The saints and the heretics, the poets and the punks

misfitToday’s title is stolen from Bono (Madison Square Gardens, 29th October 2009) – it sums up perfectly for me the wide diversity and the character of so many of the people who inhabit sl.

Let’s face it, to really become a part of the sl community takes more than simply registering an account and logging on. You have to have the right sort of mentality that enables you to ‘get’ sl: a capacity to embrace the weird and wonderful, the ability to feel comfortable with such odd concepts as shopping for virtual goods, and the capability to immerse oneself within a virtual environment to a degree beyond what we might term as ‘gaming’.

This is one possible reason why sl has always been a bit of a niche product and why – no matter how LL promote their virtual world – new user take up is slow and retention is difficult. We are not asking people to engage with a game that operates to fixed rules and conventions; indeed, sl requires both intuition and counter-intuity in varying, and often illogical degrees if it is to be understood. It’s not like the latest Facebook arcade game that can be grasped within an instant, neither does it follow the logical progression of most MMOs and roleplay dungeons: the new user doesn’t go through a process of picking, equipping and arming their avatar, before choosing a mission with specific objectives. SL simply doesn’t work that way.

Linden Lab’s surprise announcement of SL Go, built for Android, prompts me to consider how comfortably this all-new approach to sl sits with both the existing and potential user base, and if i’m honest, i’m perplexed.

No-one can doubt the benefits of massively improved frame rates, extreme draw distance and Advanced Lighting for all. Neither can you criticise the decision to port sl to such a popular platform – it ticks all the boxes for attracting new users from those particular perspectives and i have no doubt that there are an awful lot of existing resident who will be salivating at the thought of all the new shiny things SL Go promises… but just hold your horses one cotton-picking minute!

tv_001Firstly, i’m dubious about how many die-hard sl people are really that interested in a tablet-compatible version of sl. Yes, what we’ve had so far is slow, clunky and often disappointing, but are we really going to opt for a slimmed-down, albeit faster viewer, that only does half the things our existing ones do. Let’s not forget the whole new user interface too – and before you shrug that off as an invalid argument, don’t forget there are still legions of residents who refuse to adapt or change to anything other than a v1 interface, because – apparently – it’s better than v2, and they’d find it impossible to change anyway. You don’t have to use touch commands, of course – you can always hook up a keyboard and mouse to your tablet/phone, but then you have a faster viewer, with a new interface that still only does half of what your old viewer did, and is now less portable and convenient! Somehow, i can’t see the typical sl user settling for that, although i’m sure many will dabble before eventually returning to what they know and love.

Then there’s the new users who’ll be coming onboard – for them, a fast, lightweight, high-performance viewer may be a good thing, but they still have to face that famously steep sl learning curve; along with the counter-intuitive noob experience; and, get to grips with the fact that sl does not – in any way, sense or form bear any resemblance to WoW or Grand Theft AutoOther than the patient saints, the stubborn heretics, the dreaming poets and the radical punks – who i maintain are the essential bedrock of sl – very few ‘normal’ people survive that initial hazing. Which ultimately will probably mean an almost immediate loss of a large proportion of new sign-ups, leaving a smallish  bunch of very determined and demanding new users – just as is the case already with sl – who, because of their demanding and creative nature, are likely to be rapidly disillusioned with the capabilities of Android sl. You know what’ll happen – they’ll eventually switch to a laptop or desktop, running an ‘old fashioned’ viewer, which is great news for sl, but will it mean that SL Go becomes a self-negating victim of its own success? Unlike full-fat sl, can SL Go sustain or tolerate poor user retention?

Take a look at the promo video LL have produced for the new product, (What happened to Torley – please tell me they haven’t put him out to grass?).

It’s slick, it’s well done and it epitomises what the Lab want: an attractive, switched-on couple – totally not nerds, or geeks – sharing good times in the virtual and real world. (People, moreover, who are perfectly happy to pay top dollar for the bandwidth that streaming sl from the cloud requires). Yeah right! If that’s the typical sl demographic, i’ll eat my virtual hat! It’s unlikely to be the sl demographic of the future, either. Whatever you, or the Lab might think – and feel free to disagree with me in the comments – many, many users, current and most likely future, would never associate themselves with that picture.

channel1_001i’m firmly of the belief that most of us really do like being quirky, odd or different and that to be classed in the same ilk as saints, heretics, poets or punks is possibly one of the highest compliments we could be paid. We don’t want to be boring and normal, and sl is neither of those things either.

Absolutely, i would love SL Go to be a success, and it would be great if we saw an increase in the active userbase as a consequence of its launch, but i don’t think it’s going to make a lot of difference in the long run. The problem is that sl is just different, and so are its people.

Coming to think of it, is that such a problem anyway?

s. x

Those who find they’re touched by madness
Sit down next to me
Those who find themselves ridiculous
Sit down next to me
James – Sit Down

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