I’ve held back on commenting on the ‘exciting news’ about The Lab’s new Grid wide experience – ‘Tyrah: The curse of the magical glytches’ Before going any further, I should make it clear that I haven’t actually checked out the game and it’s pretty unlikely that I will, so don’t think you’re going to get any sort of review or informed criticism today, because you’re not!
Why then am I writing about this at all?
Well, firstly, it’s rather a significant departure from the underlying principles of SL – it’s no longer a case of having a platform where user created content is king – an infinite variety of experiences and possibilities. Instead, we have Linden created and managed content with clearly defined goals and outcomes which, ultimately, is intended to mesh and sit alongside the user-defined world. Secondly, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s a game – certainly not the first pure game that takes advantage of the architecture of SL, and neither is it the first Linden game inworld; but it is the first Linden game intended to span both official and user-created content.
Thirdly, it’s a clear statement of intent about the direction that The Lab are pursuing in their quest to make SL a more attractive prospect for future generations of residents, although whether the focus is on retaining and energising the existing user base, or appealing to new signups is unclear.
What is clear – to me anyway – is that The Lab has invested a great deal of time and effort into Tyrah, and this whole venture has been in the making for quite some time. We saw the initial glimmerings with the creation of Linden realms – essentially a test bed for Experiences and the game model that The Lab has plumped for. It was a clever move to then make Experience Keys available to residents, allowing the Lindens to gauge the appetite for inworld games – such as those developed by Madpea – and to test the potential of Experiences once in the hands of users. Now, fully fledged, we see the end result of those efforts – the question is, to what specific end?
Let’s consider those who have made SL their virtual home. There are a great many of us who will have joined SL from a gaming background, indeed many will be happily indulging themselves with SL right alongside more traditional games and MMORPGS. Whether The Lab’s new adventure is going to appeal to this community is debatable – are those, more attuned to slick gameplay, high quality graphics and fast rendering really going to be attracted to the rather simplistic and ponderous style of Tyrah? I’m not so sure that they will, although those who’ve bought into the Pokemon Go culture may well appreciate the similarities of this inworld equivalent.
Then we have those like me, for whom the very thought of an inworld, Grid wide game is anathema. The closest we’ve ever let ourselves come to gaming in SL is the odd hunt and the thought of anything that erodes that ‘your world, your imagination’ mantra is, frankly, unacceptable. We’ve tried games elsewhere and found them restrictive, annoying and confusing and would very much like to keep anything of the sort well clear from our virtual existence. I’ll be honest with you – I gave Linden Realms a go and gave up even trying to make sense of it within just a few minutes (it didn’t even last as long as Windows 10 did with me!). The freaky cartoon graphics that reminded me so much of Day of the Tentacle (which, to my shame,I also gave up on at a very early stage and never succeeded in finishing), and the hijacking of my avatar’s motor functions at inconvenient times didn’t help either. As for my one and only visit to the repurposed Cornfield… I found myself sickened by the travesty that this once-fabled location had become. Tyrah is not for the likes of me!
That leaves the dabblers… Those with open minds and generous spirits who’ll give most things a fair crack of the whip and will no doubt enjoy pottering around the Grid hunting Glytches – but how long is the novelty going to last before it wears thin and those same people are off dabbling with the latest breedable pet/horse/plant/weird furry critter craze that catches their attention? [Edit: If recent comments in the metaverse are anything to go by, it’s already reaching it’s sell by date!]
Could it be then that Tyrah is The Lab’s concerted attempt to generate new signups and drive retention, bearing in mind that – if what I’ve said above is true – for present SL residents, the new game is likely to have only limited, short term appeal? I have a horrible feeling that it may be, in which case I really can’t see where the logic for this lies. I can’t seriously envisage anyone joining SL just to play Tyrah – not that there’s any real mechanism in place for them to even know about it in the first place; and, even if they did, there are plenty of very good alternatives out there against which the Lindens will find it impossible to compete. Then there’s the issue of the rest of the virtual world: What happens when our noob, fresh from collecting an extensive collection of glytches, finds themself wandering around a resident created sim and the full reality of the big bad virtual world? Not only will they be no better off than they are now, but they will be labouring under the false illusion that they’re part of a simple, easy to understand game where everyone plays by the rules. Oh dear.
I do try to remain positive about the weird decisions that Linden Lab constantly seem to make, but sometimes it’s hard. On the positive side, I daresay that none of the effort and enhancements that have gone into developing Tyrah will have gone to waste, and we’ll all benefit from that, but it still seems to me to fundamentally miss the boat.
You may of course, question whether I could do better, and of course, I’d be the first to admit that I probably can’t, although I do sort of think that – rather than mess about with Experience Keys and bespoke regions – they could simply have gone back to the good old days… Send a few Lindens inworld, then challenge us to beg, borrow or steal their Linden bears! Much simpler, and in my opinion, a whole lot more fun!
Dressing up in costumes, playing silly games
Hiding out in tree-tops shouting out rude names
Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers