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Dec 19, 2006

Comments

101.

As I posted over on Second Life Insider, a couple or three weeks back, the last-60-days figure appears to be completely incorrect. I would consider that figure essentially meaningless since 15 August 2006, possibly longer.

Linden Lab say they're investigating the generation of that number (and what it actually *represents*) and hopefully will get back to us soon. Will post more about that when I get answers.

Short version: The last-60-days figure should be treated as junk. It's either being generated incorrectly, or represents some statistic *other* than that which everyone thinks it does. Speculating on what those numbers mean in a broader context (until we have more information) in the meantime reminds me of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern discussing the repeated improbable fall of a coin.

102.

Prokofy Neva>Richard Bartle, you made an account to do a lecture once and I think you never logged on again.

I didn't log in again because I lost my password in the great SL Password Loss. I had to create another account, and use that instead. I have since managed to get my password back and last logged in on Tuesday (here's the blog entry that mentions it).

>Do you consider yourself a member of SL or not? Probably not.

It depends what you mean by "member". I probably visit SL about as often as I visit the USA. Am I a "member" of of the USA?

I'd certainly be put out if I were unable to access SL, which is why I created a second character after losing my first.

>But I wouldn't hesitate to grant you SL citizenship.

Right. Just like the USA wouldn't hesitate to grant me American citizenship.

Back in the 1970s, Jimmy Carter berated Chairman Mao about China's refusal to allow dissidents to leave the country. Mao's reply was to ask him how many America was willing to take - was 50 million enough?

SL can grant citizenship to whomever it pleases, but if those citizens have actual power over the way the virtual world is run and organised as a whole (rather than just at a local level) then you may be less happy to grant citizenship to anyone and everyone who has ever visited it. The newcomers may be pleased, of course.

Richard

103.

@Tateru Nino: Are you saying Linden Lab is unable to query their own database for unique logins correctly?

I think the more likely reason for the disconnect between signups and uniques is precisely what has been discussed here -- people sign up and then decide to bail before logging in. Forgive my cynicism, but Linden Lab "investigating the generation of that number (and what it actually *represents*)" sounds like they're trying to find a way to spin or hide the churn-before-trying phenomenon.

I get the impression that they thought it would be a good idea to publicize their user stats, without realizing that there are enough smart, motivated people out there with the ability to really dig into the data and illuminate what the numbers actually *mean*. And when inconsistencies are revealed, the methodology gets modified or retconned. Much like how they changed the "total users" figure from the nebulous "weighted average" between the total signups and 60-day uniques they used to publish to the total signups + uniques when dilligent users revealed that the old number was simply *not* what they represented it as.

104.

Prokofy Neva wrote: "I have a WoW "subscription" and I'm counted in the 7 million, though I played it for a grand total of 45 minutes and never looked back. I gave the account to someone who already had accounts, and was already counted in the 7 million."

If you bought the WoW retail box and signed in for the included free month of service, then for that period yes, you were counted. You are not counted now, however. Whoever you gave the account to is counted instead, assuming s/he is still paying a monthly fee. Blizzard's numbers are not cumulative. Here's the explanation for WoW's metric that's included in every press release about customer numbers:

"World of Warcraft's Customer Definition
World of Warcraft customers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or purchased a prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the installation box bundled with one free month access. Internet Game Room players that have accessed the game over the last seven days are also counted as customers. The above definition excludes all players under free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired pre-paid cards. Customers in licensees' territories are defined along the same rules."

Notice that Blizzard specifically excludes free, expired, and cancelled accounts. Also, alts are not included in the number -- no matter how many alts one has under an account, only one customer is counted. If Blizzard used LL's kind of metric, they'd be citing tens of millions of users, not 7+ million current customers.

I post this in the hope that seeing what kind of restrictive metric is used by WoW (and some other MMOGs) will help in understanding why people might question SL's numbers. Especially when they're used in direct apples-to-apples comparison with WoW as in the recent BBC article where a LL official stated that SL had one quarter of WoW's users.

105.

My apologies for forgetting to sign the above post about Blizzard's customer count metric.

106.

@Dellaster: I'm going to be difficult for the sake of being difficult. Again.

I agree with you, on principle, that Linden saying, "We've got 1/4 of WoW's users," is pushing past the bounds of puffery into false advertising. By almost any industry-standard definition of "user," WoW has far more than 4X the actual people sitting behind its UI doing stuff than does SL.

But... WoW, while it uses more restrictive measures, also has an easier time of saying, "This guy doesn't count, and this guy does." Restrictive, in some cases, sounds like a hard thing. In some cases, though, it makes the job of counting much easier.

If someone downloads the SL client... but doesn't log on for 3 months... are they a user? That's the key question.

If I buy a car but don't drive it... am I a motorist? If I buy an umbrella, but it doesn't rain... etc. etc. With WoW, you *must* pay in order to use the service. So if you don't pay, ba-da-bing. You ain't a user.

