whalesThe recent announcement that Linden Lab had acquired Desura was almost guaranteed to presuppose sl itself appearing in the Desura games library, and sure enough, that’s been announced just this week. “So what?”, a whole bunch of you will be asking – indeed, i wonder just how many sl users will even have the remotest idea about what Desura is?

Those who have in interest in online gaming, particularly ‘modded’ games may well have come across Desura before, along with its more widely-known cousin, Steam, which sl signed up to a year ago, bringing the fears of widespread griefing and portents of doom and gloom that pretty much every venture into the big wide world that Linden Lab takes tend to spawn.

The bottom line is that the Lab – contrary to what the naysayers may suggest – is doing what we’ve been saying they should do, for as long as i can remember – they are promoting sl to as wide an audience as possible and – remarkably – not resorting to climbing on board the vampire bandwagon to do so! It makes a lot of sense to make sl easily accessible to a community already familiar with roleplay, online communities, virtual environments and a creative approach to the development of platforms, particularly when you happen to own one of the platforms concerned – which means the Lab can also draw on the existing skillsbase and expertise at Desura to supplement the talent at Battery Street. It’s actually a very smart and savvy business move.

However… there is a problem, and it’s not on the technical side of sl. It’s a problem that i’ve always said has lain at the very heart of Linden Lab’s falling userbase and lack of retention and growth, and it can be summed up very simply – poor communication and inept marketing.

At this point, let’s take a commercial break…

clickLooks amazing, doesn’t it?

This is the attention-grabbing video that the Lab are using to introduce people to, and hopefully convince them to sign up to sl. It certainly showcases some of the best of sl, but is it a true WYSIWYG reflection of what’s ‘in the box’?

Rather than let you decide that – because after all, you already know the score – let’s see what the Desurists have to say about their inworld experience:

“It was not a “Realistic” simulator, which was promised, A good concept, badly executed.”

Piece of junk game.

This is the most ugly game I’ve ever seen.

This actually exists?! I thought it was made up by TV shows! 😛

People actually play this crap?

I tried this game and i did not like it, it was so laggy and it was really boring.

Realistic Sim my arse…

It’s a customizable World of Warcraft.. without the fighting..
What a horrible thing..

There is no way I’d waste my time or money on this excuse for a game.

<sarcasm>That’s all good then.</sarcasm>

To be fair, there were a number of supportive comments on there too – almost exclusively made by seasoned sl residents who appear to have joined Desura simply to add a positive steer, (how much is LL paying you?). It’s quite telling that scoring for sl is pretty polarised too – it’s either an impressive ’10’ or a truly abysmal ‘1’, with very little in-between. Putting aside the rather biased opinions of the long-term users, what we’re seeing from the new sign-ups is a complete failure by Linden Lab to manage expectations or to adequately communicate exactly what sl is all about.

Let’s steer clear of the hackneyed old argument about whether sl is a game or not, because it’s pretty clear that when you try to sell a product to gamers, through a gaming outlet, they’re going to expect a game – even if it’s described as a sim. Jazz up your marketing with flashy videos to make it look like something it mostly isn’t, and you’re just asking to be badly slated.

What’s worse – however we might want to describe sl – whether game, virtual world, or whatever; the Lab have coined the perfect description for sl, which unequivocably sums it up in a nutshell, yet they’ve capitalised on it at all… it’s a ‘shared creative space’. Now, explain that to people, outline the challenge of creating your own interpretation of that space from the ground up, (whatever happened to ‘it all starts with a cube’?) and maybe support that with a video that gives some insight into the creative and social elements of sl, and – who knows – you could be on to a winner?

There’s another thing that the Lab really need to get to grips with on the marketing side – something that’s not going to go away without some plain talking and ‘telling it like it is’ – the problem is evident if we take a look at a few more comments…

 I played it a little back in Nov 06 and was bored to pieces, got some free money of these trees in the game then made some self-replicating boxes & crashed the thing. Haven’t bothered since…

Second Life was really something 10 years ago. It was novel, imaginative and felt important. There was a sense of potential in taking the internet into unknown territories. It was a big promise. Fast forward to today and, simply put- that promise was never fulfilled. I won’t say Second Life is dead, but unless they do something to re-imagine it, Second Life might not have a second life.

Second Life is full of half implemented features and performance issues. 10 years and you still can’t cross from one empty region to another empty region in a vehicle without rubber banding (or crashing). Group chat still lags something awful. Dynamic lighting still hasn’t been fully implemented.

No kidding. It’s filled with Furries, Brazilians, old people, Trekkies, and hipsters.

I was an LSL scripter, Troll, and griefer. I’d script objects to grief players. When they became infuriated and started complaining, I’d proceed to troll them. Everyone in its community overreacts to stupid crap.

There are two issues here that concern me – first, it’s quite clear that sl has a dreadful reputation. This is something that LL’s marketing department really needs to get to grips with – relying on your users to sell the good points is only going to help so far. Secondly, it’s taken for granted that sl is easy pickings for griefers – that’s a message that neither the Lab nor established residents wants as a selling point and it’s a message that is going to put off new signups who are looking for a stable, safe and fun platform. Neither the Lab nor sl have an enviable track record in the eyes of the people they’re trying to proselytise and they really need to do some PR legwork if they intend reaping the benefits of the publicity machine.

So, sl on Desura has potential, but without solid and astute marketing, shrewd, effective communication and careful management of expectations, all that potential could be wasted and neither sl, nor LL will be the better for it.

s. x

I’m all lost in the supermarket,
I can no longer shop happily 
I came in here for that special offer,
guaranteed personality
The Clash – Lost In The Supermarket

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