The Sims: SL

You’d think i’d have learned by now: but no. Every time i write about the Lindens making an effort to get things right, they then go and put their foot in it by getting something extraordinarily wrong! Why on earth do i bother?

Just a few days ago i was pondering whether Rodvik Linden was finally stepping up to the mark and giving the Lab the shake up it needs in order to provide us with the platform we’ve been asking for, it seems, forever – yes, i was actually applauding their efforts… and then i read this:

Have you read it yet? – No, then i’ll wait for you to do so, otherwise you won’t have a clue what i’m on about!

That’s better. Did you read the comments too? If you did, then you might have noticed that this particular announcement has rather polarised opinion and that there are a fair few of us who think this is a very bad thing indeed. Just in case you haven’t fully grasped what this is all about (or you’re very naughty and still not clicked on the link), here it is in a nutshell –

‘Join Second Life and have fun playing ‘Linden Realms’ – interactive games, where you can complete tasks to collect crystals, which you can then exchange for Linden dollars!’

So this is Linden Lab’s latest endeavour to coax new people into joining sl? (I tried clicking on the links – you just end up at the join-up page and when you arrive at Welcome Island there’s probably a great big, inviting notice to click on for people eager to explore the joys of Linden Realms. Some people think this is a good thing – what’s wrong with having a few jolly japes in a cartoonish setting and making the odd Linden dollar for your troubles? Lots of people would disagree and say that rather than trying to turn sl into some warped version of The Sims or Dragonventurezeldaquest Raider, they’d be better employed fixing some of the flaws that thousands of loyal and longstanding residents have been begging them to fix for years. There’s also the rather fundamental question, which is aired periodically, about how we define sl – is it a game or a virtual world?

There may be some who feel that the distinction is a little too subtle to make any difference – does it really matter how we define sl? Well, yes, it does – there’s quite a distinction between the two and when that distinction is blurred by the Lindens inventing some sort of crossover hybrid, there’s potential for both alienating a large proportion of their players/residents and bringing utter confusion when it comes to how people interpret the world/game and therefore how people engage with it – not to mention the difficulties that bloggers face when constantly having to swap between gaming/virtual world terminology – eventually people will just get fed up and leave for somewhere less confusing.

OK – i’ll admit to being biased: i fall firmly into the virtual world camp. i don’t really do games and i tire of them very quickly. Here’s how i define the two –

Games: Have specific goals, (eg. completing quests, collecting crystals, slaying maidens, rescuing dragons, driving suicidally into walls); there’s a specific game plan and method of gameplay – if you don’t follow it, you won’t progress; they tend to be themed and have an ultimate objective; the player is limited by the constraints of the game, their character or the task in hand, and; most of them have a definite start and finish point.

Virtual worlds: Have no set goals – if there are any goals, they tend to be self-imposed by the resident themselves; there’s no gameplay or plan – what we do is completely freeform; similarly, we can choose whether or not to adhere to a theme of our choice, which we can change or abandon whenever we choose; any constraints tend to be a result of software or hardware capability, or global ‘codes of conduct’; we tend to call the shots with regard to everything from how our environment looks, how we interact with it and to what extent others are involved.

So, put me in a gaming environment and i get bored rapidly; frustrated with having rules imposed on me and annoyed when i can’t do things my way. i imagine that a died-in-the-wool gamer would be equally disappointed with sl and would struggle with the concept of doing everything themselves. Of course, i recognise that there are many people who can manage perfectly well in both gaming and virtual world environments – however, i bet even they have very different expectations and a completely different mindset, depending on which scenario they are in. Just picture a fresh-faced, bright-eyed noob – brought up on World of Battlecraft or whatever – newly enticed into sl through Linden Realms… now they’ve made a pot of cash, they feel like exploring the wider virtual world, only to be faced with a completely alien and indifferent environment. No crystals to collect, no tasks to complete and no rules to give guidance – how long do you think they’d last? (And, how irritating to the rest of us would they be?)

i just know that some of you are itching right now to dash of a comment about how games have been around in sl for years – i know that! However, there’s one great, big glaring, massive, crucial difference between that and Linden Realms… games within sl, whether Zyngo, character games, card or HUD-based games or even ‘lifestyle’ games like Bloodlines are all the products of residents’ creativity – they’re not prescribed by Linden Lab, rather they are the creative outcomes of residents coming up with new and innovative ways of interpreting sl. i’d suggest that’s quite different to LL creating a completely different aspect of sl, focussed around gameplay, which does not contribute in any way to the wider virtual community.

i could waffle on for hours about this, but i won’t bore you any longer, other than to try and look at things from a balanced point of view, so… here goes:

Bad things about Linden Realms –

  • It could confuse noobs and give rise to false expectations about sl;
  • Why is Linden Lab throwing resources and money at new, niche market features, rather than concentrating on fixing long-term issues?;
  • Giving away Linden dollars gives no incentive to come up with creative ways of making money – expect lots of bots hogging Linden Realms just for the cash!;
  • What incentive to creativity is there, when there’s nothing to build, nothing to terraform and no need for free thinking?;
  • If people are just here to play games, will they bother with anything of the wider world of sl?;
  • What happens when people get bored with the games? – Will we see the advent of  shoot-em-ups, sl racing and Grand Theft Linden?;
  • Do LL really expect hordes of people to engage with cartoonish, twee, sanitised games that a 12-year old would feel embarrassed to play and still take sl seriously?;
  • Linden Realms detracts from the existing user-created content, (including games), in sl and is completely self-contained and separate from content created by residents;
  • Realms is all about LL deciding what it’s client base wants, rather than a response to what users really want;
  • It completely ignores the underpinning social ethos of sl.

Good things about Linden Realms –

  • It gives me something to rant about

/me sighs

It really does look like all of those fears i’d managed to put to rest about having a CEO from the gaming sector in charge are now back with a vengeance, and i worry about what the future might bring. Welcome to Rod Humble’s Second Life Game… from the man who brought you The Sims. Yay!

S. x

“You have drowned in the toxic water”
System message – Linden Realms 

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