Note that the WoW description says nothing about actually playing the game, though. If you do pay, you count... even if you don't actually log in for a year. We make an assumption that some percentage of players approaching 100% ain't going to shell $15/month and then sit on they keister and not play. I'm not saying that's not a fair assumption... but WoW is counting subscriptions... not players.

Linden is counting client downloads... not players.

And if we make the assumption that somebody is going to play at least a bit every month because they pay $15, do we also get to make an assumption that people are going to play SL a bit because it costs them nothing? That, at some point, they're finally going to log in under the "What-the-heck?" rule?

I don't, for a moment, believe that SL has 2 million human heads in its game. That does include alts, and that alone invalidates the "1/4" claim. But we're still not at apples-to-apples, and won't be, when we're talking about comparing a freely downloadable service with interaction options that range from no cost-of-entry (camp chairing and dancing and chatting) to high-end business start-ups, to a service that is an RPG, ableit a very, very good and complex one.

107.

Andy, I don't think you're being difficult. I find no disagreement with any of your points. The wider issues are fuzzy because WoW vs SL is not apples vs apples.

The point of my post was to educate those who, like Prokofy Neva, apparently have a misunderstanding of how MMOGs like WoW count their customers. The 7M+ cited by Blizzard means that many individual, current, payed-for accounts as per their definition. If SL metrics were used, I wouldn't be surprised to see 50M+ cited instead.

Understanding where people are coming from vis-a-vis WoW numbers should, I would hope, aid in keeping everyone in the discussion on the same page. Ignorance aids not at all.

108.

Well, i do find a disagreement : "...because it costs them nothing ..." is quite an Ass-umption : actually, it costs them at least : their time, the electical bill, the ISP, the PC usage , the account infos and the mood. Andy, ofc you are not SO difficult, especially after claiming that SL is a RPG :-) Oh.And pls, stop throwing the cat to WoW , you cannot compare oranges to apples, in the matter of numbers's relevance.
Dellaster, it's not about ignorance , Andy is not an ignorant but a scholar. Although , the competence is not a guarantee for honesty.Ops. They use to call it " technology" , these days , but i remember the old good days when my granpa used to call it : manipulation by using twisted words and fake meanings.

109.

Amarilla, perhaps I wasn't clear in my writing. I didn't attribute ignorance to Andy but to those with the misunderstanding of how Blizzard counts WoW customers. In hindsight I should have used a word other than "ignorant". Some might see that as pejorative when I meant it in the non-condemning "not knowing" sense.

110.

Andy, if SL is about chatt and dance, i have plenty of chatt- rooms out there , i dont need to download the SL client, wich, btw, is not so free as long as it infact makes my firewall and antivirus/antispyware totally useless. I have a guess that a lot of new users download the SL client exactelly because of the hype PR and fake numbers and the fake " ownership " thingie.

111.

Dellaster, i can see your point and i dont blame you at all; you did nothing wrong. Ofc it's not about pejorative. I admitt that i had somehow " highjacked " your wording :-)

112.

@Amarilla: You are right, of course, in your assertion that it costs SL users "their time, the electical bill, the ISP, the PC usage , the account infos and the mood." Many people forget that in any reckoning of any transaction, the monetary aspect of the thing is only one part of the cost. As Heinlein famously asserted in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," TANSTAAFL.

On the flip side, though, providing the software to the users costs Linden their time, their electric bills, their server hardware and connection time, the payment of their employees salaries, all kinds of other operational overhead, and any kind of brand "mood." It is not by any stretch a one-way street, is it? Even absent any kind of money changing hands...

So... the user downloads a client and gets something, and gives something(s). Linden uploads a client and gives something, and gets something(s). Maybe money, maybe not.

This is how commerce works, eh? Even in the absence of payment. You give, you take, I give, I take.

If you don't want what I have, or you don't want to give what I want... there ain't not commerce. If either of us breaks any of the laws involved in commerce, we can go to court (as some have and are) for redress.

I really don't see what your particular beef against Linden is.

113.

Nope. The difference is : nobody is persuading/misleading LL to design and to provide their software in the way LL does. It's LL's initiative and purpose and goal and business to do so.
And NO again, this is NOT how commerce works , and pls lemme explain you why : first of all, when you attempt to sell ( and to make profit on ) anything, you define/label your product/service, you dont attempt to exploit the gray area of laws with " Virtual ga-ga ".
Then,you dont " suffocate " the market with two-sided " virtual statements " , false advertising and such. You dont make contradictory statements in public versus EULA/ToS. You dont adveritse fake numbers on your official site. And " you " dont give anything at all : you reserve the right to take everything and to vanish.
It's moot to tell me " ...if you dont want..." , when you use aggresive " technologies " in order to persuade me to " want ". Fake numbers, anyone ?
The fake " ownership " claim, anyone ? The designed addictiveness ? There are some already established rules of commerce , you know...
It's the same as telling : " the user freely got Enron's stocks " , or : " the user freely bought cocaine, nobody forced him to".
Really, this is how commerce works ?

