibly popular because of their low price compared to standard land simulators - and some people have totally stretched the interpretation of low-end use. Instead of managing the individuals who aren't doing the right thing, they've imposed the price rises on everyone.

I've used the analogy of the local council setting up zoning laws and raising everyone's taxes when a couple build dwellings that don't meet the regulations.

Could Linden Lab be trying to force low level user generated content off Second Life, particularly with its push into teleconferencing and other high yield services, such as a the SL Grid?

That's possible although every communication from the new CEO emphasizes that user-generated content is the strength of Second life (and it is). That said, the focus on enterprise by Linden Lab has never been stronger. If there is an agenda of forcing off low level user generated content, it's hard to see the business case in that it will just drive people to competitors - particularly the OpenSim grids which run on the open sourced Second Life engine. A particularly short-sighted move was removing the discount for educators - the community that drives so much of the innovation within the platform.

Do Second Life residents universally feel strongly against the move, or are the protests coming from a select few?

It's certainly not universal but it's one of the strongest responses I've seen since the gambling and banking bans in Second Life. It's a cumulative effect - Linden Lab have dropped the ball on communicating with Second Life residents over the past year. Combine that with price rises, minimal improvements in usability and the growth of competitors, and the issue of being 'loyal' to the Second Life brand is starting to become even less logical.

Where do you see Second Life heading now with the changes?

For the majority of residents whose fees haven't increased, things will continue as normal. That said, Linden Lab have acknowledged they still have some big hoops to jump through in an increasingly competitive environment. Without significant improvements in communication and usability, Second Life could by default become an enterprise environment whilst the early adopters and innovators move elsewhere. Linden Lab have overtly painted that picture anyway: those that signed onto Second life the past 3-4 years are pioneers that need to understand the settlers have arrived.

You can follow the latest from Second Life, including protest news on the Metaverse Journal here.

(img credit:SL Herald)

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