You may have cottoned on to the fact that – for some reason I’m completely unable to explain – I like trains. I’ve always liked them and even these days when it seems half my life is spent on trains, (which is actually not something I particularly enjoy), if you take them out of the work context, I still like trains.
Just to be clear, I don’t fall into anything like the trainspotter category, although I’m pretty sure that I could give some of them a run for their money in the knowledge stakes; and I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to do a specifically train-related thing. Indeed, if you were to ask me to define what it is I like about trains, I’d be hard pushed to explain myself: I just think they’re cool.
Inevitably, as you’ll be aware, my interest in railways has crept into SL. You’ll frequently find me mooching around the terminal in Calleta, chugging away along the tracks of the SLRR or grabbing screenshots of myself undertaking various rail related tasks. Then there’s the SWR – Seren’s Wonderful Railway, which meanders through my home parcel, as well as taking some liberties with physics and reality, in order to take advantage of the views from high above the sim!
One thing I have discovered is that running a railway can be costly, both in terms of hard cash, time and land impact, and it can take careful planning to stay within budget, always with the knowledge that, no matter how successful your rail-related endeavours may be, you’ll never recoup the investment you’ve made. None of which matters, because in my experience, anyone involved in the SL railway business is there primarily because it’s something they enjoy, first and foremost… If they can make a few lindens along the way to help fund their ventures, then great, but nobody is really in it for the money.
Just recently, I discovered a place I’d not been before, and whilst it was promoted as a commercial showcase, it’s pretty clear that the whole sim is a labour of love, created by somebody who loves their trains. This is a place with a fully functioning and extensive railway, trams in the city centre, and, beneath it all, an underground system too. The trains themselves are works off art, exquisitely crafted, with a loving attention to detail that extends beyond the locomotives even as far as the coal trucks. The scripting is remarkable – signaling, stops, level crossings and routing all working seamlessly, even the doors on the underground trains open and close automatically at stops. It’s very smooth, very clever, and very, very cool.
The thing is, no matter how marvelous these creations are and no matter what price they go for, this is a business that will never make a real return on its investment – the market is too niche, the customers too few and far between, and the simple fact is that if you’re going to build a railway in SL, you’re going to need land, and an awful lot of it.
So why spend so much on something that’s going to be something of a lost cause? It’s simple – I reckon that creator does it because they enjoy building trains and railways, nothing more than that, and what drives them to be so good is not the motivation of sales figures, it’s getting things perfect that matters.
I fact help wondering if that’s an element of SL that we’re in danger of losing altogether? I grant you that many of the goodies you can buy inworld and on the Marketplace are high quality, desirable and reasonably priced, but – in my opinion – far too much of this merchandise is being manufactured by full time commercial concerns, driven by profit margins and an unending battle to do better than the competition. I don’t have a problem with people making a living from SL, and if it was me, I’d probably follow exactly the same ethos, but I think there’s an unfortunate side effect that means anything that doesn’t fit into this virtual new world order is going to struggle to be seen and those who haven’t the clout, expertise or resources to pull their weight will inevitably feel obliged to try to compete with the major players anyway, which changes the whole perspective behind content creation.
The days when pretty much anyone would have a go at knocking together prims to build their perfect virtual world are drawing to a close – there’s little incentive for the newbie to develop and build new skills when they can buy something far better than you could ever hope to build yourself for minimal outlay; and for those who do want to carve out a niche for themselves for financial gain, the learning curve is now prohibitively steep. This shift in the market means that fewer people now create purely for pleasure, and this in turn means fewer will develop high levels of skill when it comes to content creation, honed as a by-product of making something worthwhile and enjoyable. It’s a vicious circle.
It’s a disappointing state of affairs, but it’s not all gloomy. I think there will always be a hardcore bunch of enthusiasts who will relish the challenge of making things – and making them extraordinarily well – that SL presents. People who aren’t particularly looking to be successful, are unlikely ever to become rich, and almost certainly don’t care anyway.
I only wish there were a lot more of them.
Runaway train, never goin’ back
Wrong way, on a one way track
Seems like I should be gettin’ somewhere
Soul Asylum – Runaway Train