" If you dont want what i have..." ....what do you have ? What are you selling ? What is the definition of VW ? What does your EULA/ToS means ?

" ...there ain't not commerce." You can bet it ain't : it's called " scammery ".

And we cannot go to court, exactely for this reason : you designed you " product " to avoid any commerce law.

I dont have any particular beef " against " LL.
LL's business is the main subject of this thread.

Pls let me put it very simple : you start a business;but your activity ( covered porn-site ? covered Casino ? money laundering ? covered Banking ? Torrent ? Piratebay ? ID theft ? IP rights theft ?) is not clear defined in the commerce laws terms : you are a Virtual World. Never heard of it. Then, you attract ppls using hypes and fake statements about ownership, and contradictory EULA/ToS. You chose to act on the gray are of commerce laws. That was your purpose and initiative . This is how commerce works, eh ?

114.

Andy , i give you real money, cash,my time and my work. You take them. What are you giving me ? Dont tell me you are giving me " subjective values " : the booze - for an addict - is a subjective value too. The inducted and persuated illusions and false hopes are subjective values for the victim of a con-artist. SL is not a game, not a MMORPG , there is nothing one could do for fun; except porn and businesses. First of all, define and label what you are selling. Then we could talk about commerce laws.

115.

"Are you saying Linden Lab is unable to query their own database for unique logins correctly?"

No, I don't think them incapable in this matter. I think that an error has been made, or an oversight committed. The databases that contain this data have reputedly been refit, remade, redesigned and split into multiple servers since the software that generates this number was apparently last looked at. Additionally, it's failing to generate a result most days.

Now, you can go ahead and draw conclusions from that, but I don't think the conclusions are about active users and their choices.

116.

Andy> I agree with you, on principle, that Linden saying, "We've got 1/4 of WoW's users," is pushing past the bounds of puffery into false advertising. <

I’d agree. If that is what they said, it would be make an apples to apples comparison that just isn’t justified. But does anyone have a link to the offending statement? In the only recent interview I could find on the BBC website, the Linden rep didn’t mention any numbers at all. There was only an offhand introduction comment by the BBC journalist. Who was likely as clueless about numbers as most journalists. I don’t think we can blame Linden for that.

Who actually said "We've got 1/4 of WoW's users,", and where?

117.

That was my error, Hellinar. In a BBC article (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6209616.stm) the reporter asks LL's Joe Miller response to the claim that WoW has less server problems even though it had four times the users (paraphrasing). He responded with the now-familiar claim that WoW can't put 16,000 people in the same place but that SL can. I mistakenly conflated the question and answer in my memory; the SL official wasn't quoted as saying SL had 1/4 WoW's population.

118.

Hellinar wrote:

"Who actually said "We've got 1/4 of WoW's users,", and where?"

I think that was merely a rhetorical point on Mr. Havens' part. If you think about it though by claiming 2,000,000 "users" LL is implying that they've got 1/4 the population of WoW. Certainly they don't seem to have any objection when that number is bandied about in the popular media by unquestioning reporters.

Anyway, I would still advocate peak usage numbers as the best methodology for making an apples to apples comparison. SL gets at most about 15k from what I can tell. WoW a while back had over 1,000,000.

119.

@lewy: Yup. Rhetorical.

But... why not, while we're at it, count peak, concurrent, *contiguous* usage numbers next to each other?

I'm not sure how many servers WoW is running at any given time, nor how many players at peak are running around on any of them. But the claim that WoW can't put X people in the "Same Bat Place at the same Bat Time" is another in the long string of contextual nuances I'm trying to fling into the pudding here.

One could argue, in fact, that WoW isn't ONE game, but many. That rather than taking the number of total players, we should be looking for the average peak usage per server to compare to SL.

I'll give you a similar circumstance in another media; cable TV ad buying [to Clay: I used to run a $29 million advertising/marketing budget for a major wireless telco; so I know a bit about numerics, too]. When you compare the reach of a particular show in cable land, you don't do it across-the-board. It's no good to simply say that show A pulls this hard vs. show B. You have to do so in the context of some geo targetting. For old-school network buys, that wasn't as much the case, because your ads generally showed nationally. If you needed more yank in Toledo than in Chicago with a network ad buy... though titty kitty. Go buy print or radio. Now, these days, with cable being sold at the local level, you can target your buy much more exactly based on geos, and, to a degree, what kind of inventory is available and at what price. So if I want more TV in Toledo, I can do it via cable. But I, therefore, also have to keep in mind that Show A may get better numbers in Chicago. Eyeball-to-eyeball comparisons from network to cable buys aren't entirely possible, unless you take this stuff into account. A good agency will help you figure out, for example, "Should I drop $1 million more across the board in my overall network buy, or should I split it into a few smaller cable buy chunks in various markets," depending on your goals.

Similarly... My point being that the "social-ness" of WoW vs. SL is different, partly due to the multiple server vs. single "world" features. So if some of the important aspects of the services from an adoption standpoint that you want to figure into your overall calculations are, for example:

"Can I hang out with all my game playing buddies on this game?" or...

"How many new people/ideas/situations will I be brought into contact with?" or...

"What opportunities for marketing/communicating to all players exist across the platform?"

The answer will be different on WoW vs. SL.

You can't, easily, transport a character (and certainly not a group or guild) from one server to another in WoW. You don't even have to think about that question in SL.

So while the overall "total platforms" number for WoW may be much larger, sure... might it not be fair to say that it is like, say... all the major league baseball parks put together? And that SL is, on the other hand, Disney World? IE, many venues doing a similar thing, vs. one venue that is self-contained?

I'm not saying that I think that this *is* the case. I'm raising the question.

Many instances vs. one big instance. Is that an important factor in measuring usage?

120.

Andy Havens wrote:

"Many instances vs. one big instance. Is that an important factor in measuring usage?"

For a server or network admin or the architecture guy, probably. But in terms of calculating total user base, which is what I think Mr. Shirky was originally curious about, a warm body is a warm body regardless of whether it's on a shard or on a unified server. That's the number I would be curious about if I was a money guy investigating whether or not I should put money into LL, and that's also the number I would worry about if I was researching whether or not as a private individual it made sense to try and make money in-game as a vendor of some kind.

121.

Dallister >That was my error, Hellinar. In a BBC article (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6209616.stm) the reporter asks LL's Joe Miller response to the claim that WoW has less server problems even though it had four times the users (paraphrasing). He responded with the now-familiar claim that WoW can't put 16,000 people in the same place but that SL can. I mistakenly conflated the question and answer in my memory; the SL official wasn't quoted as saying SL had 1/4 WoW's population. <

Careful reading of the article indicates that the “SL had 1/4 WoW's population” formulation actually came from an anonymous poster on a BBC blog. Its an interesting comment on human psychology just how few passes through the telephone that needed to become “Linden says they have 1/4 of the population of WoW”. Even no doubt with the best of intentions from Dallister and Andy.

What are we discussing here? The significance of the SL numbers as published by SL, and interpreted by the apparently numerate crowd here? Or the significance of the SL numbers as presented by the mainstream media? Two quite different things in my experience. No matter how carefully SL present their numbers to the media, with caveats and qualifications, what comes out the other end is likely to be the version that gives the most “punch”. Which is usually the version without the caveats or qualifications. For this discussion, I think we should stick to the number published directly by Linden, on their stats pages or in their blogs.

For those that have read this far, some background on where I am coming from on this. I worked for several years in the newsroom of a major daily newspaper, installing a cutting edge electronic publishing system. I was distressed to discover that of the hundreds of journalists and editors working there, only one had any grounding in statistics. He was the business editor, and he left not long afterwards anyway. In most newsrooms, I think you would be hard pressed to find any reporters who had much of a clue about the difference between “statistical significance” and practical significance. And most of those would likely ignore the difference if it made for a more engaging story. So I usually treat any numbers filtered through the mainstream media as pretty suspect.

The publishing system generated a lot of interest in the industry, we had delegations from all over visiting the newsroom. A respected trade publication interviewed me (as Project Manager) about the system. They then asked to interview one of the newsroom editors using the new system. That was an eye opener. Not one of them would agree to be interviewed by a journalist. The consensus opinion was that they may be seriously misquoted and get into trouble. As one grizzled veteran said to me “I haven’t worked in the newsroom for twenty years without learning never to speak to a reporter on record”. I guess that was on off the record comment.

Now I tend regard the daily news as a consensus fiction tied loosely to real events. But that consensus fiction is often is often a driver for future events, so I do pay attention to it. Which are we doing here, analyzing the numbers SL publish, or gauging their impact on the public perception of VWs? Or a bit of both?

122.

Perhaps the goal is to cut through the hype and try to produce a credible estimate of SL's real user numbers? That's my understanding of Mr. Shirky's original request. In terms of that hype there is no question that the mainstream media is propagating LL's fiction about millions of users. That has nothing to do with innumeracy, in my opinion. It's simply bad journalism--no one has bothered to double check the source.

123.

I really do understand Clay's request. He wants to know "How many people try, and then how many of those people stay." It is an easily stated request.

There's probably an easily given number, too, that would satisfy the request, though maybe not as succinctly or granularly as any particular person would want.

If it was me making Clay's request, here's how I'd ask it of Linden:

Could you please let me know how many people have actually logged-in after having downloaded the client? Even for 1 minute. We'll call that total created accounts.

Could you also please tell me, in any given month, how many of those people from any previous months have logged back in again at all under any one or more alts? That will be total current accounts.

Divide "total created" into "total current" for your churn number.

It's a "floating" or "following" number, sure. But that seems most logical to me. If I create an account in January, I count towards the first number. If I don't log on in February, I will, essentially, count as churn. But if I do log on in March, I will pop back in as retained. Since SL is a service that doesn't require a payment, I can churn on/off in any/every month. Which makes more sense than counting me as a new account if I go 3 months without playing, and then come back on or something. You play, you're not churn. You don't, you are.

Join, count. Play, count. Don't, un-count. Re-play, count again.

The problem we've always had with the Linden "people who've logged on in the last 7/14/30/60 days" is that it includes noobs who may never log on again; ie, churn monkeys. Fine. This definition takes care of that. In month 1, you count as a new account, added to the total. But you can't count towards either churn or retention until your 2nd month.

When we get through all this, though... we come back to my original questionsssss about context.

SL is a system that requires some folks to engage in high-end user behavior and content provision in order for others to have anything at all to do. If some of the people don't prim and script, none of the people can disco. How, then, is a raw number that does not take into account that (and many other factors) helpful?

lewy wants to know the number so he can tell if he should invest in SL. I suppose, in comparison to other MMO/VWs. Good question. Excellent question, in fact! Investors are key customers of metrics. Even more so than the rubes.

Problem is, in the case of SL, the raw numbers don't tell hardly any of the story. And they might, in fact -- even if they are good/better from a user acceptance standpoint -- be deceptive. If, for example, more and more low-end users join up to start using SL as a kind of 3D chat room, but, as a percentage of total pop, overwhelm those who are providing economic gain to the system... as an investor who was relying on these apples-to-apples numbers, you'd be done a disservice by them.

Alternatively, you can have churn go up, but if the churn is "good churn" -- ie, you're losing your worst customers -- that's not a bad thing. We used to joke in the cellular industry that we'd love to go from a 2% monthly churn to a 4%... if only we could choose which 4% of our subs to kick off. You know... the ones who are always in the 90-day bucket, the ones who pay lowest-tier but eat up 10X the customer service dime, the ones who sue you over nothing, etc. Those are extreme examples, yes. But there are clearly customer segments that are more profitable to service, and those are the ones you'd rather keep. If you can churn off the less viable segments more quickly -- if you can find a way to separate the wheat from the chaff -- good show.

So there's a way to get at "the number." Gross initial account log-ins vs. repeat login-ins for any given month after initial. All you'd really need to get that from Linden on top of the "players logged on in the last 30 days" number, which they now publish, is the number of those log-ins that represent first-timers. Subtract that, you've got your number.

A number that, I honestly believe, will tell us very little about the health of SL on its own, or its relative importance to the industry.

Compare WoW to Everquest? Sure. Give me some apples. I really believe SL is a different beast. Not better or worse. But really, really different.

124.

Andy Havens wrote:

"Compare WoW to Everquest? Sure. Give me some apples. I really believe SL is a different beast. Not better or worse. But really, really different."

Yeah, and that's precisely the problem I see for a hypothetical investor. Everyone in WoW is a consumer. The population of SL right now is disproportionately made up of creative people--creative people who are looking to make a buck hawking their wonderfully creative skins, their wonderfully creative dance floors, their wonderfully creative clothing, etc. etc. It seems like everybody I ran into when I was looking into SL was there to make a buck. What was missing was the ordinary people who log in not to sell stuff but to buy it. In other words the population base of SL, in my entirely anecdotal experience, is largely early adopters who are looking to get their shops and gambling halls set up before the rush so that they'll be in a prime position to service the hordes of consumers who will eventually arrive. Whether or not those shoppers materialize is another issue entirely.

On top of that consider the size of their user base. If my guess is right it's right around 45-50k. That's tiny, and coupled with the user profile I saw it indicates to me an early and immature technology/product. What's really troubling is the miniscule retention ratio: out of 2,000,000 downloads only 45,000 people stuck around?

Given all that, I think that investing in SL right now represents investing in the long shot. I'm a techie, so I think that something like SL will probably succeed in the long term. (There's a rich chat application in Korea with avatars that is wildly successful.) But that "something" doesn't have to be SL. As I referenced in an earlier post, there's a commonly accepted bit of start-up wisdom that states that the pioneer product is almost never the one that makes the big bucks. The second wave, which is able to observe all of the pitfalls and traps that the pioneer fell into, is more likely to be wildly successful. And so far as pitfalls goes SL has a bunch of those.

125.

Richard, the great thing about SL is that it is a world where you *can* be given citizenship just like that by making an account, unlike America.

As for Mao and China, geez, you picked a really bad example there! Jimmy Carter and subsequent presidents let in tens of thousands of Chinese students and scientists each year, likely more than any other country in the world. While not 50 million (the entire Chinese-American population is only something like 3.5 million), it's still bunches and bunches, enough to make your point invalid -- and to be an example of gratuitous America-bashing and Richard, I thought we were *so* over that! Bash Prokofy if you must, as an uncultured and uncouth loudmouth, but don't drag the whole country into it.

And why, all of a sudden, complaining that visitors to the U.S., and residents or citizens of SL don't get to REALLY run the country?! You're not ranting about that vis-a-vis WoW or Eve are you? Ah, the rising tide of expectations...

126.

lewy >Yeah, and that's precisely the problem I see for a hypothetical investor. Everyone in WoW is a consumer. The population of SL right now is disproportionately made up of creative people--creative people who are looking to make a buck hawking their wonderfully creative skins, their wonderfully creative dance floors, their wonderfully creative clothing, etc. etc. <

My experience in SL is pretty limited, but I seem to be hanging out with a totally different creative crowd to the one you describe. My crowd creates because they like creating stuff, and like to see people using it. So much so, they are prepared to pay for the privilege. For them SL is, if you like, a vanity press.

In your fixation on the old fashioned cash economy, I think you are missing a more modern (postmodern?) phenomena in SL, the attention economy. A lot of people in SL create and build to be seen. And they buy land, and pay real dollars, to do that. You could say that a chunk of the companies buying into SL are there for the attention economy too, not to make a cash profit.

As far as I can see, unless I am reading the stats wrong, Linden Labs are in the business of selling virtual real estate (servers). User subscriptions are just cream. And they seem to be doing very well at selling servers. Two consecutive months in which they have sold over 500 new islands. If I was an investor I would be pretty happy with that.

The idea that all the people buying land are doing so with the intention of making a long term profit doesn’t wash with me. If they are, then most of them are not being very successful as yet. I think a lot of the land is being purchased for conspicuous consumption, or even stranger, for conspicuous creation. That “vanity press” aspect of SL I think makes comparison of SL and WoW particularly misleading.

If the a significant portion of SL’s income is coming from people buying attention, then how important is it that the admiring eyeballs are SL subscribers? Or even people that stick around very long, so long as they stay long enough to admire some of the sights?

127.

@Hellinar: I am going to have to politely ask you to die so that I can take credit for the term "conspicuous creation." ;-) That's totally, totally awesome.

Seriously, though... I may want to quote that at some point. Did you hear it someplace, or is it original to you? In an attention economy, that's a really, really great phrase to whip out, and I'd want to give credit where it's due.

128.

Andy >Seriously, though... I may want to quote that at some point. Did you hear it someplace, or is it original to you? In an attention economy, that's a really, really great phrase to whip out, and I'd want to give credit where it's due.<

Hehe, thanks! It certainly felt novel to me when I wrote it, and I don’t recall hearing it before. But with my memory, that doesn’t mean much. I suspect I am novel in tying it to the concept of the attention economy though, and that is an illuminating combination.

A quick Google reveals, via WordSpy, that Margaret Wente used it in the Globe and Mail back in 1997. With reference to Martha Stewart’s home made handicrafts. I think SL takes the process to whole new level beyond doing your own flower arranging though. In SL it becomes a major driver of the economy.

I often feel that the dismal economists way underestimate the joy of creation for its own sake, and the delight and pride in sharing creations with others. That bias underlies the media focus on creation for $$$ in SL. Which to my mind is not the most exciting thing happening in SL.

129.

Hellinar wrote:

"My experience in SL is pretty limited, but I seem to be hanging out with a totally different creative crowd to the one you describe. My crowd creates because they like creating stuff, and like to see people using it. So much so, they are prepared to pay for the privilege. For them SL is, if you like, a vanity press."

Again, anecdotal experience will only take you so far, but my personal experience has been that the majority of creators I've run into in SL have been more than eager to sell their stuff. And in terms of that group of people who are most anxious to attract attention to their sims in my experience that's been first and foremost casino and dance club owners.

One question: how do you the creative types that you know disseminate their product? Do they have shops in game, or do they sell through SLExchange? And how much do they charge? If they're not giving away their product than the question arises: if conspicuous creation is their primary goal, why not give it away for free?

My experience has been that there's a lot of awfully good cheap stuff in SL, but not a lot of awfully good free stuff.

"The idea that all the people buying land are doing so with the intention of making a long term profit doesn’t wash with me. If they are, then most of them are not being very successful as yet. "

How many small businesses go bankrupt each year? A whole lot. How many of them intended to turn a profit? 100% of them. The initial investment for an island in SL is pretty high, it's going up soon, (if it hasn't already), and there's a monthly rental fee for land which far outstrips the monthly fee of traditional MMOG's like WoW. Again, anecdotal experience, but I didn't meet anybody who had bought a large chunk of land who wasn't a casino or club operator. And every single one of those individuals was hoping to eventually turn a profit. Attention is nice, but the purchase and maintenance of sims in SL requires dollars required through the old fashioned economy, and I personally didn't meet anybody who had purchased a sizable chunk of property without the expectation that those real world fees would be defrayed by economic activity in-game. It's just too pricy for private individuals.

130.

Lewy >One question: how do you the creative types that you know disseminate their product? Do they have shops in game, or do they sell through SLExchange? And how much do they charge? If they're not giving away their product than the question arises: if conspicuous creation is their primary goal, why not give it away for free? <

Your questions seem to be framed with a consumer economy in mind. In a cash economy, one persons dollar bills are just as good as another’s. You don’t need to know anything about them, just that the watermarks on their bills are good. In an attention economy, some people’s attention is worth more than others. It’s a point that seems to be ignored in much of the current literature on the topic.

For a creative type at least, the most valuable attention is self-regard. You look at the fine castle you just built, and say “Wow, I built that”. Next in rank comes friends, and particularly fellow castle builders. Positive attention from a fellow expert is worth much more than casual attention from a stranger who wouldn’t know a bailey from a barbette. Attention from a passing stranger is worth something though. At the bottom of the heap is attention you actively had to advertise for. A lot of creative people won’t stoop that low however.

In a cash economy, the quantity of eyeballs you attract is critical, and hence your concerns about disseminating the product. In an attention economy, as I perceive it, the quality of the eyeballs is the critical issue. Most people rely on such low profile methods as recommendations, favorite places lists, and just plain wandering around. There is only so much quality attention you can take at one time.

Given the needs of the two groups, its not surprising that the people you notice actively waving you over are selling stuff. To get a more rigorous breakdown on attention versus cash economy in SL would require some sort of random sample study. Maybe make a list of random locations, teleport there, and evaluate the parcel you land on? Check first if the owner is selling stuff. If not, evaluate their attitude to attention: positive, neutral or hostile. I’d think you could come up with some objective criteria for those. Not something I would do myself, but are there any academic types around who would take it on?

131.

I haven't done an empirical study based on it, Hellinar, but the article here presents a framework for thinking about the economy in virtual worlds in just the broad sense you describe, where market exchange is only one part of it. Credentials, connections, status, etc, are all part of the "economy of practices," as Bourdieu put it.

132.

Prokofy Neva>Richard, the great thing about SL is that it is a world where you *can* be given citizenship just like that by making an account, unlike America.

And that's great because why?

>As for Mao and China, geez, you picked a really bad example there!

What I hoped to show in my example was that if you invite everybody into your culture, you may get them in such numbers as to change the character of the culture itself. If you have issues with SL now, imagine what issues you'd have if it were suddenly populated with people of some other culture (children, Brazilians, Christian fundamentalists, whatever) to an extent that their collective decisions impacted on what SL felt like. Idealistic views of turning SL into some kind of democratic utopia instead of the current domain of Linden Labs are just that, idealistic; if the people really did have say in SL's governance, you might find them a lot less tolerant than LL.

>it's still bunches and bunches, enough to make your point invalid -- and to be an example of gratuitous America-bashing and Richard, I thought we were *so* over that!

Oh, sorry, I forgot completely that you thought I was anti-American and would read any reference I made to America as a criticism of it.

My point was that although Jimmy Carter had an idealised notion of how China should behave politically, he hadn't realised some of the consequences of doing that (namely adding another 20% to America's population overnight). I've no idea how you managed to turn that into evidence of anti-Americanism on my part, but then I've no idea how you come up with a good many of the things you say so I'll just accept that this is what you think and say you're wrong. If you can explain why you think what I said is America-bashing, then I'll attempt to explain how you've misunderstood it.

>Bash Prokofy if you must, as an uncultured and uncouth loudmouth

Ah, well now you're bashing the English, as you're characterising me as a snobbish know-it all with higher cultural values than you.

See how easy it is to read the wrong things into statements if you particularly want to?

>And why, all of a sudden, complaining that visitors to the U.S., and residents or citizens of SL don't get to REALLY run the country?!

Because I was pointing out what could happen if they DID get to run it.

>You're not ranting about that vis-a-vis WoW or Eve are you?

No, I'm not, but then WoW players don't invite people to be "citizens" of WoW nor talk about its "government".

Richard

133.

second Life is not a Country, it's a program. It is run by Linden Lab and exists at their whim. End of discussion.

134.

Geezzzz ! Guys !
1- Happy Holidays , and Merry Xmas ! .
2-LL, SL, WoW,the Media , everything and all ....it's about money. LL wanna make money on you. As much as possible, having as less expenses as possible. Do they bribe the media ? You can bet they does. You just cannot prove it. But you don't need to. What is all the fuss about ?! We have several companies , LL among them , trying to get your money. Using all and any possible tricks. It's about trading. About commerce. The media /blogs are just that, tools of promotion. Technologies and tools. You, the gamer, you have money. We want your money. That's all about. Some years ( centuries ? ) ago we discovered a thing :
Do we need to sell anything of a value ? Nope. The value is in the buyer's eyes. I can sell you a 60 years old whore , if i can make you believe that she's a virgin. Or the Metaverse. It's about manipulation.I have the knowledges and the tools .
You have your money.Not for too long, if i may say so....:-) Really, why don't you just apply for an account ?! Join the 8 billion ppls before you ! Be the next Anshe ! Come here and make 1 billion, like Julian did ! We are not a business! We dont want your money ! We are a Virtual World ! You have the ownership ! Ops, you dont ! Sue me . Or ask Bragg.

135.
No, I'm not, but then WoW players don't invite people to be "citizens" of WoW nor talk about its "government".

Maybe not with exactly those words, but I personally think there is a fair comparison to be made between guild membership and government.

I currently wouldn't count myself a resident of either. Frankly I might even feel a bit outraged with their numbers since it would seem to brand me as a second life resident. I tried the demo for two nights, didn't find it compelling, and don't expect to return barring substantial enhancements to both their documentation and their content/development tools.

136.

Thabor>I personally think there is a fair comparison to be made between guild membership and government.

So do I. This was behind my thinking in the Guilds and Government thread I started in July.

Guilds form their own rules, and enforce them by excluding those who don't comply. If you want a guild in which everyone speaks Pig Latin, you can have one. If there are moves to make everyone speak Pig Latin in the whole game, you can form your own guild and speak something else in it. The government of guilds extends only to their members, not to other members (although they do have some indirect influence, eg. refusing to group with you).

If SL's players want to self-organise into groups, that's fine. It's only when the groups want LL to enforce their views that it becomes unfine. For SL, LL are the gods, not the government.

Richard

137.

@Richard: Reminds me of a discussion I had with a Sunday School teacher years ago who told me, "God always answers prayer; but sometimes, He just says no."

My response was something along the lines of, "The answer 'No,' without an explanation is less than instructive, especially in areas as important as those concerning eternal life."

I now know, of course, that God does explain things. He just uses a EULA even more complicated than those found in most clickware.

138.

Thomas >I haven't done an empirical study based on it, Hellinar, but the article here presents a framework for thinking about the economy in virtual worlds in just the broad sense you describe, where market exchange is only one part of it. Credentials, connections, status, etc, are all part of the "economy of practices," as Bourdieu put it. <

Thanks for the link. There was much in there that is relevant to the issues I am currently thinking about.

Having read a bit more of the literature on “the attention economy” I doubt that is the best phrase to encompass what I mean. The “attention economy” literature focuses entirely on the attention of crowds, where one set of eyeballs in just as valuable as another’s. This translates well into the market economy, where one persons cash is as good as another’s. So I can see why it is popular in the business world.

I think that misses an important “economy” in SL, where quality of attention is significant, rather than quantity. Perhaps I can coin a phrase for it, the “mutual appreciation economy”? In these “transactions” the value is strongly related not only to the degree of attention being paid to you, but also the degree to which you appreciate the presence and opinion of the person paying attention. Thus “mutual appreciation” might capture this two way interaction better.

In this mutual appreciation economy, it doesn’t need too many high quality transactions to make for a good day. To the extent there is a mutual appreciation economy functioning in SL, the mass numbers are a not very good guide to its effectiveness. The “Gross National Happiness” in SL may be increasing at a different rate to the “Gross National Product”. As in the everyday world, we don’t have a good metric for GNH in SL. I wish we did.

139.

I posted this on Clay's tread at VW on this topic.

Some numbers gathered from real users in virtual worlds.

Over the past 9 months our firm has conducted several formal user experience tests for clients in virtual worlds including SL. Here is some interesting data.

Of those who attempted to complete the entire first user experience (FUE) including account set up, download, avatar creation and achieving baseline control of a configured avatar, over 70% failed. In formal usability terms the first user experience of some of these systems is among the worst we have seen in 20 years. Yes, some get through the process but MANY do not. Where the numbers come from in the sequence of interaction has a huge impact on understanding the front-to-back user experience and participation levels.

Of the 30% who made it through the FUE less than 10% came back within 30 days. Of those who came back most reported low levels of confidence in their ability to control their avatar and navigate the virtual world. Their confidence and interest level remained at a low level for several hours of in-world engagement.

When we looked at the data behind those who had reportedly reached deeper levels of immersion in these worlds (time-in-world and repeat visits) over 80% were developers working in-world on projects. (Important note: there is a formal psychological definition of immersion in virtual worlds and less than 2% of the original sample achieved this state over a 3 month period)

All of this aside, some aspects of these virtual worlds do build robust psychological connections with a very small percentage of users. The problem for SL and other new virtual worlds is fundamentally how to move a much larger population of users to higher levels of immersion more efficiently. SL seems to have totally missed this fundamental concept. In the real-world this is known as customer acquisition, retention and migration.

140.

I'm wondering if one day Second Life completely shut down without saying any word to its users, what would all users who spent a large amount money on it, have social lives ?

141.

Of course they would, just like they had social lives in other games or worlds before they came to SL.

They'd migrate to some other game or world or social space. Some connections would be lost, but many would remain as conversational partners on Yahoo Messenger if nothing else.

They would wait for somebody to make another, better world.

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